Bear napping in the woodsWhen I was a kid, my dad used to tell me a bedtime story about a bear he encountered while hunting. And I couldn’t get enough of it. So my dad told the story—or some variation of it—over and over and over again.

I was thinking about that earlier this week when I was at Demand Generation Report’s B2B Content2Conversion conference in New York. Because at that conference, one thing became clear: B2B marketers need to stop talking about campaigns. They need to start telling stories instead.

A good story is responsive to your audience, educates them and inspires them to change. Align it with your product and you’ve created a highly persuasive reason for your audience to work with you.

That’s challenging to do, though, because the gap between a campaign and a story is not small.

A campaign is organized around a company. A story is organized around the audience.

Ardath Albee, CEO, Marketing Interactions, Inc. succinctly framed one of the key differences between campaigns and stories: B2B storytelling is about understanding the prospect’s entire experience.

And if you understand that, you’ll see that your prospect has problem, a big question she needs answered. Your prospect wants to seek a solution, but lacks the expertise to do so and find herself unearthing several smaller questions. So, she turns to someone knowledgeable (your company) to get all her questions answered. When she does, she goes back to her company, gains a consensus on the solution and resolves the problem.

The key to telling an effective story is not just knowing your prospect, but also knowing what’s in her way. You may know someone needs to do something, but do you know why that person isn’t doing it? What’s stopping her? Answer those questions, Albee said, and you can move your prospect closer to a resolution—faster.

A campaign has set start and end dates. A story can evolve.

Much like my dad probably tired of telling me the bedtime story, marketers can tire of repeating themselves. They’re fatigued, they need something fresh. So they switch it up.

Too often, though, they’re doing that before they know if their audience is ready for something new. And that’s the limitation of a campaign. Be better dialed-in on your audience by establishing—at the outset—a purpose for each piece of your content and measure against that purpose. The metrics, said SiriusDecisions’ Matt Papertsian, help you gauge the success of your content and also act as a feedback loop.

Declining engagement on a specific topic? Maybe it’s time to switch it up. Succeeding your KPIs for a content piece? Maybe you need to stick with it a little longer.

And since your prospects won’t consume your content and messaging in a linear fashion, you’ll want to follow this guide to repurposing, reusing and refreshing your content from Intel’s Pam Didner. Do it, and you give the prospect the power to discover answers on their own, in a choose-your-own-adventure sort of way.

Effective B2B storytelling, then, sounds a lot like customer centricity.

Find your audience, tailor your content to their needs, align it with your products. It sounds like a lot of work, but if a whole bunch of smart marketers at a conference in New York can do it, why can’t you?

Image of bear napping in the woods courtesy of Shutterstock.