“It’s the way I tell ’em” – how to make your B2B storytelling stand out

There’s a commonplace idea that there are only so many narrative structures in the world. Vonnegut said six, Booker said seven, some say three, some say more. The point is, coming up with standout stories is hard.

There are two levers you can work within storytelling: your story and the way you tell it. You can use either one to make your story stand out. The best brands nail both.

Let’s start with the tale you want to tell. Show your audience who you are, where you’re from, where you’re heading and why. All too often in B2B, these answers play up to industry norms. Brands become stock characters, with predictable backstories, trudging down well-trodden plotlines, delivering set-piece dialogue.

To be accepted by business customers, companies presume they need to look, sound and behave in a certain way. Business-like. Business-speak. Businessy.

At Earnest we always say: business people are still people, they just happen to be at work.

Too much B2B marketing imagines a single homogenous audience and tries to appeal to everyone. Not enough thought goes into the human truth: who’s your audience and what matters to them?

That explains the clutter in B2B. The noise. Brands presume they have to have a voice on the same issues as their competitors, even if it’s not part of their core purpose, even if it doesn’t speak to their expertise, even if it doesn’t resonate with the ones they’re trying to reach.

At best, these brands are bland, utterly ignorable. At worst they’re faking it, inauthentic, utterly unbelievable. A good story comes from the heart.

The second lever in telling stories is the way you tell ‘em.

When you keep using the same formats and channels as everyone else, it’s like putting your latest novel on a shelf with thousands of almost identical paperbacks. Embossing, de-bossing, foil stamping – none of the tricks work now because everyone’s using them.

You’ve got be different, be somewhere different. You’ve got to surprise people. Surprise yourself. Lots of B2B marketers have stopped surprising themselves. They stick with what they know. Tried-and-tested is good right?

Not always.

Standout storytelling means innovation. Only a quarter of UK CMOs think innovation is their job or have a budget for it. Why? Because innovation’s seen as risky. Risk? Not my department. Down the hall and left.

We humbly disagree.

We get it. Marketing is under pressure to deliver the numbers, pressure to show progress, pressure to ‘not fail’.

But how do you progress your plot line unless you bring in disruptive dramatic elements every now and then? How do you stand out campaign after campaign, year after year? Because if you don’t do something different, someone else will. Leaving you to fade into the background. There’s the real risk right there.

Turns out safe isn’t safe at all.

Since we started, our mission has always been to chase the humdrum out of B2B marketing. Well here’s the plot twist. A new character. An unlikely hero. The Earnest 10%.

The Earnest 10% is a new way to help B2B brands invest in innovation. You’ll get all the great campaign work you came for – plus we’ll help you invest 10% of your budget into something new, something you’ve never tried before, something your competitors will wish they’d thought of. Something that might go surprisingly well. Something that might even fail – but only to the tune of 10%.

Either way, you learned something. You told your story. You stood out. You were different.

Does it make you feel slightly uncomfortable?


Let’s give it a go.