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How To Create Blockbuster B2B Stories That Sell [Rose-Colored Glasses]

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How To Create Blockbuster B2B Stories That Sell [Rose-Colored Glasses]


How many times have you heard advice on becoming a great storyteller?

And how many times have you wished that advice translated more easily to content marketing?

You’re not alone. I often get questions about how to transform marketing content into great stories.

Earlier this week, I talked with a team of content marketers who feel passionate about creating engaging content marketing for the medical device company where they work.

But they told me that they struggle to create compelling customer stories that include the details their product marketing colleagues request. The product team routinely sends four-slide decks filled with product features and technical specifications they want to see in the content.

The unspoken secondary part of their request: Make it exciting.

I told the content team they need a “pope in the pool.”

Read that sentence again to make sure you didn’t misunderstand – you need a pope in the pool.

Try the pope-in-the-pool #storytelling technique when you need to create #content that includes product features but doesn’t bore your audience, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

The content exposition problem

Storytellers often need to relay specific details to help people understand what’s going on. This exposition (if handled poorly) risks boring the audience and causing them to tune out or skip ahead.

For example, consider what happens when Clark Kent meets his father, Jor-El, in Man of Steel. Jor-El launches into a nearly five-minute speech filled with information Clark doesn’t need at that moment. The writers use the speech to (theoretically) help the audience understand Superman’s background, the history of his home planet, and the motivations of the story’s central villain. It’s all relevant. But the way it’s relayed makes it dull.

Another kind of exposition no-no happens in the movie Big Hero 6. During an argument between two siblings, one yells, “What would mom and dad say?”  The other answers, “I don’t know! They died when I was 3, remember?”

Oof. Is the storyteller suggesting that the other character doesn’t remember that their parents died? That’s poor exposition because it asks characters to spout information that other characters already know, causing the audience to question the story.

Poor exposition causes audiences to question your story, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. #Storytelling Click To Tweet

What it means to put a pope in the pool

In his book on writing, Save the Cat, Blake Snyder describes the “pope in the pool” technique, which takes its name from a scene in a script called The Plot To Kill the Pope. Snyder admired the writer’s choice to have the pope’s staff convey information to him (and the audience) as he swims laps in a pool.

The scene exploits the dissonance between how people expect to see a pope (on a balcony in ceremonial garb) and how the movie shows the pope (in a pool wearing a bathing suit). The audience feels intrigued enough not to mind the stream of facts and background information.

Steven Spielberg uses this technique brilliantly in Jurassic Park, a movie that requires the audience to understand some details of DNA replication. The director could have shown the characters staring at a dinosaur egg while one of the scientists in the park explained how DNA replication occurs. But some of the characters are experts who already understand the concepts. So that kind of scene would have insulted the audience’s and the characters’ intelligence (and probably bored them, too).

Instead, Spielberg pulls a great storyteller move. He shows the expert characters testing one of the rides (built for kids) in which an animated creature explains DNA replication. The experts bicker and fidget with the ride and make fun of the information. The scene sets these characters up as true experts and creates an entertaining and informative experience.

Can you put the pope in B2B content?

I use the pope-in-the-pool technique in my presentations whenever I need to deliver a litany of research results. Wrapping the research findings into entertaining anecdotes or side stories helps the audience absorb the data while the stories keep their interest (I hope).

Wrapping data into entertaining anecdotes helps you keep audience attention while they absorb the details, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. #Storytelling Click To Tweet

And I teach my clients to do it, too.

My clients at the medical device company had a compelling story to work with. An ex-army veteran (who is now CIO) developed the company’s portable refrigeration unit.

But the content team struggled to develop a way to insert technical information without taking the reader out of the story.

The typical approach to a customer story would get weighed down by details in exposition like this:

While working in a previous role, Sam Smith, CIO for ABC Company, sought refrigeration devices that could withstand extreme environments. The technical specs he wanted were:

  • Ability to withstand temperatures from -4 to 120 Degrees Fahrenheit
  • 48-hour temperature duration using only internal batteries (no ice required)
  • Safety alarms to indicate deviation in temperature

Our brand ultimately provided Sam with a refrigeration device he could depend on.

Instead, rather than use bullet points and a laundry list of specs, the content team could reveal exposition like this:

During his 11 months as an active medic in California, Sam Smith heard the state’s residents brag that it’s possible to ski at breakfast and surf at lunchtime. He never believed it – until the day he was asked to transport vital organs from a snowy mountaintop to the middle of the Mojave Desert. The temperature outside hovered near zero when he loaded the precious cargo into the refrigerated unit. By the time he arrived at the destination just a few hours later, the outdoor temp had hit 118 degrees. Despite the lack of skis or a surfboard, Sam finally understood the Californians’ claim. But even more impressive than the state’s varied climates? Not one safety alarm on the refrigerator unit sounded during the journey. Despite the dramatic swing in outdoor temperature, the interior temp didn’t shift more than 2.5 degrees.

Make the technique work in your content

The details of the stories you tell will vary. But you can steal the idea of wrapping information in an engaging, contextual element of the story.

Admittedly, it’s easier to throw your pope into the pool when you have an evocative story from the start. The medical device team had the CIO’s anecdote about his time in California. But what if they hadn’t?

That’s where imagination comes in. The next time you need to convey brand or product information, imagine adding something unique. Draw from a character’s history. Create a fun distraction for characters in the story (think Selena Gomez explaining synthesized collateralized debt obligation was using the game of Blackjack as a metaphor in the movie The Big Short).

You may not get to control what information must go into a particular story you’re telling. But you can control the way it goes in. Just remember, information doesn’t make a story memorable. The feeling the story evokes makes information memorable.

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT:

Get Robert’s take on content marketing industry news in just three minutes:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=videoseries

Subscribe to workday or weekly CMI emails to get Rose-Colored Glasses in your inbox each week.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute





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Sneak Peek: The MozCon 2023 Speaker Line-Up

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Sneak Peek: The MozCon 2023 Speaker Line-Up

The year may slowly be wrapping up but we’ve got an extra special, early gift to share before you log off that laptop and put away your favorite travel mug.

We’re thrilled to announce the first 19 extraordinary speakers that will be taking the MozCon 2023 stage in Seattle this coming August (in alphabetical order).

Snag your Super Early Bird tickets!

Meet the speakers

Amanda Jordan (she/her)

Director of Digital Strategy, RicketyRoo
@amandatjordan | @ricketyroo

Amanda is passionate about helping complex, large businesses improve their local visibility. Her background includes working with clients in the legal, health, financial, and home services industries.

Andi Jarvis (he/him)

Strategy Director, Eximo Marketing
@andijarvis | @EximoMarketing

Andi is the Founder and Strategy Director of Eximo Marketing, a marketing strategy consultancy based in the UK. Eximo works with established manufacturers who want to grow their business via direct to consumer. Andi also hosts the Strategy Sessions podcast.

Brie E. Anderson (she/her)

Owner, BEAST Analytics
@brie_e_anderson

Brie E Anderson is an Analytical Nerd with a Soft Spot for Strategy. She’s spent the last 10 years helping businesses of all sizes execute data-driven strategies to increase ROI. Today, she runs BEAST Analytics, a digital marketing analytics consultancy.

Carrie Rose (she/her)

CEO & Founder, Rise At Seven
@CarrieRosePR | @RiseAtSeven

Carrie Rose, Founder of leading Global Search-First Creative Agency Rise at Seven both driving and facilitating search demand for global brands operating in 4 locations across the world including UK, US and EU

Chris Long (he/him)

VP of Marketing, Go Fish Digital

@GoFishChris | @GoFishDigital

Chris Long is the VP of Marketing for the Go Fish Digital team. He works with unique problems and advanced search situations to help clients improve organic traffic through a deep understanding of Google’s algorithm and web technology.

Crystal Carter (she/her)

Head of SEO Communications, Wix
@CrystalontheWeb | @wix

Head of SEO Communications, Wix, Crystal is an SEO & digital marketer with over 15 years of experience. Her clients have included Disney, McDonalds, and Tomy. An avid SEO communicator, her work has been featured at Google Search Central, Brighton SEO and more.

Daniel Waisberg (he/him)

Search Advocate, Google
@DanielWaisberg | @google

Daniel is a Search Advocate at Google, part of the Search Console engineering team. His job is divided between educating / inspiring the Search community and working with the product’s engineering team to develop new capabilities.

Duane Brown (he/him)

Founder & Head of Strategy, Take Some Risk Inc.
@DuaneBrown

Duane has lived in 6 cities across 3 continents while working with Ecom, DTC and SaaS brands. He now lives in Canada helping brands grow through data, strategy and PPC marketing across search & social ad platforms.

Jackie Chu (she/her)

SEO Lead, Intelligence, Uber
@jackiecchu | @uber

Jackie Chu is currently the SEO Lead, Intelligence for Uber, driving analytics and tooling for the SEO teams globally. She has deep experience in technical SEO, content SEO, ASO and international SEO spanning both B2B and B2C industries.

Jes Scholz (she/her)

Group CMO, Ringier
jes_scholz | @ringier_ag

Group CMO at Swiss media giant Ringier, marketing technologist & mum of two tiny humans. Jes loves to talk about the future of search, smart marketing automation and travel.

Lidia Infante (she/her)

Senior SEO Manager, Sanity
@LidiaInfanteM | @sanity_io

Lidia has been working in SEO for almost a decade, helping businesses in SaaS, media and e-commerce grow online. She has a BSC in Psychology and a Master in Digital Business and is a regular speaker at SEO events such as MozCon, BrightonSEO or WTSFest.

Lily Ray (she/her)

Senior Director, SEO & Head of Organic Research, Amsive Digital
@lilyraynyc | @​​amsive_digital

Lily Ray is the Sr. Director, SEO & Head of Organic Research at Amsive Digital, where she provides strategic leadership for the agency’s SEO client programs. Lily began her SEO career in 2010 in a fast-paced start-up environment and moved quickly into the agency world, where she helped grow and establish an award-winning SEO department that delivered high impact work for a fast-growing list of notable clients, including Fortune 500 companies.

Miracle Inameti-Archibong (she/her)

Head of Organic Search, John Lewis (Financial Services)
@Mira_Inam

Miracle is Head of Organic Search at John Lewis (Financial Services) and is armed with more than a decade of supporting national, and global brands with technical SEO and data strategy.

Noah Learner (he/him/his)

Product Director, Two Octobers
@NoahLearner | @twooctobers

Noah is a technical marketer, nicknamed the Kraken, who is happiest building SEO tools, automations, data pipelines and communities. When not in the lab, he loves skiing, fly fishing, camping with his family, and walking his dog, Shadow.

Dr. Pete Meyers (he/him)

Marketing Scientist, Moz
@Dr_Pete | @Moz

Dr. Pete is Marketing Scientist for Seattle-based Moz, where he works with the marketing and data science teams on product research and data-driven content.

Ross Simmonds (he/him)

CEO & Founder, Foundation Marketing
@TheCoolestCool | @FoundationIncCo

Ross Simmonds is the founder & CEO of Foundation, a global marketing agency that provides services to organizations all over the world ranging from some of the fastest-growing startups to global brands. He was named one of Atlantic Canada’s Top 50 CEO.

Tom Anthony (he/him)

CTO, SearchPilot
@TomAnthonySEO | @SearchPilot

Tom is CTO at SearchPilot, where he leads the engineering & product teams. Tom has been working on the web for over 25 years, and has a PhD in Computer Science. He lives with his wife and 3 daughters in Germany.

Tom Capper (he/him)

Senior Search Scientist, Moz
@thcapper | @Moz

Tom heads up the Search Science team at Moz, providing research and insight for Moz’s next generation of tools. Previously he headed up the London consulting team for SEO agency Distilled, and worked as a chef in a roadside grill.

Wil Reynolds (he/him)

CEO & Vice President of Innovation, Seer Interactive
@wilreynolds | @SeerInteractive

Wil has been leading the charge to leverage “Big Data” to break down silos between SEO, PPC, and traditional marketing — pulling together data from various sources to see the big picture.

Meet the emcees

Cheryl Draper (she/her)

Event Marketing Manager, Moz
@CherylDraper | @Moz

Melissa Rae Brown (she/her)

Learning Team Manager, Moz
@Melissa_R_B_ | @Moz

Ola King (he/him)

User Researcher, Moz
@justolaking | @Moz

From fan favorites to fresh faces, it’s a pretty great start to what’s sure to be the best MozCon yet! We’ll have even more incredible speakers to reveal, including our community speaker lineup, in early 2023.

But don’t wait to snag your tickets! Save up to $600 on MozCon 2023 now with Super Early Bird pricing.

Grab your Super Early Bird tickets!

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