B2B Content Marketing: See Cisco’s Successful Approach


Share on LinkedIn

There’s No Telling What Storytelling Can Do!

A recent survey of LinkedIn members within the B2B Technology Marketing Community showed that case studies are the most effective form of content marketing. The survey, B2B Content Marketing Trends 2012 also showed that compelling storytelling is the most effective content tactic. That’s what case studies really are—powerful stories that support an argument you’re trying to make. For 81% of the survey respondents to pin their votes on storytelling as the top content marketing tactic, there must be a very good reason.

Is it simply that as human beings, across civilizations, cultures and races, we all, universally, love a good story? I think so. In addition, and what I believe is the reason why we love a good story, is because we are all people with emotions. Regardless of whether we function in the B2B marketing or in the B2C space, we all have a need for stories to stir up emotions in us. And well, if those emotions make us feel good and positive and enthusiastic, then even better in the world of business.

Social media is probably one of the most useful communication channels available to marketers to tell a compelling story. The issue is, most organizations, even the ones that recognize the importance of integrating social media into a comprehensive marketing plan, fail to realize that the onus of sourcing great stories does not rest entirely on marketing. Certainly, the creative folks in marketing can take the lead and craft the story to make it engaging and interesting to the audience. The story itself can and should emerge from the length and breadth of the company.

Some of the world’s greatest stories ever told started with “Once upon a time…” and ended with “…happily ever after”. As employees of large, medium and small enterprises, we often tend to think that a story worth telling must be “new”. Think about the paperback industry or the film industry. How many cops and robbers stories, love stories, hero who saves the world stories, good versus evil stories, story of a distinguished personality’s life, etc. have we read and seen? Most of them fall into one of these categories anyway, right? And yet, the ones that are masterfully told always draw audiences and make money for the writer or film maker. There is rarely a completely radical, new theme to a story, but if it is engaging enough, it wins.

B2B Storytelling—A Case in Point

Let me give you a brilliant example of compelling storytelling in the B2B world. Cisco has a web documentary series called The Network Effect. What you see here is not self-serving, brand promotion or sales driven creative videos. Instead, you hear inspiring stories of innovators and inventors who laid the path of Cisco’s network prowess in the industry. You’ll see what I mean when you watch the documentaries. My favourite is the story of the undertaker who created his own telecom switch so he could channel business directly from the market to his business and won market share over his competitor. There is another fantastic story about slum dwellers in Brazil who will give up entire families’ meals so they can invest in a business website and nurture leads over the Internet based on the ability to showcase their skills to potential customers. If ever there was a powerful argument to support the power of the Internet and the growth charter of this dynamic industry, this story has it. I’ll leave you to watch the rest and take your lessons in storytelling…but I wanted to drive home the point that storytelling has immense benefits and advantages to offer to the B2B marketer.

A Checklist for B2B Storytelling

Mark Lightowler shared what he calls the Brand Storytelling Manifesto. It makes a lot of sense to me so I am happy to discuss it here on my blog. Here is his ten-point ‘manifesto’ and my perspective on it.

  1. “Employ left and right brain tactics: Include the emotional aspects of your brand as well as the rational.” I agree with this 100%. The rational side of what your brand brings to the table is important, no doubt. When you have to compete in the market, however, it is the emotional superiority that usually finds its way into a buyer’s mind and heart. Exactly the reason why a great product demo falls short of what a unique and interesting product user’s story can deliver.
  2. “Fulfil human hierarchy of needs: Fulfil a higher need state than your competition.” This basically means that you need to bring out the power of your product or service and communicate this to go beyond a buyer’s immediate need and expectation levels.
  3. “Dig for metaphors and archetypes: Base stories on well known story arcs and metaphors.” That is why a cops and robbers story still sells when a master novelist or screenplay writer presents it. Greek legends are very much still a part of best-selling books and blockbuster films. Why? Because they are fascinating stories with the most unique metaphorical twists and archetypal characters.
  4. “Persuasions, motivation and enthusiasm: Create fans not just customers.” Lead generation is always the most desirable goal of B2B marketing activity, and that’s okay. But a step before that is to build relationships through heightened interest which generates positive engagement.
  5. “Create evidence based stories: Be able to support with evidence claims made in your stories.” Enter case studies—tell your story, then show the evidence and make people trust in your brand by believing your story.
  6. “Choose your point of view: Altering the perspective the story is told from can change the story.” The biggest mistake marketers often make while relating a story is to ride on stale perspectives. If you want to tell a story, it must be one where your organization’s clear opinion or perspective comes through.
  7. “Engage word of mouth advertising: Set up stories that can be retold easily.” This is the best part of creating a great story. It will be retold in many ways and evolve to deliver a varied set of results over time.
  8. “Open source branding: Plan to let go of your brand and let your fans help you create it.” This has got to be the hardest thing to do. Let go of your brand? Take that with a pinch of salt. You can “let go” only so that you encourage your customers to become your brand ambassadors telling their stories of how your brand has changed their lives. But be careful to only let go in order to stay in control and monitor carefully what is going on with your brand across various communication channels. Does that make sense?
  9. “Make your brand authentic: Create credibility with consistent actions.” Practice what you preach. Be honest. Be realistic. Have a lofty vision but show the ground reality that exists to build credibility and demonstrate your brand’s ability to fulfil the vision.
  10. “Have a beyond the brand strategy: Ensure all corporate stories and activities support the brand stories.” Integration. That’s what this is. Don’t run marketing activities in silos where performance needs to be measured in individual, short-term goals rather than a comprehensive umbrella of your business objectives and long-term goals.

How does your B2B organization engage in storytelling? What feedback have you received from various audiences? Are there any strategies you’d be interested to share on my blog? Email or call me, Louis Foong, at (905) 709-3827.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Louis Foong
Louis Foong is the founder and CEO of The ALEA Group Inc., one of North America's most innovative B2B demand generation specialists. With more than three decades of experience in the field, Louis is a thought leader on trends, best practices and issues concerning marketing and lead generation. Louis' astute sense of marketing and sales along with a clear vision of the evolving lead generation landscape has proved beneficial to numerous organizations, both small and large.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here