In the fall of 1995, when the Internet was still young, an executive named Irving Wladawsky-Berger was put in charge of IBM’s new “Internet Division.” His mission? To figure out the business value of the internet.
At that time, the Internet was just beginning to show signs of being the powerful force it is today. As stewards of the new economy, Wladawsky-Berger and his team were tasked with a huge challenge: Tell businesses what to do on the Internet, and while they were at it, help IBM figure out what to do, too.
While it was clear the Internet was going to change the future of business as everyone knew it, Wladawsky-Berger and his team first needed to come up with the “Why?” Why change what you’re doing now, when things are still unclear? Why take a leap of faith and become, as IBM called it then, an e-business?
To answer that question, Wladawsky-Berger turned to the power of storytelling. Working with marketing firm Ogilvy and Mather, Wladawsky-Berger and his team created a series of award-winning TV ads that told mini-stories about the monumental importance of the Internet.
Take this ad. Called “Hackers,” it features a young, '90s techie looking couple, slouched over their laptops hacking into their company's intranet. Through their dialogue, you learn they've discovered their HR department's salary roster and emailed it to everyone in the company. And with that one simple 30-second story, IBM perfectly illustrated how a once amorphous concept like Internet could translate into a real-life scare for every company in the world.
Like IBM, many tech companies today understand that technology is personal. It can provide relief, it can spark joy, it can free up extra hours in our day. It has the capacity to ease our frustrations and solve our toughest problems. And yet, every time a new application launches, the customer must learn anew how that technology can affect her life.
As tech marketers, it’s our responsibility to help prospects relate to the technology we’re selling. And one of the best ways to make it relatable is to incorporate storytelling into our marketing strategies. There are a multitude of ways to execute this tactic. Stories can show up in any number of ways: blog posts, landing pages, social media posts or videos. Below are some examples of how tech companies are using storytelling in their marketing today.
Asana enables teams to work together more effectively with an intuitive project management app. While you might expect its videos to be explanations of different features, they’re actually a series of vignettes showing real people using Asana.
Each video tells a story about the positive emotions strong teamwork brings about, starting with the team gathering together in a conference room and ending with them sauntering through the hallway, confident they know their next steps and are satisfied with the progress they’ve made.
Vidyard’s video marketing platform allows marketers to measure the effectiveness of their video content. To illustrate the power of its product, Vidyard built an entire campaign around its core story—a tale about “Post and Pray Pete” and “Strategic Sue,” two fictional marketers who take different approaches to video marketing.
The campaign features a landing page with an illustrated video storybook that tells the tale of Pete and Sue, quotes from real marketing professionals sharing their stories about using Vidyard, and a hashtag—#mktgstory—to tie it all together.
HubSpot enables marketers to grow traffic, leads and customers with an all-in-one sales and marketing platform. While the company puts storytelling to work in a variety of places, one notable example is its blog posts, which often lead with a story rather than the traditional blog post introduction.
This post, for example, opens with the author relaying a memory from her own experience, offering the reader a relatable situation to anchor onto and evoking the emotions associated with using the technology she’s writing about.
It would be wrong to suggest storytelling is always the best strategy. In truth, brands are trying to sell something, and sometimes the best thing to do is be honest about that fact.
As Marcus Sheridan points out, if a story isn’t the best way to provide value, don’t tell one. He gives the example of his history as a pool salesman, citing the fact that sometimes the best marketing is a direct answer to someone’s questions.
Sheridan says, “Case in point, when I talked about, 'How much does a fiberglass pool cost?' I didn’t inject story into the conversation. Why? It wasn’t at all necessary, especially because producing a good (teacher-oriented) answer meant I was going to need at least 800 words to do so.”
When’s the best time to use storytelling? You should incorporate stories into your marketing when they help illustrate the value of your technology or help the potential customer have an ‘aha’ moment. If you use those guidelines, effectively weaving storytelling into your technology marketing strategy should have a powerful and positive effect.