Are marketers so busy storytelling that they’re forgetting to sell?

October 25, 2015

This nagging doubt keeps creeping into my conscience of late. The slight feeling of suspicion that content marketing (as button-nosed cute and smack butt sexy as it is) has moved us a little too far away from the goal at hand. Selling stuff. You know, actually selling actual stuff.

I’m sat in an overpriced coffee shop in Fishermans Wharf San Francisco, killing time waiting for a friend – ignoring the crap coffee they served me, enjoying the excellent free WiFi. I know the spot well and whilst I’m totally over the touristy fascination myself, I do like to people watch. Specifically the tourists being funnelled into the consumers sniper alley of shops to be unburdened of their holiday spending dosh.

The naff t-shirts, the trash ‘n’ trinkets, the totally locally produced, organic fresh clam chowder served in those sour dough bowls. The blue-eyed hipster Californian rent-a-cycle peddlers trying to explain how the gears work to an confused Chinese couple, both proudly wearing oversized California Stars ‘n’ Stripes hoodies that they can take back to China.  Where they were originally made. The irony. 

Like every other tourist trap around the world the vendors are master marketers. They know they have to compete with the twenty other stalls selling the same identical clam chowder from the same wholesale supplier. If they can create a fresh display of crab better than everyone else, have a bigger sign, better prices and cuter *wink* servers… maybe they can bag the sale.

Sure they might weave a bit of a story.

We’ve been here since 1968. The freshest. The cheapest. Free mug. Free Xantac and Gaviston with every seafood starter, whatever.

The calls to action are incredibly direct. Eat at Joe’s. Buy your Golden Gate Bridge model now. They are unashamed in their directness. There’s no beating about the bush, its simply stop and buy the damn t-shirt, right now – do it.

American TV ads are the same, often a never-ending cycle of heart-attack inducing fast food, followed by an advert for a new heart medication, followed by a class-action lawyer suit for side-effects of heart medication. The ads look like they’ve been designed in Microsoft Powerpoint 2000 with constant and persistent calls to action. Screw the creative. Just get their attention and tell them what to do. They demand action. Call this number, call it now.

Thankfully B2B Marketing is nothing like this. What we do is far more classy and sophisticated. Much more highbrow. Clever messaging for clever people. 

B2B Marketers are the marketing snobs.

We rise above all that and we’re now professional storytellers. We weave nuanced stories, with a beginning – middle – and end. We do audience marketing you see. We deftly build a convincing narrative that we are just like you, we understand you. We understand your problem. We are your trusted friend.

The challenges of modern storytelling

What I’ve seen over the past few years is a commendable move to a much more conversational, buyer centric style. The content marketing/audience marketing approach, but it does have its challenges.

  1. Content strategies can become so nuanced and overly subtle that customers aren’t even sure what you’re trying to sell them, if anything.
  2. We produce nebulous content that (even if punters do engage with it) we’re not sure what it even means.
  3. We over emphasise the storytelling angle so much that it can start to appear contrived and disingenuous. Many would perceive the word story to suggest something made up or fictitious.
  4. We forget other important calls to action. Sign up now for a discount. Get a free demo. Talk to a specialist. Buy this thing now.

Remember – so much of what we do is driven by results. By converting prospects into qualified leads. Yes a content marketing award is cool, but awards are a fickle thing not always related to the real world.

So how to avoid the storytelling traps. Unless you’re doing a pure brand awareness piece most demand gen programmes are ultimately focused on a line of business or specific product/solution. When you’re doing your content audit or strategy make sure you think about:

  1. Usefulness Factor. Does this piece of content actually help the customer understand your product benefits better?
  2. Engagement Factor. Not everything has to be rockstar youtube video but is it approachable and interesting?
  3. Age Factor. Is it fresh and relatively new? People get suspicious of content that is just two years old let alone five.
  4. Relevance Factor. Is it relevant to them, and your product? If the connection to your brand or product is so nuanced and subtle you might just confuse them and lose credibility.
  5. Call to Action. What do you want them to do? Beyond read your blog I mean. Buy something? Try something? Speak to someone? Don’t be shy, if you don’t ask you don’t get. Besides, people like transparency and honesty – they are unlikely to get offended.

Speaking of which, that reminds me:

Improve your content marketing strategy by hiring  Protocol today. 

See, not that offensive is it. 

And if you’re really into storytelling, you could always write a book 😉

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