A few weeks ago I attended the B2B InTech Marketing conference and noticed that there was a common theme running through all sessions focusing on the art of storytelling. This was also reiterated in a recent interview I had with LinkedIn around content marketing and the power of message management.

Storytelling is described by Wikipedia as…the conveying of events in words, sound and/or images, often by improvisation or embellishment. Stories or narratives have been shared in every culture as a means of entertainment, education, cultural preservation and instilling moral values.

From a marketing standpoint, storytelling has long been the preferred route when engaging with audiences – it’s direct, targeted and, when done well, personal.

Before creating a piece of content I consider the trade-offs below to make sure that I’m focused on my end goal:

  • Volume vs Value– are we trying to stay top of mind with a number of pieces or do we just have one shot to capture attention?
  • Creativity vs Impact– is the idea to inspire with abstract vision or drive a direct call-to-action with clear messaging?
  • Predictability vs Innovation – do we want to connect two dots with a logical conclusion or provide a fresh look at and propose a new concept?
  • Speed vs Preparation– is it more important to get the content out quickly based on current news and events or should we take our time to research the issue and create an in-depth piece?

Once there’s a clear understanding of the story we want to tell and how we plan to tell it, we can move forward to the content development phase.

Here, my top tips are:

  1. Be ruthless when writing content. People, especially in B2B, are quite busy and have short attention spans. Less is more – make it relevant.
  2. Localisation is key. Be mindful of the region and culture for your audience and ensure all content is bespoke.
  3. Keep people engaged. Surprise and delight with unexpected bits embedded in the content as people consume. And think past the first interaction. Include clear steps for people to further engage with your brand if they so desire.
  4. Make it sustainable. Ensure that your content has a long shelf life. Avoid anything that will may make your piece irrelevant next week, next month, or event next year. And find ways to build on what you’ve already done to create an ongoing narrative that feels seamless to your consumer.

Personally I believe that evolution and personalisation are central to effective storytelling as a piece of content is only interesting if it’s targeted to the right person, in the right place at the right time, and able to endure over time. A brand that resonates with me and offers all these qualities is John Lewis. This is a brand that I’ve grown up with because it finds ways to connect with people at all stages of life.

For me, that strength comes down to an ability to pitch the right story to each group. I remember walking through the store with my parents as a child picking out my school stationary, then as a university student looking for my first kettle, then buying furniture for my first flat and it’s still with me now, a brand that I will turn to at every step. John Lewis continues to evolve and brings its loyal customers with it. And for me it all comes together for their Christmas advertising of course, which is one of the strongest examples of brand storytelling that we see each year.

So, whether you’re in B2B or B2C, remember that good storytelling can be the key to success in a crowded marketplace where time and attention are at a premium. Focus on making a personal and emotional connection with your audience that stands the test of time and you too can have lifelong customer advocates like John Lewis has in me.