We hate being interrupted. And that’s especially true for ads during entertainment programming. You rush to the cinema to finally watch that movie everyone’s talking about. And then what happens? You end up being shoved 30 minutes of meaningless ads down your throat.

I’m a marketer, yet I skip ads on YouTube. And when I go to the theatre, I numb my frustration with ads by bingeing on salty popcorns before the movie starts. But then, there are ads that truly grab your attention.

The first time it happened to me this year was at the cinema. I had already started sipping my diet coke and stuffing my face with Oreos, when this happened:

It blew me away. I had no idea a car ad could literally give you goose bumps.

Fast forward a few weeks. I had turned on the TV just to have some background noise, when this IKEA ad broke through the mindless chatter:

It’s just a glimpse on two people’s lives, a story without words. Yet what’s genius about this ad, is the subtle way in which IKEA furniture casually complements that story capsule.

Okay, maybe I have a certain weakness for vintage ads featuring music from my parents’ era…But that’s not the point. I loved everything about those ads: the music, but also the story, the emotions, the message, and how everything was nicely put together in such a powerful and visually compelling way. But then I noticed something else: they were all B2C ads.

Emotions and storytelling – a recipe for success?

Those ads have all one thing in common: they tell a story and trigger emotions that viewers can relate to. We enjoy watching them because, somehow, they mirror a part of ourselves.

Storytelling has become a marketing buzzword, and advertisers are often left wondering whether (1) storytelling is worth the effort and (2) whether this technique is translatable into B2B marketing.

Spoiler alert: my answers are YES and YES. And don’t worry, you don’t have to be the next Christopher Nolan to create a story everyone will remember. You just need a simple explanation and a few tips…

Why is storytelling worth the effort?

We’ve been telling and hearing stories since the dawn of humanity. Beyond mere entertainment, stories have helped us to communicate with our peers and make sense of the world we live in. But there is more.

As Leo Widrich points out in this article, stories are the most powerful way to activate our brains. When we’re told a story, we “turn it into our own idea and experience”. In other words, we don’t only hear stories, we feel them. That also means that conversely, when we tell stories, we “plant ideas, thoughts and emotions into the listeners’ brains’”.

With marketing being, roughly speaking, the art of convincing others of our own ability to fulfil their needs, what could be more powerful than a story to achieve this goal? That’s why my answer to the question “is storytelling worth it?” is a big YES.

Emotions and storytelling – can we do that in B2B?

Storytelling isn’t just about telling the story (duh) of a protagonist who goes through many an obstacle before achieving her goal. It’s also about appealing to people’s emotions. And that’s where the problem lies for many B2B marketers.

Yes, the purchase cycle is much longer in B2B, and yes, the B2B audience needs much more facts and figures and data before you can seal the deal. But B2B people, are also just that: people. As this ContentStandard article shows, B2B stories have proven to be an excellent way to grab business buyers’ attention, humanize brands, bring data to life, and much more.

In other words, even though B2B purchases are not emotional in nature, you can still resort to storytelling (and emotions) to trigger the purchase cycle and get your audience to seek more information about your product or service. It’s just a matter of how you do it.

How to use storytelling in B2B?

Now you know that storytelling is a powerful communication/marketing tool, and that it can be used in B2B, I will share with you my 4 magical tips:

1. Appeal to the “right emotions”

B2B people tend to feel ‘emotionally manipulated’ by marketers who try too hard to pull on their heartstrings to get them to buy something. That’s why you should avoid resorting to nostalgia or melancholy in your communication, for example. But building an inspirational story that exudes trust or hope will work. It’s all a matter of choice, brand identity, and proportion.

2. Your product shouldn’t be the main character

Avoid making your product or service the hero of your ad. The point of telling a story, is to have a protagonist that your audience can identify with. The goals your hero is pursuing as well as the obstacles he’s facing should feel relatable. Your product/service is only the agent that will help the hero – your prospect/client – succeed.

3. Make storytelling a starting point

This brings me back to what I said earlier about the B2B purchase cycle. At the end of the day, business buyers will need the whitepapers, infographics, data to make their buying decision. Therefore, storytelling in B2B works best in the early stages of the customer journey. This means that you will need to make sure you address the other consideration stages of the journey with more fact-based content.

4. Don’t only use storytelling in your ads

I can’t stress this point enough, especially because it works so well in B2B. Storytelling is not just for ads – client presentations, keynote speeches, you name it, can all use a nice story. It’s just a matter of how much value your story holds for your listeners.


You think it’s impossible to tell a story about your B2B product or service? Challenge us: we’ll create stories together with you and your team during a 2-hour brainstorm session! Fun, homemade hummus and a lot of stories guaranteed! Contact me at +32 (0) 468 51 82 84 or click the button below.