How to Turn Your Marketing Messages into Visual B2B Stories

In our previous posts we made the case for storytelling in your B2B content marketing. But how do you do that? It isn’t easy. Your audience is busy, your space is noisy, the world is increasingly visual and… people don’t read. Chances are you’re selling a product or service that doesn’t lend itself to storytelling. Maybe it’s even ‘boring’.

Messaging to Visual Story

Challenge yourself to turn your marketing messages into visual stories. Follow these steps to create visual narratives:

Include the all-important Voice of Your Customer

Contact current customers and interview them about your solution. Assure them that it’s off the record. Ask about both positive and negative aspects.

You’ll learn about new uses of your product, issues it helps that you weren’t aware of, and additional benefits it bestows. You can use these in your story without attributing them to any specific client.

Understand your audience – who, exactly, are you telling your story to? What are their concerns and pain points? Make them the hero of your story.

Don’t just show your solution… show your prospect’s current situation. Prospects need to see their current status quo as unsafe, so your story should depict the gaps and deficiencies that make it unsustainable.

Start with a bang

Avoid the ‘slow reveal’ that’s typical in business videos. People tend to build their case chronologically and eventually reach their conclusions. Remember you have to grab the viewer at the beginning. Look over your story and see if there’s an intrinsically riveting scene, and try placing it at the beginning. Time does not have to be linear in your story.

Conflict

A story needs conflict. Highlight the business problem that your client is dealing with… the one that your solution will fix. Your hero is that target client – whoever is feeling the pain of the status quo. What does that character want? He wants to save time, save money, or improve output in some way.

IMPORTANT: This becomes the theme for the story. I write it on a sheet of paper and pin it to the cork board where I can see it. Any idea or bit of business (no matter how clever) that isn’t ‘on theme’, doesn’t make it into the story.

Be careful to keep the story on track. Pare away anything that isn’t essential to your primary theme. If you find something ‘off theme‘, that’s a compelling topic, save it for your next story.

Your story must show clear contrast between the status quo and your solution. Show how your new approach specifically fills the gaps and overcomes the deficiencies of the status quo. Contrast is required to help the brain determine the virtues of your solution – if there’s no contrast, no value is perceived. The part of the brain you’re appealing to doesn’t have the capacity for language, and it needs contrast to help make a decision.

Be concrete

People struggle with the abstract; and B2B business topics can be abstract, particularly technology products and services. Simple, concrete visuals tell your prospect’s brain that the solution is real. Complex and abstract visuals confuse the brain and prevent a decision. By using simple visuals, you’re making a complicated concept seem doable enough to drive a decision.

For example, Cisco’s “My Networked Life” is a documentary-style video series that takes you around the world for a look at how professionals, entrepreneurs, artists and students are using connected technology to achieve goals and realize dreams. These stories are personal, they are real and they are powerful. There are no tech specs, just stories about how Cisco’s technology is benefitting its users.

What happens next?

The story needs to move forward. Show your hero struggling with his problem and trying to solve it himself. All stories have this element. There’s an obstacle to overcome, but if it’s taken care of on the first try, you have a boring story. So, your hero puts up a valiant fight. He works hard, brainstorms, asks colleagues for help… but doesn’t come up with a solution that’s viable.

How does your hero change?

The story’s events should affect your hero in some way. He should come out thinking or acting differently than before. Your solution makes his life better. He has more time to devote to business strategy, or more money to spend on R&D, or his product is so improved his profits soar.

Who else is involved?

Are others (at your target business) affected by this problem and solution? In our two to four minute videos, we try to keep the number of characters to a minimum. Each additional character takes time (even if it’s just a few seconds) to introduce. But we need more than one character… someone for the hero to interact with. It could be his boss, a peer, a supplier or a customer.

Text + visuals = good… but multimedia is even better

A recent report from PR Newswire on “Press Releases as Lead Generators” analyzed the success of 10,000 press releases and their results are fascinating:

  • Adding a photo to a press release resulted in a 14% response increase (over text-only releases)
  • Adding a video, 20% response increase
  • Adding both photo and video, 48% response increase.

The takeaway for B2B storytellers? Multimedia is engaging. The more interesting takeaway is that combining them delivers better engagement.

Aim for an emotional response

You want to make a connection with your audience, and the best connections are always emotional. Even in B2B, people buy on emotion and justify with logic. If your story discusses only your prospects’ business objectives, you end up with an intellectual argument.

In his book, A Whole New Mind, Dan Pink explains the difference between facts and a story: “Facts are ‘The queen died, and then the king died.’ A story is ‘The queen died, and then the king died of a broken heart.’

Link data with emotion. Tell about the people who were affected… first by the difficult environment of the status quo, and then by the easier, less stressful world resulting from your solution. For example, not just that the bank was able to comply with new regulations, but that the CFO was able to sleep at night, and the investors were no longer worried about fines (or even jail time).

Drive action

B2B marketers want our audience to take some sort of action: register for our webinar, check out our product demo, or speak to a salesperson. Your ‘Call to Action’ should be explicit; but not jarring.

How do we achieve that?

Replicate the architecture that Nancy Duarte identifies as being common to great presentations: “Great presentations frequently move between explaining ‘what is’ and ‘what could be’ with as large a gap between them as possible.” Make the status quo and the normal unappealing so that your audience wants to achieve the “what could be” – the “new bliss”. Who doesn’t want some more bliss in their life?

Change it up!

Once you have your first draft done, try different genres. Rewrite it in a humorous tone. Replace statistics with emotional triggers. This is B2B so we don’t want to be frivolous or syrupy, but I’ve found that these changes often give me a few ideas that add interest to the story. Most of the jokes get cut, and most of the stats are reintroduced, but the final story is richer, more interesting.

Summary

acSellerant helps you clarify your story. Our clients count on us to quickly help them translate dry marketing messages into clear and compelling storylines.

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About the Author:

Managing Consultant at acSellerant. Seasoned business marketer currently focused on positioning, sales messaging, content marketing and visual storytelling.

2 Comments
  1. Good guidance. Your advice about knowing your audience is an excellent reminder as too many videos fall off the rails at the very beginning with a muddled message by trying to talk to multiple audiences. The result is they don’t approach their product or service from the mindset of their primary target.

  2. Thanks, Ed. It’s common for businesses to try to address more than one customer persona, or cover more than one topic. As you noted, it’s ill-advised. What’s relevant and useful to one person is irrelevant and useless to the next.

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