By Emily King published November 28, 2014

How to Tell a Compelling B2B Story Using Comics

14422688127_ac946e1899_o Maybe you’re wondering: Why on earth would you use comics in B2B marketing?

True, it’s not a format you regularly see in the wild, but comics have two great things in their favor: They’re a visual medium and they’re heavily geared toward storytelling.

In popular culture, comics are having a renaissance. Amazon noticed the popularity and acquired Comixology, a cloud-based digital comics platform, this year because people – adult people – like comics. They enjoy absorbing stories and information through visual content in comic-book format. And that makes comics an ideal vehicle for B2B brands to use to engage audiences. Brands like Google and Moz are doing it successfully.

Three key elements of a successful B2B comic

But how do you go about identifying compelling stories for a B2B audience that will translate well into the visual medium?

It all comes down to three things: truth, suspense, and human connection.

A story told in a comic format doesn’t need to feature spandex-clad heroes. You can find suitable protagonists almost anywhere within or outside your organization. All a successful story needs to have are those three elements – something reinforced at Content Marketing World this year:

Truth

Suspense

Human connection

Or, as storytelling supremo, Kevin Spacey, put it at CMW:

  • Authenticity
  • Conflict
  • Audience

A good comic-book story, like any story, needs these three things. Truth (authenticity) makes your story believable, suspense (conflict) makes it interesting, while adding a human connection (audience) enables readers to see themselves and make an emotional connection.

How to use these elements in your story

In B2B marketing, there’s no point in putting together a bunch of comic panels that dress up your company or product as super heroes, capable of making miraculous things happen (and I’ve seen at least one B2B comic that has done this). Apart from the problem of insufficient room to address the who, what, where, when, why, and how of it all, there’s an added challenge – customers are afforded only minor parts if they are incorporated at all.

Shaping your story for comics doesn’t have to be difficult. Here’s what you need to consider:

1. Starting with human connection

The comic (regardless of its layout) needs to keep its audience in the forefront of what’s happening. One way of doing this would be as content expert Ann Handley suggested: “Make the customer the hero of your story.” Turning a case study into a comic would definitely benefit from having the customer portrayed as a hero – the main protagonist.

Consider this: 71% of business executives don’t like content that seems like a sales pitch, according to The Economist. You can’t just make a comic about a product or brand: It needs to be about people first, everything else is secondary.

2. Adding suspense

Like any well-portrayed hero, your main character should be better, stronger at the end. This dynamic shift brings suspense to the story, showing the benefits of the journey.

Showing the journey means being unafraid to examine the challenges faced by your story’s characters. Imagine a brand creating a comic about managing project risk – ideally it would show what happens when risk is not properly managed, including the impact on finances and personnel.

3. Sticking with the truth

The comic does not need to be a blow-by-blow account of real-life events (though it can) – what’s important is that even if your panels have a hero in spandex, the story feels real. It needs to bring in that element of authenticity that Spacey discussed. Without authenticity, the story will be viewed as insincere and irrelevant, driving people away from your brand.

Base the comic on events happening within or outside your organization. Embellishment can work, but as Mark Twain once said, truth is stranger than fiction.

Bring your stories to comics

If you’ve got a compelling story involving your brand that features your customer as the hero, uses drama, and is based on the real world, then you have the formula for a good comic – a few panels on a web page or a strip to illustrate a case study – and a good way to share information that is valuable to readers and that can help them make better decisions.

If you’d like to know more about the process of creating a B2B comic, check out our free eBook How to Make Comics in B2B Marketing (we won’t ask for your details).

Is visual content a priority for your content marketing strategy? You’re not alone. Check out Building the Perfect Content Marketing Mix to see which tactics content marketers are adding to their mix this year.

Cover image by Brad Jonas via pixabay

Author: Emily King

Emily King is the Content Marketing Manager of Radix Communications, managing Radix’s own content marketing initiatives – including the Good Copy, Bad Copy podcast – and the monthly #b2bcopychat on Twitter. Emily holds a MA in Professional Writing from Falmouth University. Outside of marketing, she’s known as the founder of Nerds Assemble. You can connect with her on Twitter @ek6891.

Other posts by Emily King

  • vbhagat

    Emily – your article is very timely. We experimented with our first use of a comic this week in our member communications (we’re a site that helps people make better business software decisions through in-depth peer reviews). While I don’t think we necessarily followed the guidelines you outline above, our goal was to introduce humor into our communications, to build memorability and brand affiliation. We had some great feedback from members and some social sharing. I’d welcome your feedback on this:

    https://www.trustradius.com/static/thanksgiving_2014?

    Vinay Bhagat
    CEO, TrustRadius
    @vinaybhagat

    • http://radix-communications.com Emily King

      I really like the art style that’s been used in that comic and the humour it goes for. What I’m not so sure about is its last line in the final panel. For me, visual content like this is the kind of content you want to present to audiences at the top of the funnel, bringing direct mentions of your brand when people are still in the process of exploring their challenges might be putt off by the direct mention.

      Instead, I would still have the brand visible, but opt for a logo visible to the left of the title, and made the punchline a question like, “Is your consultant hamming up your software decisions?”

      • vbhagat

        Thanks so much Emily. That’s really helpful feedback.

  • http://www.tripaz.net Trip AZ

    Hi Emily, we are experimenting our cartoon story telling http://www.tripaziello.com It concerns one family (The Tripaziello’s) that are travelling around the world. As our website http://www.tripaz.net is a travel marketplace, we are promoting the vacation through this cartoon. And I have to admit that we have more followers than our other blogs…

  • http://www.RobToth.com/ Rob TheGenie Toth

    Emily can you talk of any successful examples of brands doing this?