As long as we can remember, the companies with the biggest marketing budgets have dominated the public sphere. But by democratizing audience reach, content marketing has flipped that paradigm on its head.
Nowadays, the brands who best leverage content come out on top. Which levels the playing field between smaller teams and big enterprises. Because it’s no longer a question of who can buy the most attention, but of who can earn the most attention. And that has nothing to do with your budget, and everything to do with your messaging strategy.
If your brand messaging does the best job of connecting with your ideal customers, building trust, and showcasing your expertise, you’ll acquire more market share, even if you’re up against big industry competitors.
But, to do this well, you need a powerful storydriven brand messaging strategy.
In this article, we’re going to unpack what that looks like, and show you how brand storytelling helps you capture and hold your audience’s attention like no other form of marketing can.
But before we dive into the how, let’s take a quick look at why your content matters most in your overall marketing strategy. (And why storytelling is one of the most profitable things you can do for your business.)
The complex path to a sale
Digital transformation and the rise of social media have proliferated touchpoints along the customer journey. And these touchpoints typically span a range of channels, where competitive brands reach their customers, build trust, and establish themselves as the obvious choice in the marketplace.
While a lot of this journey used to happen through referrals and conversations with sales reps, research shows that today’s digitally sophisticated B2B customers prefer to be reached differently.
According to Forrester Research1:
- More than two thirds (68%) of B2B buyers say they prefer to research on their own and online
- 62% of B2B buyers say they now develop their selection criteria or finalize a vendor shortlist based solely on digital content
- some 60% of B2B buyers prefer not to contact a sales rep as the primary source of information
And according to McKinsey & Co, the average B2B customer now uses six different channels of the course of their decision-making journey2.
So we’ve got channels and touchpoints multiplying, which makes the B2B sales cycle much more complicated. And your prospects now go through a large chunk of their customer journey independently and online. In many cases, their decision about whether to even consider your brand as a contender can start and end completely at the online research stage
So without building that relationship up front through the right digital content, you might not even make it to the initial consideration set. But what does the right digital content look like? Basically, you need content that cuts through all the clutter and noise to gain your audiences’ attention, and then you need to hold that attention long enough to build trust.
And this is where brand storytelling really shines. Because it can help you gain and hold attention like no other form of brand messaging can. Let’s take a look at how it works:
How brand storytelling helps us gain attention
The most effective way to get your audience’s attention is with a hook and promise.
Hook + Promise = Gain audience attention
This is basically the trailer for your content. It’s how you stop the scroll and entice somebody to read the next line and the next, because they can sense intriguing information is on its way.
Every piece of content you create should have an appealing hook, which might look different across channels and mediums:
- On a LinkedIn post, it’s the first line of copy
- In an email, it’s the subject line
- In a blog article, it’s the title
- In a YouTube clip it’s the title
- In a TikTok clip, it’s the first second or two
- In an ad, it’s the headline
- … and so on
But in all cases, the hook is what gets people in the door. It’s what gets them to the point where they’re prepared to give you a little more of their attention. But only if you get the next part right – the promise.
The promise is about giving people a reason to stay by foreshadowing what’s to come, and promising either entertainment, education, or inspiration.
Pair the hook and promise together and you’ve got the lead. But what makes an effective lead?
That’s where brand storytelling comes in. Because what will captivate your audience depends entirely on the story that’s running through their hearts and minds.
What their pain or problem is. How it makes them feel. The transformation they’re looking for. What stage of their customer journey they’re in… All these things will determine what kind of messaging you need to hook their attention and keep them spellbound with intrigue.
So your first step should be to work that out. Because if you effectively embed your brand messaging into your audience’s internal narrative, you’ll stand out leaps and bounds from your competition. And once you’ve got that attention, your next job is to hold it long enough to build a trusted relationship with your audience.
Need help figuring out the story running through your customers’ minds? Check out our free course dedicated to helping you do just that.
How brand storytelling helps us keep attention & build trust
Although gaining your audience’s attention is a critical first step, it’s not enough to secure the sale.
Especially in B2B, purchase decisions aren’t made lightly or spontaneously. So you need to put in a lot of legwork to really build trust and establish a relationship with your customer. Because, ultimately, that trust and relationship is going to be your competitive edge.
So how does brand storytelling help you keep your customers’ attention and build trust?
Basically, it’s about delivering the right information, at the right time, and in the right way. I know that sounds awfully generic, but bear with me so we can unpack exactly what that looks like.
If you’re familiar with the brand storytelling as a messaging strategy approach, you’ll recall that the messaging across your funnel should be influenced by two things:
- Your customers’ internal narrative (internal story)
- Their customer journey (external story)
(If you’re not familiar with this approach, check out this article.)
That internal narrative determines what you say in your hook and promise, because it tells you what your audience cares about. But after you’ve drawn them in, you need to deliver the intriguing information you’ve promised. And what that looks like depends on where in their customer journey they’re at, and what they need to understand to move forward.
Because the information required to move someone from problem aware to solution aware is quite different from the information they need to cement their buying decision at the bottom of your funnel. And by dissecting the customer journey and really looking at your customers’ needs at each step, you’ll get a good understanding of what the “right information at the right time” looks like.
And those things – so the information you’re presenting and where in the funnel you’re presenting it – in turn impact what the “right way” looks like.
For example, at the top of the funnel, you might be presenting entertaining content to capture your audiences’ attention, which might take the form of a story. Whereas further down, when you’re trying to shift your prospects’ worldview, the “right way” might be a piece of thought leadership content. If you’re trying to educate them to the point of product awareness, it might be a “How-to” article. If you want them to understand product options and get them to the point of conversion, it might be a pricing table, and so on.
So it’s crucial to understand your customer journey and all the micro conversions that happen along the way, so that you can create a content spine that ties it all together. Because that’s how you’ll consistently deliver the right message to the right person at the right time.
Tying it all together to create epic content that blows your competitors out of the water
Once you’ve collected your ingredients (hook + promise + info), you can assemble your content in a way that blows your competitors (even the big guys) out of the water. Because by tapping into your customers’ internal story and external journey simultaneously, your audience will feel like you really “get” them. Which – over time – positions you as the trusted guide and their obvious choice.
So how do you assemble your content effectively?
Again, we want to leverage the power of brand storytelling by strategically introducing a character, theme, and plot to your content, even when you’re presenting “dry” and “boring” data like numbers, statistics, facts, and logic.
Here’s a basic storytelling framework to help you do that:
1. Define your hero (this is the character of your story)
For most business stories, this will be your customer. But it can also be someone else, as long as your customer can relate to the journey your hero goes through in the story.
2. Define what they want (this is the plot)
Most effective business stories follow one of five basic plots (you can read about them here)
For example, in this article, what the hero (you) wants is to take on big industry competitors with brand storytelling. So the plot is “the quest” because we’re trying to shift the status quo.
3. Define why they want it (this is the story theme)
Define why it matters in the epic of humanity. For example, small teams taking on bigger players matters because every voice deserves to be heard.
You don’t need to talk about this explicitly, but your audience should sense what greater good is driving your actions.
By introducing a character, theme and plot in your lead, you’re showing your audience what’s at stake. And those stakes are what draws them in. Because it’s about them, so it’s what’s at stake for them.
And once you’ve established the stakes, your content shows them how to navigate the plot. How to achieve their desired outcome. And then you wrap the whole thing up in a transformation by showing them what success looks like – what’s waiting for them on the other side of this journey. Which, again, will be closely aligned with their internal narrative and their true core drivers, instead of focusing on surface level features and benefits.
As I mentioned at the beginning, online content now drives a majority of B2B buying decisions. But the deck isn’t necessarily stacked in favour of the big players or those with the most budget. Instead, the brands who best capture and hold their audience’s attention come out on top. And brand storytelling can help you do that like no other form of communication can.
By understanding your customers internal story – their hero’s journey – and their external story – their customer journey, you’ll be well equipped to deliver the right message to the right person at the right time.
The internal story will help you understand where your customer is at mentally and emotionally, which informs your choice of character, plot, and story theme, and helps you write a captivating lead. That’s the part that evokes interest, draws people in, and gets their dopamine neurons firing because they connect emotionally with your message.
Next, insert the information that they need to move to the next step of their customer journey. Give them the numbers, facts, logic, and data that you’ve identified as relevant based on their external story.
Then, once you’ve presented as many facts, numbers, or bits of information as you need, come back to the story. Wrap the whole thing in a new normal and show them what transformation looks like.
And throughout that whole process you’re building trust, reinforcing your brand message, and adding a ton of value, which builds a strong connection between your customer and your brand. And ultimately, positions you as their obvious choice.
- Wizdo, L (2017) The ways and means of B2B buyer journey maps: we’re going deep at Forester’s B2B forum, Forrester, 21 August. Available from: https:/ go.forrester.com/blogs/the-ways-and-means-of-b2b-buyer-journey-maps-were-going-deep-at-forresters-b2b-forum/
- Catlin, T et al (2016) How B2B digital leaders drive five times more revenue growth than their peers, McKinsey, October 2016. Available from: https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/marketing-and-sales/our-insights/how-b2b-digital-leaders-drive-five-times-more-revenue-growth-than-their-peers
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
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