B2B brands, beware the wrong story told well
17th February 2023
There are lots of ways to mess up your B2B brand story. But there’s one insidious path to storytelling failure that’s more dangerous than any other. In this post, we take a cautionary tour of the badlands of B2B storytelling, so you can avoid the deadliest pitfalls.
Three roads to failure, one to success
By our reckoning, when you set out to build a B2B brand, there are three well-travelled paths to failure and just one lesser-travelled path to success. You can plot the destinations like this:
Obviously you want to end up in that happy-looking quadrant in the top right-hand corner, where story strategy and story execution work in perfect harmony. You might call this outcome: the right story, told well.
So far, so simple.
Things get more interesting when you take a closer look at the different paths to failure.
1. The right story, told badly (or not at all)
The shortest path to failure is what we might call ‘Failure to Launch’: you’ve got the strategy, but the execution lets you down – or you never even get that far.
Failure to execute well – you might have done a great job at the strategy but simply failed to do justice in the creative execution. Your website copy is vague and ineffective, your content’s mediocre, or your visual and verbal branding are way out of sync.
Failure to execute at all – this could be the curse of the perfectionist, forever tinkering with strategy but never actually setting it free into the world. Maybe you’re scared to significantly change your brand story and alienate your current prospects, even though your long-term success demands you make decisive moves to focus your positioning.
In short, you’ve got the right story, told badly (or not at all). It’s a fail, and it’s a damn shame to see good thinking going to waste.
But it’s not the worst path to find yourself on…
2. The wrong story, told badly
This is an all-round screw-up. Your strategy’s flawed, and the execution is mediocre at best. It’s the wrong story, told badly. Honestly, what were you thinking?
What makes a story wrong? In the context of brand stories, it usually comes down to a flawed positioning and/or a brand narrative that fails to craft your positioning into a coherent, compelling story.
For example, your story might be targeting large enterprises when your biggest opportunity is actually with the smaller businesses you’re now alienating.
Or you might be trying to de-position a technology that you think is your biggest competitor, when actually the real villain of the piece should be something else entirely.
Or you might be lacking an effective framing – a big, relevant change in your audience’s world – that serves as the backdrop and context to your story.
This is a very dark place to be, but we think there’s an even more dangerous path to travel down…
(For more on the makings of a strong brand positioning and brand narrative, take a look at this free guide.)
3. The wrong story, told well
Here’s where it gets interesting. The wrong story, when it’s told well, can be frustratingly tricky to spot in the wild. It’s slick, it looks good, sounds good, and seems to hold together.
Sometimes it’s many months or even a year later – after a flashy brand and a load of ineffective content has been created – that you realise something is badly wrong. It can take time for this proverbial polished turd to start smelling. But before you know it, your whole marketing operation has become polluted.
Often the elements that make up the brand positioning aren’t quite right and/or they’ve been strung together with dodgy logic. So the foundations of the story are wobbly at best. The resulting problems might appear quickly and dramatically, or they might be more deep-set and hidden. But they’re there.
That’s why we think this path to brand story failure is the most insidious and dangerous. It can fool everyone – brand and audience alike – and string them along for a long time before anyone realises their error.
When good isn’t good enough
Sometimes an audience of buyers seems to like the (wrong) story you’re telling. You might even be making great headway with sales.
If so, you’re in an even picklier pickle than first feared. The wrong story you’re telling might be a pretty good story, and it might serve you well in the short term. But it’s not the story that captures your most effective brand positioning in pursuit of your strategic goals. So the opportunity cost (i.e. the right story that will take you in the right direction) is immense. And by the time you course-correct, you might have veered disastrously off track.
A common problem
Getting your B2B brand story right as a business can be bloody difficult, especially when it’s created by committee.
People often find it far easier to critique execution than to assess strategic foundations. So reviewers might say “Can we change this word?” when they should be more worried about the deep idea underneath it all.
It’s not always that people don’t “get” the strategy (although that’s often the case if they’re not involved deeply enough from the start) – it’s just that people are people! They don’t want to upset their colleagues. They don’t want to slow things down. They don’t want to put their head above the parapet and be the troublesome pedant who forces a return to the drawing board, incurring additional immediate costs and resources that will (eventually, in a hard-to-imagine-right-now future) actually end up both saving and making the company a lot more money.
How do you avoid this fate?
There’s no easy way to avoid the slow-quicksand doom that awaits B2B brands on the “wrong story, told well” path. The best we can offer in terms of advice would be…
Be brave! If you see the ship going off course halfway through the project, because deep down you know the story that’s emerging is the wrong one, scream (or at least send a tactful email to the right person).
Get it right first time! Obviously this is the ideal outcome. And, predictably, there’s far more to say about how to achieve it than we can fit in a blog post. But we’d love to have a chat with you about it!
Because we’re just that helpful, we have created a whole guide on telling the right story, well. Get it for free here.
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