As marketers, we face some pretty routine hurdles: How do we genuinely connect with our target audiences? And how do we shift them from knowledge to action?
A classic solution for jumping these hurdles is to tell a brand story – human beings are hardwired to connect via stories, after all. It’s how we make meaning of our own individual lives and the world we live in.
But storytelling isn’t such a straightforward concept as it used to be. Evolving (and proliferating) technologies and ways to connect mean we have to evolve our brand stories.
Successful brand storytelling has become more immediate, transparent and experiential – because that’s what people now expect from a company. And those expectations are now driving the market.
In this “expectation economy,” explains an article in Recode, “as far as consumers are concerned, the measure of value of any brand is how seriously it takes its responsibility to make their lives better or easier. Constant change for the better is now unconditionally expected.”
This is obvious in the B2C market. Amazon has made product reviews table stakes, not only supplying their own customers’, but also linking out to third-party review sources. For that matter, it’s hard to find an online retailer of any size that doesn’t offer some sort of review resource.
Airbnb is another market leader in the expectation economy. In a pre-Airbnb world, traditional lodging companies marketed customers a nice hotel room with nice amenities. Airbnb came along and decided to target audiences who expect more than a relaxing stint in a hotel or playing the tourist – these folks want to live a place, not do a place. Airbnb’s communications show how they enable people to meet that expectation.
How does all of this play out in B2B communications?
We’ve recently finished up a video project for NutrientStar that tracks with the expectation economy – but we came at it from the opposite direction. While B2C communications aim to show consumers how a company is meeting their expectations, we used this video to show an industry that their customers have unmet expectations. And by doing so, we earn the business audience’s attention.
NutrientStar is a nonprofit that reviews the performance of products and technologies designed to help farmers use fertilizer more efficiently. The audience NutrientStar wanted to engage – the agribusinesses that make those products/technologies – was hesitant. They would need to share company data with this unknown entity for the review and be fully transparent with their customers.
Our challenge was to build credibility with this skeptical business audience, and give them confidence that NutrientStar’s purpose really is to make products as effective as possible for farmers, not to slam agribusinesses that don’t meet its standards.
Our solution? Don’t make a case, reveal an expectation.
Sure, we could directly tell agribusinesses the value of NutrientStar’s unique service. We could tell how important third-party verification is via explainer video or a carefully crafted positioning statement. But the fact of the matter is, the agribusinesses weren’t particularly interested in what NutrientStar had to say.
So, we let them hear directly from their end users – farmers. In the video, these farmers describe what they expect agribusinesses to do to make their lives a little easier.
By connecting agribusinesses with their own end users – and the expectations that are driving purchase decisions – NutrientStar proves its purpose and its value.
Whether you’re marketing to consumers or business decision makers, evolving your storytelling is critical for staying relevant.