Marketing Transformation

How Storytelling in B2B Marketing Can Humanize Financial Services Brands

By Liz Alton on August 15, 2019

If you're a marketer for a financial services firm, there's one thing you need to know: Telling a story about your products or services and the people who actually use them will always be more compelling than just listing features in a flashy way. In fact, storytelling in B2B marketing can send eager prospects straight to your firm.

Especially when you consider just how interested consumers are in connecting with the people who drive a brand. Sharing these customer stories can help you achieve new connections, earn consumer trust, and expand your book of business.

Writing for Forbes, Zen Media CEO Shama Hyder notes that through storytelling, brands can move beyond a selling mindset and toward forging authentic connections.

"Human beings simply don't like feeling they're the target of a marketing ploy," Hyder writes. "What human beings do like is hearing and telling stories. It's been said that though there have been cultures on earth without the wheel, there have been no cultures without stories. Stories are in our DNA and in their purest form are the most valuable 'currency' of authentic engagement."

Why B2B Brands Need to Show Their Human Side

The most effective stories showcase the experiences of companies or individuals like the B2B buyers you're trying to reach. Building on that, effective storytelling shows how your product, service, or brand relationship can solve pain points and transform a company's trajectory. Your storytelling should help audiences imagine new possibilities, ask hard questions, and consider how solving a specific problem could free up critical time and other resources.

For busy marketers in professional and financial services, achieving this kind of storytelling in campaigns rarely comes easy. But as Adam Waytz notes in the Harvard Business Review, it's critical for brands to build these connections.

"My research and that of others shows that when people think of what it means to be human, they typically consider two fundamental capacities: conscious experience (i.e., the capacity to feel) and agency (i.e., having thoughts and intentions)," Waytz writes. "Human-to-human interaction is central to this conception."

In other words, distancing yourself from B2B customers or relating to them strictly as a brand, rather than highlighting the people associated with your business, can be a costly mistake. Finding ways to use storytelling in B2B marketing to foster that human interaction and connection can pay big dividends in the short and long term.

businessman sits at table discussing financial services marketing

Image attribution: Headway on Unsplash

The Value of Telling Stories With Original Data

In the world of professional and financial services consulting, your brain trust, original insights, and access to data are the most important things you bring to the table. Using this data to add depth to marketing stories can help show not only an original point of view, but also a deep empathy for prospective clients' needs—especially when the data's framed as part of a larger story.

KPMG, a Big Four accounting firm and multinational professional services network, regularly speaks to its audience of C-level executives, key decision-makers, and finance leaders with original data. Consider its recent 2019 U.S. CEO Outlook campaign, in which the company conducted an original study with 400 CEOs to explore trends and themes around building resilient organizations. They then developed a digital report, which they introduced by highlighting both respondent input and their own team's original thoughts.

They note that building resilience "is a process that often takes recalibrating timelines and expectations, understanding the opportunities and potential pitfalls of technologies, and making choices between what to disrupt and what to protect. The wrong choice in any of these areas can lead to irrelevance."

By outlining the stakes and then highlighting original insights and thought leadership to guide the process, KPMG tells the story of why they and their team are the right partners to assist companies moving forward in today's business landscape in a fresh way.

By using original data as a hook for timely discussion, content marketers in the professional and financial services sectors can weave in their original analysis, sound bites from key staff, and execution-focused advice to showcase the kinds of value they can deliver to customers. When CEOs and CFOs find this information valuable, they'll ask questions. In the KPMG example, it'll be whether or not the firm can handle their most important financial services needs.

Are you creating content that entices prospective clients to ask the same questions about your business? If not, it's probably because your data isn't properly storified.

Don't Forget to Highlight Your Team

Professional and financial services organizations are only as strong as their teams, and through content marketing, you can shine a spotlight on individual members. But it's not just their backgrounds and experience that makes them interesting—it's what makes them relatable and ultimately positions them as invaluable allies to consumers.

Here are some ways you can use creative storytelling in B2B marketing to profile your team:

  • Hands-on stories: Before your team shifted into the financial services world, did they have hands-on experience running businesses like the ones you serve? That's a common theme and one that can send a powerful message—that your consultants or service providers are uniquely positioned to offer insights and put financial decisions into context. For example, if your team lead for technology companies spent 10 years as a CEO for a tech company before transitioning into financial services, have them discuss this experience and how it informs their work today.
  • Your own firm's transformations: Recently, I had the chance to interview the head of a professional services practice that installs enterprise resource planning software for financial teams. She'd been in the field for years and described her sense of frustration when she met with prospects who didn't jump at the chance to install systems that would dramatically improve their business. After leading an ERP installation process for her own consulting company, she had a whole new level of empathy with the clients. She'd felt the pressure to make the right decision for her firm—and the fear that the wrong choice could have disastrous consequences. She knew the difficulties of adapting to a new system, dealing with installation delays, and fighting through fear of change with her team. Not only did this provide her with important insights that make her more effective with clients, but she's now able to reference her personal experiences.

Customer Journeys, Before-and-After Style

How does your advisory or service actually help improve the lives of users? It's one thing to say that a service saves business owners time. It's another to showcase a business that hired your firm and was able to reclaim 10 hours of time each month as a result. Spoiler alert: the second route will win over more consumers every time.

Consider how, a firm that combines bookkeeping professional services offerings with software, has created a series profiling their real customers. In one article, a featured business owner was able to get a handle on his books—and, therefore, his company's financials—for the first time using the firm's services: "After Bench assigned me to a small team of bookkeepers and gave me access to the web app, we got started. I gave them private access to my accounts, and they started tallying up all of my revenue and expenses for the previous year.

"What they delivered back was incredible! Finally, and for the first time since starting my side business, I could see exactly how I was making money, where I was losing money, and where I should invest my efforts next."

He goes on to describe a series of business breakthroughs that he's experienced, powered by visibility into his business financials for the first time. Ultimately, he grew revenue by 28 percent in the first year of using Bench reports, while growing net profits by 38 percent.

Storytelling in B2B Marketing Can Be Your Most Powerful Strategy

Content marketers can help humanize the impact of their products and services by showcasing the impact they've made in customers' lives. Don't just talk about the features and benefits your services provide; showcase how you've helped companies save money, grow their business, streamline their system, or free up their team to focus on high-value tasks. Which of your customers have achieved outstanding results with your product? Consider gathering testimonials and case studies, and weaving these important examples across other storytelling formats as well.

Whether you're telling the individual story of a customer or creating a larger picture of the forces impacting the market, taking a storytelling approach can help you cut through the noise and connect to buyers who are already in need of your solutions. The benefits of storytelling in marketing are wide-ranging, and taking the time to cultivate this approach can help marketers in financial and professional services organizations connect with consumers in ways they've never been able to before.

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Featured image attribution: Jens Johnsson on Unsplash


Liz Alton

Liz Alton is a technology and marketing writer, and content strategist, for Fortune 500 brands and creative agencies. Her specialties include marketing, technology, B2B, big data/analytics, cloud, and mobility. She's worked with clients including Adobe, IBM, Hewlett Packard, Twitter, ADP, and Google. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and an MBA. She is currently pursuing a master’s in journalism from Harvard University.