The Business Marketing Association’s national conference is one of the most important events in the B2B marketing world. This year’s conference covered a broad range of topics, but the distinct, recurrent theme was storytelling.
From the opening keynote, in which GE CMO Beth Comstock emphasized the need to “tell before you sell,” to Jonah Sachs’s discussion of winning the story wars, the message was clear. While storytelling has been a prominent subject since the dawn of the content marketing age, the discussions at this year’s conference strongly emphasized the need to keep the story focused on the customer.
Certainly there was plenty of interesting discussion about implementing data-driven cultures and effective marketing technologies, but the overarching takeaway was this:
Making authentic connections, providing value and delivering a credible message are the real drivers of long-term customer relationships.
To underscore this core message, I’ve compiled four major takeaways from BMA14 to help inform a customer-focused storytelling strategy:
1. Create Emotional Resonance.
Several presentations discussed the need to connect at an emotional level. A Google study revealed that B2B buyers are even more emotionally connected to brands than B2C buyers. Given how important a B2B purchase can be, this shouldn’t be surprising.
2. Deliver Real Content Value.
Jay Baer (author of Youtility) discussed how companies can build and extend relationships with customers by providing content that helps their target audience solve problems — and not necessarily problems directly related to what the company sells. Even more compelling was a presentation by Brent Adamson (co-author of the highly influential book The Challenger Sale). He discussed research demonstrating that B2B buying decisions are not significantly influenced by “thought leadership.” It turns out that it’s not necessarily the smartest vendor that will win the business, but rather the one who can tell prospects something new and compelling about their business.
3. Make Human-to-Human Connections.
Several speakers emphasized the need to make human-to-human connections. This concept will become increasingly important as B2B marketers try to determine how to best leverage the power of social media and capture their audience’s attention in a crowded communication landscape.
4. Connect Marketing and Workforce Engagement.
Building a brand on a set of core values starts with your internal stakeholders. Several companies, including USG Corporation and Lincoln Financial Group,discussed, how buy-in among their employees was critical to successful campaign launches. This trend has placed increasing emphasis on the need for a highly effective working relationship between marketing and human resources teams.
It’s encouraging to see content and technology coming together in the B2B marketing landscape. As an industry, we are increasingly realizing that data and marketing automation systems won’t deliver real value without an underlying messaging strategy — one that puts the customer at the center of story.