The Marketing Strategist:

What’s Your Story?

January 27, 2015

Bev Burgess Vincent RousseletCo-authored with Vincent Rousselet

When Tim Cook emerged on the stage of the Flint Center for Performing Arts in September 2014, he was about to tell not one but two stories. The first one was overtly in support of the day’s launches: the iPhone 6 and Apple Watch. The other was the continuation of Apple’s story, a narrative that was started by Steve Jobs and has been running ever since.

Why is storytelling such a powerful technique?

Stories reach three distinct parts of the human brain, directly connecting with our instincts, emotions, and higher-order, rational thinking. Over thousands of years of evolution, our brains have been wired to communicate in this way. Stories turn us on.

But a war for the buyer’s attention is being waged. Every minute of every day we create 204 million email messages, 684,000 bits of content shared on Facebook, 100,000 tweets, and 48 hours of new YouTube videos. And this only keeps growing.

Because storytelling engages audiences emotionally, it can help win this battle for attention. It’s no surprise that, from HP and BT to Telefonica and Orange Business Services to Hitachi and Amdocs, an increasing number of organizations have observed the effectiveness of storytelling in B2C and are now deploying the technique in B2B markets.

In fact, in ITSMA’s 2014 Budget and Trends Survey, when asked about essential skills for the future marketing organization, 53% of senior B2B marketing executives surveyed put storytelling at the top of the list, on par with leadership skills (51%) and ahead of data analytics (36%). Sadly, storytelling is the third most difficult skill to find, behind data analytics and subject matter expertise, according to ITSMA’s 2014 Marketing Talent Survey.

Essential Marketing Skills

“Storytelling is the art of simplifying the complex,” says Chris Williams, head of global marketing at Amdocs, a global software and services company. “That gets harder to do the bigger a company becomes, and that’s the reason we’re launching a new company-wide program that puts the art of storytelling at the very center of our marketing strategy and culture.”

So, how do marketers go about creating stories? Simply put, stories have three components:

  • A plot or storyline. This is the essence of the story, which, according to experts, can be articulated in as few as six words.
  • A story or narrative arc. The arc is the journey you are taking the audience on, starting with an opening scene, followed by various crises—including a point of no return—reaching a climax, and finishing with the denouement. Think Steve Job’s 2005 commencement speech at Stanford.
  • A cast of characters, with predetermined roles. A hero and a villain are a good start. When other archetypes join them, the story becomes more engaging. As part of its Rock Stars campaign, Intel put forward the co-inventor of the USB as one of its heroes.

 Apple may for now remain the best storyteller around, but many B2B marketers are clearly catching up.

This is an extract from a longer article originally published in the 20142015 Winter edition of Market Leader, the magazine of the UK Marketing Society

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