Storytelling at the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center

Last week I spoke at the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center on one of my favorite topics: storytelling. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know this is something I have discussed a lot recently in a variety of contexts. The focus for the Nasdaq audience was on how best to leverage the art of storytelling in a corporate context – namely, to build a company’s brand, grow their business and ultimately sell products.

It is always inspiring to see the range of people who attend these events: a cross-section of start-up owners, would-be entrepreneurs contemplating those first steps towards launching a business and more seasoned practitioners looking to brush up on their skills.

Once again, I was struck by the depth of innovation and entrepreneurialism that continues to thrive in the Bay Area. It is clear there is no shortage of great people with great ideas.

Valerie Chan at Nasdaq

For the purpose of this blog I wanted to share some of the issues and questions we covered, since they may provide some insight into key areas many businesses think about when they try to tell their story.

First: How do you adapt the principles of storytelling for B2B and B2C brands? This was a challenge that was touched on several questions from the audience and a topic well worth delving into.

Whether you’re targeting a business or consumer audience, your target audience is always the hero of the story. The goal is to get that audience to use your product or service to overcome obstacles in their way. The overarching story must be one that creates an emotional connection to your customer, paints a vision of success, identifies the obstacles currently in the way, shows how your product provides the solution and backs it all up with supporting facts.

Whether the target is a B2B audience or a B2C audience, those same principles still apply. However, the mediums through which you target those audiences will likely be different.

For example, depending on your line of business, B2B customers may be more likely to access your story via traditional media – think trade publications or business press. Consumers on the other hand may be more influenced by Facebook, Instagram or other social media channels, at which point the role of brand ambassadors and third-party influencers who can vouch for your brand and tell its story becomes more important.

There will also be subtle and not-so-subtle differences in the language used, depending on the audience.

For example, a story geared to a business audience may lean more heavily on hard data to support its vision, and use terminology more relevant to the business sector. In the consumer space, emotional resonance is incredibly important, as is speaking in the language of your intended audience. On social media, you are often limited in what you can say by the platform itself, so it is important to create subsets of your key messages in more simplified, abbreviated language. The story is the same, but how you articulate it will need to vary.

nasdaq3.jpg

Consider, for example, a product like Fitbit. The essence of its story is enabling people to take better control of their health and fitness. The language used to articulate that vision will vary greatly depending on whether you are talking directly to consumers or pitching that product to businesses as a collective health benefit for employees. The overarching story of improving health remains the same, but there are subsets of messages under that umbrella story depending on the audience which needs to be reached.

For example, in its consumer-focused message, Fitbit focuses on empowering users: “Only Fitbit gives you the freedom to get fit your way.” When the company targets businesses, it uses a separate website and pivots it message towards the business benefits of a healthy workforce: “Reasons to invest in wellness go beyond health – Research shows that wellness programs can have big benefits for your business.”

Another popular topic focused on how to create a storytelling strategy designed to reach your customers’ customer (for example: Nordstrom, Bloomingdales or AWS’ partner program). As you develop your narrative, it is important to understand who your audience is, but more often than not you will have multiple audiences. Your story must recognize and speak to all of them. From a PR perspective, a brand must focus their overarching story on their primary customer, but also create a subset of messages to help that customer successfully reach their own customer. Your story must help crystalize the benefit to your direct customer, but part of the benefit is helping your customer articulate that vision to their customer.

One attendee asked about the importance of “hard data” when telling your story, and whether such an emphasis was still necessary. While it is important to paint a vision and capture people’s imagination when you tell a story, all audiences will search for evidence to support your vision sooner or later. And in some cases (pitching to a room of venture capitalists is a good example), facts-based evidence to support your vision will be an absolute priority.

Certainly, during the early start-up phase a company might be granted some leeway in order to prove they can deliver on their mission, but as soon as a company seeks a second round of funding, there will be an expectation that they can demonstrate measurable growth and a path to profitability. And in order to do so, their product must be delivering the goods and growing audience share.

It is always insightful to hear from audiences on the challenges they face in telling their story and it helps us in the PR industry stay mindful of the best ways to help our clients succeed. The art of storytelling is one that constantly evolves as new mediums of communication emerge and customer expectations change. These types of forums provide an invaluable opportunity to share ideas and best practices, and help companies learn to deliver the very best version of their story.