Written by Tom Swanson, Director of Engagement, Heinz Marketing
“A story doesn’t work when it’s your story. It works when it becomes theirs”
Seth Godin said this in a blog post, and it’s very easy to look at and agree with, but there is one major thing to unpack. Word “Become“It is the main component of this entire quote, because that is what we need to do. The right question is, ‘How?’
As marketers, it’s pretty cliché that the messages have to be about value to the customer, their story has to be. No matter how many times we get it wrong, and we (often) do it, we at least rant about it. Brands promote themselves as customer-centric, candidates show them in interviews, and marketing classes everywhere dedicate entire segments to it. Cue the group, “We’re getting it.”
As with many great ideas, it falls apart in execution. How do we do that? How is our story had become their story? This is the pickle, the puzzle to be solved, the big predicament. B2B buying, by its very nature, is a process that requires skepticism. Buyers need to find the best tool for them. The person who will make their vision a reality. The person who makes their story happen.
But a preamble is sufficient. How can we, as marketers, make our story theirs? What is the process? Across our work in B2B, we’ve seen a variety of approaches work. Here are 3 prototypes that you can use to design messages that turn your story into theirs.
Let them use the product
There is simply no better way to enable someone to make your product story their own than to let them try it out. Product led growth (PLG) is a big topic in marketing these days, and the exciting part is that it’s based on the same concept as this blog (at least in my view). The concept of leadership with a product means that you put the product out there and allow buyers to put their unique needs, perspectives, and desires first.
This is like submitting a scaffold to a designer. You show a framework of what’s possible with your product, but the buyers themselves take their use cases and adapt the product to do what they need. This can be intimidating because you don’t have the same amount of control over your use cases and messaging, but let’s be honest, when were marketers in control of anything? We are already experienced facilitators and more attention grabbing.
Dark Social Connection
The idea of dark social media is simple: untraceable conversations and communities drive a much larger part of purchasing decisions than we know. People talk about the challenges they face or the amazing solutions they have come up with in these communities. Hearing these things from others is connected, and through association, others naturally impose elements of their own story on what is being shared. The result is insanely powerful. Word of mouth has always been and will always be the most powerful force in marketing.
Mutual trust is the key here. If you want to take advantage of dark social networks, you should deal with them without selling or marketing, because doing so violates the trust of the community. You might get a chance to share great news about your company at some point, or suggest it when it’s relevant, but you can’t enter the community with that in mind. It is very transparent when someone’s reason for being in the community is to sell rather than contribute and benefit from the collective resource of knowledge.
At the same time, you have to trust that the results will come. This won’t work for everyone, and this skepticism is hard to bear. However, they didn’t call it a “dark” socialite because it would be easy.
For an example, look no further than Netflix (or Amazon). According to Netflix, 80% of the content offered comes from algorithm recommendations. This is crazy. Recommended 4/5 minutes of content watched on Netflix via AI personalization. Why are B2B companies lagging behind in this trend? Providing custom funnels for content like this is an excellent way to create meaning for buyers who start seeing their problems reflected in your content.
When you offer a personalized message or experience, your focus should be on two things:
- Answer their questions quickly
- Help them visualize your product in their story
If you have written the content correctly, you should not glorify the features of your product, but should praise the benefits that buyers can get. You should draw pictures of the problems that have been solved and the obstacles that have been overcome. Combined with an engine that can get that content into people’s hands, based on how they want to consume it, integrating your story and theirs is a natural next step.
Giving up control, embracing guidance
You should see a pretty consistent theme over the past three tips: losing control of the story. If you really want to be successful in turning your story into theirs, it’s okay to let your buyers control the story. If your product is good and well supported, this should not be a problem. A robust product with great support can fly on its own, but a substandard or unsupported product will suffer from this approach.
Your job, when turning your story into theirs, is not to control the buyer’s attention, but to direct it. You only provide a track for the attention, but the details about how fast it’s going, what turns it takes, and when to finally turn is up to the buyer. If you try to interfere too hard, or take too much control, they will simply go somewhere else.
PLG, dark social sharing, and personal experiences will help with this, but the basic idea is simple: Giving control of the story willingly to the buyer.
If you want to talk more about this, let me know. You can contact me at email@example.com