It's the Thanksgiving holiday here in the US tomorrow. Soon we will gather around the table with family and friends to feast and give thanks for our many blessings and the things we most appreciate in life. If your home is anything like mine, it's also a time when we get together to share stories, both past and present.

What is it about stories that makes them so compelling?

Neuroscientists have shown stories stimulate our brains.  Actually, our limbic systems which house our emotional life and form memories. Anthropologists identify storytelling as a universal feature of every culture and country. As humans, we are hard-wired to want to listen to, remember, and retell stories. And attention is the reward listeners bestow on the storyteller. What marketers doesn't want that?

Well, look at any business-to-business website and you would never know this to be the case.

In a Forrester report published last week (subscription required), my research associate and I looked at 30 B2B websites, across 6 different industries, and evaluated them on whether we found the content to be compelling to buyers. Stories were one of the key elements we looked for in this review. Now, while it is not the sum total of a firm's content strategy, the B2B website  remains an important source of information for potential buyers and is the place where a firm’s content marketing execution is most evident.

Using 10 simple criteria, we rated the sites from 0 to 3 on each, for a total possible score of 30.  We (generously) decided that 20 points would constitute a passing grade. What did we find?

Out of the 30, only 4 passed.

This is just one indicator of the dismal state of content marketing in general, and storytelling specifically, among firms that market to other companies.

But all business content need not be boring or self-serving. To break out of this rut, B2B marketers need to get back in touch with what we all know and love: a good story.  Good stories:

  • Follow time-tested story structures. A good B2b story should introduce a problem, create interest and tension, and build to a climax where the problem is overcome. This tension should focus on the challenges of closing the gap between where the buyer's company is today and a desired state. Or present a future vision where new market opportunities will create competitive advantage.
  • Develop empathy. Like any good narrative, compelling business stories need protagonists (your buyers), and should create empathy for their situations. Creating empathy helps business marketers focus first on meeting customer needs then worry about representing their brand.
  • Use repetition to increase memorability. Think about The Gettysburg Address, Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, and President John F. Kennedy's challenge to send a man to the moon and return him safely. Good business content should do what these famous orations did, apply lyrical qualities that people remember and can identify immediately. 

As you laugh with Uncle Harry about the trouble your dad and he used to get into as kids during this year's Thanksgiving dinner, think a little — and I mean just a little — about how you can bring great narrative into your 2015 business content.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!