Associate Director of Content, Strategized Initiatives That Increased IMPACT’s Website Traffic From ~45K to ~400K
December 11th, 2015
People love stories.
Just think about it. From our childhood bedtime stories and adolescent novels, to our favorite Netflix series, video games, and even conversations around the dinner table, storytelling is ingrained in our social nature as human beings.
As Seth Godin once said, "all marketers are storytellers," only the bad ones are liars. Great brand stories tap into more emotions than any flat sales pitch, boring value proposition, or cold list of features/deliverables ever could.
Marketers who understand this and the concept of storytelling are more relatable to their ideal persona and engage more areas of their brains with their marketing messages.
To help you be one of them, here's a little bit more about the science behind storytelling and a breakdown of how you can craft a showstopping B2B brand story using the simple Three-Act Structure.
Your Brain on Stories
With the discovery of cave paintings dating back 27,000 years, storytelling is clearly one of the fundamental tools of human communication. Our brains are simply wired for them. In fact, Jeremy Hsu found that "personal stories and gossip make up 65% of our conversations."
Whenever we hear a story, we naturally relate it to our own lives in some way -- we picture ourselves in that situation and have an emotional reaction. That's why metaphors and fables are so effective and we find them easier to remember.
Simply put, our brains become more active when we are engaged in telling or listening to a story than we are digesting other formats.
Whenever we are presented with general information (even in easy-to-skim forms such as bullet points and brief summaries), we only activate two areas of the brain: Broca's area and Wernicke's area.
Those areas are responsible for decoding information into meaning, but that's it.
When we are told a story, on the other hand, we also activate the same areas of the brain that we would use if we were actually experiencing the events of the story first hand.
Here's a video that explains how this works:
So, What Does This Mean?
In a nutshell, it means that storytelling is a more effective way of communicating your brand's value and values to your target audience.
When you share a customer's experience with your brand as a narrative success story, for example, your audience will be able to better envision themselves in that customer's shoes. They'll be able to personally see themselves using your product or service and have a realistic example of what to expect.
Developing this connection is the first step in nurturing a new customer relationship.
The Three-Act Structure in B2B Storytelling
So, we get it; storytelling is where it's at, but like so many things in life, it's a lot easier said than done.
Fortunately, with the Three-Act Structure, telling your B2B brand story can be approached more formulaically.
A good story has three basic acts:
Act 1: The Protagonist. The is where you introduce the main character, their situation, and their general outlook on that situation.
Act 2: The Conflict. Then there is a series of escalating conflicts (which can include internal, external, emotional, physical conflicts, etc.) As the story unfolds, the audience should connect to the protagonist's conflict and want to see them triumph.
Act 3: The Resolution. In the third and final act, the conflicts are resolved. Depending on the goal of the story, this may include a positive conclusion with the protagonist achieving their goal or a negative one, acting as a cautionary tale.
When using storytelling in your B2B marketing, you want to follow the same structure, but unlike Spielberg or Hitchcock, you'll be taking a bit of a shortcut.
Your audience's attention span is only so long (especially when it comes to marketing content), so you have to move through the three acts quickly when telling your story.
For instance, if you're creating a video, aim for no longer than one to two minutes. That's enough time to deliver your message, without putting your audience's attention span to the test.
If you plan on delivering your story through text, infographics are a great option, but a well-written article or eBook works as well as. The point is, not matter what your text medium, you want to keep your story clear and concise -- without sacrificing quality or entertainment value, of course.
Let's take a deeper look at each act from a B2B marketing perspective.
Act One: Creating Your Protagonist
Your protagonist should be based on your ideal buyer persona. After all, you want your buyer persona to connect with the story -- what better way to help them imagine themselves in the story than to make the story about them?
Consider everything you know about your buyer persona:
What motivates them
What problems they are facing
What their business goals are
Their day-to-day activities
Give them a reason to care about the character and to see themselves in your story. Above all, make them the hero of your story -- not you.
Act Two: Building Conflict
Once you've laid the foundation for the story by introducing your main character, the next thing you'll do is send them through a series of escalating events that prevent them from accomplishing what they want to.
These should be realistic, common events that your buyer persona can easily relate to or they won't find themselves invested in the story and they'll click away.
After a series of escalating events has left your character frustrated and ready to give up, you resolve the situation by depicting your character's discovery of the product or service that your brand offers.
Act Three: Your Pitch
At this point, you've earned your right to pitch your persona.
If they've made it this far in your content, they are likely entertained, invested in the character, and interested in what you have to offer.
Just because you have their attention doesn't mean you should drag this portion out for a long time, though. Keep your pitch short and sweet to wrap things up, then give them an opportunity to find out more information by ending with a strong CTA.
Storytelling & Case Studies
For B2B organizations, it's important to note that this structure can be used to create effective case studies, as well. First, the brand introduces the client and describes their situation. Then, they'll go through the problems they were having before working with the brand and introduce the solution.
The resolution in a case study has an even greater impact in B2B marketing because you have the appeal to emotion from the story, but you also appeal to logic (which we prefer to believe our decisions are based on) by presenting the specific changes in data-form.
Who Does It Right?
Take a page out of these B2B storybooks. Though drastically different companies (creating very different pieces of content), each brand used the Three-Act Structure to craft an engaging, relatable story.
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