Marketing is about motivation. We want people to take action, for example to buy something. Or we want them to change their behaviour or perceptions.

There are two ways to motivate people. One is to manipulate, lie, coerce or bribe. Torture, too, though this is generally frowned upon by clients.

The other way is empathy: creating a shared emotive connection. The idea is that people invest in the long term success of your business because they have an emotional stake in it.

Unfortunately, most B2B marketers don’t do empathy. More often than not they’re bland, corporate and vanilla. Most websites and collateral are a mulch of meaningless mush.

Too often we forget we’re talking to people. Human beings with desires, needs, baggage and – yes – emotions. People want to be inspired. We want to feel valued, to be part of something.

This is more true now than ever. Anti-bribery laws and normalisation of global business mean that loyalty needs to be earned, not bought. Digital platforms create myriad new communities in need of visionary leaders.

Stories connect people to a company which would otherwise seem cold, dry or outlandish. Stories have a message – obvious or otherwise – that cries out for a behavioural change in whoever’s listening, reading or watching. Whereas facts and figures educate, stories inspire action.

The language of storytelling is vital. Anyone can write in vague, dull corporate-ese with terms like ‘value-add’, ‘efficiency’ and ‘premium’. But it pays to be different. Few businesses talk in a language that people want to listen to or read. Be professional, yes, but don’t be afraid to set yourself apart.

The easiest way to do that is to keep it short, concise, to the point. Cut through the chaff to find the essence of what makes your business unique and interesting.

Every good business story is built on three pillars:
1. It communicates a Big Idea, giving people a reason to pay attention.
2. It brims with a personality your customer will warm to.
3. It paints a picture of a better life.

By presenting a vision of a better world, and convincing people you can lead them there, you invite customers to go on a journey with you.

This creates a long term relationship, with your organisation cast in the role of a visionary leader. By inspiring trust and loyalty, you’ll find customers soon start recruiting new followers on your behalf.

But the benefits aren’t confined to the distant future. As they embark on this journey with you, customers are going to need things. Your tribe is going to need products, services and tools along the way to reach their goals. Because they buy in to your vision, because they’re ‘on-the-road’ with you, they’re a captive audience.

For less sophisticated companies, storytelling is something you do at children’s bedtime. For the rest of us, it’s an essential business tool. Whether you’re looking for competitive differentiation, to avoid irrelevance or caught in a race to the bottom, finding then telling a good story should be a critical priority.

On Wednesday 18th January I will be speaking about Storytelling for Business at General Assembly – to find out more about this event click here