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It pays to make your customer the hero in B2B marketing

It takes great storytelling to make people care about your brand, argues Kevin Ryan, director of marketing, global marcomm at LinkedIn Marketing & Sales Solutions. He outlines how using the ‘hero’s journey’ could transform your marketing campaigns.

If you’ve ever binge‐watched your favourite show on Netflix, you’ll know first‐hand that technology has completely revolutionised the way we consume media.

What makes a story compelling, however, often remains the same. Take the recent success of The Staircase, a crime documentary which was shot back in the early 00s and re‐released on Netflix this year. The production has inevitably aged, but the story remains fascinating and popular among audiences.

A good story will make you feel something, and this often requires a reader or viewer to empathise with the characters involved.

It’s as simple as this: we need to care if we are to be emotionally invested, and people are critical in getting us to care. Their personalities, challenges and relationships are what bring a situation to life and make a story relatable and exciting for an audience. And if we know (or think) a story is true, it can often elicit far stronger emotions.

As marketers, whether you are B2C or B2B, it’s our job to tell stories which are relatable and drive emotion.

Those that do are far more impactful according to the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, with campaigns using purely emotional content performing around twice as well when compared to those with just ‘rational’ content.

However, the truth is that doing this isn’t always easy. At some point along the way, the marketing industry has lost its focus on the story. Campaigns are often designed to be “viral” instead of engaging, useful or empathetic. Marketers are creating content for content’s sake with no strategy linking it together as a narrative.

The Content Marketing Institute says 60 per cent of marketers still don’t have a documented content strategy. But, 74 per cent plan to spend more on content in the coming year.

It’s no surprise then that 95 per cent of that content fails to make an impact, according to Beckon. So how can we change this?

Introducing the hero’s journey

We can learn a lot from literary techniques, and they can help us become better marketers. Joseph Campbell’s book, The Hero’s Journey, shows us one of the most famous storytelling structures of all time.

The hero’s journey often includes a call to adventure or a challenge, an aide or a mentor for assistance, a selection of trials, a triumph and, finally, the hero’s return. You may well recognise that structure in well‐known stories such as Star Wars, Mad Max, and Harry Potter.

Marketers can harness this model to create highly impactful campaigns. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking the brand is the hero here, though. It’s not. The customer always is. The challenges they face are the inspiration for the story you want to tell.

For an example of the hero’s journey in action in the B2B space, look no further than B2B lead generation agency Televerde. It created a brilliant video featuring Erin Ford, who discusses how embarking on a career in sales literally changed her life after she was incarcerated at a young age in America.

The campaign demonstrates the opportunities Televerde gives to people who have made mistakes and deserve a second chance. Through candid interviews and conversations with the people who work there, it shows current employees, future talent and current and prospective customers something about what the company stands for and who it is as a business. It completely humanises the business and the brand.

We can also see the hero’s journey in Samsung’s More Good Days campaign. Here, the hero isn’t just one customer, but all of Samsung’s customers. Through highlighting the little things that can make the difference between a good and a bad day at work – such as getting home on time to be with family, or not being stressed by a manic inbox – Samsung made its campaign personal and relatable.

The company offered solutions to common struggles and created an emotional campaign that humanised their B2B brand, while not straying away from their message – that technology can make your working life easier.

Encouraging better B2B storytelling

Talent lies at the heart of better storytelling. I’m extremely fortunate at LinkedIn to work in a team that thinks about what drives their audiences emotionally and they strive to find the best story every day.

From experience, there are a few areas which will increase a marketing team’s chances of telling impactful stories.

If we are going to make our customers the heroes of their own stories, we need to really understand what’s keeping them up at night.

Sales teams know customers better than anyone else and can help marketers tell stories which really resonate. Close collaboration with sales colleagues is essential.

The hero’s journey also gives us something to think about when it comes to our relationships with our colleagues or clients. Approaching those we work with as ‘the hero’ and carving a role for ourselves as ‘the trusted mentor’ can help us be a lot more effective as marketers.

Let’s take a moment to imagine this. Our colleagues and clients are facing numerous challenges, but rarely does the mentor force their expertise on the hero, no matter how difficult those challenges are. Marketers need to lead those they are working with to the best resolution, without being forceful or instructive. They do this through being trusted.

Leveraging the hero’s journey in our brand campaigns creates strong stories that really land with audiences, while applying it to our own relationships helps us to do better work. Combining the two can be a powerful force.

Key takeaways

  • Think about ways you can make your customer the hero in their journey. This means thoroughly understanding their challenges and helping to guide them through their business concerns.
  • You need to have a deep understanding of your customers to do this well, so work closely with sales colleagues to get under the skin of the issues they face.
  • Putting the customer at the heart of your marketing efforts, and creating emotive content driven by their needs, will be the difference between good and great campaigns.

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