Facts Tell – Stories Sell
But what does this mean for B2B narratives?
I came across the phrase ‘Facts tell- Stories Sell’ a few weeks ago. It’s not a new phrase, but it resonated for me. After all, this is what I help tech leaders to, transform complex messages into compelling narratives that reach and influence key audiences. But why are stories so powerful and what elements make them so?
Well-told stories have four significant advantages for B2B tech businesses wishing to influence, customers, investors and other stakeholders. They make businesses more memorable; create differentiation; build connection; and develop context.
In many high-tech markets the temptation is to rely on product specifications, speeds, capacities and sizes to tell the story. But the human brain struggles with lots of facts – it’s hard to remember numbers and data without a narrative thread to connect them. Search for ‘how to improve your memory’ online and you’ll see hundreds of techniques; virtually all of them involve using visual images and stories to relate facts into a wider whole. The human mind likes a narrative to connect things together. By creating stories you immediately make it more likely that your audience will remember the key information.
It is also easier for you to remember and so become consistent in your communications. Consistent repetition of stories is another powerful way of building profile – and it also helps ensure that all of your spokespeople, official and unofficial, are on message. It is a truism of communications that it is only when you are bored of telling the same story that your audience will start to remember it and begin to associate the key themes and messages with you!
The other key problem faced by many technology businesses is that when it comes down to it the technical differences between solutions are often tiny. It can be hard to differentiate with product alone – especially in markets where standards and regulation are important. Even customer-endorsements and case studies can quickly start to sound very similar. Today differentiation has to come from the stories you tell, and the way you tell them. Creating a compelling story that moves beyond product and weaves opinion and vision into the sales process, can help you stand out from the pack. Unearthing an anecdote, insight or experience that is authentically your own, and using it as the seed of a narrative will establish your voice as different and worth listening to.
Create a connection
Even in B2B situations it is important to create an emotional connection with your audience. The temptation in B2B communications is to focus on hard business issues and solutions, to talk about corporations, functions and job roles. But people are still at the heart of these relationship. Putting people into the story, making them the heroes rather than the products creates better stories that are more engaging for media, sales and internal audiences. We all love to hear stories about people, ideally about people like us and how they have overcome obstacles and been successful. I always start my story development workshops by focusing in on the people in the story – who ultimately is affected, what are the things that matter to them, what’s it like to walk in their shoes. Stories about people create emotional resonance that builds engagement – it’s a key reason why stories are so effective in selling.
Stories also provide the space to add context around products and solutions. They are ways of adding the how and the why to the what of products. Finding the touchpoints that contextualise what you are selling into the pressures, desires, needs and expectations of the audience is key to creating stories that sell. Often these stories start with the ‘Why’. Why does your insight, heritage, vision or opinion add value, and how can you convey this in a story?
Now more than ever, audiences of all types are asking more searching why questions about technology. The almost unquestioning acceptance that every technical advance is a positive has gone. People are asking increasingly well-informed questions about the wider implications of technological progress, and to be effective technology communicators need to provide context that answers or even head off these questions. Stories are the most effective way to do this.
I heard from a client last week that at a recent investment conference a successful entrepreneur said – much as Bill Gates committed to spend his last dollar on PR – that he’d invest in building his story first. Investors, just like everyone else struggle with lots of facts, to find differentiation and to remember one pitch from the next. The same is true of journalists, customers and even staff. Finding, creating and honing your corporate stories is the essential first step to creating powerful communications. With a consistent, compelling narrative in place then all communications and marketing strategies will be more effective.