It doesn’t matter how much you throw at SEO, content, or conversion rate optimisation until you address the elephant in the room: Poor brand messaging.
Which comes in many shapes and sizes, including:
- Not targeting a clear audience
- Not considering the customer journey
- Using unclear jargon and marketing waffle
- And not having a unique brand tone of voice
But regardless of the culprit (or combination of culprits), the outcome is always the same: Decreased brand awareness, authority, and trust. Which makes poor messaging one of the biggest conversion killers in B2B marketing.
In this article, we’re going to unpack the main causes of poor messaging and how to fix them with brand storytelling. We’ll teach you how to craft coherent (and appealing) brand messages that align with your customers’ story, and helps you say the right thing to the right person at the right time.
But first, let’s take a quick look at what causes poor brand messaging in the first place.
What causes poor brand messaging?
It often comes down to the curse of knowledge.
When you are entrenched in an organisation or industry, it can be hard to relate to your audience’s state of mind. To understand who you’re talking to. How much they know. And what they truly care about.
You think you’re making sense, but the knowledge gap between you and your audience is so broad that they’re left confused. Unsure how you can help them, or if you’re the right choice.
And if you confuse them, you lose them.
But how do you fix this conundrum? Since un-learning what you know is not an option, you need to find another way to bridge the gap between you and your customer. A way to recreate your audience’s state of mind so you can develop messages they can relate to.
And you do that through brand storytelling. Because brand storytelling forces you to develop empathy for your audience. To put yourself in their shoes, and understand their problems, needs and pain points. Which will help you eliminate poor messaging once and for all.
So let’s look at how we can apply a brand storytelling approach to eliminate the 4 most common messaging mistakes we see in B2B marketing.
First up – No clear target audience…
Messaging mistake #1: No clear target audience
This one is huge, because if you don’t know who you’re talking to, how can you expect to say anything that even remotely appeals or “resonates”?
It’s easy to see where the fear of niching down your audience comes from – if you specialise too much, you’ll appeal to a smaller pool of people. But would you rather strongly appeal to your ideal client, or weakly appeal to every man and his dog?
By clearly defining who you’re talking to, and understanding their pain points, problems, emotions and desires, you can start to craft and shape messages that feel intensely personal to your ideal audience.
And when they feel like you really get them, you quickly go from being just another option in a saturated marketplace to being your customer’s obvious choice.
So how do you define your target audience and understand what they need to hear from you?
That’s where brand storytelling comes in.
Brand storytelling helps you define & segment your audience
Before we unpack how brand storytelling helps you define and segment your audience, let’s quickly recap what brand storytelling is.
Brand storytelling is simply the combination of branding and storytelling. Which can be broken down into a four-step process:
- Understand your customers’ hero’s journey
- Look at the buyer’s journey and brand touchpoints
- Combine step 1 & 2 to create an effective messaging strategy
- Communicate your messages at each touchpoint through content marketing
Whereby defining and segmenting your audience falls into step 1, and is part of the branding process.
Just like creating “regular” buyer personas, you’ll want to start by looking at the clients your organisation typically serves. Who are they? What do they care about? How much do they already know? What are their problems and pain points? What are they hoping to achieve?
Qualitative and quantitative customer research will help you answer these questions.
For example, you might conduct broad scale customer surveys, interview key clients, or gather insights from your sales team.
Once you know what matters to your entire audience base, you can create your top-level brand story. This can be as simple as your mission statement, covering who you serve, how, and why.
There’s no need to go into specific products or services at this stage, since we’re looking for the core message that can serve as the lowest common denominator across your entire audience base.
After you’ve got your core brand story sussed, it’s time to segment your audience based on their goals, attitudes, behaviours, problems, or outcomes. In other words, look for common themes that help you group your audience into segments of users that follow the same approximate hero’s journey. These segments become your story pillars.
Mapping out your customers’ hero’s journey
Once you’ve got your segments – or story pillars – pinned down, you can start mapping out your customers’ hero’s journey. Which is basically just their internal narrative arc – their state of mind when they first come into contact with your organisation, their hopes, dreams, fears and failures. And the transformation they’re looking for.
Because when you know those things, you’ll be able to see the role your brand plays along their journey. Which will help you appropriately position yourself within their narrative as their guide or trusted sidekick.
So how do you map out this hero’s journey or internal arc?
The easiest way is using a story framework. But be careful, because this is the part where many people go wrong. If you Google “Story framework,” you’ll come across all sorts of complicated structures. Like 12-part journeys, where the hero crosses a threshold, ventures into the unknown… all the rest of it.
But the reality is, it doesn’t have to be that complex in B2B marketing. Our goal isn’t to write a 300 page novel or the next Lord of the Rings. We’re simply looking to understand where our customers are at mentally, where they want to go, and how we can help them get there.
For our purposes, a simple story framework is more than enough.
Using a simple story framework
So I suggest using either a simple 3-phase story arc that looks at:
- The normal – start off by establishing the normal – the way things were before something changed
- The explosion – the moment things change
- The new normal – what life is like after the transformation
Or, if you want to split it into more phases, another good approach to the internal story arc is the StoryBrand SB7 framework, where you need to define seven parts (Miller, 2017):
- A character
- Has a problem
- And meets a guide
- Who gives them a plan
- And calls them to action
- That helps them avoid failure
- And ends in success
No matter which framework you use, the aim is to understand where your customers are at, where they want to go (the transformation) and what gets them there. In other words, what they need to realise to start their journey, and how your brand helps them get there.
This informs your core brand messaging and positioning. It tells you how to position your brand into your customer’s narrative, but it doesn’t tell you what to say. Rather, you can see it as the filter or lens through which to position all your communication.
What to say within the context of that narrative depends on your customers stage of consumer awareness and where they are in their customer journey. Not in their hero’s journey – or internal story arc – but on where they are actually at in relation to your brand.
Because they’ll need different information from you at the top of the funnel than further down. And that information will be delivered on different channels, depending on the stage of their customers journey. Which is why a one-size-fits-all approach to messaging throughout the customer journey doesn’t work.
Which brings us to messaging mistake no. 2: Messaging that is not strategically aligned with your customer journey.
Messaging mistake #2: Messages that don’t align with your customer journey
B2B buyer journeys are increasingly complex, with the average B2B customer now using six different channels over the course of their decision-making journey (Flashman, 2020).
So we’ve got channels exploding, stakeholders multiplying, and touch points proliferating. Which means we’re competing for our audience’s attention more than ever before, and buying cycles have become much more complicated!
And yet we need to present the right message, to the right person, at the right time to even be in with a chance. To even make the consideration pool. Which means we need to have a better understanding than ever before of our customer journey, and our audiences’ needs at every step.
It’s no longer enough to simply blast the same messages on repeat across the different channels, mediums, touchpoints, and stakeholders, without consideration for your audiences stage of consumer awareness or customer journey.
A more nuanced approach is needed. An approach where your messages, content, and formats in which that content is delivered strategically and meticulously matches your audiences’ customer journey.
And brand storytelling gives us that approach…
Brand storytelling helps us present the right message to the right person at the right time
Earlier, I outlined the brand storytelling process. And how you need to understand both your customers’ internal story – which we’ve just talked about – and their customer journey through your organisation.
While the internal arc tells you how to position your brand in your customers’ narrative, the external arc – or customer journey – tells you exactly what to say at each step.
Because the information your audience needs from you, and the messages that resonate with them, depend entirely on where they are in their customer journey. Messages that are suitable for someone at the top of your marketing funnel won’t appeal to people further down, or vice versa.
So – to create your external story arc – you need to understand how prospects and customers move through your organisation, and identify the relevant channels and touchpoints.
Creating your external story arc by mapping your customer journey
To create your external story arc using your customer journey, you first need to break down your marketing funnel and customer journey into the stages of awareness. So you could have unaware, aware, education, consideration, conversion, and nurture.
You’ll notice that I’ve lumped marketing funnel and customer journey into one for this purpose, since it’s really a continuous journey from being unaware that you even exist at one end of the spectrum, to being a loyal brand evangelist on the other end of the spectrum.
And the stages of awareness are the stepping stones to get people moving from one end of the spectrum – where your brand is just a blip on your customers’ radar – to the other end, where your brand is the obvious choice. The only choice.
Once you’ve mapped out those stepping stones – or stages of awareness – think about:
- The problems
- The questions
- The objections
- And considerations
Your audience has at each step. Which will help you figure out their topic knowledge and state of mind at each step, so you can create messages and content that are directly relevant to them at that point of their journey.
(You’ll need to go through this process separately for each story pillar.)
Then, based on these problems, questions, objections, and considerations, you can map out a story-driven content strategy, whereby you’re using the external story arc to guide which topics you talk about and the internal story arc to repeatedly position your brand in your customers narrative as you talk about each topic.
If you’re clear on those two things – the internal and external story arc – you’ll be well on your way to banishing the curse of poor brand messaging once and for all.
But there are still a couple of lurking dangers to be aware of.
So, next up, I want to chat about another hugely common mistake in B2B marketing, which is unclear marketing waffle.
Messaging mistake #3: Unclear marketing waffle
Many B2B brands are guilty of unclear marketing waffle. I’ll pick on the Geospatial industry and name a few that I’ve come across recently:
- Get the most out of your technology / data
- Helping businesses achieve positive outcomes
- What we build is world-leading
- World-class geospatial solutions
- We offer insightful solutions
- Delivering innovative geospatial solutions
- Industry-leading geospatial solutions
Problem is, these soundbites mean nothing to your audience. They’re company-centric platitudes that don’t talk about or fix a specific problem. So they don’t answer the most pressing question in your customer’s head: “What’s in it for me?”
And if your messages don’t answer that question, there’s no way they’re connecting with your audience or effectively communicating your value. Which means, you’ve lost them before you’ve even started.
Brand storytelling helps us create audience-centred messages
Although this is technically a copywriting problem, brand storytelling is a remarkable effective cure. Because it forces you to step out and look at your organisation from your customer’s point of view.
At which point you’ll notice instances where your copy or content isn’t particularly helpful.
And as you dig deeper into your customers’ problems, needs, and pain points, you’ll become more empathetic and will start shifting your messaging to write for your customer instead of for yourself or for your competition.
Empathy is the key here. Put your ego aside and really try to empathise with your audience. Then try to be as helpful as possible with your content
Speaking of sound, let’s look at the fourth and final fuzzy messaging mistake – having no unique brand voice
Messaging mistake #4: No unique voice
Apart from your message – conveying what you do – you also need to think about your voice when it comes to communicating your brand in an appealing way. But voice is often not what people think.
Over the years, countless B2B companies we’ve worked with have told us their voice is “friendly”, “professional”, “helpful”, and “trustworthy.”
But those are all values or personality traits – NOT voice. (Plus, they’re likely the same values most of your competition have plastered all over their websites).
As an example, let’s take a look at “friendly yet professional” – a voice that’s often been requested. To show you how this is not a voice, I want you to think about your LinkedIn network. (After all, that’s the place where “friendly professionals” hang out).
If you’re like the average LinkedIn user, you’ll have around 1000 connections. And of those connections, I’d assume that around 80% are “friendly yet professional”. (You can forget about the 20% who are rude and pushy).
That’s 800 friendly professionals. In your network alone. (Or 640,000 friendly professionals in your extended network.) But do they all talk the same? Of course not! Because personality does not equal voice.
Your personality determines what you say, but your voice dictates how you say it.
So what, then, is your voice? And how do you use it to convey your brand effectively? To answer these questions, you first need to understand what makes your voice unique. Which comes down to three elements only. Those are: Your vocabulary (words), your tone (emotions), and cadence (sentence length).
All three of these elements can be measured.
And you can adjust them any way you want to match, mirror, or evolve your voice in any direction (depending on how you want to come across).
For example, if you want your brand voice to have more authority, you’d opt for a higher vocabulary and longer cadence.
Whereas, if you want your brand to have a “friend at the bar” type voice, you’d opt for a lower vocabulary and shorter cadence.
Both of these voice types can still be “Friendly, yet professional.”
How tone of voice relates to brand storytelling
So how does all this relate to brand storytelling?
Simple. Voice is how you show your personality in your copy. And brand storytelling is about communicating your brand identity over time – which includes your personality.
Because people don’t just want to know what you can do for them or how it fits into their narrative. They also want to know what you’d be like to deal with as a person:
- Whether you’re friend material on an interpersonal level.
- Whether your philosophies are aligned.
- Whether your values are aligned.
So you need to make sure that your tone of voice communicates these things. And helps your audience understand whether you’re hip and casual, and likely to rock up to a Zoom call in your PJs. Or if you’re more of a shirt and tie kind of a brand.
Because you’ll attract different clients depending on the vibe you give off. And if your vibes are all over the show – because you don’t have a defined voice, or the voice is different depending on who’s behind the keyboard – chances are you’ll attract people other than your ideal client. Which can lead to all sorts of problems you’d rather avoid.
So make sure your voice intentionally reflects your brand identity. And that you’re using it consistently to avoid giving off fuzzy brand vibes and fuzzy brand messages.
So there you have it! The 4 biggest messaging mistakes in B2B (and probably the 4 biggest conversion killers).
Which – to recap – are:
- Not having a clear target audience
- Not aligning your messages with the customer journey
- Unclear marketing waffle
- And not having a unique brand voice
But the good news is that you can address all of those things by using the brand storytelling model. So you don’t fall victim to the curse of poor brand messaging.
Want to learn the brand storytelling model? Join our free course – The Storydriven Marketing Academy – that teaches you how to nail your brand message every time, across all channels and assets.
Or, if you have any questions, please reach out to us at [email protected] We’d love to hear from you, and we’re here to help!
- Miller, D. (2017). Building a storybrand: clarify your message so customers will listen. HarperCollins Leadership.
- Flashman, G. (2020). Powerful B2B Content: Using Brand Journalism to Create Compelling and Authentic Storytelling. Kogan Page Publishers.
- Justin Blackman tone of voice approach outlined
If you want to build brand awareness, authority, and trust, your best bet is to start by nailing your brand story.
Whenever you are ready, there are 2 ways we can help you do that:
- Join The Storydriven Marketing Academy: Our FREE course that teaches you how to consistently nail your messaging across all brand assets
- Enquire about our Brand Storytelling Workshop: We work with you 1:1 over four guided workshop sessions to craft your storydriven brand messaging & content strategy