(Cross-posted, originally published in Wearables Magazine, March 2013).
Masses of B2B marketers are trying to move the proverbial needle in sales today by resorting to a centuries old tradition: storytelling. Once an exclusive domain reserved for artisans, it is now the purview of the average businessperson; you must create. To be precise, you must learn how to tell a good story.
Measure your own digital consumption habits: you are more likely to read an article, view a video, or listen to an audio clip about a particular service or product before you decide to purchase. In short, you would rather hear a narrative (experience a story) than suffer through a sales pitch (same as it ever was if you ask any sales raconteur who knows his way successfully toward a close).
The good news is you neither have to wax elegiac like a french poet nor portray sweeping narratives with paint like Van Gogh, you simply have to abide by a few guiding principles of sound storytelling plus learn how to leverage the right tools for you. (For the moment, we're going to shelve the words "marketing" and "content" because these words might impede progress, we will return to renovate them). In our business, we've learned a few vital keys that have unlocked the magic of storytelling but before I share with you the critical principles we've learned ("are learning" is more apropos), we have to remove one seriously stubborn obstacle: you.
If there is a villain (and there is always a villain in the arc of any good story), it's you. Suffer this fool for a moment and pretend we both believe the most important person in the room is the customer. (The most important person is not the customer, as sales pundit Jeffrey Gitomer once wryly noted: "Two people in a room, you and the customer, who is the most important person? The customer. Let me ask it another way, one of you has to drop dead, who will it be? That's right: the customer. Now we've established who is the most important person in the room). The villain I refer to is not you per se, it is your antiquated sales mentality.
For starters, the features and benefits side of your Jekyl and Hyde sales demeanor must die. The modern mindset can scarcely stomach a sales pitch and can sniff a set-up a mile away. "If you talked to people the way advertising talked to people, they'd punch you in the face," Hugh MacLeod observed. Our days are inundated with advertising messages, the deluge deadens us. The only way to break through the barricades of mental defenses is to attempt to enchant our audience, we must learn to captivate, and our audience won't be captivated by terminology lifted from your technical manuals or the charming prose pilfered from your bill of lading. You are getting in the way of your own story because you incorrectly believe that your product and your product details are more important than your product's purpose when, in the eyes of your customers, purpose trumps product (which is ironic because both you and the customer spend an inordinate amount of time discussing details about the product). Watch the fashion industry spin sartorial stories with beautiful people in commercials and on runways and you begin to believe "if I wear that garment, I could be beautiful too". The material specifications about textiles are left backstage. "Polyester tricot with mesh insets" emits yawns. Glitz on the runway and glamour on the magazine cover yields sales.
Watch a video of master storyteller Steve Jobs unveil a product at one of his infamous keynotes, (appropriately dubbed "Stevenotes"), Steve discusses technical details lightly. Those details are minor characters in the story. What is crucial, (and what becomes memorable), is Steve's descriptive narrative about what we can do with his wonderful products. His interjections (beautiful! awesome!) are practically primary but he knows how to captivate an audience. His palpable enthusiasm is spellbinding because, as his willing participants, we want to believe. Steve's congregation of consumers (your audience, too) is no different than theatre audiences, sports spectators, or even restaurant patrons (where the author Gay Talese calls the art of plating, "theatre in the round"): we all want to believe!