The Sales Spell: Why B2B Storytelling Archetypes Work Like Magic

By Sam Kent, Associate Creative Director, Nelson Bostock – Part of Accenture Song

Storytelling is an intrinsic part of what it is to be human. It’s how we connect with one another, how we learn from each other, and how we share our experiences of this crazy world. And while that’s nothing new, it’s why storytelling matters. Yes, even for – scratch that – especially for B2B marketing and comms.

A distinctive story can make all the difference between clients choosing your brand – or taking their business elsewhere – and that comes from great, emotional storytelling.

In 2004, Booker published ‘The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories’, a book examining storytelling throughout the ages, arguing that every story follows one of seven universal and fundamental arcs. We can see these ‘archetypal’ plots everywhere, from Cinderella to Blade Runner. But as we’re talking B2B, we’re not only interested in telling stories, but selling them too.

Whether the desired outcome is a buy, click, download or engage, let’s go back basics and look at how a handful of B2B brands used Booker’s archetypes to do some serious business selling.

Overcoming the ‘monster’

This classic plot involves a hero who must conquer or destroy a force of evil (the monster) that threatens their way of life or future. Sometimes the threat is physical, sometimes it’s metaphysical. We see this story time and time again in books and movies. Think Jaws, Avatar or any James Bond.

In the case of GfK – a leader in market research and data analytics – the beast was AI. In a campaign which depicted the hot-topic debate of human vs AI on video, the flagship creative showed how, through innovation and technical expertise, the brand had managed to tame the beast in order to deliver exceptional results for its customers. And those customers responded, with brand awareness skyrocketing and GfK gaining an impressive 7m impressions.

Can B2B be funny?

Making your audience laugh is hard to do, but hugely effective when done well. This archetype sees the familiar combined with the absurd to create what your literature teacher called “dramatic irony”. We see this in sitcoms all the time (and we love it).

Squarespace’s hilarious ninth Super Bowl ad took B2B humour to a new level. Epic in execution, but simple in message, the ad focused on a simple line: Squarespace is a website that makes websites.

SNL-regular Adam Driver stars as the intrepid but confused truth finder. His repetition of the tagline, “Squarespace is a website that makes websites”, while spawning multiple versions of himself and triggering ‘The Singularity’ doesn’t just entertain, it smartly solidifies Squarespace’s very straight proposition in your mind. This ad is grand, trippy, ridiculous – and funny, as proven by the 200m media impressions which followed.

Rags to riches / loser to winner

Otherwise known as the classic underdog story, this plot sees a relatable but disadvantaged character blossom into a hero we can all get behind. Ultimately, they gain something they’ve been lacking, such as money, love or power. Famous examples include Aladdin, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and the nation’s favourite – Harry Potter.

Shopify used this plot in its first brand campaign, when it set its sights on becoming a household name for young entrepreneurs. With the tagline, “Let’s Make You a Business”, the cloud and software solutions brand focused its campaign on helping these entrepreneurs (contextually rebranded as the plucky underdogs) to turn their ideas into a business – and reap the rewards.

It wasn’t lacking in humour, either. With lines like, “Let’s make your family proud. Or prove them wrong. We don’t know what kind of relationship you have,” it’s heartwarming, inspiring and showcases Shopify as the perfect partner for aspiring entrepreneurs.

Voyage and return

In this classic story, our hero ventures off into a strange land, triumphs over the evil they find there, and returns home – often much wiser than when they set out. The Odyssey might be the most famous example, but the Wizard of Oz and any Dr Who episode also fit the bill.

GitHub’s 2022 titular campaign “What is GitHub?” is a great example of this archetype at play in B2B. This campaign uses visually compelling explainer videos in what is, essentially, an awareness campaign around the product features of its software development platform. It’s not an obvious subject matter for travelling to distant planets or strange lands, so how did GitHub get its audience to buckle down and listen up?

What works so well is the storytelling emphasising the worlds GitHub can create, covering all the pain points of its target audience. Whether you’re a software developer or not, you’re wiser by the end.

The quest

Pinterest’s “The P is for Performance” high-concept, action-packed B2B campaign is one such example. This series of mini-movies features two heroines on a quest to find a performance-based ad platform (Pinterest, of course) that can boost conversion rates and increase traffic too. In fact, Pinterest is seeing as much as 28% increase in conversions and up to a 96% increase in traffic for its advertisers – and this ad showcases the platform as the prize at the end of the journey or quest. Meaning it not only makes the brand feel desirable, it also gives viewers the sense of being “in on the secret”.

So, there you have it. Booker’s distinctive archetypes are still alive and well, forming the backbone of stories that, as humans, we love to tell. And that means in B2B, they’re the perfect framework to build campaigns that get seriously good results.