Posted by Cognito on Fri, Aug 22 2014

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The Power of Storytelling

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In B2B communications, the power of storytelling is often forgotten or underestimated – particularly when we think about the sheer number of communications channels available to marketers today. We’re often faced with a dizzying array of opportunities to push out a message – from social media to media relations to digital marketing. Too often we mistake content generation and amplification for storytelling – but they go hand in hand. As marketing executives, we play important roles as integrated storytellers, examining the elements of our messages and ideas and crafting a stirring narrative that can be leveraged across all communications channels.

Here are five ideas on how we can go from message marketers to storytellers:

  1. Envision the experience – when we tell stories in our personal lives, often we focus on the reaction we want to evoke. We insert dramatic pauses, interesting details, paint visual pictures. Similarly, as corporate storytellers, we should envision the experience of our end reader – whether that person is a hedge fund manager, a CTO or a corporate treasurer. If as marketers we want to prompt action, we need to create an experience that provokes one. For example, in a recent project on behalf of a Cognito client, we shot a short documentary focused on how the client had brought jobs back to a rural Southern US town that had been devastated by economic recession. With one-on-one interviews and video footage of the town – what had previously been a “corporate message” was now a living, breathing experience.
  2. Stories are not always told in words – interactive media have created new mediums by which corporate marketers can tell stories without using words at all. The rise of video, infographics, interactive sites – all have empowered marketers to pursue visual storytelling. Visual stories can be communications gold when thinking across channels. For example, we’ve worked with companies to leverage infographics across media relations, blogs, direct e-mail marketing and even as printed collateral at industry events.
  3. Every legendary story has legendary characters. Within financial marketing, and particularly with B2B marketing, we cannot forget the characters – the senders and receivers of the messages. We often challenge our clients to ask themselves, “Who are we really talking to”? It’s one thing to say, “We’re targeting the top European banks” – but another thing to say, “We’re speaking to Antony Jenkins, CEO of Barclays.” And to take it further, putting the human back in the brand by having communications come from the CEO or Head of Sales or Customer Relations VP makes storytelling a highly personal experience. Once we figure out who our characters are, we can more carefully craft the message and medium. For example, “buyer personas” are good vehicles for profiling our target market and can be integrated across mediums.
  4. Create conflict – When thinking about all the various channels available to marketers today, a common question that arises is – how do we make our story resonate? A common gap in marketing today is lack of conflict, particularly in B2B marketing. Every edge-of-your-seat, page-turning story involves tension, conflict and resolution. In one of our recent client campaigns, we built a story around a serious impending regulatory deadline and the risk compliance managers face by becoming inadvertently non-compliant by waiting too long to implement a solution. We leveraged that story across a dedicated social community, through premium direct marketing, a high-end physical event and in media relations. And that consistency of conflict and resolution created a higher opportunity for engagement.
  5. Be authentic – In an age of absolute information overload, the stories that resonate are the ones that are authentic. Even individuals within the B2B industry are exhausted by marketing jargon and the relentless pushing of messages. In order to have a story that compels, we as marketers need to tell stories that we ourselves believe in. We often ask our clients to say, “Tell me, in your own words, what the story is” and allow the ideas to flow. Given the number of channels available to us today, having an authentic narrative that can be consumed in 140 characters or in 3 minutes on YouTube is the only way marketers can consistently maximize the integrated opportunity. Ask yourself, what’s your story?

The power of storytelling is on the rise, particularly as communications channels proliferate. Having a single, compelling story that can be leveraged across channels impacts budget ROI, message consistency and brand potential. We at Cognito are helping our clients think more holistically about their communications because we believe that authentic, confident and creative storytelling can unlock much-needed latent potential in what firms are already doing today.

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