Creating an effective B2B brand story is a tall order. It has to quickly communicate a variety of values, including product or service features, company culture, emotional justification, financial justification, and more. It has to be flexible enough to influence leads at each stage of the buyer’s journey and adapt consistently across a wide array of marketing materials, sales presentations, and on-the-fly elevator pitches. It requires not just consensus across an organization, but a solid understanding, so that at any point employees can communicate the story in the right way. This can be quite daunting to start when staring at a whiteboard in a conference room. That’s why we’ve collected some creative ways to start this process and to engage employees and customers in developing dynamite, deal-closing brand stories.
STARING DOWN THE BEAST
Structured, consistent stories start as chaotic, freeform ideas. Embrace it. Mind mapping is a great way to get complex ideas out of many heads. Start with a blank whiteboard or piece of paper. Draw or write your product or service at the center. Free associate ideas, drawing lines from the center that drift and branch out with all the people, places, ideas, images, emotions, and words that come to mind. Include structure if it feels natural, but don’t force. Include drawings. Let the diagram form organically. When it feels complete, the whole group can stare down the beast and make big choices. If you have many participants, consider breaking into smaller groups first and then sharing the results together. What’s important? What’s memorable? What are you missing? This is a great way to get the conversation started, engage less outspoken colleagues, generate consensus, and create structure for ongoing work.
UNDERSTANDING LOVE & HEARTACHE
A financial justification for a product helps close sales. But so does emotional justification, and that component may be overlooked in stories built in conference rooms. Get into your customers’ hearts. Ask a small group of customers and employees to write love letters to your product or service. Then ask another group to write breakup letters. No doubt these notes will match many of the ideas that brainstorming would generate, but hearing them in a personal, emotional tone is a great way to strengthen a brand story and find emotional buttons that draw attention and impel action.
GETTING THE JUICY BITS
Great brand stories feel natural because, in many cases, they started as real stories. Reach out to people who know your brand best and engage them in guided storytelling. The goal is to get as many juicy bits as possible that tell an evocative story. Connect with the participant in person and videotape the conversation. If that’s not possible, use a phone and record the audio. Ask open-ended prompts that are specific to real events (i.e., “Tell me about the last time you . . .”). Practice active listening, meaning no interruptions, no comments, no head shaking, no facial expressions, etc. Wait 5 seconds until after the participant stops talking to ask the next prompt. Afterward, collect a few stories, expressions, or words into one document; you’ll be surprised how many people across the company will find these stories valuable.
SHARING A JOURNEY
Words are great, but not enough! Telling your brand story visually is just as important. Collages and image boards are great methods for capturing the visuals related to your brand story, and there are many ways to apply them in B2B scenarios. Recruit a group of employees and engaged customers to capture their visual experience of your brand. Do you have an upcoming conference, important company meeting, or large client project coming up? These are perfect opportunities. Use a hashtag to follow posts or collect images after the fact. Group the photos into common visual themes and then project them big for the whole group to see. Does your brand’s color palette show up? Where are the photos taken? Who or what is featured? Find a few images that portray your brand in an engaging way and then include those when you hire designers or agencies to create visual assets.
You can understand a brand story mentally, emotionally, and visually, but acting it out physically reveals new insight and helps people more thoroughly absorb the message. Some participants will dread role-playing, but managed correctly, it can be a powerful tool that allows people to practice sales pitches, workshop language, adjust to different communication styles, and develop cooperation. Include a variety of different employees (not just sales staff) and prepare ahead a list of different scenarios. These scenarios should include in-person one-on-one conversations, group conversations, phone conversations, etc. Focus feedback on words and actions, not on personalities. Set an expectation that activity leaders (and executives) will participate and accept feedback like everyone else. Elect someone to observe and capture insight.
This list is far from exhaustive, but it shows how a creative, multi-prong approach to branding can create a story that resonates mentally, emotionally, visually, and physically. Corbae Creative has extensive experience helping B2B companies in renewable energy and sustainable industries develop brands that impel action across the sales funnel. Reach out today and let’s talk about a custom strategy to bring your brand to life.