Storytelling is Key to Effective B2B Marketing: What’s Your Story?

By Bev Burgess, SVP ITSMA Europe, burgess@itsma.com and Vincent Rousselet, VP Market Insight and Strategy, Amdocs

When Tim Cook emerged onto the stage of the Flint Center for Performing Arts in September 2015, he was about to tell not just one, but two stories. The first one was overtly in support of the day’s launches: the iPhone 6, iWatch, and Apple Pay. The other was the continuation of Apple’s story, a narrative started by Steve Jobs and running ever since.

Why is storytelling such a powerful technique? Stories reach three distinct parts of the human brain, directly connecting with our instincts, emotions, and higher-order, rational thinking. Over thousands of years of evolution, our brains have been wired to communicate in this way: stories turn us on.

Truth is, a war for the attention of buyers is being waged. Every minute of every day we create 204 million email messages, 684,000 bits of content shared on Facebook, 100,000 tweets, and 48 hours of new YouTube videos. And this only keeps growing.

Because storytelling engages audiences emotionally, it can help win this battle for attention. No surprise that, from HP to BT, from Telefonica to Orange Business Services, from Hitachi to Amdocs, an increasing number of organisations, having observed the effectiveness of storytelling in B2C, now deploy the technique in B2B markets.

In fact, in ITSMA’s 2014 Budget and Trends Survey, when asked about essential skills for the future marketing organisation, 53% of senior B2B marketing executives surveyed put storytelling at the top of the list, on par with leadership skills (51%) and ahead of data analytics (36%). Sadly, storytelling is the third most difficult skill to find, behind data analytics and subject matter expertise, according to ITSMA’s 2014 Marketing Talent Survey.

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“Storytelling is the art of simplifying the complex,” says Chris Williams, head of global marketing at Amdocs, a global software and services company. “That gets harder to do the bigger a company becomes and that’s the reason we’re launching a new company-wide program that puts the art of storytelling at the very center of our marketing strategy and culture.”

So, how do marketers go about creating stories? Simply put, stories have three components:

A plot or storyline: this is the essence of the story, which, according to experts, can be articulated in as few as six words.

A story—or narrative—arc: starting with an opening scene, following various crises including a point of no-return, reaching a climax and finishing with the dénouement, the arc is the journey you are taking the audience on. Think Steve Job’s 2005 commencement speech in Stanford.

A cast of characters, with predetermined roles: A hero and a villain is a good start. When they are joined by other archetypes, the story becomes more engaging. As part of its Rock Stars campaign, Intel put forward the co-inventor of the USB, as one of its heroes.

Apple may for now remain the best storyteller around, but it is clear many B2B marketers are catching up on the act.

This blog post is an extract from a longer article originally published in the 2014-15 Winter edition of Market Leader, the magazine of the UK Marketing Society

 

Where Do Marketing Technologists Come From?

By Anna Whiting, ITSMA, awhiting@itsma.com

Where do marketing leaders find marketing technologists with the right mix of technology skills, marketing savvy, and business experience? That is the question that stood out in my mind at the Martech Conference in Boston. Presenters from SapientNitro, PR 20/20, BitTorrent, IBM, and others emphasized the need to improve the reach and performance of marketing to master the disruption caused by digital transformation.

The Chief Marketing Technology Officer (CMTO) role is not new: The majority of large enterprises already have a CMTO and small- and mid-sized organizations are catching up.  Many, however, still struggle with finding individuals and building teams that are able to successfully marry technology and marketing. Marketing organizations need to hire technologists who also have a passion and form allegiance to the marketing mission. They need to hire marketers with heads for software algorithms, business rules, and analytics. They need scrappy innovators who are capable of mastering scale and complexity. It’s not easy to find this combination of interest, skill, and experience in one individual. So where do we find these rare people?

Scott Brinker Marketing Technology LandscapeLogically, we may look to hire marketing technologists outside our organizations.  Unfortunately, we can’t rely on hiring millennials out of business school.  There are few, if any, MBA programs that specialize in blending marketing with technology. So schools aren’t providing new talent for this area.

We might consider grooming talented employees to become marketing technologists.  Some organizations are successfully doing this. SapientNitro, for example, has developed a Chief Marketing Technology Officer University.  This rigorous in-house program only draws from its most successful employees, and of those, only those that have already completed an MBA or executive business degree. Students attend weekend and evening classes taught by SapientNitro employees. At the end of the one-year executive development program, the candidates take a final exam, answering questions in front of an audience of 300 or so colleagues. SapientNitro’s CTO is thrilled with the outcome and new breed of technologists who “get” marketing.

Not all of us are large enough nor have the right resources to create our own in-house university programs. And until higher education catches up with business needs and develop programs to address the talent gap, we need to take on the job of finding and training our best marketers and technologists to morph into this blended role.

On the job training might just be the best way to get started. Think about rotating technologists who demonstrate the interest into the marketing department to build competencies and an understanding of the job. It might just stick. Some of these hybrid marketing technologists could eventually step up to lead their companies as CMTOs.

ITSMA would like to know what you think. Where are you finding marketing technologists?