Let’s start this with a little dash of inspiration...
This is certainly true for marketers, as our very lifeblood is telling compelling stories to audiences and taking them on a journey. But how can we be sure to tell a powerful story?
A great way to guarantee your content packs a punch is the use of interviews to fuel your typing. There’s nothing more immersive than when the words emit from someone who has seen it, done it and has the scars to prove it; someone who can share their successes and failures, their insights and observations - first hand.
Interviews are great all round. But in the B2B space, they are a potent tool.
Whether it’s a dialogue with a thought leader, a customer, an industry expert or an entrepreneur, it can act as a direct line to one of the finest and most relevant minds in the business.
Done well, you can make your audience feel as if they are looking into the eyes of the person interviewed.
The inimitable human factor
An interview piece offers personality, in a way that a more generic article often struggles to do. Of course, a third person business story can be informative and interesting. But people are complex, and a story that feels personal and intimate adds significant depth.
The human angle engages and resonates with readers, and a good interview can offer three major benefits for B2B content marketers...
1. Bring a story to life
Think about the content you’ve recently created and published; a case study on the benefits of investing in a 3D printer, for example. It might outline detail, like how much money your company saved and how much your client base grew by.
But is that meaningful?
A good interview will put the meat on the bones, adding colour and subtleties. It will draw out anecdotes that immerse the reader, surprising and challenging them. It will go beyond being informative and become memorable.
2. Answer questions
From potential customers to existing customers and lapsed customers, a strong interview piece can act as an educational tool for a wide audience.
A good interviewer will be dogged, cheeky even. They will ask the sometimes uncomfortable questions that businesses want to ask of each other, but don’t have the opportunity - or the nerve - to do.
For example, a company working with a consultancy to crowdsource new ideas for the design of its product packaging might have seen sales increase by 15% as a result. Just enough for a case study...
But an interview with the marketing director can take this a step further and reveal the war stories.
How did the company mitigate risk, how did it road test the ideas, how did it strike the balance between investing in a completely new concept and ensuring it still reflected the brand values? What resistance did they face? And how did the marketing director bring their own skills to bear to ensure the project was successful?
A good interview will unearth best practice, not in broad strokes, but in detail.
3. Enhance a company’s authority
In the business world, a known and respected individual can add huge weight to a story compared to a generic narrator. A company that features an exclusive interview with an industry expert, thought leader or high profile business person will differentiate itself.
Such a piece can position the company as an authority that is forward thinking, and which has curiosity and ambition - not to mention contacts. An organisation that takes the initiative, leveraging its network, asking the searching questions, looking always to learn - and then to share these lessons and to disseminate this wisdom - will stand out.
And it’s because of all this, we regularly carry out interviews with our clients’ customers...
How we do it
We use them to bring life to our client’s offering, position them as experts in their field, and give an authentic insight into the work they do.
So let’s have a look at some recent examples...
Take Brand Vista, specialists in customer experience alignment. As part of their content strategy, we have been creating interview based blog posts to sit on their site.
Our first interview was with their client Glenn Earlam, CEO of David Lloyd Leisure.
We knew there was an incredible story to tell here. But we wanted to hear exactly how the two parties were working together to transform the leisure brand’s customer experience.
None of this mumbo jumbo nonsense about setting goals, meeting objectives and having a strong partnership. Honesty!
Readers want the truth - and David Lloyd delivered
Glenn told us about the challenges he faced when he joined: “There was a lack of direction about where we were going”; “we were trying to deploy one size fits all”; “the organisation was not particularly good at listening to what customers might want.”
A new corporate value, ‘freedom to succeed’, was implemented, aiming to give David Lloyd clubs more autonomy. Things began to change. As Earlam explained, “Our staff started to understand that they now had the ability to listen to members and act on it.”
He also talked about the difficulties of making changes, and didn’t shy away from the reality: “The feedback wasn’t all consistent. Sometimes half of the group are saying ‘go left’ and the other half are saying ‘go right.’”
Sharing a personal lesson really resonates
Earlam shared a lesson he had learnt since moving from FMCG to the leisure sector: “As an FMCG marketer I would have been obsessed with David Lloyd gyms having the right look and feel.
But while that stuff is important, it will never deliver a great experience unless you have the engagement of your people. I wouldn’t have thought that 20 years ago, but it is what experience has taught me.”
Honesty and authenticity are not only valuable for readers, they help to imbue the brand telling the story with these values too. Real tales of triumph over adversity offer inspiration.
An interviewee who shares tales of how they have overcame difficulties can also offer huge inspiration to the business community. After all, everyone knows that business is never plain sailing, and to hear how obstacles have been surmounted by others can be invaluable.
Another interview we conducted for Brand Vista was with their client AstraZeneca. The focus of the piece was the insight work Brand Vista carried out in the run up to the launch of the pharmaceutical company’s new antibiotic.
AstraZeneca came up against difficulties - but found a way to succeed
The brand’s Senior Global Marketing Director, Simon Hagger, was open about the challenge of trying to produce creative that stood out: “We wanted to push the envelope and get out of the traditional pharmaceutical industry approach by moving away from the standard patient images. We wanted the key messages from our early insight work to ring loud and clear in our creative execution.”
As he admitted, it wasn’t easy: “The testing of creative concepts certainly met some resistance.”
But Hagger explained how being bold, and putting their faith in the insight work, paid off. “We really stepped out of the box, but we achieved our aim by listening to customers and refining the creative to the point where it was still edgy but it resonated with different customers…”
There is an art to interviews that penetrate the mind…
There are interviews that skim along the surface, accepting platitudes in place of answers, reporting overused and meaningless corporate puff, and failing to find the interesting stuff. This is a waste of everyone’s time.
But authentic, honest interviews that ask the questions we all want the answers too - they have the potential to transform your content marketing efforts. Just take Brand Vista for example, their interview posts are already some of the top performing blogs on their site!
A good interview has three golden rules:
- The questions are original, pertinent, searching.
- The subject is at ease, and feels comfortable and relaxed enough to talk without inhibition.
- The resulting piece is tightly edited, with every question, every word, delivering a valuable insight or lesson to the reader, whether through hard facts, entertaining anecdotes or enlightening asides.
So while Pullman is right - stories are the thing we need most in the world - tales from the lips of the protagonist themselves are arguably one of the most influential mediums, particularly in the B2B world.