Stop Selling and Start Telling – 5 Improv Techniques To Improve Your B2B Storytelling 

I’ve been a performer all my life. Next to writing and watching videos that depict unlikely animal friendships, being on stage is my favorite thing in the world. There’s something about the way that 26 little letters can be rearranged to create tales of adventure, love, sorrow, and joy that makes the world feel like it might be full of possibility. And there’s something about sharing those stories that reminds us we’re not alone. These ideas of storytelling and connection are what drew me to the marketing world.

Traditional advertising has gone the way of cassette tapes and butterfly clips (though a recent comeback for scrunchies has me holding out hope for that last one). Consumers don’t want you to sell them something, they want you to tell them something. (tweet this) Who is your company? What experience will your product create for them? How can your service change their lives for the better? Marketing in the digital age is all about storytelling.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Uhh, I hate to break it to you Juliet, but this isn’t news. Brands have been onto the idea of storytelling for YEARS.” And when it comes to B2C brands, I’d have to agree with you. B2B companies on the other hand, have been a little slow on the uptake. I heard this sentiment echoed throughout the halls of the Huntington Convention Center where I attended Content Marketing World (CMW) this past September. Modern consumers want to feel a connection to the companies they support—that goes for super moms and CEOs alike. Granted, it’s easier to tell compelling stories when your organization is selling baby blankets and not business tech, so how are B2B brands supposed to deliver on that human desire to connect?

The answer, of course, is content.

Speaker and comedy writer Tim Washer hit the nail on the head in his CMW session, How to Use Improv Techniques to Improve Your B2B Storytelling. As a performer, I was thrilled at the idea of an improv-based approach to marketing. As a content strategist, I was inspired. That’s why I’ve decided to share some of the highlights from his session, along with some insights of my own.

Support your partner.

“It’s not about you.”

Despite my best efforts, I’ve never been able to forget these four words. I blame my former improv instructors and current mom for the relentless reminders. To be fair, like many teachers and most mothers, they were right. And this sentiment holds true in life, on stage, and in business.

Showboating can easily kill a scene because great improvisation is about building relationships and telling stories. The same goes for marketing. At the end of the day, it’s not about you or your company—it’s about your customer. What kind of content do they want to consume? What problem does your product or service solve for them?  Focusing on your brand in lieu of focusing on your consumers is a recipe for one disastrous performance. (tweet this)

There is order in chaos.

In a previous blog I wrote about the way I draw inspiration from thesaurus.com when I’m stuck on a writing project. This repository of synonyms has a knack for kick-starting my creative juices—but only 100% of the time. Language has that effect on people. New words can spark new ideas. And seemingly disparate linguistic combinations can result in some of the best performances—or campaigns.

When improvisers take suggestions from the audience, they generally end up with some random combination of nouns like “lightbulb factory” and “bologna,” with which they develop a scene. During his session, Washer suggested a similar exercise for B2B marketing teams that are looking to develop new content. Start with two arbitrary words and/or short phrases like “roller skates” and “outer space.” Then, use word clouds to expand on those nouns with related ones. Compare, contrast, and combine them to cultivate new concepts and ideas. It might not lead you to a brilliant campaign every time, but it will get your wheels to start turning, putting you on the path to creativity.

Yes, and…

“No.”

This word and all it represents, is THE cardinal sin of improv. Think about it like this:

You’re on stage, in the middle of a scene, and your partner holds up an invisible gun. They say, “Don’t move, or I’ll shoot!” After which you say, “Why, that’s not a gun—it’s a banana!” Your partner freezes, their eyes darting back and forth between you and their pistol-turned-fruit. They’ll glance out into the audience, at their shoes, and then back at you before saying, “Oh no…Foiled again.”

AND SCENE.

With that rejection, you’ve not only dismissed your partner’s idea in favor of your own, you’ve likely killed the scene’s momentum all together. Collaboration is the lifeblood of both improv and innovation. If you want your company to cut through the noise—to do something that’s truly different—then you have to be open to new concepts and unique perspectives. Truly great content is created when teams listen to one another’s ideas and build on them. (tweet this)

There are no mistakes—only gifts.

The very nature of improv is a plan-less one. You can’t know or predict what’s going to happen before you step out onto a stage, and that’s okay. Maybe you’ll trip and fall down, and for a split second, you’ll feel embarrassed. But once you’re on the floor, you decide that your character has narcolepsy. You continue the scene in and out of consciousness, imbuing it with an unexpected and comedic flare.

One day, your business might create a campaign that doesn’t seem to resonate with your existing customers, but draws in an entirely new audience. Failure isn’t failure if it leads you to something else. And it almost always does.

Follow the fear.

We often find ourselves afraid because the territory that we’re stepping into is brand new. But isn’t that what we’re here to do? Don’t we want to push the envelope—to innovate? In life, on stage, and in business, unease can lead us to some pretty amazing things. So don’t fear the fear—embrace it; and start creating some kick-ass content for your company.