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Mike Lieberman, CEO and Chief Revenue ScientistTue, May 2, 2017 12 min read

Storytelling: The Lost Art In The Science Of Inbound Marketing

Poor Results? It Might Not Be Your Tactics; It Might Be Your Message

Marketing can feel very militaristic with campaigns, targets and email as air cover and sales as the ground attack, but the reality is you’re attempting to talk to people. Thinking about your potential prospects as people and not targets is likely to produce a different result. Once you realize marketing strategies need to be a human-to-human effort, you might rethink what you’re saying to them.

For example, if you’re talking about yourself, people might not care as much. Instead, try to craft a message that’s more about them. If you’re talking about the features and benefits of what you do, it’s likely your prospects won’t remember many of these details. It’s not that those details aren’t wonderful, it’s just that our brains aren’t wired to remember stuff like that.

But we are wired to remember stories. People remember stories that have an emotional component, feature your prospects as the hero, clearly illustrate what you do, highlight what makes you special and explain how you’re going to help your prospects. Stories need to disrupt the status quo and get people thinking. This is usually what defines a successful revenue growth strategy vs. one that’s destined to fall short.

The big challenge? Story creation and development is hard work. It’s an art form. You’re not creating a screenplay, so you don’t have 90 minutes to tell your story. You’re not producing a commercial, so you don’t have 30 seconds. You’re trying to tell your story on the web, which means you have 10 seconds.

You need to disrupt people’s status quo, connect with them emotionally, help them see that you understand their pain and can solve it, show them that you’ve done it before for other people like them and highlight how you do it differently — all in 10 seconds, in story format, with them as the hero of story.

Here are some ways we blend the art of storytelling with our scientific approach to marketing.

Use A Methodology To Create The Stories

If you want your stories to drive sales and revenue, you should create them using a defined, proven and tested creation methodology. You can’t simply pull them out of the blue. I’d also caution you not to rely too much on customers. Remember, people told Apple no one would ever want a phone that had a camera built in. Oops! No one told Mini to build a tiny car during the height of the SUV explosion. Oops! Your customers don’t always have the answer.

Compelling stories come from a deep understanding of your customers’ challenges, issues and pains. Sometimes they don’t know that solutions actually exist for their current pains. By overlaying the buyer journey map with the questions prospects are asking and the pains they’re suffering, you get a clear picture of potential stories that might resonate.

But that’s not enough. That’s still scientific. The art has to be applied. You need to sprinkle in some insights, you need to make prospects “feel” something and you need to create a story that features them as the hero. This isn’t easy. It takes creative exercises and brainstorming. The result should be a handful of compelling, emotional and disruptive stories that move your prospects to action. The outcome is not the creation of the story but rather the business results derived from using the stories. Keep that in mind.

Test The Stories

Great, you came up with a few amazing stories. Your management team is excited and your sales team is also excited. Hold up; before everyone goes crazy, you should consider testing the stories. To be honest, I care less about what your team thinks and care much more about how prospects respond to the stories. To get that feedback, I want to test them.

We’ve run tests on social media. We’ve run tests on AdWords. We’ve run tests on a micro site or the client’s main website. Our testing methodology ensures we have stories that drive response, drive clicks and drive business results. Those are all key attributes of proven marketing strategy and the secret to getting results from inbound marketing.

You’re Probably Going To Need A Story Inventory

One or two stories do not make up a marketing strategy. You need an inventory of stories. You might need different stories for different personas. You might need different stories for different verticals. You might have three or four equally interesting, test-approved stories that you want to run in a sequenced manner to improve the engagement experience. The more stories you have, the stronger your marketing and the better equipped you are to drive leads.

Plus, marketing messages are adjusted so frequently that it’s rare these days for companies to tell one story for the entire year. It makes more sense to have a series of stories that are orchestrated with other campaign assets like content, email, events, influencer, social media and web. You put the full weight of your marketing behind the stories and drive those deep into your prospects ecosystem. This produces the biggest return for the heavy lifting associated with story development and campaign creation.

Use Stories To Align Sales And Marketing

Align Sales And Marketing With StoriesFinally, aligning sales and marketing is no longer optional. I was speaking with a CEO client of ours and she was telling me about a recent visit to a prospect with her top sales rep.

She didn’t even recognize how the sales rep was describing her company. He had the wrong stories. She recognized the company failed to deliver the right stories, so he made up his own. Not good.

You want everyone from the CEO to the administrative team to be talking about the company in the same way. That means telling the same stories and in the same sequence to elicit the desired response. This is going to require work from both marketing and sales, but the payoff will be huge. When marketing is using stories to attract prospects and then sales is using the same stories to drive closed business, you end up with a scalable, predictable and measurable revenue generation machine. This is how you exceed your revenue goals month in and month out.

Stories have a lot of power in the sale and marketing process. The better the stories your current customers tell, the more referrals you’ll get. The better the stories your website tells, the more leads you’ll get. The better the stories your salespeople tell, the more new customers you’ll close. It’s all connected. You also need the right stories at the right time in your prospects’ buyer journey.

This is a complicating factor and points to the need for a story inventory, which is a collection of well-designed stories that marketers and salespeople pull from depending on the prospect’s challenges. The more robust your story inventory, the better your marketing and sales will work.

We typically deliver stories as part of the marketing strategy work we do. I know most people don’t find value in this work, want to skip it or think they already have the messages they need to be successful. Here’s a quick checklist to see if you need a story workshop as part of your marketing strategy or if you’re ready to move to the tactics development stage.

If you answer no to any of these questions, you need to work on your stories.

  • Do we have a high-level story about our business that everyone can deliver?
  • Is our story disruptive? Does it make people stop and think?
  • Does our story feature our prospects as the hero?
  • Does our story illustrates what makes us different than competitors?
  • Is the story is emotional? Does it pull people in and engage them with our company?
  • Can the story be delivered in 10 to 20 seconds?
  • Is the sales team telling the same stories as the marketing team?
  • Do we regularly evaluate the stories to ensure they’re still producing the desired results?
  • Do we constantly test new stories to see if they resonate and produce even better results?

If you answered yes to all of the questions above, congratulations! You’ve clearly invested the time and energy to create stories capable of turning people into leads and then into new customers. If you answered “no to even one, you need to consider working on creating these stories, testing them and building a process into your current marketing strategy to regularly build out your story inventory.

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Mike Lieberman, CEO and Chief Revenue Scientist

Mike is the CEO and Chief Revenue Scientist at Square 2. He is passionate about helping people turn their ordinary businesses into businesses people talk about. For more than 25 years, Mike has been working hand-in-hand with CEOs and marketing and sales executives to help them create strategic revenue growth plans, compelling marketing strategies and remarkable sales processes that shorten the sales cycle and increase close rates.