June 14, 2018

The B2B Story Gap

By David Saxe

I really do hate cliches. And if you’re deeply embedded in our industry, you know that “story” has become a bit of a buzzword over recent years. We all say it, but in my experience, particularly in B2B, I’m not sure we all understand it. We tend to default to what’s familiar–like case studies or testimonials–or finding a slightly different way to list the same 15 product features. We still lead conversations with what we want to say rather than how and why we want to say it.

I think B2B uniquely struggles with building out complete stories for two reasons:

  1. A “good” story is largely immeasurable and even difficult to vocalize (there’s a reason for this). As communicators we all struggle with measurement and justification, but the strength of a story is felt in your “gut”. As Simon Sinek puts it (paraphrased), this gut response or feeling is actually taking place in our limbic brain (as opposed to our neocortex where we analyze data). It’s where loyalty occurs and the bulk of our decisions are ultimately made, by what feels right. But it’s completely disconnected from language – we can’t articulate why something feels right, we just know it does. That’s a brutal reality for marketers requiring justification. Most B2C communicators understand this reality, but unfortunately, many B2B communicators are still forced to annually justify their existence and this type of language doesn’t help them do that. But don’t blame me – it’s biology.
  2. Engineers tend toward a more “left brain” acclimation. They’re structured and detail-oriented because they have to be – to be good at their jobs. They don’t often consider how the product they’re developing will make someone feel. They’re solving a problem, as they should. But they’re often leaders in marketing the product or service because they’re the SMEs. When engineering leads marketing, we end up with a bulleted list of benefits rephrased in 10 different pieces of collateral.

Ultimately, what most of us are doing in B2B communications is consistently appealing to the neocortex, feeding our suspects and prospects data, features and analytical justification (all important stuff, by the way) and neglecting the limbic brain (where decisions are ultimately made) altogether. As Sinek puts it, some will make purely analytical decisions, but if we don’t appeal to the limbic brain as well, they’ll “overthink” the decision and then immediately question whether or not it was right. This is obvious if you think about it – we’re trying to rationalize our prospects into a purchasing decision and we’re not even giving them an opportunity to develop limbic loyalty.

The need for human connection in B2B marketing isn’t really controversial. The question is what we’re willing to invest and risk for a feeling. It’s a little bit uncomfortable, no?