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Make Us Want To Read More

Advice from a pro (not me) on how to tell a story.

I’m a sucker for sports writing. The pacing, the drama, the rhythm of the words. The best sports writers spin stories that draw us in. It’s not often that my professional path crosses with those who cover, say, football, so I’m thrilled it does today.

 

Here’s why: Storytelling is a big topic in the corporate world, and how to do it is even bigger. In his personal blog, ESPN staffer Tommy Tomlinson boils down the process to two simple questions:

  1. What’s your story about?
  2. Now what’s your story really about?

It’s the second question that’s challenging for B2B marketers. Organizations’ real stories aren’t about products and services, or features and benefits. In most cases, they’re not even about the companies. Instead, they’re about problem solving. Or people. Or something funny that happened.

In an effort to do some good for corporate marketing, storytelling has become another overworked buzzword that few can explain.

But its emphasis on narrative is helpful for B2B companies, because when done right, storytelling requires getting past the jargon. It means going beyond features and functions to dig deeper and consider a much fuller sense of what the company is about.

Chipmaker Qualcomm’s Stories of Invention is a case in point. The series is a stylish collection of profiles, like the piece about the Qualcomm employee who developed a smartphone sound technique with backing from the in-house incubation program. Sounds interesting, but what’s it really about? How an ordinary guy, listening to tunes, hatched a nifty idea and then brought it to life. See the difference?

Start-up company Groove gets it too. A post on its blog tells how the Rhode Island-based maker of help-desk software almost shut its doors a few years back. The universal truth that keeps us reading is Groove’s candid story of failure. We can relate.

From it’s pitch-perfect opening sentence to its tale of small-biz near-death, founder Alex Turnbull’s confession pulls us in. It has garnered an enviable 65 comments – a near tsunami of engagement for a corporate post.

At the opposite end of the business spectrum is aircraft manufacturer Boeing. As part of its centennial celebration in 2016, the sprawling multinational swung open the doors of a storytelling initiative that invites anyone who’s got a Boeing story to chime in. And they do: From passengers to flight attendants to employees and former employees, the site’s contributors connect to the $96-billion company in ways that are highly personal and often touching.

For more inspiration, check out the efforts of perennial B2B storytelling favorites Cisco and Salesforce.

Then take Tomlinson’s advice. First ask what your company’s story is about. Then ask what’s it really about. The difference may surprise you. You’ve probably got more storytelling chops than you realize: If you ever bombed when sharing what you thought was a funny anecdote but got your laughs the second time around because you edited out the extraneous stuff, then you know how to get to the heart of a story.

To get a feel for how storytelling differs from the existing content you’re creating, develop a piece or two. Start with your company’s history, for example, or a client success story. Once you’ve got the feel for it, you can begin to think about a more expansive program and even incorporate video storytelling. (For an example of Tomlinson’s chops, read this terrific piece here.)

Great stories are everywhere in your organization. Get digging. Make us want to read more.