Marketing: 3 Reasons To Tell A Story, Not Sell Technology

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Originally published on Forbes, by Theo Priestly

In these fast paced times Marketing’s role has become much more complex amid the cacophony of noise from social networks, new media, the proliferation of mobile devices, changing TV viewer habits. To manage this, organizations must turn their attention to storytelling. 97% of CMOs think marketing must do things it hasn’t done ever before to be successful and that two-thirds find it very difficult to keep up with the changes.

No longer do marketers have a limited number of channels or devices to target. They constantly need new skills, to manage the proliferation of smart devices and channels through which people communicate (mobile apps and web, social networking, etc).

Delivering the brand message requires all kinds of customization, depending on the medium and the audience. But one thing remains constant throughout:

B2B technology marketing really struggles to get away from the product detail and just tell a story. 

There’s a definite sense of pride behind retelling a company history, or the deep technical passion in the product itself but the solution only comes alive when there’s a story, and as a technology evangelist it’s in those client successes and how a product really made a difference for a customer that spark imagination and generate discussion.

This may be a sweeping generalisation, and I’ve worked alongside tech companies for a while now, but both established firms and young startups are still falling into the same trap.

  • Proudly displaying your VC funding badges is not going to tell me what problems you’re going to solve - this is a big one for the startups, it just tells me who’s money you’re burning through, not the point of why you exist
  • Deep technical demos might whet an architect’s palate, and show off how much effort you’ve poured into the product, but when the business is paying the cheque you’ve lost the buying audience - love your product but when you demo it make it relevant and relatable, not a point and click training course
  • Product Marketing still has a long way to go to get out of the weeds, to  stop using fluffy generic terms, and to create engaging content for a wider audience - no one cares about the colour of new UI, or if you’re using the latest buzzword from Gartner IT +1.18% if you can’t engage with me one-on-one with your message

There’s a great piece written by Guy Kawasaki, and whilst it homes in on evangelism only, it’s something all tech companies, and the way they market themselves and their solutions, should start to live and breathe.

3 reasons why you need to tell a story

Storytelling shows awareness of how the brand is perceived in the market, knowledge of the technology behind the product and how it is differentiated, and the relationship with the customer experience.

Stories also allow you to express an opinion. Opinions matter, even if they’re controversial, because they help the marketing convey a sense of urgency about the story. Without an opinion, there’s very little passion. Both clients and employees will see right through this. And clients relish opinion, it challenges them to think.

And lastly, it’s about taking those stories and using them to connect the various departments within the organization itself and with clients. This allows marketing to connect better with pre-sales and sales efforts to deliver a more consistent and concise message. That message feeds back into the product roadmap, allowing for consistent improvement and adaptation to market needs.

None of this is rocket science, but time and again there’s an obvious black hole in how the technology industry shapes its marketing.

But perhaps more importantly, in the body of the story itself, if you can’t tell me:

  • why your product exists,
  • how it can resolve a pain or need, and how it can make a difference
  • where the value in using the solution or service comes from,
  • who will it help the most, and who has it already helped
  • when can I get my hands on it, and when will it make a difference

then stop what you’re doing and think again.

Because if I can’t understand your story, neither will anyone who’s sitting in front of you.