The power of storytelling in tech webinar
Listen again to our webinar The power of storytelling in tech to hear Kirsty Waller, VP Marketing UKI at Sage; Bryan Glick, Editor in Chief at Computer Weekly and Fintech Consultant and Content Creator Nick Levine discuss the art of brand storytelling.
Alex Segger Hi, everyone, I'm Alex Segger, Head of Business Development at alan. Agency, and I'd like to welcome you to our session today on the power of storytelling for B2B tech brands. Storytelling is one of the most powerful tactics used by successful marketing teams, particularly in B2C, where it enables brand personality to shine and helps form personal connections with target audiences. In B2B, however, it's often overlooked and even seen as risky or daring. We're going to look at why storytelling can be so powerful for B2B tech brands today and leave you with some takeaways on how we approach it for some of our clients. Before I hand over to our Creative director Benedict to introduce our panellists, just a quick reminder to anybody just joining us. This discussion is live and we'd like to invite you to send any questions that you may have during the next hour for Benedict or our panellists to answer. We'd love to hear from you, so please ask away on the right hand side of your screen. If you have any questions after the session has finished, you can get in contact with us via email or through our social media channels. A recorded version of this webinar will also be available on demand via our website from next week. Really looking forward to this today. I'm going to hand over to Benedict now to introduce our guests.
Benedict Buckland Thanks very much, Alex. Firstly, just to echo what Alex said there about audience participation. It's a live event, a live event for a reason. So please feel free to ask your questions. There’s almost no such thing as a stupid question in this forum. We want to engage in that sort of dialogue. So please feel free. I'm Benedict. I'm the Creative director at alan. Agency, who are Raconteur Media's B2B marketing agency. And today I am joined by a stellar cast representing a cross-section of the publishing and marketing industry in the technology sector. So firstly, I'd like to introduce everyone to Nick Levine. Nick is a Fintech consultant for titles including Wired, TheTimes, alongside providing content and strategy for a number of the UK's leading Fintech companies. We're also joined by Kirsty Waller, who is Sage's vice president of marketing in UK and Ireland, where she leads brand strategy, digital transformation, customer acquisition, customer success and loyalty and is also responsible for building thought leadership in the technology space. And last, but by no means least, I'm really pleased to say that I'm joined by Bryan Glick, who is the Editor in chief at Computer Weekly, working across the website, weekly digital magazines, blogs, videos, podcasts, seminars, social media. I'm almost running out of breath here with such a long list and he is also responsible for the CW 500 I.T. Leadership Group. So I hope you'll agree, a really, really good line-up to talk about what we're going to be talking about today, which is storytelling. Specifically storytelling used within the technology sector for marketing purposes. And now I hope I'm not saying anything particularly controversial here, but storytelling is one of those terms that's ubiquitous within marketing. But I do think that there's probably a number of different interpretations of what that means. And so I'd like to start and I think it'd be quite useful to get a bit of a common vernacular around what storytelling is. Now, I'm really keen to get both an editorial and a marketing perspective here, but Bryan I want to start with you, how would you define storytelling?
Bryan Glick I suppose I come from more of a, obviously, more editorial, but a pure storytelling perspective in terms of trying to define it. In its purest form, storytelling is about the sharing of human experiences. It's a means of communication that offers meaning and purpose to the challenges and conflicts of life. Now, you might not worry about the conflicts of life too much when it comes to tech marketing. But in our context, really, for me, it's about constructing a narrative that engages an audience, ideally at some sort of an emotional or personal level. When I say emotional level, I don't mean making them laugh or cry necessarily, but, you know, engaging them at a level that's going to give them the confidence to talk to you as a supplier or ultimately to buy something from you as a supplier.
Benedict Buckland Now, that's really very helpful, and I think that it's a lovely idea about sharing human experience. And despite you not saying that there may be conflict within tech marketing, I think that conflict often is interpreted as a negative. But actually, that's almost a tension. And I think it's that tension, which is really, really key. And before I go to Kirsty; Nick, is there anything you would want to add again, sorry to sort of categorise the two of you, but from the editorial perspective?
Nick Levine Yeah. I mean to be honest Benedict, I was thinking in terms of almost between editorial and marketing, I do tend to cut across between the two. I think what we're looking at is basically taking those conventional elements of storytelling to really ignite the imagination of the audience, in essence, by having an element of setting a scene that features a protagonist, whether it be an individual or a company, going on a journey to learn or achieve something, solve a problem, and then completing that achievement. And from a brand point of view, I think it's ideally articulating those brand values to help solidify messaging and then using those values for brands to distinguish themselves from other companies. To establish really powerful storytelling in marketing, it's really using the opportunity of those brand values to get individuals to think of, and companies to think of brands within their own right rather than being part of the category.
Benedict Buckland Yeah, I think that's great. And I think that sort of distinctiveness that you're referring to there in terms of breaking out of a sort of homogenised category and communicating brand values is important. I think what I imagine would resonate probably with what Kirsty might be able to tell us shortly. But I think, Kirsty, from your perspective, I mean, we just heard there about how storytelling in its purest form is all about sharing human experience. It's igniting imagination and it's telling a brand story and achieving that differentiation. Now, coming from that marketing background such as yourself and engaging with storytelling through marketing, what is your view on, what you've just heard there and any additions that you'd want to make specifically in terms of its relationship to marketing and its value to marketing?
Kirsty Waller I think I agree entirely with what Bryan and Nick have been saying around storytelling. It doesn't matter, I think if you are in marketing or if you're in editorial, the heart of storytelling is that emotional connection that you want to make with your audience. And I think in the B2B tech sector, we tend to think that emotional connection isn't necessarily something that we need to do. So I think we need to bring that to the forefront when we start talking about storytelling. And then I think for me also, it's around articulating your purpose. So your purpose as a company, as a brand, as people, for your products as well. So it comes back to every story that you tell should be grounded in the purpose of what you do every single day. And then I think that emotion is how you bring that to life through the storytelling. And I think the only other thing I would add to that is that for storytelling to be really effective, it needs to be grounded in insight and understanding of the audience that you're trying to talk to. And so I think you know, if you add that in, then between us, I think we've come to a very good common understanding and an agreement on what storytelling is and some of the main things that need to be considered.
Benedict Buckland Absolutely. I think that we've got a good working definition. I also liked where you've just come from in terms of almost providing a bit of a framework for how storytelling is approached, which is that intersection in terms of the audience and the insights and your purpose and the interplay between the two of those. When we're talking about, I suppose, communicating your purpose, I'm interested, and this is to the floor, but Kirsty we'll continue with you initially. Given the events of the past 14 months and I suppose the upheaval that so many businesses have gone through and I suppose the changing role of companies in terms of how they are serving their customers and consumers. Do you think that storytelling is even more important than it ever has been within the tech sector because of the events of the past year or so?
Kirsty Waller I absolutely you do. And if I think about Sage, we have over a million companies as customers here in the UK and Ireland. And over the last 12 months, we've really seen the impact that Covid's had on those businesses and not always necessarily a negative impact, as you would expect. Some of them have amazing stories of their own to talk about, how they've adapted, changed their business models and have been able to survive and in some cases thrive under really challenging situations. But I do think that one of the things, particularly for us that's really comes to the forefront is, what is our purpose? So we have really focussed in on what is our role in helping these UK/British businesses to really find their way through and build a future for themselves as we come out of lockdown over the next, hopefully months or so. And if you look into the B2C sector, purpose has been driving businesses for a lot longer. And the way that companies tell the story of their purpose is very different. So if I pull on a few examples, someone like Tesla, for instance, they sell cars. But the story that they tell is around renewable energy and saving the planet. Patagonia is a great B2C example as well. They sell clothing, but the story that they tell is around how they want to save the world. There's lots of other B2C-type brands who have really brought purpose into their storytelling. I think as a B2B sector, we need to start thinking that as well. We have a responsibility, as businesses, to the companies that we serve, to the people within those companies as well. And as we start to think about how we tell the story of who we are and what we're doing and how we help people, I think purpose has become a lot more important than perhaps it has been over the last few years.
Benedict Buckland Absolutely. And I think I'd be very keen to perhaps return to find out a little bit more about how you went through that process of defining what their purpose was. But just before we do that, I'm interested, Nick and Bryan, from your assessment, almost as neutral, sort of outsiders or commentators on the marketing activity within the technology industry, how well understood do you think storytelling is within that particular industry, especially within the B2B sector, and linking that to that idea of communicating purpose and realising its sort of potential in terms of marketing? Nick or Bryan, whoever would like to go first?
Nick Levine Can I start Bryan if that's Ok with you?
Bryan Glick Absolutely
Nick Levine I think to be honest with you Benedict. I think it's a bit of a mixed bag, partly because defining purpose and being authentic with it takes a lot of effort and time, so that being a challenge and specifically from B2B technology companies, what they do is quite nuanced and quite complicated. And sometimes if they're doing a really good job of that, that might be sort of under the hood, so to speak, from a communications perspective. You know, I think that's definitely a challenge there. So I think,in terms of how B2B has been doing that during Covid and the time we're up to now. Something that's been done quite well is the sustainability angle, and what I mean by that is not just sustainability from an environmental point of view, but from a customer base. Every SME, every business has got a story to tell, in particular, these challenging times we live in, once-in-a-generation, these stories of how you were able to survive and some opportunities to thrive is going to be told in folklore in SME's 30 years from now if they're still around. It's also that element of sustainability in terms of looking at stakeholders, these B2B companies that are servicing SMEs, it's supporting the livelihoods of those individuals in those SMEs. So it's literally going down all the way to,supporting local communities. So I think some companies have done that sort of quite well in terms of I think some of the Google AdWords campaign looking at SMEs has been quite effective. The Sage campaign on Boss It is great as well, but overall I think it's a bit of a mixed bag.
Benedict Buckland And Bryan, from your perspective, I suppose two parts to it, how well understood is the value of storytelling? But then in the second part of it is, what is the state of storytelling within the tech sector in terms of how well is it being achieved to Nick's point he's just made?
Bryan Glick There are pockets of good, without a doubt. And there are some companies that are getting much better at it. In all honesty, I would still say looking across the industry as a whole, I think it's generally pretty poor, getting better, but pretty poor. A lot of that is historic reasons as much as anything. You know, the change in technology has been driven by tech companies, for the existence of the technology sector. The big drivers for change have always been, here's a new product, here's a new version - version 12.5 is out, here are all the new features and functions, who should we send the invoice to? and that's driven a lot of the thinking around marketing for a long time, but that's flipped on its head. Now, technology buyers are much more savvy. They're much, much more experienced. They expect to be addressed in their own language and language is a key part of this, and I think this is where a lot of tech companies still have a lot to improve. Most of tech marketing is still dominated by jargon and techie buzzwords. And one of the things about storytelling is about using the language that engages audiences on their own terms. I would encourage any tech marketer to read 20 pieces of marketing material from their direct competitors or maybe just 20 press releases, I have to read 50 to 100 press releases every day, so I'm speaking from experience here and you'll see they all use the same, often quite impenetrable language. But that also shows what an opportunity tech marketers have got, because you can stand out by using simple language that the buyer immediately understands. Just as a simple example, I would love to ban the word solution from tech marketing entirely. It's such an awful overused word. Could you ever imagine walking into Currys or John Lewis or whatever to buy a TV and a sales assistant sidles up to you and says, I see you're interested in purchasing an audiovisual entertainment solution, how may I help? You'd be out the door in five minutes. You know, I and my team at Computer Weekly, we spend a lot of time, obviously, talking to IT managers, CEOs, I.T. decision makers, generally. If you met, for example, a retail CIO socially and you didn't know who they were or what they did and you say to them "What do you do?", they'd say, "I work in retail". They wouldn't say they work in I.T. That would be the second level. So they're expecting to be communicated with, in the language of retail, not necessarily the language of IT. So, you know, there is a huge opportunity for tech marketers to be able to get out of some old bad habits and really stand out from the crowd against their competitors who really aren't changing fast enough in this area.
Benedict Buckland Yeah, absolutely. And it's interesting you say that you would like to ban the word solution. I'm actually in the midst of a big branding project for a tech client at the moment and how to describe what they do, and solutions being one of the ways of describing it. It's a live conversation, shall we say. It's often not easy to articulate quite what it is, but I think very, very true point in terms of thinking about language from the perspective of the person who's going to be reading it or listening to it and trying to create that sort of shared experience, that empathy through a common language, I think is very, very true. Kirsty, just coming back to you and we heard there from Bryan, that I think within the tech sector there is an idea that there's a lot of, I suppose, legacy perceptions around marketing. A focus on sort of products and product features has been successful in the past and so therefore, there's a little bit of an idea of it being sort of laggard. I'm interested, from your experience, was that a journey that you've witnessed or been on yourself as a tech marketer, where historically it was all about products and features focus and then having to win the battle to get to a more storytelling side of things? And if it was, I would be very interested to hear about how you won that battle, with all those convincing arguments that perhaps some of the people tuning in today might be able to utilise for their own purposes?
Kirsty Waller I was laughing along there to some of the things that Bryan was saying, because I think probably most people on this call, who have been in B2B marketing for as long as we have, probably recognise all of those challenges. And I remember, probably 20 years ago having to fight around feature/function/benefit, you know, and how that was going to be displayed, on what was at the time printed collateral and things like that. And I think we have come some way. But to Bryan's point, the people that we're selling to in B2B are still people, you know, they still have aspirations and needs that they want fulfilled, both within their professional roles and within their personal goals as well. And sometimes we don't think big enough in terms of the benefits that people get from the types of solutions that we're able to provide. So I think like most B2B, we're still very much on a journey of trying to kind of really crack this storytelling and tap into that kind of emotional reasoning that sits behind why you might buy what could be quite a complicated piece of financial management software or solutions that Sage do. But I think one of the things we do need to think about is what do we mean when we say storytelling? Because I think storytelling comes across, in fact, in a lot of different ways. It doesn't just have to be in long form written content or video case studies - was the next thing that I think as B2B we all kind of embraced - you know, to Nick's point earlier around really needing to be authentic in the messages that you provide. I think that actually having people tell their own stories is far more powerful than us talking about ourselves and what we do. So that's sort of allowing our customers and others to tell those stories. And I think that's why also we're seeing a big rise in influencers in the tech sector and sharing their stories and their day-to-day kind of experiences with the technology that they're using, because people want to hear from other people. They want to have these very honest, open opinions and to see that emotional reaction when something works well and when something doesn't work well. So I think that's probably the journey that we need to go on next, is how do we stop perhaps trying to tell our own stories and actually start providing platforms for others to tell that authentic story and perhaps not be so scared that not everything they're going to say is going to be great. because I think we have a tendency to want to control the narrative, and I think we need to let go of that a bit.
Benedict Buckland That's really interesting. I'm actually going to, I wouldn't normally do this in a sort of a webinar context, but I'm going to encourage a little bit of a tangent and a digression from the conversation. It's really interesting what you just said there around the role of influencers within technology, B2B marketing. I suppose, I think it's possible that Nick and Bryan, you could potentially be influential within this space, so you're coming from one side and Kirsty coming from the other in terms of identifying it. Would you be able to just give it a little bit of a narrative around how you have approached that? Because I think it's something that a lot of B2B marketers are considering, but don't necessarily know where to start and how to sort of go about that. So if we could have a little brief interlude around influencer marketing and B2B, that would be fantastic.
Bryan Glick I mean, I would absolutely echo what Kirsty said in that your best influencers in B2B are your customers. Far more technology companies tell me how hard it is to get their customers to talk on their behalf, than there are companies to get their customers to talk on their behalf. I realise for some it's difficult and it's not always as straightforward as you like. But you're not going to get somebody better to be your influencer than one of your customers. If you're a senior IT buyer. Every survey there's ever been done of who IT buyers turn to, IT decision makers turn to for advice, always says No. 1, people like me, my peers. The single most valuable source of information is from one CIO who's talking to another CIO who has faced a similar challenge. You're just not going to get a more powerful way of telling a story about how your customers tell the story of what they did with you in their language so that other customers like them are going to recognise that language and think, oh, well, that company can probably help me then.
Benedict Buckland I think that's very true. And actually, if we think about storytelling in a very historical sense, it is that sort of idea of transmitting information from word of mouth. It's that oral history. And that's really, really equivalent to what we're talking about here in terms of having your customers giving that sort of testimony and sort of anecdote of the benefit that made.
Nick Levine Can I make a quick point on that as well, if that's OK? I echo the sentiments of both Kirsty and Bryan. I think in terms of peer recommendations, obviously they're unbiased. The perception is it helps de-risk that decision-making. But also now technology is such an enabler and in terms of, you know, launching a new business which is underpinned by technology, we're increasingly moving towards a world of the plug and play type scenario. And so by using your own peer group to tell stories and be influencers, you can actually be very sort of aspirational. If there are people that have gone on a journey in terms of technology adoption and have established their businesses to a certain extent, there may be people earlier on in that journey who are looking to those for guidance to seek to develop their businesses similarly over a period of time. So it's being relatable to them both from a reputation point of view within their sector. But it's also the aspirational elements to build a business similar to those in the future as well if they're earlier on in that journey.
Benedict Buckland Now, that's a very good point, Nick. And I think certainly what technology enables is it provides a platform for people to tell those stories, whereas historically before we had that sort of democratisation of voice, that wasn't possible. And it was always having to be done through a very sort of controlled brand way in the form of a case study. And what is also, I think, very interesting is that we've been talking here about how case studies are such a good example. I'm using the word case studies, broadly speaking, case studies is what we're talking about. Case studies are a fantastic example of storytelling. And for me, I think that that's quite sort of pleasing to hear because it almost is a bit of a myth buster around storytelling within B2B marketing. And often there is a perception that storytelling relates to just top level sort of awareness type activity. Whereas actually what we're talking about is mid-funnel activity here and still storytelling being vital to that. Are there any other sort of key misconceptions that you think exist within the marketing community around storytelling that we can debunk on the webinar today? Anyone like to go first then?
Kirsty Waller I can..
Benedict Buckland Let's start with you Kirsty, that would be fantastic.
Kirsty Waller So I think we kind of talked about some of them, which is that idea that stories have to be told by us, who have to control that narrative. But I just wanted to pick up on a point that you made there around where does storytelling fit in the journey. And I think storytelling fits throughout the journey. But we need to understand where someone is in that journey. What are the stories that are going to be impactful and useful to them as they go through that buying journey with us and to change the narrative somewhat. I think some things that I've seen B2B marketers, including myself historically, you know, make mistakes, is that you're focusing too much either on that top of funnel, that middle of funnel, that bottom of funnel. And what you don't do is create that sort of joined up approach to the story, which takes you another layer down as people want to explore more, but always comes back to that purpose again, you know, at the top holding that all together. But obviously, at every point of that, the story will change and it will evolve and it will probably become more in-depth and more technical and complex depending on what you're selling, that is absolutely relevant, I think, throughout every touchpoint.
Benedict Buckland I think that having a connected journey and continuous narrative thread to continue within the sort of semantic field of storytelling is really important. Bryan, would you have anything that you sort of feel is a misconception or indeed actually sort of adding on what Kirsty was just describing there in terms of thinking about things in a joined up way?
Bryan Glick Storytelling, as we said already, is one of the words that gets bandied about a lot without necessarily people fully understanding what it means or perhaps something different. Different people have different definitions of it. You know, not everything has to be a story for a start. Storytelling is a valuable technique, but not everything has to be storytelling. There is still going to be a place for the technical datasheet, the lists of your features and functions. It doesn't mean that the technical buyers aren't interested in features and functions. It's just exactly as Kirsty says. It's about communicating with them in the right way, at the right stage of their thinking through their buying process. I think one of the challenges that always comes about this and again, we've hinted at this is trying to separate what you as a marketer might think in terms of what I want to be telling this audience at this stage of their buying process and the mentality of the buyer, what they want at those stages of the buying process - and it does change. I think it's important to remember that even for the most senior IT buyer in a big multinational, making decisions about buying technology is hard. It's scary. It's a big commitment. You can get it wrong. You can spend a huge amount of money on something that doesn't work or you might get it wrong. You know, we talked earlier on about conflict, that's where the essential conflict comes from, from an IT buyer, that they've got to make a decision they have to commit to. You know, this is the IT buyer's equivalent of crossing the threshold into the dark and scary forest with no way back. So, you know, I think the misconception perhaps that most needs to be addressed, is around that, that you've got to start from the mindset of your audience before what you want to communicate and work out how you want to communicate is going to fit in with where they are. And there's a different story to be told at every stage of that buying process.
Benedict Buckland Yeah, absolutely. And I think that this is going to be a very nice Segway, actually, I think, to sort of moving the conversation on in terms of how do we do that. And I think we heard earlier, Kirsty, talking about the importance of that intersection between purpose and your audience. And I think very eloquently summarised it there Bryan. Just before we do, Nick, was there anything that you wanted to just sort of add on top of that and then we can get down to business to be quite practical in terms of creating great stories?
Nick Levine I think it's great if you can be unique, but I don't think you have to be unique. I think coming back to the point on purpose and authenticity, it's important that you stay true to yourself to be able to tell stories over a period of time that stay true to that brand. I appreciate we live in a culture which can be quite reactive in terms of chasing eyeballs with the news cycle or trying to get people's attention short term. But if that doesn't fit into a longer term narrative of the brand and its values, is that really going to achieve anything over the longer term? I think it's important for marketers to think in longer cycles rather than the next quarter, to think about that sort of element of having, you know, to continue to, develop the existing values of the brand over a period of time. That's going to have more value than trying to come up with something which is very sort of unique but sort of quite isolated. It might be harder for a potential buyer to associate with you over the longer term.
Benedict Buckland Excellent. And so I think that all of this is laddering-up really in terms of these key ingredients to great storytelling. And I think if we're to start with this idea around understanding the audience and the understanding of purpose in terms of being two key aspects. What advice do you have as a panel in terms of how, whether you are a publisher or whether you are a marketer, you can get that proper understanding of the audience, their context, their whereabouts actually, to Kirsty's point earlier, and then also use that to sort of develop your purpose. I'm interested, Bryan, from your perspective, as a publisher, what are the efforts that you go to to make sure that you're understanding your audience and you're putting content out, which speaks to them on their terms and resonates with their ideals?
Bryan Glick Probably one of the best bits of advice I got from an editor when I first came into tech journalism, it's obvious and it's simple, but has absolutely underpinned everything, I think. And that's ‘Every story is a human interest story’. We get very wrapped up in technology and the exciting bits and whizzy things that technology can do. But I think, you know, at the end of the day, when we're engaging our audience, we're always trying to think what is the human interest angle here? Even, storage virtualisation, to pick something incredibly techy, we'll have a human interest angle somewhere for an IT buyer. You know, as we said earlier, you're trying to create a narrative that engages people on a personal or emotional level. All stories, as Nick said, have protagonists, it might be a company rather than a person, or it might be you as a decision maker. All stories have protagonists, they have conflict. They have challenges to overcome, they have crises. They have a resolution. And I think one of the things that I say to people a lot about what Computer Weekly does is, yes, we write about technology. Yes, we write news, all that sort of thing. But ultimately what we're writing about is change and stories. You know, storytelling is a way of making change more understandable and easier and less scary, based around experiences that other people have had. So I think the focus for us is very much those two things. Remember, it's always, every story is a human interest story. And remember that ultimately what we're talking about is change and it's scary. And you have to communicate that in the simplest language possible.
Benedict Buckland That's great. It’s a really nice way of talking about the storytelling, is ultimately the communication of change, taking people on that sort of A-to-B, taking them on that story arc, really. So that's really helpful. And before I just turn to Kirsty in terms of, I think that you will probably be able to give us a bit of a marketing insight into audience profiling. But Nick, from your perspective as both a publisher, I suppose, but also someone that has written marketing content. What do you think is the sort of key to really understanding an audience and making sure that you're achieving that emotional engagement and connection that Bryan was alluding to?
Nick Levine I think it all comes down to, you know, looking at the personas of that audience you're trying to reach. And from a B2B perspective, whether that if you're, let's say, a technology which allows third party companies to build investment platforms, that persona is very unique and easy to understand, versus a technology company that provides services to SMEs that can be so broad across a range of different sort of sectors and sizes. And so it's really beginning with that audience persona in mind. And if you're, you know, it can be a bit more challenging if you're servicing a much larger and diverse audience of millions of businesses or different sizes and different sectors. So the approach to go with that is either telling stories within a campaign across a range of a few different sectors, a small breakout case studies, or perhaps it's looking for something a bit more relatable overall to that entire spectrum of clients in terms of looking at the challenges of running a business, irrespective of what sector that is in, whether it's from an operational point of view or financial point of view or a communications perspective. But it's very much going back and thinking about that audience persona. And the more you can drill down into that persona, I think the easier it will be to talk to that audience. But that can be challenging, depending on, you know, the client base that you're seeking to reach.
Benedict Buckland And that's a perfect tee-up in many respects to Kirsty, in terms of we're talking there around the importance and the role of audience personas. I want to throw in a little bit of an extra layer on top of the question, which is actually referring to one of the questions that's come in live from Jon Clements. And he's sort of identifying that sort of thinking from the point of view of the buyer. So that audience first approach is a bit of a challenge or change of culture within B2B tech companies and their marketing department. So two parts to the question. Firstly, “What are your thoughts about how companies can get close and have that sort of really actionable, viable persona that can inform their marketing and storytelling? And secondly, do you agree that there is a bit of a mindset shift to go towards that audience-first approach?”
Kirsty Waller Yeah, yeah. I do really agree with that kind of difference in approach. And as Nick was talking, it was kind of reminding me of a trap I think that all B2B marketers fall into, which is that we segment and think about our audiences in a way that makes sense to us from an inside out perspective. And over the years I've seen that be segmented by employee size for instance or revenue. Now, if you think about that so tangibly, if you're saying that everyone who's got under 250 employees, the moment that they bring on their 251st employee, suddenly all their needs and requirements completely change. And I'm going to go and talk to them about something completely different. So we need to think about the way that we actually segment our markets from an outside in perspective, looking at the needs of the audiences that we're actually trying to address and not try and shoehorn them, I think, into our way of looking at the world, because maybe operationally that's the way we're set up and we've got different teams that deal with those two different sets of audiences. So first of all, I think we need to take a different approach to the way that we segment audiences and have that much more around those emotional, could be emotional requirements but at the very least could be around some of those kind of behaviours and requirements that they have from that perspective. And then in terms of how do we actually identify those? It's really simple, we need to talk to our customers more. We really do need to talk to our customers more. And hopefully I'm not giving too much away by saying that at Sage, one of the initiatives we've set up is, because we've got 13000 employee, not all of them can spend time with customers on a weekly basis and not all of them perhaps need to, but we think it's really important that they understand our customers. So we've actually set up a programme of sharing support and service calls across the organisation so anyone can log in and start listening to those calls. It’s understanding what are the things that customers are talking to our colleagues about on a day to day basis. What are the things they care about, and I think that's a fantastic initiative just in terms of really wanting to and needing to get under the skin of our customers. So I think that that's clearly one way. There's always the ability to run for more formalised qualitative and quantitative research. But I don't think there's anything more than just picking up the phone and asking a customer, how's it going today? What more could we be doing to help you? And what are you thinking about tomorrow? And we kind of forget that, we're in technology, that we feel like everything has to be data driven. But actually a good old fashioned conversation is probably the best place to start.
Benedict Buckland Absolutely. And I think it's that whole qualitative appreciation is something which is at risk of being lost a little bit. And I think that it's so important that comes back in. I think it's almost quite nice, Bryan and Nick talking to you here, that what we've described there in terms of sort of picking up the phone, getting the understanding, working in an observational capacity is almost akin to actually how a successful journalist should put together a story in terms of their sources and having that sort of understanding. Do you agree that that's probably a fair comparison and perhaps brands should start to think a little bit more like journalists?
Nick Levine Brian, you go first.
Bryan Glick There's certainly a big overlap in skill sets. I mean, I'll give some personal experience. And this was certainly before I became a tech journalist. I worked in the tech sector for a few years. I worked in sales for a while. As a salesman, my job was to try and ring someone up, ask them questions they didn't want to be asked, to get information out of them, take that information away, convert that into something written and communicate that back out to the audience. Now, in that case, that communication was probably a sales proposal or something like that. When I came into journalism, my job was to ring up people who didn't really want to be talked to, to ask them questions they didn't really want to answer, to take that information back and write it down in a format and then communicate it out to an audience. The difference this time was I was writing news stories and features and news analyses and that sort of thing. So there's a big overlap in the skill set and the way of thinking definitely between how vendors, how tech vendors are trying to communicate and how journalists are thinking. In many ways, stories, storytelling is the thing that should unite us both, could unite us both because as a journalist from day one, you talk about the story. We use the word story. What story are you working on? You know, what stories have you coming up? That's the language that we use in the newsroom. You don't tend to use that sort language so much in vendors, in tech companies. Now, things will have changed since I started, in more years ago than I care to admit, when I was working in the tech sector. But when I went to that, I was taught presentation training, how to use PowerPoint, how many bullets to put on a slide, all about the four PS and personas and all those sort of things. And there's that learned behaviour that's in the tech sector that perpetuates itself. You know, if you're an up and coming marketeer, and you want to get some budget from your CMO to do something? You're going to have to go to them and talk to them in the language that they're used to. You're going to have to put it in those sort of terms. There are probably more people in tech who know who'd be able to tell you, you know, what's the optimum number of bullets to put on a PowerPoint slides and could tell you what the hero's journey is or what three act structure, you know? And, you know, maybe what you need is just a little bit more crossover of some of those skills.
Benedict Buckland Absolutely, and, Nick, anything that you wanted to sort of layer on top of that?
Nick Levine Yeah, I think in terms of, you know, tracking down sources to help aide your storytelling,you know, as a journalist would and articulate a narrative, that's definitely something, marketers can do more of. I agree with Kirsty, it’s the opportunity of doing that outreach. But I also think with the benefit of social media you can, and using almost the skills of a journalist, by sort of just monitoring what's out there, what's being said about your brand, that can be a great way to identify some really great stories that you might otherwise miss. But also going back to the element of authenticity, if you can take a story that's being put out as a tweet from a case study, and we're seeing more brands doing this, pulling in tweets from their customers to, you know, showcase that that happens to their product, that it's important to be able to do that sort of listening as well as outreach as well, especially from the authenticity element.
Benedict Buckland I would love to go, for this particular conversation, for forever in terms of those learnings from journalism and flying those to marketing because I think that there's so much in terms of both that sort of approach, the mentality and the particular techniques, which is so applicable to marketing. Marketing is fundamentally about, as you say, storytelling. It's about communicating. And that really at its essence is what journalism is as well. So we've got a lot of really, really strong questions which have come in. And I don't want to lose time for us to perhaps go through a couple of those. So at this point, Alex, if I could invite our compere back onto the stage and Alex is going to be able to just ask a couple of those questions, which I think will build upon some of those conversation pieces that we've just had.
Alex Segger Thanks, Benedict, and thank you to everyone who has sent questions in and apologies, I don't think we're going to be able to get through all of them. We've cherry picked a few out that I think would be interesting for our panellists to answer. So firstly, we've got a question from Ricardo, 'What advice would you give for marketers who do not get the buy-in from executives for taking a different approach to storytelling?' Kirsty, I guess we'd been keen to understand your thoughts on this.
Kirsty Waller Yeah, it's a great question. One of my favourite sayings is 'Your opinion might outstrip my opinion, but my data will always beat your opinion'. And so I think what I would suggest and I've had to do is and I've had my team do this to me before as well, where they haven't been able to get true buy-in, is they start small and find a way of perhaps introducing these new things and then it's about testing and learning. We are marketers and modern marketers we're data driven. So we should be able to monitor the impact that that is having. If it's a different type of case study, have one way of telling that case study and another way, which is much more storytelling, create them both and put them out there, see what kind of engagement you get and see the response that you get from that. And then at that point, you start to accumulate data that outweighs an opinion. And I think that's probably the best, the best way to do that.
Alex Segger Brilliant, Bryan and Nick, have you got anything to add to that?
Nick Levine I think I broadly agree with Kirsty, if you can do a quick and cost-effective experiment, it will be hard for people to push back on that.
Bryan Glick If you're trying to convince somebody of the benefits of storytelling, then tell them a story about the power of storytelling and demonstrate it in the way that you convince those executives that storytelling is powerful, by convincing them using storytelling techniques.
Nick Levine Send them a link to this webinar
Alex Segger And an interesting question from Emma from the perspective of a B2B I.T. partner, 'How would you go about telling your business story when you’re provided with so many partner or supplier assets?' I guess it's a common problem for a lot of businesses in that space.
Nick Levine I'm trying to articulate the vision.
Bryan Glick I'm trying to read the question to get some context for it.
Kirsty Waller I'm presuming that this person is obviously working with a number of different partners, but I think, you know, overall, you as a business should still have a vision of what is the value that you add into that partnership. And that's the story that you need to tell. Or else, you're not adding value into what you're providing to your customers. So I don't know if they want to provide any more information, but that would be mine, you need to understand where is the value that you're providing as part of this. You've got your vendor story that needs to have the wrapper of that value-add that you're providing, or else why would someone be engaging with you and not perhaps directly with that end supplier in the first place?
Bryan Glick I think it comes back to one of the messages coming through quite strongly in this as well. If you're in a supply chain like this with retailers and partners, whatever that particular structure is, at the end of the day you're all trying to serve the customer or trying to serve the same audience. So if you want to get your storytelling right, your storytelling should be oriented around the audience, the end customer, not necessarily the partners and resellers. And yes, if you're a hardware vendor and you've got a reseller channel, then you've got to be telling a common story. But there are going to be many differences in the story that you tell, because as Kirsty said, the reseller is going to have to be adding some value to that end customer and they should be telling a story about, you know, how their value meets the needs of that customer. And the product manufacturer should be doing the same about their role in meeting the needs of that end customer.
Nick Levine I think it's about that customer success. How have you been able to facilitate that in terms of, you know, a customer reaching a particular goal, but also in terms of helping your customers or a particular customer grow and reach success over a period of time. How have you facilitated that growth or that trajectory? And again, what Kirsty is saying, how are you providing value within that relationship to help them get to that end goal?
Alex Segger OK. And we've had a question sent in by Jill and Jill asks, 'How important is it to find different channels on which to tell my story?’ And as a follow-up to that, ‘How do I know which ones are right for me?'
Kirsty Waller That's a great question, and I don't think you ever know, but I'd like to just kind of give an example of something that was kind of unexpected as a channel, I think, to Sage. We are a B2B technology company, although we provide solutions for everything from a sole trader all the way up to a mid-market company. But more recently, we actually adopted TikTok as a channel for storytelling and we wanted to reach that business community that's been so hard hit over the last 12 months. We were hearing some fantastic stories of businesses thriving. We thought a lot about how do we tell this story, we thought should we do a big brand book and we can put them all in it? Or maybe we can send our video teams to all of these businesses and video them and do a collage video of case studies and put that on our social channels. And actually, the response that we came up with, it's not up to us to tell those stories. They need to be able to tell their own stories in an authentic way. And to do that and because we were looking at this point at some of the smaller start-up companies, we used TikTok to do that, which is a channel that you wouldn't usually associate with B2B companies. But it was phenomenally successful for us, actually. And there are case studies online that we've done with TikTok telling our story. So I think you don't always know but again, I always just suggest the test and learn approach to everything that you do. If you're not failing, you're not trying hard enough. So you know, have a think about where your audience is hanging out and then trial and if it doesn't work and then move on.
Alex Segger Great, and I think we've got time for just one more question, which I'll pose to Bryan and Nick, first of all, and I guess the context of today it is a bit of a controversial one from Jon, 'Purpose has been given something of a kicking in the quality media recently. Do you think purpose is here to stay or just another fad and shareholders begin to grumble about a focus on profit?'
Nick Levine I think that we're through this demographic shift. And I know millennials is such an overused term, but some millennials are turning 40 this year. So I think as that demographic gets older and genuinely care about their purchasing decisions and the supply chain and the ethics of the companies that they engage with and transact with, I think purpose will now, while historically it might have been viewed as being a bit faddy, especially going back to some of the political sloganeering in the 80s, some of the brands like Bodyshop were doing sort of back then, I generally think it's here to stay now and is a mass movement rather than a niche concern.
Bryan Glick You'll all have heard the old cliche content is king, I think probably more important is the one context is king. And I think, you know, as Nick says, I think purpose is always going to be important. I would interpret that observation from the FT as perhaps saying just, you know, over focusing on purpose is perhaps done now, but purpose is always going to be important. And what matters is pitching purpose within the wider context. What's the context in which your purpose as an organisation is important? If you think that just having a purpose is all the context that you need, then yeah, people are probably going to get pretty fed up and bored with that. But if you're explaining your purpose in the context of your wider story, then absolutely I think you will continue to have a lot of value.
Alex Segger Great. I think that's a good place for us to finish today, so apologies to anybody that didn't get their questions answered. We'll try and come back to you directly if we can. And a big thank you to our panelists, Kirsty, Bryan and Nick, thank you so much for joining us today. It's been a really, really interesting conversation. Thanks also to Benedict and also to Julie from our marketing team who has been instrumental in putting this together. And finally, thank you to everyone that's attended. I hope you found the discussions as interesting as I did? If there are any future topics that you would like to see us cover, please get in touch. We look forward to the next event. Thanks everyone.