My first job out of college was as a B2B copywriter. I was excited about the writing aspect, but B2B? No one I knew worked in B2B; it was a corner of corporate communications and thus often considered dry and dull. And while my perspective has changed greatly since those early days, B2B content still gets a bad rap. However, it doesn’t have to be that way; even the most traditional forms can be taken up a notch by employing storytelling techniques.
Indeed, stories help people process information, as well as establish an emotional or personal connection between themselves and the subject being discussed. Below we look at two tactics that can help make even the most challenging B2B content more manageable for the writer, and more enjoyable for the reader.
Find the stakes in your story
Case studies are the bread and butter of customer acquisition, and something that most companies have (or should have) on their site. Such work samples are more than a simple way to relate success metrics; this form gives companies an opportunity to convey why they are better than their competitors at what they do. Unfortunately, many case studies aren’t really case studies and fall into the trap of being too high-level or vague. Storytelling comes in handy here, as companies can explain why the problem was so difficult and engage readers in a relatable issue while providing details.
A typical case study often starts out in this way: “Our client needed to release a targeted mobile marketing campaign to increase sales in the mid-Atlantic market.” Okay, but why did the client need that? What was at stake if they didn’t have this campaign?
Infuse a little drama (after getting client go-ahead) and set up the stakes for the problem your company solved: “Sales in the mid-Atlantic region were slow, and our client decided to release a targeted marketing campaign in the market. They were already working under a tight timeline, with just a few weeks left to hit Q2 sales goals or face layoffs and loss of investor confidence. Their effort was further complicated by a saturated marketplace and poor quality of available customer data. Our client couldn’t reach the customers they needed to.” That’s 72 words, packing a whole lot of stakes.
One or two salient details outlining the problem can make all the difference in creating a case study that’s relatable and provides enough context to bring business issues to life. For more inspiration on case studies, this resource from Carnegie Mellon University can get the wheels turning.
Tap into the human side of business
No one faced with an annual report has ever been overwhelmed with the creative possibilities of the form. (Apologies if this is a sweeping generalization.) While this type of content may not be considered interesting by many people, it is a great opportunity to weave in some storytelling elements. After all, a little style never hurt anyone, and the information in these reports is important. I think this line from the Harvard Business Review says it best: “Data can persuade people, but it doesn’t inspire them to act; to do that, you need to wrap your vision in a story that fires the imagination and stirs the soul.”
Oxfam America’s 2016 annual report is a great example of couching data within narrative. Instead of listing accomplishments and financials at the onset, the organization’s efforts and impact are highlighted at the beginning of the report through mini case studies. The report also incorporates many quotes throughout from recipients of the services Oxfam dispenses, as well as Oxfam executives.
The annual report educates donors and interested parties on Oxfam’s accomplishments and financials, but it also makes sure that the connection between donor money and the people served is clear. Through use of case studies and photography, Oxfam highlights the possibilities of what could be accomplished in a touching way. The same principle applies in B2B (or any industry). The services and products your company is working hard to produce year after year fill a need. Don’t be afraid to reaffirm your mission and values; remember, business is about the relationships between people.
The methods discussed above are not exclusive to one form; they can be applied to almost any type of content. B2B content doesn’t have to be put in a corner; it can be dynamic, interesting, and relatable—but above all it can, and should, tell a story.