Storytelling in B2B
Here at The View, we were excited to read an article in Marketing Week recently that we strongly voiced our support for. It talked about how B2B organisations need to be getting more creative with brand creation and storytelling when working with their target markets.
While we loved the article, something irked us, too, because we’ve held this view about brand storytelling for the B2B sector since we set up nearly 10 years ago. It’s how we do it, and here’s why.
Storytelling is the most natural form of engagement in any walk of life.
Whilst brand engagement through storytelling has arguably been around forever in the B2C sector, to think that it doesn’t, can’t or won’t apply to B2B is confusing. Because a client might be wearing conservative garb and sitting behind a desk, rather than jeans and a hoodie and working from hip hangout, it doesn’t mean they’re closed off and robotic. It’s simply not true, and though we’re sure there’s an exception to every rule (we all know one), business people are human beings too.
We thought we’d give you a glance into our back catalogue to show why we know storytelling works in the B2B sector. Plus, as we’ve recently relaunched our website, it doubles up as a good time to shed new light on an ‘old favourite’ case study from The View.
When The View won the pitch to work with Champagne brands, Perrier-Jouët and G.H. Mumm, we’d looked closely at their brief. It wanted to “drive reappraisal and establish distinct positionings amongst influential industry ‘gatekeepers’, in a market of high spending, highly regarded competitor marques”. We won the pitch based on the strength of our strategic thinking and creativity. It was certainly a Champagne moment for us when we came out on top against some of the UK’s leading marketing and PR agencies.
The Champagne Assembly
The View pitched the concept of ‘The Champagne Assembly’, a day-long event where attendees took a journey through thought-provoking lectures, debates and interactive workshops relevant to Champagne and luxury.
The event was immensely hands-on and played to the senses of the hand-picked invitees. They included trade media and bloggers, top wine buyers, sommeliers and executive chefs plus movers and shakers across the world of luxury, from property developers to art dealers to models. All of whom interact with and influence each other. But they often don’t get out of bed for less than £10K – unless there’s a compelling story they wouldn’t hear about anywhere else.
The Champagne Assembly allowed them to learn about – and discover for themselves – the challenges of blending raw ingredients to come up with an entirely new sensation (and not just with P-J’s chef de cave; they also played with tea and fragrance too, for comparison). Perhaps most popularly, they learned not only what foods to pair with different Mumm styles – but how, using a gas chromatograph to identify food and fizz synergies, on a molecular level. They intoxicated their palates with unlikely combinations.
Experts led everyone through an array of other experiments and demonstrations from vineyard to vintage, grape to gastronomy, art to assemblage. We wanted to show that, like Champagne, the Assembly was greater than the sum of its parts.
Believability™ in action
We love this case study because it’s a fantastic example of The View’s key – and trademarked – psychological storytelling tool: Believability™. One of Believability’s core tenets is that for deepest memorability and credibility campaigns should appeal to hearts and minds, by stimulating multiple senses. For this B2B audience it did just that. In Champagne bucket-loads. Michelin star listings followed and long-term, influential brand relationships and opportunities were forged.
Storytelling in the B2B sector? To create a glass that’s already half full, we’ll drink to that!
As we launch our new website, The View is heading into its 10th year and we’re looking forward to popping the Champagne corks this summer.
But as we hurtle towards our first decade of multi-channel marketing we found that creating a brand new site for an established company has been an interesting exercise in business analysis. It’s inevitably involved putting everything under the microscope; looking at how we work, who we work with, and on what, how we’re doing and what we want for the future.
It’s taken us back to why The View was set up in the first place.
It was 2009. And ‘The Great Recession’ was beginning to bite. Hard. The economic downturn began after the 2007/08 global credit crunch and led to a prolonged period of low/negative growth and rising unemployment. There were problems within the Eurozone which experienced a double dip recession and high unemployment. Was I completely insane? Launching a new venture in the teeth of marketing budgets being slashed and uncertainty everywhere may not have been seen as a wise move.
But I’d been getting increasingly frustrated at the rubbish service many clients were apparently receiving. I was witnessing too many ‘too cool for school’ agency execs who were given to boasting about their great name clients but not proud enough to do a decent job for them. And many clients were fed up with low-performing, bolshy agencies who generated a lot of noise, but less in the way of meaningful communications that met objectives. The malaise appeared to be quite widespread and I decided there MUST be room for something better.
So I set up The View. It was to be a consultancy that had a viewpoint: that of wanting to produce high quality communications, often asking difficult questions to extract genuine insights into a client or brand’s issues and with a long term view of how to build their business or reputation. And always honest and ethical.
Cutting out the deadwood and getting to the heart of the matter
Actually it turned out to be a positive time for clients to cut out the dead wood and move on. There was good deal of client / agency churn and despite the downbeat financial atmosphere, many were on the lookout, not necessarily for a cheaper service, but one that delivered better value.
There was also much chatter about ‘talkability’, especially with all things digital. But I instinctively felt that a lot of this was more about noise than emotionally or practically motivating whoever the target audience was. Niggling away in my brain was a feeling that, whatever the channel, things needed to be ‘believable’ rather than just be talked about; and how that approach would be more effective in persuading people to buy a product, sign up to a service, or even change their behaviour.
We were already using this in our work. Our ‘believability’ hunch was really helping us in delivering great results for our clients, whether through A-list influencer events, developing rich and sticky online content or planning and executing powerful media relations. We decided to prove our hypothesis: that ‘believability’ was a key element in the most successful marketing – and could be harnessed.
We wanted to formalise ‘believability’ and make it our own. We commissioned the developmental psychologist and behaviour change expert Professor Karen Pine of the University of Hertfordshire to investigate. And we trademarked it.
‘The Age of Skepticism’
The academic paper she wrote for us: Persuasion in the Age of Skepticism: The Psychological Underpinnings of Believability™ explored the latest thinking from neuroscientists, psychologists and trend-spotters to provide an up-to date analysis of believability.
The paper studied how people’s faith in previously trustworthy pillars of society such as politicians had taken a dive after the Iraq war and the expenses scandal. And how belief in bankers had been severely shaken. And very worryingly, how it was having a ripple effect on experts such as climate scientists. One poll showed that one in four UK adults simply didn’t believe global warming is happening, up 10% on the previous year.
She had nailed it. This really was – and is – a new age of skepticism. Opinions were shifting, fast. And there’s still no evidence of a slowdown. People who were once believers are now doubters. Skepticism, rather than belief, is the new default cognitive response to persuasive messages.
But where does that leave us in terms of marketing? The consequence is that the goal of forward-thinking communication practitioners must be to identify the message elements that inhibit this persuasion-eroding response and enhance believability.
Prof. Pine explained that there are two routes to Believability™. The explicit, overt route that involves facts, information and that appeals to reason, is the central route. The route that changes beliefs by subtly targeting unconscious psychological responses is the peripheral route. Effective persuasive communication involves a combination of both approaches, but in the age of skepticism, the emphasis on the peripheral route is now more important than ever before.
Greater use of the peripheral route, where emotions, stories and mental shortcuts are based, enable cutting-edge communications – and exemplify The View’s Believability™ ethos. Excitingly, Karen also developed a 15 point Believability™ Index for us. It is an instrument for the reliable measurement of the believability of a communicative message and we deploy it in all our campaign planning.
Although it was conceived and crystallised a few years ago now, in these days of fake news and conspiracy theories Believability™ has never been more spot-on. This clever methodology guides us in deciding what WILL work and filters out what won’t.
This kind of approach has also led The View into becoming more lateral in our creativity. Pure digital metrics are the scourge of thinking broadly. While we LOVE the insight and subsequent learnings they can bring, they can also be constraining. It’s like that old adage about the lamppost. Well two lampposts. There is the one about using data the way a drunk uses a lamppost – for support rather than illumination. And then there is the one about the woman who happens upon a man on his hands and knees under a lamppost outside a tunnel. What is he doing? Looking for his keys. Is that where he lost them? No, he lost them inside the tunnel. Why isn’t he looking there? It’s dark in there; it’s light under the lamppost. Ie, don’t put all your investment into what you CAN measure – and more prosaically, why continue to market only to your existing audience or target demographic.
Of course, few people are going to get sacked for this strategy, but being bombarded by ads for a Greek island destination, just because you’ve been there, once, is not just irritating, it also means potential new audiences, the lifeblood of any brand or business, are being completely ignored.
It’s the kind of thinking that said, rather than banging on to niche family history enthusiasts about the millions of service records that had been digitised by military genealogy site Forces War Records, we would bring them to life. For a MUCH wider audience. We challenged their historians to see if they could find real life namesakes for the fictitious WW1 Blackadder cast. With all the same names and ranks. They did. All apart from General Melchett (Stephen Fry’s character). We found him in World War II.
The #RealBlackadder story weaved together historical fact with popular culture – and human emotion – and all were inextricably linked to Forces War Records. It was clever. It had talkability, yes, but so much more as well. Real engagement – and Believability™ in spades. It had genuine appeal across so many different ages, demographics and interests. It was impossible for any other company to be credited with the story. While you can see some of the knockout metrics on our ‘work’ pages, memorability was harder to measure. But people are STILL going: “Oh, THAT campaign, THAT genealogy website… amazing” today. You can’t beat that. That’s real reputation and trust-building in action.
It’s also the kind of thinking that led us to conceive the Champagne Assembly events for Pernod Ricard for its GH Mumm and Perrier-Jouët Champagne marques. We pitched for, and won comms support for its Champagne portfolio against the UK’s largest consumer comms consultancy (and other leading agencies), with the same brief and budget. We won on strategy, creativity and the personal service that only a boutique consultancy can really deliver. We were thrilled.
While originally tasked with encouraging advocacy amongst top wine writers we counselled that to really make a mark in reappraisal of the brands (another key goal), wine writers, while influential, are definitely not read by everyone. We needed to engage with elite movers and shakers who naturally network with each other (to stimulate interest and desire and of course, for gilt-edged credibility and Believability™). We included sommeliers for Michelin starred restaurants, premier food writers, luxe retail opinion formers, even exclusive property developers and designers.
Our biennial Champagne Assembly events knitted together extraordinary and highly unusual tastings, lectures and workshops, all fusing the many disparate elements that make up this superb wine – and the wider world of luxury. These innovative sessions mixed science and art, psychology, craftsmanship, finance and more, all offering these sought-after A-listers an exciting reason to get up that morning – and connect with GH Mumm and Perrier-Jouët on a deep level.
These are the kind of initiatives that have helped The View win, or be shortlisted for so many awards, including Outstanding Small Consultancy.
So what’s changed – and what of the future?
In a nutshell, everything’s changed and nothing’s changed…
Technology is of course still transforming the way we live, exponentially. Gartner predicts that 100 million consumers will shop using augmented reality (AR) on their smartphones by 2020 (for instance to check how an Ikea sofa will look in their home). But will video and all things image-based also take a bit of a hit? Two years ago Google suggested that 20 per cent of its mobile queries were already voice searches while ComScore says this will be up to half of all searches next year. And Gartner also says that by then 30 per cent of all web browsing sessions will take place without a screen.
Will audio marketing content be the next big thing? If it is, The View’s communications strategies and ways of working will still be bang on. They link into the human psyche in a way that can work with or without the finest technological toys and trickery.
To round off… we kicked off in the recession and now, although we’re entering another period of uncertainty, we’re confident and we’re excited. Whatever else might be going on in the world effective communications have never been more vital. Believability™ and the inherent trust it brings have never been more relevant. It’s a rock steady, future-proof ethos for us to hold onto.