Lee Odden

Storytelling, Positioning & Personas for More Effective B2B Content Marketing

buyer persona

Free B2B buyer persona development tool

Just as every B2B company stakes a claim to a market position, each of them has a story to share. The challenge is in figuring out how to share that story in a way that aligns with the needs and priorities of prospects and customers. But, it’s not just sharing the story. It’s about making the story so compelling that it elevates perceptions of value and urgency resulting in more qualified leads and faster purchasing momentum.

This is the sage advice from Ardath Albee, a B2B Marketing industry thought leader and practitioner that consistently delivers useful information. In fact, Ardath was one of the participants in our Content Marketing Secrets project and has been in the B2B content marketing game a very long time. The following post is a summary of her presentation at the recent Content Marketing World.

B2B marketers are facing a business environment with an increasingly complex mix of channels and skills needed to create a content and eMarketing strategy that, when executed well, results in quantifiable proof to downstream revenues. While over 90% of B2B marketers are investing in content as part of their marketing mix, content marketing is more than just creating content that your buyers care about.

The first thing your content should do is capture attention, then create engagement and get people talking and sharing in relation to solving the problem. Once you do that, you’ll start to be able to quantify the contribution to revenue.

To be more effective with B2B content marketing investments, we need to think about the positioning of our companies.

Positioning: The art of sharing your distinct value in ways that resonate with your buyers compelling them to engage, trust and ultimately buy from you.

Positioning is all about your company’s distinct value.

Distinct Value: The intersection of your company’s strengths with customer needs.

Examples: In the 1970’s, Volvo’s positioning was about safety. Today they’re still known for safety.  Apple is known for intuitive use – easy to use. Google is known for finding anything. Cisco has been known for intelligent networking. To expand the reach of their brand, Cisco’s positioning has become more about “the human network”.

To internalize and invest in the importance of content marketing, positioning and distinct value, some companies like BMC Software are developing an internal content marketing agency within their company to be a resource for consistent branding and messaging across the organization.

What is your company known for? What’s it’s position?

Put your distinct value at the center of your content plans. The topics around the center are the pain points for a particular persona. Speaking of persona’s here’s a handy free tool for developing buyer personas: http://upcloseandpersona.com

Buyer value statement as premise: “As the Director of IT Service Delivery, I need to eliminate manual processes for the service desk in order to improve performance and meet SLAs.”

Corporate positioning is the pivot point. Build stories that are relevant to buyer personas without losing distinct value, i.e. stories that are important to both the buyer and that convey value about the brand.

In this way, stories are a narrative meant to inform, educate or entertain. Stories can be about any of the distinct values and how they get solved.

“Story gives people enough space to think for themselves”

Aligning brand and consumer interests means you have to think about the story from end to end. You need to figure out how your distinct value plays at each point in the story. Think ahead and figure out the gaps in your story to anticipate objections.

3 Critical Components of Stories:

1. Hero – Save the day for your prospects. Buyer should always be the hero in your stories.

2. Villan – Anything that gets in the prospects way to solving the problem is the villain.

3. Mentor -A character that educates the hero to overcome the villan

There are structures to telling stories in B2B marketing. When you start crafting a story, start with the trouble your prospect persona is having. What’s gone wrong?  Example: Missed SLAs due to manual processes.

Respond to trouble.  Start with something informational. Examples:

  • How to evaluate services related to what your brand offers specific to this value statement
  • What to do when a common problem solved by your solution occurs for your target customer
  • 3 Steps to solving problem x y z
  • How to make sure you don’t experience pain point x y z

Think about how these things would play out in a conversation. Listen for what the objections might be. What are some of the obstacles and conflicts that would get in the way of solving the problem? This will help guide you in answering or countering objections within your content. It will also help you anticipate what comes next.

Story divers: Objectives and Obstacles. People are inherently lazy. If there are real or perceived obstacles, they’re not going to take next steps with you. Remove those obstacles in the stories you tell.

Make sure you connect the dots for your prospects. They will not do it themselves. Stories do not need to change over time if they are still valid. They may need to be refreshed, but you may not need to create more new content. Rather, think more about how to get more use from the content you already have. As long as the trouble exists, the story is valid.

Another thing to pay attention to is story consistency. Stay consistent across all the different channels.

Think about how your resources are allocated: Do you need to be in all the channels where you are? It’s better to be the best at a few channels than mediocre at many of them, causing inconsistent story and experiences for prospects.

6 Mistakes Made in B2B Storytelling

  1. Too much about YOU
  2. Not serializing the story
  3. Failing to tell the story across channels
  4. Addressing the wrong “trouble”
  5. Forgetting about conflict
  6. Talking about your company in the 3rd person

Effective B2B content marketing is more than empathizing with buyer interests and needs. Content creation and marketing investments must be accountable and serve the buyer’s needs relevant to the problems they’re trying to solve. Managing content creation in such an environment can be achieved through storytelling and developing brand positioning (what your company stands for) and articulating a distinct value (how your solutions meet buyer needs).

Have you developed a position, distinct value and buyer personas for your company’s B2B marketing strategy? How are you using storytelling to communicate with buyers to create awareness, engagement and inspire action? If you’re interested in B2B content marketing strategy, creation and promotion services, I know someone who can really deliver 🙂


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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. Hi Lee,
    Thanks so much for the recap of my session! You did a great job!

    One thing – the villain in the story is the problem your prospect is trying to solve along with the obstacles that keep getting in their way. And the character that’s the buyer’s mentor is your company’s role in the story.

  2. Great post Lee. I would add that it’s critical to look for buyer persona insights from real buyers. Start with the internal perceptions about what matters to buyers, and of course the company’s value with respect to the buyer’s concerns. But I’m very concerned about too much dependence on “tribal knowledge” about the buyers.

    My experience shows that companies are frequently way off base about how their buyers really think. For example, just this week I was working with a client who was convinced that their low-end product was attractive to inexperienced buyers. Their buyer interviews proved that the exact opposite was true — that buyers of this product were very experienced IT professionals who were so confident in their knowledge about the differences between the premium version and the “value” offering that they were buying up the cheap product in droves.

    Marketers need to master the skills to interview their buyers. Surveys don’t work — they need an unscripted, agenda-driven process that gets buyers to reveal facts they have never shared with anyone.

  3. That is a very good primer on marketing via storytelling. I especially liked point 6 — Mistakes: ‘Talking about your company in the third person’. That kind of alienates the narrative from the content

  4. It’s good that the post clarifies how the buyer should be positioned as the hero in the marketing strategy’s story. Brands makes the mistake of making turning their product into the marketing story’s hero, which doesn’t always resonate with buyers.

  5. Good read. I’ve seen different storytelling across different channels, especially as they are done from different agencies – for examples the web video storytelling turns out different from traditional paper storytelling.

    • That’s a good point Roshan. The differences between agencies is pretty common, especially if there is varying degrees of consumer insight. What’s interesting is when story varies intentionally.

  6. as a content creator, I use story telling and voice to draw in readers. Whether I am writing about education laws, politics, history or something I’m passionate about, a story can easily become a hook to draw a reader in. It is interesting to think about using this content for positioning of a brand, product or company. How do you begin to convert traditional content to this model without changing the voice of a company (assuming content is a already in place).

    • That’s part of the trick – reconciling brand communications with a certain voice meant to inspire specific groups of customers. I’m not sure the answer is to convert content, but to create new content specifically for the purpose. Ambitious, but worthy.

  7. Great post. Immensely helpful for heaps of businesses, especially small inexperienced ones. I particularly like the hero/villain/mentor view which I’ll try to remember to use in all our content reviews. Adding to this, I was recently reminded of the importance of pulling a reader’s emotional chords as well as their logical ones – people remember how you make them feel, not what you said. There was a great post by Mars Dorian on Mark Schaefer’s ‘grow’ blog on this aspect recently – “Please. Make me feel something!”. Worth remembering.

    • Agreed Hugh. With content, it’s worth considering how you think it will make readers “feel” since people do make decisions based mostly on emotion. Logic plays a part as well – like you’ve mentioned.

  8. I love the use of common literary archetypes here. I wrote about this idea of storytelling as part of the sales process some time ago but did not continue the thought into the realm of literary devices and how they could be used as part of the storytelling process. Very helpful, thanks for the thoughts!

  9. Excellent read, Lee. As a marketer with multiple client accounts, it’s definitely worth applying and practicing these tips for each target market. Learning to strategically position your content will encourage your audience to engage with you while at the same time build good relationship with your community. Thanks very much for sharing.