What Bloggers Can Teach B2B Brands About the Art of Storytelling
It's not hard to write a story about a family sitting around the dinner table, or the man on the football pitch, or the child conquering a challenge. But when it comes time to write a blog post about your B2B product, the words don't seem to flow quite as well.
It's too easy to fall into the trap of viewing your company blog reader as a faceless logo or flat business card, and the end result is a 400-word advertisement or an instruction manual. If your B2B content marketing is failing to bring in the readers, this might be why.
In search of a solution, I turned to a group of popular bloggers. With millions of page and video views to their names as well as critical acclaim, these powerhouses know a thing or two about writing stories readers love to share. I asked them how they weave brand information into their content and what advice they would offer about the art of storytelling.
Here are their key tips.
Have a laser focus
Julie Nowell is the brains behind 3 Chicken Consulting. She oversees a network of writers and social media managers who run campaigns and manage channels for brands across Canada, the US and the UK. She's created content for everything from power tools to coffee drinks to teen movies.
Julie's main piece of advice is to have a laser focus.
"Create content that has clear outcomes (drive to newsletter, promote singular product) vs ones that have a million goals in them," she stated, "Then craft a narrative that promotes the values of the brand/product/outcome."
Julie also underscores that her advice is valid for both brand-produced content and blogger campaigns.
Creating an editorial calendar is an easy way to implement this advice, taking your long list of goals or copy points and spreading them out across the month. For each entry, think about why it matters to your customers: a newsletter launch could be about putting knowledge in the inbox; a product update is a response to customers' requests. The reasons why it matters become the heart of your story. They offer up a framework for painting a picture, inviting you to bring in external viewpoints and real life examples. This is how you take the traditional product launch press release and turn it into a story about business success or customer satisfaction or maybe even overcoming the odds.
Be honest with yourself (and your readers) about type of content you are creating
Publisher's Weekly rated Victoria Fedden's memoir This Is Not My Beautiful Life as one of the top ten most anticipated memoirs of the season. Her pet peeve is when brands try to shoehorn in the product in an unnatural way.
"I think readers can see through even the most subtle marketing BS. No one wants to read a beautiful and touching story about family life to be blindsided at the end by some garbage sentence like "And then we all sat down to a big home cooked dinner of Bubba Tucker's Homestyle Original Lard Sausage (comes in mild and extra hot butt burnin') which can be ordered online at this link and bought for 17.99 at this endless list of sponsoring retailers!" I hate that!"
Anne Radcliffe, a writer for leading Canadian website Yummy Mummy Club, agreed with Victoria, encouraging brands to be honest with the type of content they are creating.
"I think there's plenty of room for both types, and I think some things lend themselves better to one or the other. One of the things that causes angst is brands trying to jam too many copy points. Subtle product placement advertising is an art when well executed, and when it's badly done, or especially if there's too much info to convey, it's like being stabbed in the back, like Victoria says. But some of the sponsored work I like the best actually doesn't pretend to be anything but sponsored. We applaud clever ads all the time."
Leading B2B brand Freshbooks does an excellent job of balancing the two types of content on their blog. A multitude of insightful posts about starting and growing a business pull the reader in and let them know that Freshbooks gets what's important to them. Posts about tracking business mileage or amending freelancer rates don't seem overtly advertorial, but yet still convey the underlying message that all of this can be done with their software. When they add in posts about new product launches, the readers are more willing to accept them because they already believe that Freshbooks is there to add value to them. This is why we're seeing more subtly branded B2B content hubs being launched, like Vodafone's Your Ready Business and Opus Energy's Brighter Business. Content hubs offer space for both traditional advertisement posts and more tangentially-related stories.
Find your own voice and style
If there's one thing that bloggers know well, it's their own voice and style. When competing against a sea of similar sites, their unique style and tone is what sets them apart.
B2B brands could learn a lot about this. Blogger Crissy Woj is adept at turning brand copypoints into blog posts.
"When I write branded content, I ask myself how the product fits into my life. Then I think about a story that will work the brand in naturally, with my writing style."
Sarah Musgrove is the Editor in Chief of Brighter Business and has written for The Metro, InStyle and Marie Claire.
"Before launching the site, we thought a lot about how we wanted our content to come across, and it was not like our press releases. When we plan our branded content, it is not unusual for us to write three or four different versions, one for PR, one for the company blog and another for Brighter Business. We don't try to make one version work for all three."
Given the importance of visuals and video, tone and style can mean more than the words on the screen - as NY Times bestselling author Jen Mann points out:
"I think Ilana [Wiles] at MommyShorts does a fabulous job at this. She is always able to take a brand sponsored post and turn it into a story...With her it's usually the visuals that tell the story best."
Some final advice
For YouTube star Deva Dalporto, it's simple. Her key advice is:
Being real means finding a voice and style that matches up your internal team with the external face, so customers get a consistent experience. Be honest about what type of content you're creating, not trying to turn every product feature into a 500 word story, and finding those kernels of truth where a story can shine.
Most importantly, be realistic about what you're trying to achieve, setting small goals and taking what the readers want into account.
Main image via Ramdlon/Pixabay
Follow Lynn Morrison on Twitter