One of the recent trends in marketing is for companies to “tell their story.”
While there is nothing wrong with telling your company’s story, it may not be enough to truly connect with your customers, especially in the business-to-business world, where purchases are largely transactional and unemotional. A more powerful strategy is to give customers their own story.
Here's an example. My husband and I recently visited Italy. I was determined to buy a purse in Florence, but, despite my best efforts, I just couldn’t find a purse that was special enough. I eyed a few leather purses in Venice, but had completely given up on buying a purse by the time we reached Rome. That was until we met Federico Polidori.
Federico is a leather craftsman with a small shop a short distance from the Pantheon. Federico keeps a few leather items on display in the window, but the rest of the items in his shop are a mishmash of leather tools, scraps of leather, obviously worn leather items, and a collection of knickknacks. This would have been like all other leather shops we passed through in Italy without making a purchase, except that, just as we were about to leave, Federico asked a simple question. “Where are you from?”
Before we knew it, we were having a delightful conversation with Federico that included a tour of his shop. We learned the backstory behind many of the mysterious items in his shop. He also gave us a demonstration of how he makes his leather items by hand.
We also learned about a purse that he designed for his (now-grown) daughter to take to her first day of school. The original, beautifully aged, purse hangs on a peg in his shop. A copy of his daughter’s purse hung in the window, but is now no longer there. I bought it. But that is not all I got. Now, whenever anyone comments on my purse, I have a wonderful story of my own to tell them about a purse that was handmade by an Italian “American cowboy” we met in Rome. I feel that, in a small way, I am now intertwined in the story of the leather shop’s history. By giving me a story to tell, I have become a brand ambassador for Federico, sending potential customers his way.
Although the story about is about a business-to-consumer transaction, there are lessons for B2B companies. Below are a few ways to help your customers build their own stories:
Share a secret
Few people can resist the temptation to share a secret, which means that, if you share one with people, they will likely end up talking about your company to other potential customers. People always feel important and valued if they are given information few people have. Don’t be afraid to share information that you do not regularly broadcast to the entire world.
Lift the curtain
Don’t just show customers your product. Show them how it is made. Tell them where the materials come from. Remove the distinction between your sales floor and your workspace. Invite customers into the process so they can see what happens behind the scenes. Introduce them to the people who are responsible for making your product. All of these touch points help customers to feel more connected to your company.
Do something off the wall
I have heard it said that if you don’t have a shared story with someone, you don’t have a relationship with them. Find a way to make routine interactions unconventional. For instance, if you are a packaging manufacturer and your greatest point of differentiation is the speed at which you can fill orders, forgo the boring conference room chatter and take your client to a race track like the Atlanta Motor Speedway or Mario Andretti Racing. Not only does this give your customer a story to share, but it also helps drive your point home in a memorable way.
What can you do or have you done to give your B2B customers their own story?
Stephanie Richards is owner of SowGrow PR (@SowGrowPR), an Atlanta-based agency specializing in B2B public relations services. A version of this story originally appeared on the author's blog, PR at the Top.