Storytelling is all the rage these days, and for good reason. Marketers are realizing the power of telling a story to humanize their brands, connect with consumers, and stand out from the competition.

That’s fine for consumers, but when you need to communicate to a trade audience, it’s all business, right?

Well, no. Not really.

Trade customers — contractors, installers, builders — are people, too. And like most human beings, they respond to stories the same as anyone else.

Before we go too much further, we should define what we mean by storytelling. We don’t necessarily mean crafting complete tales with characters, conflict, and resolution, although that certainly is an option in many cases.

What we mean is bringing those same elements of storytelling to make your marketing more relatable to your audience and to connect with them on an emotional level.

Why Use Storytelling

For many companies, particularly those in building products categories that market primarily to trade audiences, there is a default approach. That approach involves crafting marketing messages that center on the product or service.

“Our product is better, faster, cheaper,” these messages typically boast… offering the latest features, benefits or performance specifications as proof. The problem is it’s difficult, if not impossible to own these messages.

Like consumers, trade audiences hear this kind of product/service-centered marketing all the time, from many different companies. So much so, that it becomes impossible to distinguish from one brand to the next.

More importantly, they may not believe you. People have been barraged by marketing claims for generations, and evolution has caused our “BS Detectors” to become more fully developed.

But stories can break through those BS Detectors and help your audiences see your brand and products in ways that are more relatable, emotional, and human. Stories are something unique that you can own, and they help you cut through the noise that your customers see every day.

How to Use Storytelling

The ways in which storytelling can be used in communications to trade audiences are essentially limitless. But here are a few ways that a storytelling approach can be used to liven up the most tried-and-true communication tactics.

Case Studies & Testimonials

Too often, these age-old trade communication tactics are dry and dull, following an expected formula, such that they are easily ignored or dismissed by readers.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Trade customers use products and services to solve real-world problems, overcome obstacles, and enhance the lives of their customers.

When case studies and testimonials are put into the context of the larger story, focusing on the human element of what the product or service enables people to do, they are eminently more compelling.

The product or service is almost an afterthought, but are attached to a narrative of human accomplishment.

Product Demonstrations and How-To Advice

Another staple of trade communications is the product demonstration and how-to advice. By its nature, this type of content can be very utilitarian. It’s typically impractical to weave a narrative around content like this.

But that doesn’t mean it has to be boring. One of the storytelling elements you can use to inject some life is the “character” who’s used to carry the message.

This approach takes some creativity, but a character — either real or fictional — gives an otherwise-dull piece of content new life. It makes the content more enjoyable to consume, makes the content more relatable and human.

Building Your Brand

One of the best ways to use storytelling is in your own brand-building marketing tactics. Your customers — trade or otherwise — need to know who you are as a company, and what makes you different.

There are many ways to approach brand-building storytelling, but one of the most compelling is to focus on what makes you truly unique — your people.

A company’s employees are, quite literally, the faces and voices of the brand. They are the ones who interface with customers, partners, and other stakeholders. Telling their stories, and the story of your company through their perspectives, can help form stronger bonds with your trade customers.

Of course, storytelling isn’t the magic bullet of trade audience communications. There are times when more straightforward, matter-of-fact messaging is more appropriate.

But by telling great stories, or at least using key elements of stories, you can stand apart from the constant barrage of information your trade audiences need to process every day.