The Holy Grail Of Engaging B2B Narratives

Mahesh Bellie

Published: March 12, 2024

Narratives are an integral part of B2B communication. And engaging narratives—oral or written—help to capture attention, improve retention, effectively translate into business actions, and sow the seeds for further dialogue.  

While this is common knowledge, creating engaging narratives is, however, not a common practice. Organizations incur losses as a result of this inattention—loss of business, poor employee morale, attrition, leadership disconnect, and the list goes on.

So, how can organizations convert good intentions into good communications? Is there an approach to creating these engaging narratives that hold good for all business situations?

Yes! And the answer lies in a charter that was created around 100 years ago.

From Britain, With Love

It was the year 1922. John Reith, a 33-year-old Scottish engineer, was just appointed as the first general manager of the BBC. As the head of a government-sponsored entity, John faced the toughest question of his career: How will the BBC be accountable to the public?

With no rules, standards or established purpose to guide him, John set out to create the BBC’s Royal Charter, which eventually became its mission: to enrich people’s lives with great programs and services that inform, educate and entertain.

These three elements—to inform, educate and entertain, which were popularized as the Reithian principles —set a gold standard in public broadcasting all around the world, to this date. And unexpectedly, they present a recipe for creating quality narratives in businesses as well.

Applying Reithian Principles For Business Narratives

By defining, proportioning and blending the elements of Reithian principles into a narrative structure, businesses can create rich and impactful narratives for any business situation. Here’s my four-step process.

Step 1: Define the audience for the narrative.

Once you have defined your audience—such as prospects, customers, employees, management, media, analysts, interns, etc.—start by raising the question “What’s in it for me?” on behalf of the audience. That’s a foolproof way to ensure the narrative is falling in line with the needs of the audience.

Step 2: Define what the three elements (inform, educate & entertain) mean for your audience.

Each of the three elements will mean different things to a different audience.

What do I want to inform my audience about the organization?

For example, the narratives targeting prospects/customers could inform them by including details on a service/product, key insights, differentiators, trials, pricing, support options, credibility factors, etc.

For employees, narratives meant to inform could mean details on a strategy, focus areas, new initiatives, change management, customer feedback, and so on.

For analysts, it could mean details on financial health, future investments, market outlook, profitable segments, talent acquisition strategy, etc.

How can I educate them with data that can provide value for their time?

Educational elements are those details that make the audience look smart in front of their stakeholders. When addressing prospects, this element could contain customer challenges, new trends, buying process, calculators, benefits, loss because of non-adoption, etc. Employees can be showered with details on market outlook, customer preferences, the rationale behind organizational decisions, etc. Similarly, it can be extended for other audience types as well.

How can I entertain my audience to create an engaging experience?

This element comprises humanistic aspects such as stories, anecdotes, humor, values, vision, emotions, etc.—aspects that do not treat prospects just as a target segment or employees as cogs in the machine, but as humans!

Step 3: Define the proportion of the elements to match the narrative needs.

How can a business use these elements in tandem, and in what proportion? For example, brochures and sales collaterals mostly inform, while thought leadership articles and blogs primarily educate, with a few humanistic elements. A leadership town hall will inform and educate employees, filled with humanistic elements, whereas leadership sessions in public forums tend to educate.

It would violate the audience’s expectations if a consulting company added humor to its reports, or a leadership town hall ended up mostly entertaining employees. Businesses that do not consciously create this recipe can produce content that resonates poorly with their audience, severely undermining their marketing and communication efforts.

Step 4: Weave the elements into a narrative structure.

Content creators then choose and create an appropriate narrative structure to include these elements. And then, the trick is to weave, weave and weave these three elements into that narrative structure.

Since no two sets of audiences are the same, depending on your audience’s response and feedback, you can refine the structure and element mix over time.

Taking A Narrative-First Approach To Business Communications

Narrative thinking is central to human intelligence. Narratives are how humans recollect information from the past, apply logic in the present, imagine outcomes for the future, and act in their best interest.

Given that the intention of business communication is to persuade the audience into action, it is imperative those communications be rooted in narratives to enhance that possibility. And the three elements discussed above enrich these narratives.

Since we cannot define any specific order or proportion for these elements, it opens up a whole new space for content creators to experiment and create variations that can resonate with different audiences.

The article was originally published by the author on Forbes.