B2B marketingNothing ruins a good writing session like the Evil Story Whisperer, who lives in the back of my brain, deriding my how-to B2B marketing posts because they aren’t epic narratives.

I defend myself, casting around my outline looking for a setting, plot, characters, conflict.

The blog post is a sequence, I say.

The hero is the reader.

The journey, a series of steps.

The Evil Story Whisperer is not satisfied.

I’m learning to tune him out.

Readers are savvy.

They know what they want, and it’s not always a story.

(Special thanks to Andy Crestodina, who made a similar point, giving me the courage to write this.)

Successful B2B Marketing Offers Practical Tips for Success

Practical B2B content won the day in 2018, according to an analysis by BuzzSumo, which looked at the 50,000 most socially shared articles, videos, and other content published on B2B sites last year.

The six most popular headline phrases were:

  1. “The Future of”
  2. “How to use”
  3. “Need to” (without “Know”)
  4. “How to Create”
  5. “Here’s How”
  6. “You Need to Know”

While there may have been story elements in each of these posts, it’s clear the focus was practical.

When crafting content for B2B audiences, we should think about how readers define success, and what stands in their way of obtaining it.

Then, we should remove the obstacle, with words and images.

For example, let’s say an audience wants to use content marketing to get attention on Facebook, their definition of success.

They may fail if they publish the wrong types of content (their obstacle).  

So, in return, I will create an “Ultimate Guide to Facebook Engagement” that will help move that obstacle out of the way.

Here are some other examples from the top B2B content of 2018.

Success Obstacle Words and Image based solution
“Reach Facebook users who are most likely to be interested in your business. Facebook’s audience is broad, and messages fail to get to the right people. How to Use Facebook Custom Audiences: A Step-by-Step Guide
“Data required for their work and their stories.” Data is hard to find Making it easier to discover datasets
Getting “anything valuable in life which involves relationships — be it business, marriage, charity work, or entertainment.” Using the wrong tool A professor explains why networking is a waste of time and what you should be doing instead.

Be Human, Be Empathetic, Be Interesting

I don’t know the full story of storytelling as a B2B marketing trope.

But, I suspect the theme now represents writing goals like empathy, humanity, and interest.

Do not under any circumstances throw those babies out with any writing bathwater!

Here’s a quick look at the top 10 B2B articles from 2018.

In seven of the top 10 posts, I was able to identify a feeling the author played on quickly:

  • Fear
  • Insider information
  • Invasion of privacy
  • Justice
  • Injustice
  • Ego
  • Power

Your conclusions may vary, but I have no doubt you will find some emotional connection.

The remaining three posts in the top 10 are hard-core practical information.

As B2B marketing content creators, we need to develop an ability to describe processes well, and an ability to connect with audiences on an emotional level around work topics.

Both of these skills are more important than transforming everything into a story.

Banish Wimpy Words! Dramatize!

Here is the opening paragraph from the TechCrunch article at the top of our list.

The credit rating giant, one of the largest in the world, was trusted with some of the most sensitive data used by banks and financiers to determine who can be lent money. But the company failed to patch a web server it knew was vulnerable for months, which let hackers crash the servers and steal data on 147 million consumers. Names, addresses, Social Security numbers and more — and millions more driver license and credit card numbers were stolen in the breach. Millions of British and Canadian nationals were also affected, sparking a global response to the breach.

I’ve highlighted dramatic word choices.

Let’s remove them, and see what happens.

Equifax, a large credit rating company, had financial data that banks and financiers used to determine who can be lent money. But, the company didn’t patch a web server it knew was broken for months, which let hackers use the servers and access data….

My version is perfectly serviceable, but a lot less interesting to read.

Since Thesaurus.com is just a click away, finding more dramatic words to substitute for bland versions isn’t hard or time-consuming.

It’s a simple discipline we can build into our routines.

Use Narrative in Practical, Helpful Ways

In Voice Phishing Scams Are Getting More Clever, Brian Krebs uses story to disarm the reader and get their attention.

He introduces characters with their digital pedigree front and center. I imagine these characters match his readers’ profiles, and quickly makes the point that if a phishing scam could happen to them, it could also occur to readers.

Another narrative tactic is also a subtle way to describe a process without using how-to format.

Show and Tell

That’s the approach in Capture the Flag: The Emergence of Complex Cooperative Agents.

The article walks the reader through a project, with images and videos that show the tasks that were accomplished.

We can reframe many of our B2B writing projects as a story, in a second piece of content. It makes sense to use that avenue and double the impact of our work.

Hollywood may never call for the movie rights to my “Ultimate Guide to Facebook Engagement”, or “How to Generate Endless Blog Post Ideas for B2B Marketing Content”.

That’s ok.

My content has a heroic mission to solve real problems, elicit emotion, grab attention and maximize return on investment with sensible use of narrative.

Take that, Evil Story Whisperer!

Do you have an Evil Story Whisperer you battle with when you create B2B content? Share your tales of vanquish in the comments below.

Editor’s note: Got any questions about B2B marketing? Susan will be talking about How to Create Engaging B2B Content in our next #SpinSucksAMA, Thursday, March 14 at 1 pm ET. Details in the Spin Sucks community. And, if you haven’t joined the Spin Sucks community yet, here’s how.

Photo by Vincent Botta on Unsplash

Susan Moeller

Susan Moeller, business development manager at BuzzSumo, helps people discover ways to use content marketing data. An experienced communicator, Susan loves great messages and helping people create them. She firmly believes in the value of social media – to enrich lives, to sell products, and to make people laugh.

View all posts by Susan Moeller