If you’re in marketing, recruiting, or sales, you’re in the storytelling business. And if you have competitors — whether you realize it or not — you’re in a storytelling arms race.
Of course pricing, service, benefits, and customer experience are paramount for your business, but those who neglect the power of storytelling do so at their own peril. Great storytelling can inspire, motivate, uplift, break down barriers, build trust, alleviate concerns, and elevate your company over the competition. It’s well worth investment.
Here are four tips for outgunning your competitors in the storytelling arms race.
1. Don’t Make It About You
Americans are now subjected to upwards of 10,000 ads each day. In response to this never-ending onslaught, most human adults have developed a stout defensive mechanism designed to block out marketing messages. We’ve become baloney bloodhounds and anti-advertising sales skeptics of the highest order.
There is a time and place for the direct hard sell, but in the context of copy, a subtler soft sell approach is usually the ticket. The fact that seven out of 10 consumers prefer to learn about a company through articles instead of ads shows you need to earn the right to sell. Engaging, thoughtful, respectful storytelling that emphasizes the benefits your customers can reap is one way to accomplish this, with a mind toward creating repeat business.
Think of your storytelling like a paintbrush instead of a hammer. Paint a picture of how your customer can be a hero, as opposed to hammering them into submission through brute (sales) force. What good does it do if you make a sale but annoy the customer in the process?
Build rapport through stories, and toot your horn sparingly. Just as in social situations, talking about yourself excessively is a turn-off. No one likes the ‘used car salesman’ guy who’s always selling something.
Great B2B storytelling is not about you, your core values, or your culture. It’s about how you can help people excel.
2. Meet On Their Turf
Even the most masterful storytelling is all for naught if no one reads it, or if it’s misplaced. You need to communicate with people in arenas where they’re comfortable, active, and accessible.
It’s critical to identify where your target audiences spend their time online, consume their media, and read information.
To that end, we survey readers of our Randall-Reilly brands every year to learn more about the media preferences and internet habits of company drivers, owner-operators, fleet executives, truck dealers, parts distributors, construction contractors, landscapers, and aggregates managers. This insight helps us connect with specific niche audiences on their turf (whether that’s on Facebook, or through email marketing, etc.), which enables our clients to craft better, more relevant stories.
Another big one here you might’ve heard buzz about lately is account-based marketing (ABM), or targeting customers/accounts based on a specific set of criteria, with a focus on personalization. ABM is all the rage right now, with some predicting it to be the future of marketing. ABM ultimately is about meeting people on their turf and on their terms with a personalized touch.
Which, as you’ve probably guessed, is a key ingredient to more effective storytelling.
3. Keep it Snappy
Respect your audience’s time by keeping your content concise. Tight writing, small blocks of text, short and sweet.
When reading online, we tend to scan, often heavily favoring the left side of pages and following an ‘F pattern’ — with pretty astounding consistency across the board. It’s how our brains and eyes process information.
For better stories, use practical, real-world examples, and keep in mind that bullet points make for easy, swift scanning.
Take editing seriously. Do your best to slash needless words and cut out superfluous stats and sales stuffing.
Humans now have shorter attention spans than goldfish, so keep your stories snappy!
Visuals are a mighty storytelling force to contend with. Experts are projecting that 84% of communication will be visual by 2018.
If you produce content, you’ve probably noticed the trend of favoring big, beautiful photos, gifs, punchy memes, quizzes, emoji and elegant design over plain old text. The more graphics on a page, the more time people tend to spend.
There’s no denying our brains love images and process visual information with aplomb. So take special care to incorporate beautiful design into your storytelling efforts. Build user-friendly landing pages with clear calls to action, and take time to optimize campaigns.
These are just four basic, bedrock ingredients of great storytelling. Your company may evolve, trends may shift, and your core audience might change, but some things never change. Great stories will always be about respect, meeting needs, and empowering your customer.