August 17, 2020 - Brittany Garlin

How to Use Empathy in Your B2B Brand Storytelling

Many marketers struggle to humanize a brand and often wonder how it’s possible to use empathy in B2B brand storytelling. Consumers have become accustomed to tuning out branded content based on the sheer volume of daily advertising that they have to deal with.

In fact, Marketo, a marketing automation and software business polled more than 2,200 consumers across the US, UK, France, Germany, and Australia, and found that almost two thirds (63%) of respondents were annoyed at how brands continued to rely on a strategy of blasting generic advertising messages repeatedly.

This week the Agency Vista marketing team had the opportunity to connect with Marketing Branding Consultant & Designer, Sarah Minor.

Sarah L Minor Designs is a woman-owned based in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. They transform your vision into creative results. They’re a team of business-minded designers, developers, and thinkers who help you create great products and services for your customers and employees. Every client Sarah L Minor Designs works with becomes a part of the team. They believe in the power of simplicity, being real rather than perfect, in taking risks and breaking rules, and in viewing everything as a new opportunity to build lasting relationships.  

Let’s take a look at some of the insights she has shared with us on how to use empathy in your B2B brand storytelling.

Q1: What is the importance of B2B brand storytelling?

B2B storytelling makes a brand real to its audience. Storytelling provides meaning, creates context, and evokes a sense of purpose. Most consumers are more receptive to stories than compared to facts or data as stories help us relate, empathize, and remember. A good story lets customers know your brand and what it stands for bridging the gaps between your business and your consumers. 

Q2: What is brand storytelling?

The use of narrative in marketing to engage with your audience on a deeper level. It’s a way to convey the feel of your brand – the values, what it stands for, why it exists. Essentially, you’re expressing what the people behind the brand hope to achieve for customers, employees, and society. How your brand makes customers feel. Storytelling shows why they chose your product and how it has made a positive difference in their lives. Or how it has solved a problem.

Q3: How do you build an empathy-driven content program?

By creating content that helps people you can begin to truly empathize with your customers by truly listening to what it is that they want. Empathy is not about pretending to feel something. It’s about putting yourself in the other person’s shoes by connecting with their point of view, thoughts, or feelings about the situation. The ability to empathize is a skill worth developing because it can affect everything, from content creation to team management. Done effectively, it can help people feel seen and heard. It also can help your messages strike the right chord. While it might be tempting to jump on popular topics, focusing on content that you can authoritatively speak about, don’t do it. You need to think about your audience too. 

I use a simple activity to recognize the brand and empathize with the audience. Draw a Venn diagram. In one circle, list the problems your audience and industry are grappling with. In the other circle, list all the areas of your brand’s expertise. In the space where the two circles interlock, identify two to three themes where your audience and brand interests intersect. Now take those areas of focus and brainstorm about topics for which you can create and curate content for social media or your blog. Rank the themes in order of priority or difficulty. Another exercise is to create an empathy map. Empathy maps to aid in understanding and visualizing how your audience thinks and feels. Grab a sheet of paper and create four quadrants. In each section, jot down one of the following: What does your audience see? Hear? Think and feel? Say and do? On a separate sheet (or below the quadrant chart), list your customers’ pains and gains. Fill in each of these sections based on what you know about your audience. Then use these insights to spark blog posts that will help ease your customers’ pains and increase their gains. The think-and-feel section can spark blog ideas, while the say-and-do portion can help shape writing with more impact. 

Another exercise is to run a content audit to find and reuse existing content. A content audit helps you identify existing content that you can rework or consolidate, which removes the stress of having to start from scratch. With the topics and angles from your empathy Venn diagram and map in hand, which previously published content can you repurpose to fit your audience’s current needs? Do gaps exist in your content that presents an opportunity to supplement what’s being said in your industry? Another exercise is to run your ideas by your team or someone you trust. Once you have a set of content features that you would like to create, repurpose, or promote, ask your team for feedback. Sources who are a few steps removed can provide feedback and save you from creating content that is too self-serving and not sufficiently empathetic with your target audience. 

Lastly, review automation processes. Email automation is a wonderful tool in segmenting and nurturing relationships with your audience. However, out-of-touch email marketing can hurt your brand, cause people to unsubscribe, and drive customers away. Cleaning up your email automation periodically is important for the long-term health of your list and marketing efforts. Audit your email marketing automation workflows to check for messages that might not be appropriate given the current climate. For example, references to in-person events and travel wouldn’t reflect well on your brand’s understanding of your audience’s concerns. Don’t waste all your hard work and lower your response rate by sending leads an outdated automated email right after they sign up.

Q4: How are colour and emotion closely tied?

Colors elicit positive or negative feelings. Warm colors can evoke feelings of happiness, optimism, and energy. Red, orange, and yellow are next to each other on the wheel and are all warm colors. However, yellow, red, and orange can also have an attention-grabbing effect and signal danger or make you take action (think to stop signs, hazard warnings, and barrier tape). Red can also increase a person’s appetite. Cool colors are usually calming and soothing but can also express sadness. Cool colors include green, blue, and purple. Purple is often used to help spark creativity as it’s a mixture of blue (calm) and red (intense). If a company wants to display health, beauty, or security, incorporate these colors. Happy colors are bright, warm colors like yellow, orange, pink, and red. Pastel colors like peach, light pink, and lilac can also have an uplifting effect on your mood. The brighter and lighter color, the more happy and optimistic it will make you feel. 

Q5: How do you measure empathy-based brand storytelling?

Through A/B Testing. Present two different stories to your audience and see what resonates more with them. Two keys to a powerful story are 1. it needs to capture attention 2. it should transport us to the world. Also, storytelling is persuasive. Although lectures tend to put people to sleep, stories move people to take action. People relate to each other in terms of stories – and products and brands often play both central and peripheral roles in their stories. Consumers use brands as props or anthropomorphic actors in stories they report about themselves and others. So, a key ingredient to measure if it is working is if they contact you or make a purchase.

Q6: Is it important to understand logical and emotional triggers? And what are they?

Emotions can have a significant effect on the way we think, decide, and solve problems. When your emotions run too high, your logic will be low, which can lead to irrational decisions. Excitement can cause you to overestimate your chances of success. There’s a reason why casinos employ bright lights and loud noises: They want you to get excited.

Q7: How do you humanize a B2B brand? And why do you need to do it?

Create customer-oriented content. Highlight how your business impacts life. Highlight the benefits. Share success stories. Be present (be a part of your customer’s life). Use video. Don’t sell products, tell stories. Encourage your employees to be social. Engage with your audience. Humor is human. Have a good “About Us” page. Why? People like knowing that they are understood and recognized as unique individuals, yet the majority of businesses are failing to meet this basic human need. When a company fails to connect with its customers, its customers fail to connect with them. They want to hear the message of a person, not a company.   

Q8: Can you still present facts and statistics in an empathy-based brand storytelling?

Yes. As I mentioned above in question #6. You can measure your success based on the results of your content engagement, shares, and likes.

Q9: What is a good example of a B2B company that has successfully used empathy in their brand storytelling? And what makes it a good brand story?

Exta Gum
Wrigley's Give Extra Get Extra

We’ve seen just about every twist on gum marketing possible: sexy encounters, romantic trysts, and more. Extra is pushed past that narrative. The brand realized that gum is an everyday part of life, a seemingly mundane product, but its omnipresence means it’s there for many of life’s little moments. Hence, the #givextragetextra campaign is all about celebrating those moments — the awesome fishing trip, the road trip with friends, the engagement — by turning them into art. The engagement commercial was a huge success for me. It showed how something as simple as gum could bring two people together (whether it was fictional or not). Our emotions as consumers connected that story to the gum of all things. And the use of music brought it home. In many ways, the gum is a product meant to enhance intimacy, making your breath fresh for more closeness. This campaign helps customers become more aware and celebratory of those moments. By encouraging them to capture and share those memories — and honoring them through the gum-wrapper art — Extra is helping customers live a more full and present life.   

Q10: Why is inspiring social consciousness important for a B2B company in today’s society?

Everybody wants to make a difference, and if no one tried, the world would be a lot worse to live in. Luckily, most people make an effort to exact change on whatever level they can and work toward making the world a better place. Individuals aren’t the only ones working towards a change, of course. Businesses as a whole are beginning to implement programs through which they give back to their community, donate to those in need, work on preserving the environment, and so much more. One of the biggest benefits to businesses is loyal employees. Satisfied employees stick around, reducing costly turnover and training. As a consumer, I know I am willing to pay slightly more for products that come from companies that are socially conscious. If it were between regular coffee and fair-trade coffee that tasted just as good but was priced higher, I would still choose the coffee that is fair-trade. Fortunately, I’m not alone in making those kinds of purchasing choices; more and more, consumers are leveraging their collective buying power to demand social good. Lastly, social responsibility is a great way for a business to set itself apart from its competitors. Since not all companies have adopted a social consciousness policy, especially in certain industries, a social good policy is a great way to stand out and attract a new customer base.

Thank You!

A huge thank you to Sarah and the rest of the team that shared their insights on how to use empathy in your B2B brand storytelling.

We’d love to hear your thoughts about #FeatureFriday and the topics discussed above. If you work at an agency and are interested in being a guest on our #FeatureFriday please reach out to yourfriends@agencyvista.com.

If you want to talk social media, you can always find me on LinkedIn. I love connecting with social media marketers and creatives so don’t hesitate to reach out!

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