B2B customer case stories follow a fairly simple format of explaining how a product or service solved a specific customer pain. But they don’t necessarily communicate that a company is innovative, or encourage customers to innovate with them. Yet there are good reasons why a repertoire of innovation-focused stories can draw in new customers or stimulate new ideas among existing ones. So why not use them to inspire innovation?
Today’s markets are increasingly demanding evolution, not just adequate performance. And employees are being encouraged to seek out opportunities for incremental or radical innovation. In response, businesses could take the opportunity to highlight case stories about creativity involving their products or services. Such stories could tell how:
- Their product/service was used in a new application or in a way that’s not been done in a particular company or industry before, or
- Their new product/service was substituted for the typical solution to produce superior results.
Done well, these case stories can help people think outside the square, spark novel ideas, and inspire new possibilities. But why does this work and how should such stories be written? The key is providing enough detail.
Narratives that stimulate creativity
Stories about innovation, or “innovation narratives”, have a unique role to play in triggering creative ideas and helping move them towards commercialisation – according to Bartel and Garud (Bartel, C.A. & Garud, R. (2009). The Role of Narratives in Sustaining Organizational Innovation, Organization Science, Vol. 20, No. 1, January–February 2009, pp. 107–117). While that article is written within the context of intra-organisational innovation, its concepts also apply to today’s looser business models since both situations involve the cooperation of multiple actors across different disciplines.
Innovation case stories can play an important role in B2B communication because they:
- Inspire: They convey information and spark ideas by forging new links in people’s minds. Whether featuring past innovations, or ongoing projects that are still unfolding, case stories describing innovative concepts can help people recognise the resources that are available. These might include materials they’d never otherwise have considered – which, in turn, can inspire the creation of entirely new products or services, or aid people in problem-solving within their own work contexts.
For creative workers, stories about innovation can provide space for them to form ideas about how the concepts might apply to their own contexts. Even though a story might relate to a different industry than the reader’s, given enough details, the reader can be stimulated to apply their own frames of reference, practical experience and tacit knowledge to “translate” ideas to their own situation.
But details are critical! Innovation case stories must go beyond the basics to explain how setbacks along the way were overcome, and what was learned as projects evolved. This allows a reader, as a local expert and a holder of key insider knowledge about their company and industry, to jointly construct the story by filling in the blanks about how it relates to their perspective. Instead of prescribing a formulaic ‘how-to’ recipe for innovation, detailed stories trigger action and inspire people to actively consider parallels within their own context. This probing can be the catalyst for creating new mental links, so that it leads to an ‘Aha!’ moment of: ‘This product/service could do xx for us!’.
- Are flexible: Detailed innovation stories can simultaneously accommodate multiple perspectives. For example, they are flexible enough to allow engineers to focus on the technical aspects while designers find interest in the aesthetics. Stories allow different people to relate to different elements in their own way, depending on their point of view. So one well-crafted story can appeal to a wide range of potential customers.
They can also help bring different actors together to work on new ideas. Innovation narratives can function as “boundary objects” that unite people, despite their different opinions, to facilitate cooperation towards innovation.
- Let people co-create: Where there is enough complexity and diversity in the details given throughout the story’s start, middle and end, and this is combined with a coherent plotline, stories let their readers participate. As the reader comprehends the story, they move between surface-level details (the who, where and when etc.) to consider deeper underlying themes or issues (like control, or artistry). This continual movement can prompt a reader to think: ‘What might I do?’, or ‘What could this mean for me?’.
- Accommodate the crazy: Stories are valuable in capturing anomalies and circumstances that go against the social order – which is often what a radical innovation involves. They also illustrate how far the boundaries can be pushed, and this encourages the consideration of new possibilities.
- Provide credibility: Honest and reflective details can bring a story about a successful innovation to life, tap into people’s emotions, and bring legitimacy to a seemingly far-fetched idea. Potentially, this helps employees or consultants get buy-in from those that hold a project’s purse strings.
And being specific also helps create a thicker and richer narrative that’s easier to comprehend, is more vivid, and holds the attention of a discerning online audience better than one peppered with vague or general statements.
- Illustrate variety: For B2B companies, accumulating a bank of creative or innovative experiences can inspire new projects across a range of industries. They can stimulate people to think about your product or service in new ways and in unexpected contexts.
So… If you have stories to tell featuring innovation and creativity, time to get writing!
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