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Finding Your Why—Experts Weigh In On Masterful B2B Storytelling And Marketing Creativity

Jonah Berger speaking at #B2BMX Jonah Berger speaking at #B2BMX

There was a recurring theme this year at The B2B Marketing Exchange, Demand Gen Report's annual conference—marketers must go back to their roots to understand why their businesses were formed in the first place to tell relatable, emotional stories with their content that aligns with their go-to-market strategies.

A variety of speakers at the event, including industry experts from companies such as Microsoft, DigitasLBi, SiriusDecisions and Forrester Research, discussed how evolving buyer habits have caused marketers to rethink how they are educating and engaging with prospective customers. Instead of focusing content on what they sell, experts agree that its more effective to focus on your “Why.”

“A good story is a Trojan horse,” said Jonah Berger, author of the bestselling book “Contagious: Why Things Catch On,” during his keynote session. “It's entertaining and memorable, and they carry the kernel [your ‘Why’] along for the ride.”

And good stories are more likely to be shared with others. Berger noted that word of mouth from current customers generates more than twice the sales of advertising.

“When people put their kids to bed, they don't tell them bedtime facts,” Berger said. “Figure out a story that carries your message.”

Berger highlighted his six key “STEPPS” to creating content that tells stories your audience is willing to share:

  • Social currency: Create content that makes your customer “smart, special and in-the-know,” Berger said.
  • Triggers: Tie your story to a unique “trigger” that will remind customers of your brand when seen. Berger added that being “top-of-mind oftentimes means stories are on the tip of the tongue.”
  • Emotion: Stories that draw emotion are more likely to be shared.
  • Public: Making stories public give customers a chance to be the center of attention.
  • Practical: The content must bring value to the customer in some way.
  • Stories: Avoiding brand-focused content.

The format and messaging of a story can have a positive—or a negative—impact on a content marketer’s ability to leverage his or her “Why.” For example, when marketers use trade language and jargon, they sometimes forget humans are on the receiving end of the message, according to Scott Donaton, Chief Content Officer of DigitasLBi.

During his keynote session, Donaton said it’s important for marketers to “speak English; don't speak trade.” He added that “it's important to speak in the language of your buyer to have your message resonate with them.”

Building Stories With An Idea Abundance

No individual pieces of content “exist in and of themselves,” according to Donaton. “There's a content ecosystem that has to be created to help tell the story and express your ‘Why.’”

That ecosystem is fueled by a healthy flow of ideas. Andy Eninger, Learning Program Designer at the Second City Works—a division of the comedy and improvisation theater Second City that helps corporations generate content and discover insights on connecting with customers, other companies and clients—noted during his afternoon keynote session that content marketers can start brainstorming story ideas by listening closely to current customers.

“Find creative ways to listen to your audience” in order to understand what they do and do not want, Eninger said. “Take all that information in and find creative ways to listen to your audience.” He added that this helps companies “let go of their agenda and provide information that the person actually needs.”

"When there's so much data at your fingertips, creating abundance helps you find that idea.” - Andy Eninger, Second City Works

Eninger suggested positive brainstorming sessions have what he calls a more “yes, and” conversation than a “yes, but” conversation. Building on a single idea with “yes, and” helps align teams align on storylines and encourages collaboration, while “yes, but” discussions tend to be more negative.

“It’s important to build upon an idea first, then poke holes in them later,” he said. "’Yes, and’ conversations make it more collaborative, and building upon an idea helps build the foundation. When there's so much data at your fingertips, creating abundance helps you find that idea.”

Another discussion topic was around creating “sexy” content on a budget. However, experts noted that content doesn’t have to be expensive to be sexy.

“There are ways of doing content that are more accessible than people realize,” Donaton said. “[Marketers] should focus on answering what [they] are trying to achieve, and how content will help achieve it.”

Ultimately, storytelling has its success and failures. Eninger suggested that learning from failure is a pivotal cultural and mindset shift B2B companies can adopt to be creative with their content storytelling.

“Hold loosely to your ideas and pivot when you need to—be willing and able to fail,” Eninger said. “If you're not allowing space for failure to occur, there isn't enough room for creativity. Learning from failure creates that safe space, instead of seeing it as something that isn't supposed to happen.”