July/August 2020 Edition

Business Strategies Column: Today’s Marketing Challenges

According to “A Sophisticated Marketer’s Perspective: Carla Johnson on Impactful Storytelling” by Alex Rynne, the greatest challenge for companies trying to effectively market is “not just HOW consumers are changing—researching, reviewing, and buying. It’s also WHAT THEY VALUE MOST. This is also changing. And guess what? It’s not your product any longer. They value experiences.”

The book, co-authored by Carla Johnson and Robert Rose, helps illustrate why the stakes are raised for modern marketing practitioners. We’re no longer expected to simply convey the benefits of a solution in a compelling and persuasive way. Now, we are tasked with creating memorable experiences that add meaningful value beyond the brand’s core offerings.

Storytelling is one of the most basic and reliable avenues for delivering this type of impact. Narrative has the power to engage and move us in unparalleled ways. Its structure can be applied to almost any format: blogs, videos, infographics, social media posts, etc.

For these reasons, storytelling is a central aspect of Carla’s focus as a globally renowned author and keynote speaker. As she astutely puts it, “People see themselves and their problems in stories. The more human your story, the more they can see themselves in it, and that’s what prompts them to take action.”

Carla Johnson on Sophisticated LinkedIn Storytelling was asked to share her perspective on how LinkedIn can be used to help marketers. Here’s how the conversation went:

1. What’s something interesting about you that’s not on your LinkedIn profile?

I love to play volleyball, especially sand volleyball. The dynamics of working together as a team, even in an open rec league, have so many learnings that apply to how people work together in teams at work. The most important one is that not every “play” turns out as we expect. We don’t always win, but we need to jump up, dust ourselves off, put a loss behind us, and be prepared again at a moment’s notice.

2. How can B2B brands incorporate the principles of storytelling on LinkedIn?

The most important thing to remember about storytelling is that you uncover the story you want to tell first, one that truly has meaning and resonance with your audience. Make sure that you have that right, and then look at how you deliver it through LinkedIn. One of the beauties of LinkedIn is all the different ways it gives you to tell that story — different lengths, different formats, different times, and so on. I’ve used LinkedIn as a way to test stories to see if they resonate with the right audiences that brands want to attract. You can tell a snippet of a story in a single post and see with whom it connects and then how far and wide. It’s perfect to quickly test and iterate with how to tell stories that matter.

3. What types of stories shared on social media can be most impactful for generating leads and direct business impact?

The kinds that answer questions that customers and potential customers need answered. I see people making several kinds of mistakes with the stories they share.

I love the Pixar storytelling formula, because it can be used for something as simple as an individual post or as sophisticated as longer, in-depth pieces. This gives us a format to add real people and context into social media content. People see themselves and their problems in stories. The more human your story, the more they can see themselves in it, and that’s what prompts them to take action.

The second type of story is one that has tension. If you want to motivate people through the lead gen process, then you need to poke their pain points and then do what the best storytellers in the world do — create cliffhangers. B2B buyers behave the same way as Game of Thrones fans do. Identify something they care about, and then don’t tell them how to solve it right away. This is how you pull them through the buyer’s journey, rather than pushing them.

The third type of story is one that’s connected. I see marketers creating individual pieces of content to promote on LinkedIn, but they aren’t thinking ahead to the “what’s next?” question. Once someone reads your post, your article, or watches your video, what’s next? Where do you want them to go? Storytelling isn’t just for individual pieces of content, it’s an arc that draws people forward. But if there’s nowhere for them to go, they’ll drop out of the funnel by default.

4. Which stages of the buyer journey should marketers focus on with their social media strategies?

This completely depends on their buyers, and how and when they use social media. The social media strategy has to come after marketers get to know their audience really well.

5. Where do most marketers need to get better with maximizing the value and impact of LinkedIn?

Across the board marketers need to get better at connecting the experience they deliver on LinkedIn. They need to visually map out the content path on a wall, not just a spreadsheet, so they see the dead ends and how much they’re talking about their own brand, and not the customer needs. Everything that marketers do on LinkedIn needs to start with the question, “How will this help our customers?”

6. What are some essential daily habits for building a strong LinkedIn presence?

What people do consistently becomes a habit. And the more you do something, the better you get at it. I recommend people use LinkedIn daily, even if it’s only for 5-10 minutes a day. If you’re new to it, look around for people who are posting content in ways that connect with you as a person. What kind of content do they share? When you’re ready to post, start by sharing content that you found valuable. This can be a video or an article you read, or even something someone else shared. LinkedIn doesn’t have to take a big time investment to get results, but it does need consistency.

7. Which key customer questions should we be seeking to answer on our LinkedIn Pages?

I go back to the customer journey. What questions do they have along that path? Look at that list and then look at the types of content you have to share or are already posting. I’d bet a lot of money that most of the content starts at best halfway through the middle of the funnel and ends with late-stage product information. Marketers need to answer customer questions earlier in the process to build relationships. This is how buyers get to know us, then like us and ultimately, trust us. And people only buy from people they know, like and trust.

8. Where do you see LinkedIn in five years?

From a social aspect, I’d like to see it living up to its original intention — a social networking community. That means no more connect and hard-sell immediately type of actions. I’m hoping that it’s a community that will begin to self-regulate itself about what kind of behavior it encourages and what’s not appropriate for this community. 

As for the technology side, I can’t begin to imagine what could be on the table five years from now. And that’s fun for me because I know the team at LinkedIn is going to delightfully surprise us all!