How B2B Firms Can Tell Their Brand Story More Effectively
It’s a crucial component in so many aspects, but in the world of B2B it tends to get overlooked a lot: brand storytelling. On this week’s episode, we have a conversation with Steve Brown (Director of Corporate and Executive Communications, Cadence Design Systems) about how B2B organizations can tell their brand story in a way that resonates with employees, clients and partners. He also elaborates on some of the most common mistakes, the key components of a good brand story, the latest trends and predictions, and about how to create alignment within the organization to tell the story of a brand.
Topics discussed in this episode:
Christian Klepp, Steve Brown
Christian Klepp 00:08
Hi, and welcome to the B2B Marketers on a Mission podcast. I’m your host, Christian Klepp, and one of the founders of EINBLICK Consulting. Our goal is to share inspirational stories, tips and insights from B2B marketers, digital entrepreneurs, and industry experts that will help you to think differently, succeed and scale your business.
Okay, welcome everybody to this episode of the B2B Marketers on a Mission podcast where you get your weekly dose of B2B marketing insights. I’m your host, Christian Klepp. And today, I’m thrilled to have a guest on the show, who is an experienced B2B marketing professional whose expertise focuses on positioning, branding, and launching products for strong revenue growth. He also has a successful track record of developing game changing go to market place that result in dominant market position. So Mr. Steve Brown, welcome to the show, sir.
Steve Brown 01:00
Hi, thank you very much for having me.
Christian Klepp 01:03
Steve, it’s really a pleasure to have you on and I really enjoyed the previous conversations that we had. So I’m really looking forward to diving in here today. You’ve built up a successful career, and your expertise is focusing, you have many areas of expertise, but I would say one of them, that you’ve really focused on tends to be one that gets overlooked and B2B more often than not, and that’s brand storytelling. So walk us through what you believe brand storytelling is, and isn’t.
Steve Brown 01:36
Okay. As I’ve evolved in my career, from engineering into marketing, on the product side, and now in the corporate side, really brand storytelling has been part of what I’ve done all along, because it’s the answer for why. Why are we doing this product? Why are we creating these capabilities? And now why is this company valuable? And so it’s about market conditioning, because, as we all know, marketing is… its main aim is to reduce the cost of sales, to increase the awareness of and an opportunity for sales to reduce the time to have a sale and to increase the predictability of a lead to reach a successful sale conclusion. And so, you know, all of that branding is about giving people the information they need to have a more efficient sales cycle.
Christian Klepp 02:39
Yeah, that’s absolutely right. It’s so important to, like, bring that up about, like the why, right. I mean, like, a lot of people are focusing on the what, and the how, but it’s the why that usually sometimes tends to get overlooked. I think you’re gonna have a field day with this next question, but I’m gonna ask it anyway. There’s so many B2B companies out there, that are getting it wrong when it comes to storytelling. So just from your experience, tell us about some of the most common mistakes you’ve seen, and what can be done to address these mistakes?
Steve Brown 03:15
Oh, that’s a fun question. I’m in technology. And I don’t know about all categories of B2B companies. But in technology marketing, there’s a lot of people like myself, who are essentially a recovering engineer, someone who has been / has an engineering background, and now is in a marketing role. And so there’s a lot of learning to do in developing the why, in envisioning what is important to customers and to anticipate the needs of the sales cycle, like I mentioned earlier, not everybody comes with all of those experiences. And so we’re starting from a product awareness is that kind of the common background and then trying to expand our skill set to understand those other objectives and the impact of, of marketing messages and activities in that sales cycle. And so that’s the common mistake. I’ve seen projects that where they don’t develop the messaging until they’re trying to put the press release together. And that’s a tough time to try and figure out what you’re trying to say. I almost have the belief now that when you start a project and you fund an R&D team is when you really should have the messaging for what the go to market is and maybe it evolves because you learn some things along the technology development pathway, but that the why is from the very beginning. Why invest is… should be aligned with why they customer is going to care about this product in the future.
So then, I think, with this pandemic, the other challenge companies have is really brought to light in stark contrast, which is that they may not be as disciplined about who the decision makers are in the buying process. And so they’re not aiming their marketing messages at the right people. And I was involved once in a company that went from a technical sale, it was at the internet implosion of 2001. And up to that point, we were making technology based sales, we were selling the engineers and then they just went to the finance guy to get money, and it was a done deal. But when the dot.com bomb happened, everything changed in the buying decision became purely financial, the CFO suddenly had control. And we had to completely change our brand, our storytelling, our product, positioning our corporate messaging and our sales process to accommodate that. Fortunately, we did that well. But that’s an example of one of the challenges that that I see pretty commonly in the industry.
Christian Klepp 06:26
Now, you brought up some really great points there. And I think they’re all extremely relevant to not just the current situation, but even moving forward. I think like, if I understood correctly, what you’ve been saying in the past couple of minutes is that, um, the, the marketing and the brand storytelling respectively, needs to evolve because of the changing dynamics within the market, right? Like, I mean, the customer ecosystem has changed, the way that people conduct business has changed, and therefore that needs to be reflected in aspects, different aspects of marketing and the brand storytelling as well. Am I right to say that?
Steve Brown 07:07
Yeah, absolutely. And I mean and again, because of the pandemic, we don’t have in-person events anymore. A lot of a lot of B2B markets had an anchor marketing event where they would mix with their customers, either with booth or with seminars or things that really got facetime and, and discovered people. And that’s not happening now. And not that events are the only way people did branding or marketing, but it’s just an example of how dramatically things have shifted and how the marketing approach obviously has to change, but the way people absorb marketing messages changes, because of that physicality as well.
Christian Klepp 07:54
Absolutely, absolutely. And just to add on to what you’ve been saying, what do you what do you think it is Steve, why have a lot of B2B companies, at least in the past not given brand storytelling the attention that it deserves? Is it because most B2B companies are very sales driven, and they don’t think about that aspect of it?
Steve Brown 08:16
Hey, boy, you mixed a couple things together, they’re not in appropriately, but it’s a great question. The marketing mix is, is the fundamental question, and there’s no one answer. There’s no B2B answer for that unfortunately, because it’s everyone is very situational. But in general, in a general sense, you do have to think about all of the aspects of your company’s position. And I think, a lot of people do that well, and I’m not saying that it’s a total failure across the industry, but the sophisticated understanding of how the sales people are encountering customer right? We’re doing marketing, not just to measure brand awareness. We’re in business and the brand awareness has some impact on the sales process in the sales experience for the customer and for the sales team. And the other audience, of course, is investors and that whole market has its own dynamics. There are other constituents that you’re also marketing to with your brand efforts. And so it depends on whether you’re marketing for partnerships or whether you’re marketing for investors or whether you’re marketing for customers and sales leads and sales processes, how you put emphasis on not only messages in the brand story, but also the marketing assets and the location where you place those assets.
Christian Klepp 10:03
Right, exactly. Talk to us about the key components and you brought up a few of them already, but like talking to us about the key components that B2B organizations have to consider when they think about their brand story. And how important do you think target personas and an understanding of the buyers journey is to this process?
Steve Brown 10:28
Good question. And ignoring the contextual things we just discussed, when you’re developing… when I’d sit down personally to develop a new storyline and messages for some campaign, I’m thinking about where is my audience, where are they coming from. It’s kind of like when you’re taught to give a presentation, the way you think about presentation is, who is in your audience? what is their psychology mentality today and where do you want them to get to? And therefore the presentations job is to move them from A to B. And that’s the same thing with brand storytelling is you’re identifying a persona who have a common story about you, and you’re evolving their story by giving them some information, some reasons for them to think about. Or something attractive about your story that you want them to add to what their understanding is and that’s the whole way that I think about is is is where they’re coming from and what it takes to convince them to to internalize a new story. And that’s the key: they’re internalizing. It’s not me just pitching pitching pitching, I have to reach them where they’re willing to evolve their story.
Christian Klepp 11:53
Yeah, those are definitely some great points and just adding on to that and I believe you’re probably familiar with the book so it’s the books called Story Brand by Donald Miller right and so he breaks that down… and this is applicable not just in B2B. It’s applicable for consumer based brands as well but basically the way that he breaks it down is that the way that you tell your brand story, there’s generally steps by steps and these are these are steps that are taken from any religious or mythological text. I think professor Joseph Campbell I wouldn’t say he discovered it but he gave it a label let’s put it that way right. So basically it’s the character the hero has a problem needs a guide who gives him a plan, prompts him to take action which helps him to avoid failure and leads him to success. So just bring it back to what you were saying before and also something that you said enough in our previous conversation which i think is so important. I would say it’s important for brands to make it also about the customer right? I think it’s something you said before it’s um they can’t just keep going on about like them, the company and the product, and they’ve got to make it about the customers. Put them in the limelight I think as well what I’m trying to say.
Steve Brown 13:25
Yeah, that’s right. One of the first things I started do when I began my most recent role was we began producing social videos that is what we call them. They’re short little short little product videos and even though I’m an executive communications at the corporate level one of my objectives is to waterfall those messages and good crisp messaging and storytelling into the products. And so I created a template of what the story arc is in these videos and basically every video follows the same story arc the same timing. I just sit down I can whip one out in about two minutes because it’s that hero’s journey encoded in these in these steps in this video. You just capture some messages and then you create copy to reflect those messages and it’s about them and what their challenges and what they need and then what they get. And then hey kate. So it’s very much so I love Joseph Campbell, I was enamored by his insights and I hadn’t actually heard of that book so I’m looking forward to rereading it because I love that kind of stuff and I’ll share it with my network.
Christian Klepp 14:49
Yeah, please do give it a read. I mean I highly recommend it. It’s interesting that you brought up this about the social video so how have those been doing so far like I mean like how long have you been producing that type of content for your company.
Steve Brown 15:04
That particular asset we’ve been building for just over a year. And it’s gaining momentum as the… You know in the beginning, I was doing it on my own volition and then people would start to use them. And now they’re kind of the cornerstone of our campaign planning. And so there’s much more demand for them this year. And that’s great. Thank goodness, I can create them quickly. I mean, our video team has to do all the work, I’m just writing the story. But it’s the kind of thing where, we created a discipline, and then we have all these examples, we can show people how to think about their product. And it’s a way that I’m also helping the company capture their messages, right? If you can do a video, then you can sit down and do the rest of the messaging work that you need for the press release. And the other parts of the storytelling.
Christian Klepp 16:03
That’s absolutely right. And just to add on to that point, I think you’re also producing content that’s extremely relevant, because everybody these days tends to be more receptive to video content, and you’re also doing it and I dare say, digestible sound bites, right?
Steve Brown 16:23
That’s exactly right. It’s like, the videos, my goal is to have them be under 60 seconds. 30 would be a very efficient story. Let’s put it that way. But that’s 60 still if it’s compelling, and done well, then 60 seconds is workable.
Christian Klepp 16:41
Steve Brown 16:42
Yeah. So speaking of video, another thing we’ve done is… this is not new, but we’ve just increased the emphasis because of the pandemic. And we’ve started creating a series of what we call Talking Heads videos, and these are like, executive spokesperson, talking about basically, again, it’s the same customer story, but it’s about the product and what it does for the customer and but it’s told by an executive, so they’re blending their credibility to the story as well. So it’s a slightly different mix. It’s, even though it’s a little bit about the customer, it’s really more about the executives’ credibility.
Christian Klepp 17:26
Yeah, exactly. And, the talking head format, that’s one that tends to be used by a lot of people that are organizing webinars or airing these videos, they’re called pre-selling devices and whatnot, on social media platforms. Right, Steve, I promise you, we’re not going to talk about COVID. We’re not going to talk about the pandemic. But you did bring up a couple of points. And I just want to jam on that a little bit further. It’s about like, some of the things that you’ve seen in the landscape that have changed in the past 12 months, as a result of everything that’s transpired. So how do you think these changes influence the way that B2B companies develop and/or adjust their brand story?
Steve Brown 18:14
I think the biggest change is the breakdown of the human interaction that the natural human reaction that people could experience by a salesperson showing up at your company for meetings or again, meeting at events or other mechanisms for people to interact and communicate in a more natural way. So now the way that our target audiences and internalizing their stories is primarily through the internet, or through planned meetings. And that puts a lot more pressure on the story being engaging, and being relevant to them, and their persona and adding value. And also, it’s not new to the pandemic, but there’s just so much noise out there. So how do you cut through the noise and be something that they actually care to spend time looking at, in a way that the digital marketing and the persona based approach is improving our awareness of this and a mechanism to deal with it, but I don’t know the statistics of how B2B companies are adopting digital marketing and how well that’s going. But it is the work that, that I think is now putting much more pressure on companies to improve their storytelling because of the change in the way people are available.
Christian Klepp 19:50
Right, exactly. I did read a couple of like, reports from the Content Marketing Institute. I don’t remember the exact statistics, but they did… It was something in the range of 70 to 80%, that have adjusted their messaging and their content plans as a result of the pandemic is what I was reading. But something that you brought up, which I thought was really important to like, repeat again was, this whole challenge that B2B organizations have, when it comes to brand storytelling is, I guess you could say you could call it like the signal versus the noise. And it’s the whole, it’s the whole attempt to be or to sound more authentic, versus sounding too corporate and cold. Am I right to say that?
Steve Brown 20:42
I think that’s very much part of what I was expressing in the last part last section there is that… it’s kind of like, whether you’re talking about yourself, or you’re talking about a story that is about the audience and their experience and their challenges, their anxieties and their desired solutions. There’s, I think that’s the main difference in something that feels cold versus something that’s engaging, if you’re telling a story about what your audience is experiencing, you can even… you don’t even have to be brilliant at telling that story. If it’s really on, on the target. That’s when people react. And I think that’s where all of the work needs to be is really understanding what people’s needs are and what their, what their care abouts are the way they, what their expectations are for what the solutions might be. Right. That’s what you’re tapping into with a good story. And whether it’s Joseph Campbell architecture or something, some modification of that is not as important as really connecting with the audience.
Christian Klepp 21:59
Right, right. Exactly. Exactly. Those are some pretty great insights.
Hey, it’s Christian Klepp. Here, we’ll get back to the episode in a second. But first, is your brand struggling to cut through the noise? Are you trying to find more effective ways to reach your target audience and boost sales? Are you trying to pivot your business? If so, book a call with EINBLICK Consulting, our experienced consultants will work with you to help your B2B business to succeed and scale. Go to www.einblick.co for more information.
Alright, Steve, take out your crystal ball for a second here. And let’s just look 2-3 years into the future, what would you say are your top predictions for storytelling and B2B? Like, where’s it gonna go from here?
Steve Brown 22:49
I think that number one, video is going to be king. You know, video storytelling had already been effective. And with the changes in our work culture and work place, video is the way is the mote going to be the most powerful tool. We get 70% of our information visually, right, and only about 20% is by reading or listening. And so the video is… videos that convey the right stories are going to be the most engaging content. Now where the video is, and its format is there’s going to be lots of flair. I mean, who knew that video games would be an effective marketing mechanism, right? But it’s a form of video that’s very engaging. So there you go, right. So we probably will see virtual reality and all those things start to play an interesting role, but only once we have consoles, but in the short term, I’m only predicting the videos on our devices are going to be important, right? And the mobile experience, video is where that’s going to make a difference. And from my perspective, also as an executive comms, I think, I think there’s also going to be a more integrated approach towards the communication marketing plan from the executive voice through the asset creation and the, in the promotion of those assets and events and messages. Because that’s going to be much, much more important than then before in defining a brand and getting the story out.
Christian Klepp 24:42
Absolutely. So the moral of the story, I guess is Steve, that people are gonna have to get a little bit more comfortable being in front of a camera. And at least from what I’ve been seeing, and I’d like to get your thoughts on this. It doesn’t even have to be that overlay produced either. In fact, t’s going back to the whole authenticity aspect of it right.
Steve Brown 25:06
You know, it is about a good microphone and a good, a good light. And there is a certain performance in it, but it doesn’t have to be unnatural to be effective. I agree with you completely.
Christian Klepp 25:21
Right. Okay. So, we’ve talked about what B2B companies are getting wrong when it comes to storytelling, the key components that you need to consider when you’re trying to tell your brand story successfully. So once you’ve got that brand story developed, how do you build alignment within the organization in order to tell that brand story effectively? So it doesn’t just become something that marketing and branding are taken care of? Or are responsible for?
Steve Brown 25:54
That’s a really good question. And I think it kind of depends on where the story is coming from. Like, if the story is something that’s like, created by the like… let’s just say the marketing team, okay, so the marketing team is tasked with doing some marketing activity around brand, or whatever. And if they’re coming up with the stories, and if it’s an selling up process, because the first, the first group of people you have to win over is the executive management team, they have to embrace it, they have to like it, it has to be even fun for them, to really be an effective story. But what in my experience, a lot of the stories actually come from the executives, one of the executive, it’s either their area, or it’s the top executive CEO, or president, and they have something they want to get out. And, and so what you may be doing then is creating a story to convey their messages. And so it’s really that, that relationship with the executive sponsor, that is the most important. That’s like 90% of the the work of getting alignments, because then it’s a internal communication, influence process. And in a tech company, the top executive has the executive management team, and they have their meetings and negotiations to get aligned and to support things like this. But oftentimes, it’s important to reach past them to their teams and to have one on one relationships with them to first of all, get the real story, get data and, and to support the stories that you want to tell. And then that relationship also is part of influencing them with what the story arc is. So there’s no simple answer to that internally. But when I was thinking about this ahead of time, I was reminded of a recent example of getting the word out and building alignment. Pat Gelsinger just rejoined Intel as the CEO, right. And within a day, he had published externally, a document, the top four priorities for employees. So he talked about building alignment he published to the world what he wants his employees to be focused on. And that is a great way to jar awake, the employee, when your CEO publishes something outside the company, it’s very difficult to not take it seriously. And really to ask why, if you don’t understand, then you have an opportunity to ask why and to dig in.
Christian Klepp 28:47
Yeah, that’s a really great example. Another example I was thinking about, especially pertaining to this question is, it almost feels like you kind of have to think about like, an orchestra, right? Because you’ve got all these different musicians that need to play the respective pieces, and there’s a conductor that leads the entire group. But they do that off a musical score. Right? So there’s that piece of it as well. And all of that somehow needs to function like, Well, use whatever comparison you want, like a well-oiled machine, like, or just needs to sound like it. harmonizes right. So that’s almost I wouldn’t even dare say that at all. It’s almost similar to like, telling that brand story effectively back to your point. Right.
Steve Brown 29:40
That’s a really good analogy. Yeah, we rolled out a new strategy a few years ago and, and one of the first things we did was we put together an internal campaign to educate the employee community and measure their retention and buy in and engagement in that, but the main thing we focused on was explaining what’s in it for them, right? What’s in it for an employee to buy into this story, this strategy, this message and, and so that’s really important in building alignment, you can’t just communicate it has there has to be a reason explained why people should care about something?
Christian Klepp 30:22
Yeah, no, I totally agree with you there, I totally agree with you. So this is one of my favorite parts of the interviews that I have with guests. And, it comes to that part where we talk about commonly held beliefs in your area of expertise. And, we all have them, right. So when it comes to storytelling for B2B, talk to us about one commonly held belief that’s out there that you strongly disagree with, and why?
Steve Brown 30:54
I probably took this in a different direction then anticipating, but one of the commonly held beliefs is that we have to tell the perfect story. And I evolved that idea into – it’s very difficult for companies employees to deal with failure. And failure is very strong word. But essentially, if you put something together, and it has some incorrectness or inefficiency in the story or the mechanism, then it’s a failure to have that perfect, but the enemy of… the enemy of good is perfectionism. And I think one of the main, the commonly held belief is that there’s a perfect story, or there’s a perfect message, the ideal is that there’s a persona, and you need to speak to them in what they need, blah, blah, blah, all the things we discussed. But you never know that perfectly. You never really know it perfectly, you may have lots of data, or you may think that you can get lots of data and have it just magically be perfect. Or work on it really hard and think really hard and have it be perfect. And not fail, but actually, it’s more damaging if you’re trying to avoid failure. And I think that the evolution of storytelling by moving quickly, and getting people involved in working a story and getting it out, I think that process brings the best out of people, and they everybody is contributing to making the story better. And, and then you have to just monitor and watch what’s happening and get feedback and adapt. So I’m not sure if that’s exactly what you were looking for. But it is one of the challenges I see a lot – the desire for the perfect message, the perfect story.
Christian Klepp 32:56
Yeah, that was a really great point. And that, this is one of those questions where it can can go in any direction really. But I think something that you brought up, which really struck a chord with me is that developing a brand story for an organization. It’s a continuously iterative process. It’s not something that it’s one and done, and then you develop it, and then you just forget about it. Right. It’s a constantly evolving, right. It’s a… to use that to use that 80s term. It’s a never-ending story, right.
Steve Brown 33:33
Great movie. Great movie.
Christian Klepp 33:34
Yeah. Yeah. So leading on with that, talk to us about one thing that you think people should start and one thing people should stop doing when it comes to storytelling for B2B?
Steve Brown 33:50
I touched on in a different way earlier. And that is, I think the thing to start doing is, find a way to tell your story in 30 seconds. Whether it’s a video or a written something that people read in 30 seconds whatever. Tell it in 30 seconds, because you cut away all of the distraction in order to get it in into a 30 seconds.
Christian Klepp 34:16
Not easy, not easy.
Steve Brown 34:17
It’s not easy but it’s the work of a good story and good messaging. And conversely the thing that I encourage people to stop doing is stop proceeding with marketing, campaign planning and asset creation before you know what your story is. I mentioned seeing some projects where the messaging doesn’t come together until you put together the press release and that’s just a huge red flag. It’s not only a poor practice, but you actually don’t get the most out of your marketing campaign when you do it that way. You can’t… you don’t get the multiplicative effect of a multi-dimensional marketing team, when you’re only really focused on producing the press release, that’s essentially what that is.
Christian Klepp 35:17
Well, that’s absolutely right. And I think, to your point, if you end up doing it that way, what usually ends up happening is that you start firefighting, right? And then it gets to the point where it’s a little bit too late start, like tweaking the story.
Steve Brown 35:33
Well, yeah and you get that you get that one day when the press release comes out, to have everybody’s attention, and to have all these other assets that reach them and go past the press release. And that’s your day. And after that, it’s diminishing returns. So it’s not over. It’s just, you missed the window.
Christian Klepp 36:00
Right. That’s absolutely right. Steve, I mean, you gave us so much valuable advice. There were so many insights here that we’re or they’re waiting gold, so please do us the honor and tell us a little bit about yourself.
Steve Brown 36:16
Okay, I mentioned in the beginning, I’m a trained engineer that moved into management and then marketing and actually, most of my career now has been in marketing and, and I’ve had the great pleasure of launching new products all the way along. It seemed to be the thing that was most interesting to me. And I, early on, I discovered Crossing the Chasm and I just love the artistry of that whole discipline and messaging and storytelling that goes with it. And I love storytelling. It’s been something that’s been part of my life since I was a small boy. And, and the one wish I have is that I could play the guitar, just to be really open. It’s like, I can’t play the guitar. I wish I could.
Christian Klepp 37:03
Yeah. Yeah, well, this is probably not gonna make you feel better. But I used to have piano lessons when I was a kid, and I can’t get past do re me. (laugh) Yeah, but no, Steve, thank you so much. This has been such a great session. And thanks for coming on and sharing your experience and expertise. What’s the best way for people out there to connect with you?
Steve Brown 37:28
Well, I do like connecting with people. I use primarily LinkedIn. My ID is Stevebr. So you can find me on LinkedIn that way. My name is way too common. Just search by Steve Brown. I also have a blog that I’ve been writing about executive comms, which the website is way too long to read here. But you can find one of my posts on my LinkedIn account.
Christian Klepp 37:58
Perfect, perfect. Steve. Once again, this has been such an incredibly informative session. Thanks again for your time. So take care. Stay safe and talk to you soon.
Steve Brown 38:07
Thank you, you too. Have a great weekend.
Christian Klepp 38:10
You too. Thanks. Bye for now.
Thank you for joining us on this episode of the B2B Marketers on a Mission podcast. To learn more about what we do here at EINBLICK, please visit our website at www.einblick.co and be sure to subscribe to the show on iTunes or your favorite podcast player.
REGISTER NOW FOR WEBINAR
How to Get a Meeting with Anyone