If you’ve been working in marketing for a while now, you have no doubt read countless blogs, case studies and white papers advocating great content as the ultimate path to the b2b buyer. Indeed, as so many others have, I too recently wrote about the evolution of b2b marketing into a more storytelling-oriented craft. Yes, the B2B buyer journey often starts with great content, and one of the things I have personally come to love about marketing is the opportunity it provides to use both sides of your brain; to marry art and science. A skillful marriage of these two disciplines can produce great content that attracts, educates and delights.
Now maybe science wasn’t exactly your thing in school, and while you may enjoy writing marketing copy, perhaps you’re not expecting the Pulitzer Prize anytime soon. Still, there are some lessons that can make your content more effective.
The application of neuroscience to market research can lay a good foundation to the art of great storytelling, and story-writing, technique.
Writing for Harvard Business Publishing, Vanessa Boris partnered with psychologist Lani Peterson to explore the power of storytelling in a business environment. They note, “Good stories do more than create a sense of connection. They build familiarity and trust.” Trust is an important part of the b2b purchase process. According to the February 2020 edition of “The CMO Survey”, b2b buyers report trust as the most highly ranking factor of the purchase decision, ranking above price.
Neuroscience provides guidance to building this trust. Speaking on the science of persuasion, Dr. Robert Cialdini, author of Six Principles of Persuasion, provides helpful insight into what makes people interested in what you have to say to begin with. Two interesting principles that apply well to building trust through good content are the principle of “liking” and the principle of authority. According to Cialdini, “…we like people who cooperate with us towards mutual goals” and “people follow the lead of credible, knowledgeable experts.”
So to be effective in b2b marketing, you need to build trust. Helpful to building trust is telling stories that demonstrate how a partnership with your brand helps the buyer reach their goals, and why your brand is a credible expert in the field.
Demonstrating credibility is often accomplished through the use of features, figures and stats. We have probably heard this one before, but it bears repeating; psychologist Jerome Bruner’s research suggest that facts are 20 times more likely to be remembered if they’re part of a story. And Kendall Haven, author of Story Proof and Story Smart, writes about influencing your audience, “Information alone rarely changes any of these. Research confirms that well-designed stories are the most effective vehicle for exerting influence.”
New research from the University at Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences makes the connection clear, “Our findings suggest that telling stories when communicating can make the speaker appear more warm and trustworthy, as opposed to…providing only statistics and figures,” the researchers say.
Neuroscience helps us understand why stories are so powerful as methods of communication, and persuasion. It turns out, it’s all in our head. And that’s a good thing.
“Brain scans are revealing what happens in our heads when we read a detailed description, an evocative metaphor or an emotional exchange between characters. Stories, this research is showing, stimulate the brain and even change how we act in life.” The research goes on to show that many parts of our brain are activated when we read. “Words that evoke other senses such as taste and smell stimulate the olfactory cortex, metaphors that described texture stimulated the sensory cortex, or words that describe motion, the motor cortex.”
Finally, stories make us feel, well, human. An experiment conducted by researchers at the University at Buffalo demonstrated that reading a story “actually satisfies that need for human connection because it can mimic what we feel during real social interactions.”
Let’s review. B2B buyers prefer to buy from someone they trust. Trust is even more important than price in the purchasing decision. A good way to build trust is to demonstrate a desire to help the buyer achieve their goals along with credibility. Demonstrating these principles is best done through stories accompanying other important details or stats. Stories are powerful ways to engage; they activate the brain in fabulous ways that build memory, and they fulfill the need for human connection.
So, let’s just all get out there and write great stories as part of our content strategy!
Well, maybe it’s not exactly that simple. But here are some practical suggestions that come from the world of creative writing that can be applied to good marketing writing.
Firstly, consult your buyer personas (you have already created your buyer personas, right? If not, Hubspot has an excellent tool to help you do that) so you know how to “speak” to your audience. For example, if a writer were writing a children’s book, they would use a certain language style. Similarly, if your buyer is an elected official, for example, they have a unique vernacular that can help guide the way you will “speak” about your brand.
Next, think about the make-up of a story, the story arc, so to speak. A good story has a protagonist, or hero; that hero experiences some type of conflict, there is rising action as the hero tries to resolve that conflict, and there is the climax, the point at which the hero has achieved their goal.
Your b2b buyer (this could be a new prospect or an existing customer) is the hero of your story. Your b2b buyer, the hero, has a conflict to resolve, a need to fill. Perhaps they need sales enablement software. They may have to overcome obstacles (the rising action) to resolve their conflict, perhaps budget constraints or executive buy-in. How will your brand empower your hero to resolve their conflict?
Finally, we know from our review of neuroscience that people relate the stories more deeply when they invoke other senses and that they fill a need for human connection. Every marketing story you write may not easily lend itself to this type of writing; for example, if you are writing about a sales enablement SaaS product, you are likely not describing how it smells or tastes. But there may be opportunities to stimulate other responses by using customer or employee testimonials; sharing experiences of people who benefited, and especially sharing how they felt when interacting with your brand, can be deeply engaging, helping your hero to imagine themselves feeling the same way.
Marrying neuroscience with the art of great storytelling can be an effective way to create content that engages b2b buyers more deeply, building trust and creating meaningful connections with your brand.