How Storytelling Can Build an Emotional Connection with a B2B Audience
B2B SaaS content is often very technical, which can be a bit dry for readers. But integrating storytelling into your content allows your target audience to build an emotional connection with your brand.
Typically, turning a sales prospect into a customer takes much longer in B2B marketing than in B2C. Why? Because there are generally many stakeholders involved in purchases for businesses. Plus, the purchase is usually more costly, requires extensive onboarding and rollout, and involves many end users.
Why Is B2B Storytelling Important—and Challenging?
With so much at stake in a B2B purchase, you can understand the importance of creating content that allows SaaS buyers to connect with your brand personally. In fact, research has shown that in comparison to consumers, B2B customers, on average, feel much more emotionally connected to their vendors and service providers.
Despite all the talk about storytelling, many B2B content marketers focus more on promoting the product or service rather than how it can change a potential customer’s life personally or professionally. Many don’t know where to start or don’t have the right tools to execute storytelling properly, said Mark Evans, principal at Marketing Spark.
Evans says storytelling can be challenging to execute in reality. But once you have the right resources to make it happen, it can be a key brand differentiator.
Individual pieces of content—whether blog posts, videos, webinars, infographics, and so on—can be presented as a narrative, but the larger customer journey can also be viewed as such. In other words, each piece of B2B content you create can be viewed as a small piece of a larger story that guides a reader from the brand awareness stage through the sale (and beyond).
So, what does storytelling in SaaS content marketing entail, and how can you integrate it into your strategy?
The Customer as “Hero”
“Great stories are ones where there’s a narrative, there’s a hero, there’s some kind of drama,” Evans said. “The audience can completely relate to them because (they reflect) their interests, their needs, their problems, their challenges.”
The format of a B2B story is similar to what you would read in a work of fiction. The potential customer—not your company—should serve as the “hero” of your story, said Ardath Albee, CEO and B2B marketing strategist for her firm Marketing Interactions. You also have an antagonist, which is the problem they need to solve. Finally, the vendor (your company) is the “mentor” or guide who assists the hero in reaching their ultimate destination—like Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings or the fairy godmother in Cinderella.
Take customer success stories as an example. Many B2B content marketers structure these as follows: Company X works with Company Y and sees Z results, said Tommy Walker, founder of The Content Studio and former Global Editor-in-Chief of Quickbooks. But this format is missing the human element of why the problem exists and matters to the audience.
When Walker worked at Shopify Plus as the company’s first marketing hire, they published this case study, which Walker feels is a good example of storytelling in action. You can see how the story begins—not only did the co-founder of an online T-shirt company have to deal with a crashed website at 2 a.m., but this happened on the night of his bachelor party, which he had to put on hold. This added a human element that made for a much more relatable story.
Ultimately, the co-founders chose Shopify Plus as an eCommerce platform that would keep up with the company’s rapid growth. According to the case study, Shopify Plus alleviated the stresses the co-founders encountered with technology and allowed them to focus more on the business.
The Customer Journey as Narrative
In SaaS content marketing, storytelling also means providing a seamless narrative that spans the entire customer journey through multiple pieces of content and easily directs the reader from one point to the next. Think of every piece of content in the customer journey as a chapter in a book, Albee said, all the while remembering that a B2B tech sale can take months or even years.
Albee said that the buyer should be able to access the different pieces of a larger narrative to meet them where they are in their current situation. And they may find these pieces in a variety of places.
Good B2B storytelling means showing you understand the buyer well enough to help them resolve the challenges they face and ultimately get the outcome they want.
“We have to think about how do we let (the buyer) drive but still put those guardrails around that experience, that story, so we get them all the information they need to get from A to Z in whatever manner that looks like,” Albee said.
Content for Each Stage of the Marketing Funnel
Once you understand the basic framework of a story, you can map the different parts of your content strategy to a character’s journey:
- Top-of-funnel content: Show you understand the various challenges buyers face (and how to solve them) in detailed ways. This can be done through blog posts, social media, podcasts, brand awareness emails, and more.
- Mid-funnel content: Help your character overcome the obstacles that might arise in the decision-making process—for instance, internal politics or budgetary concerns. Possible content formats include eBooks or guides, case studies or testimonials, whitepapers, landing pages, webinars, events, or product-focused blogs.
- Bottom-of-funnel content: If your mid-funnel content is executed well, the sale should happen naturally through the “change” your character experiences rooted in the onboarding, implementation, and customer success of your product. But if you do need more content to drive a sale, this can be done through pitch decks, product demos, competitive analyses, and more.
4 Storytelling Tips for B2B SaaS Content Marketers
1. Know your customer.
Understanding your customer’s current needs is key to bringing your story to life—after all, they are the “hero” of your narrative. Storytelling helps them solve real problems by providing directly applicable solutions.
“You have to commit yourself to knowing your audience, knowing what makes them tick, and really understanding the stories they want to hear,” Evans said.
If you don’t have the budget to develop extensive buyer personas, Albee recommends speaking with customers yourself.
2. Know your company.
Remember that your company, as the mentor, is still an important part of the story, so understand its products, services, or solutions very well before you craft your narrative. This will clarify to readers why your company’s offerings are the best way to resolve their problems.
“Whoever is in charge needs to get as many perspectives as they can from within their company and get an understanding of who they think they are and what they’re about,” Walker said.
And when in doubt, you can always ask an internal subject matter expert to review your content before it goes live.
3. Think of your story from a holistic perspective.
A common problem B2B marketers face, Albee said, is that they publish one-off pieces of content that are repetitive or disconnected from one another. Potential customers may read this content, then move on without thinking about it or taking action.
Don’t assume a potential customer will know where to go on your website after reading a blog post, for example. Direct them to the next part of the story.
“We have to proactively package that up for them in a way that they can access it without our help,” Albee said.
This might entail including a call-to-action at the bottom of a blog post that drives readers to a product landing page, for instance. Or, if you cite a source of information or data, you should hyperlink back to the original source or a related piece of content.
Remember that storytelling extends beyond the sales stage of the customer journey. How your customer uses your product is also important and can be told through post-sale customer success content.
4. Get in the storytelling mindset.
Ultimately, keep in mind that consistent B2B storytelling will require a mindset shift, and it may not be easy—but experts say it’s worth it.
“You really have to buy into the idea that storytelling matters, storytelling works,” Evans said. When your audience relates to what they’re reading on an emotional level, they’re more likely to relate to your brand, make a purchase (ideally more than once), and advocate for your company down the road.
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