The Narrative Science Recipe for Ultra-Successful B2B Virtual Events

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Sadly, most virtual events are terrible.

For whatever reason, virtual events have been unable to replicate in-person conferences, which likely won't happen for another six to 12 months, conservatively speaking.

But Narrative Science has cracked the nut. Its most recent virtual event attracted 3,000 (yes, 3,000 registrations).

In this Marketing Spark episode, Cassidy Shield, Narrative Science's VP, Marketing, talks about how the company has approached virtual events and made them a core part of its marketing activities.

 

You're listening to marketing spark, the podcast of delivers insight, tools and tips are marketers and entrepreneurs in the trenches. Today I have Cassidy Shield, BEP marketing with narrative science, which offers aipowered software that creates content that turns enterprise data into easy to understand reports, transform statistics into stories and converts numbers into knowledge. Welcome to marketing spark Asdy Hey, thanks, mark for having me. Looking forward to the conversation. As people who listen to this podcast know, I am huge into brand storytelling, so I'm really looking forward to talking to you about how storytelling it has evolved and how it is resonating with target audiences in the current marketing and sales landscape. Want to start with getting your thoughts about the value of storytelling and, of course, data driven storytelling. Yeah, sure so. Obviously, as a company WHO considers themselves a data storytelling company, storytellings at the heart of everything we do. The reason for that is quite simple, and that is we as humans. We're telling ourselves stories all the time. So when you think about in this instance, you mentioned mark data, if you're looking at a report, whether it's in your work setting your personal setting or you're getting information from somebody verbally, you are, as a human, forming stories in your mind, because stories are how we understand and once you understand, stories are what drive action. So we're a big believer in that. We don't think the industry as a whole is well served in helping all of us, in our day to day war, understand date in a way that we can tell stories from it and drive action. That's why we exist as a company and we aim to change that. So we're big believer and storytelling and big believer in data storytelling. Let's talk a little bit about data, because I'm not a data person. I'm more on the brand experience and content and strategy side. I appreciate the value of data and a lot of it has been focused on growth hacking and optimization and conversions and all that, but maybe you can connect the dots between data and storytelling, because that doesn't happen very often. I understand that there's lots of good stories within data. Why aren't companies taking an advantage of their data to drive brand storytelling? Is it a lack of knowledge? Do they not understand that there's the stories to be extracted from data. Well, I think marky be kind of hit on this at the beginning when he said you're not. You're not somebody who considers themselves a data person, and I think that's that's really the issue we have today is people are forced to kind of pick and shoes which direction they're going. Are they somebody who's come on the creative brand side or are they somebody who's more data driven, a data centric, and we should have to make that choice. But the reason we have to make that choice is because it takes a hell of a lot of effort to get data, the data out of your systems in your company. Takes a lot of time to make sense of that and then to figure out what to do...

...with it. So the really the issue is kind of the barrier to the ability to get that information. And so if we can make that really easy, especially for people like you, mark, who you just want to know the insight, you just want to know if the for example, the content or the campaign you're running is working. You're not, you don't really care about how you get the data and how to analyze it. You just want to know the outcome, the the insight, and that's what's really difficult today, and so if we can make that much more simple. We don't, then we can get to a point where we're not picking and choosing between a I a creative person or I'm a data person. You're just a person, obviously, who can do both. And so the real reason that companies don't do more of this is because it's really hard and it's hard because the tools and processes and systems out there don't make it easy. Okay, so that obviously lends itself to asking you what what narrative science does and how it helps marketers and other kinds of people leverage data for better brand storytelling, because obviously, as a brand story teller, I want all the I want to use all the tools of my disposal and if I can start to use data in a very user friendly, easy way, I'm all over at so maybe you can get into how does narrative science work? Walk me through, like how I, as a marketer, could start to leverage the power of data. Think about the status quoe. How do we do that today, assuming and you have somebody on your team you can get the information for you. You're other looking at a chart or you're looking at a report and you have two choices at that point. You can spend a lot of time trying to figure out what that information tells you, were that data tells you, so you can glean some insight and some understanding from it, or you can ask somebody to do it for you. And typically, when in either of the scenarios, what you're trying to do is you're trying to figure out, in you know, human terms, what is this telling me and what is the key insight? What is it that I need to understand in order for myself to take better action? And that process just takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of there a lot of time for you as an individual to figure it out or for you to go find somebody that you may have on your team to help explain it to you. And so what we do with technology and AI, as you pointed out the beginning, is we try to make that a lot easier. So instead of looking at a chart or report, we have the system tell you what you need to know in plain English. So the system does the analysis for you, it understands what the drivers are behind the analysis that you're looking at and then it explains to you and human terms what you need to know. And so the idea is if we can explain it to somebody in human terms who's not human terms, language stories, when they're not a data person, it just helps them understand the data and take action. What I'm confident about in any function it was, take marketing for example, is it if I can create an understanding within my team, my team knows what to do. That's really the problem trying to solve. Is Not to tell the team what to do, it's to help them understand the data in a way that they can take action and be creative and...

...be innovative, and so that's what we try to do with our software. We lower that barrier, we shift the status quo. So instead of you needing to figure it out, are you needing to ask an analyst? We let the system tell you what you need to know for you in a way that you can understand. So, in simple terms, what the technology does is extracts insights that marketers can understand quickly and then leverage into creating different types of content, because the data is actually providing them with signals about what to do and what to say. Is that? Is that an accurate depiction? Yeah, we analyze the data for you and we tell you what you need to know when you look at the marketing landscape these days. You know I'm a big advocate of brand storytelling and I think in the last little while it's got lost behind the power of data. Everyone's all over data. What did you seem differently this year in terms of how companies are approaching storytelling and how the tools that they're using or the approaches that they're taking are different than even eight or nine months ago? So the few ways I would love to I love this topic. What's happened, at's say, since covid and US eight or nine months, and I'll use it in the lens of kind of us as a company as well, and that is the options you had as a marketing team have been dramatically limited. Were obviously we all know this by now. What's that's really put a bigger emphasis on is telling the story of Your Company and your brand and kind of the value of what you provide. So you're really you have fewer channels, get fewer tactics and in those channels and tactics you got it. You need to stand out, because everybody's kind of rushing to the same thing. I don't know if it's ever the art of being a brand storyteller. I don't know if it's ever disappeared, but the IMP of the the increase in emphasis over last eight or nine months is use pointed out, is because you need to stand out. Like there's there's only a few ways you can reach your audience and everybody's rushing to the same channels and it's upon you as a marketer to be able to differentiate yourself and stand out from the rest of the noise, and I think that's why we're seeing a heightened emphasis and kind of brand and rand storytelling. Is because we don't have an option as a as a marketing organization. There, as you know, a marketing community because of the limited options to get out there in front of your you know your customers, in your prospects. So maybe you can talk about narrative science and perhaps how your own story has evolved and how you've been able to or had to reposition the company to connect with prospects at a time when, for example, you can't go to conferences and you can't visit prospects and you can't do that. That one on one personal engagement has the company reloaded on its own story. There's a few things here, like one of the reasons that works well for us in general. Now talk about what specifically is change. Is We build technology that would consider early adopter technology, right, so we need to find people who are looking to drive a different...

...type of change inside their company, who are not satisfied with the status quo, etc. To do that, these people tend to seek you out. It's important for us to be able to tell brand story because we're trying to entice people who want to think different and do different to kind of kind of come seek us out. So it's always been kind of an important thing for us. The height and emphasis is just then, in the last eight or nine months, is like, how do we go about doing that as a company and as a marketing team? We've decided we're going to be really good at two things and that's it. One is what we call what we took from sweet sweet fish media, is this nosh of content marketing. So we started our own virtual events. These events weren't about us. These are events about the community and bringing in people to be able to share their experiences and the idea being that if we can bring people together to share their experiences and their learnings for others. Then we're providing good to the community and to the people that we want to engage with. And we've continued doing this in a variety different ways, whether that's small events, whate that's content we create that we give away for free. What's a podcast? When it was larger virtual events, one of the things we've done around that is just kind of created a brand and the story around us giving back to what in this case is the analytics community, because that's who we're trying to target. And then the second thing we did is we we've just become really good at doing paid and organic social and so that's the channel of the choice for us. This is an interesting kind of compare and contrast between data and brand. When I say we've gotten really good at it, we've gotten really good in two ways. One is we know how to test these channels and a variety of different ways. We've got a very good at looking at the data and tacking our strategy on social. Super Confident in our ability to look at data and take action and understand it and take action on it and tact our strategy. But ultimately the reason we're successful is because of message, it's because of design, and so when you go back to think about like what really works on digital channels, yes, you can look at data all day, you can test and test and test, and that's important, but the thing that works at the end of the day is your brand and your story. That's what we found out through all our testing. That stands out the most, and that is old school stuff. Being really good at copywriting, being really good at design, been really good at positioning your company versus the alternative. We've gotten really good at that and a lot of that's because we have had in the choice. As I said, there's been fewer options and the way we need to stand out is really through brand and storytelling and positioning a messaging. Let me circle back on both of those. I think I own narrative science. Of An apology, because I wrote a post on Linkedin recently suggesting that no one had nailed the idea of a virtual event. A lot of them weren't terribly interesting in hindsight. The reason that I connected with you was because of the virtual event that you guys put on probably a month or so ago, and it's stuck out because I mid a see of all these bad virtual events that were something different than you guys did. So maybe you can talk a little bit about why you did what you did and and how you've made them successful, because by and large, virtual events aren't successful. Yeah, we actually...

...just had one yesterday to which are I consider a success. We had over three thousand people register and, you know, we're able to put this event on at the third of the cost that we've been able to put on another events, and that cost is all absorbed by us. We don't charge people to come to the event, we don't pay speakers to come to the event. Like this is an event for the community. Yeah, how do we make this interesting? First and foremost, we make it not about us. You really got to put your minds, your mind in to the position of like, what can I do for the community? And what we do is we try to bring in really interesting speakers to talk about really interesting topics that are going to help people day to day. We don't get it at the hot we don't keep it at the high level where it's really kind of fluff and kind of visionary statements and speakers. We want to get people who are practitioners, who are leaders and people who are driving change within their organization so the audience can learn something from that and take action on it. So it's almost like it's about education versus inspiration. We've mixed up formats. We make it fun with our promotion around this. We give all the content away for free. So we had the event yesterday. All the contents on our website for free. There's no gate. You can go look at it any time and we do a good job promoting two speakers. That's what it's about. It's about the audiences, about the speakers and giving people on our industry a platform to share their knowledge and and when you take yourself out, I think I think we're events go wrong is you're trying to put yourself in the event as the company running the event. We've done a good job of keeping it fresh and kind of taking ourselves out of this that it's really about the audience in the community and providing value to them. It's not about promoting narrative science. You have. The team has been really creative around that. We haven't stuck the one format. We've mixed it up. When things don't work, we tacked we try something else. It's a strategy. That's work for us and I obviously see a lot of posts out there and there are a lot of bad virtual events. Fortune I think I have a good team and we've been able to do that really well and we're not kind of resting on doing the same thing over and over. We're mixing formats where we continually try new things out. Some of those things work, some of them don't, but a lot of experimentation on just kind of this form out of getting in the community together in different ways and going to be able to share and provide value to each other. So I'm curious about how you have emulated, or tried to emulate, the whole connections, certain dipity, accidental conversations that go on at a conference, because my take is that, from the most part, conferences are conferences. The you know, the the content is the content, but the value is going to a conference and meeting somebody by just by sitting beside them and having an interesting conversation and all you've also knew, got a new connection or even a new friendship. How do you make that happen in a virtual event? How do you give people the opportunity to interact with your speakers and vice a versa, so that there's an energy there, there's a sense of people being connected and really feeling like they're they're an integrated part of the experience. First we got to realize out of all the people who register, not everybody attends the event live. With the people who tend to event live, obviously they're very committed to the speaker, in the topic and so forth. We do a few things that we've learned over time. We try to make the sessions very human. So if you go and you'll listen to...

...this or we're joking around, we're having fun, we're sharing personal aidotes about like daytoday life, as well as the topic we're talking about. We do this on zoom where the audience is encouraged to interact. We're always taking questions. Sometimes we'll leave it to the end, but a lot of time we're like encouraging the audience to just ask questions and get engaged make comments during the session, and we've gotten to the point where now our speakers are actually as speak. We had one I was doing yesterday and our panel is for asking the audience questions and the audience is responding. We try to make this very approachable and very human. And now it's not perfect because we're all sitting on our computers at home. We do our best to try to make it so the audience feels like they are a part of the conference. And then to is like what you do after the follow up, what you do after the conference, and that is the encouragement to get everybody connected, whether that's on linkedin or through email. We do a lot of sharing and follow up with the audience. We give them all our email addresses so if we can address something within the conference, will address it afterwards and we'll actually do address it. We don't make the conference just one thing that comes and goes. We want to make this as kind of the start of a relationship with both our speakers and our audience from that point forward. It's not perfect. It's very difficult to do. You know. We try to put ourselves into shoes of like what would we want at an event like this in and try to make sure that we could deliver it as best we can to those who choose to attend and spend time with us. What I really like about what you're doing in the fact that you've completely embraced virtual events, is that, as you say, there are fewer channels available these days, there are fewer options for marketers and that the ability and the willingness to focus on one particularly thing and do it in different or creative or even radical ways to engage your audience makes a lot of sense these days because if you got to be known for something, you got to stick out, you got to differentiated and of course having a great brand story is great, but if you can do something that that's sparks conversations, I think that's a that's a formula for success. You know, I don't. We had a board meeting yesterday and we're updating the board and Solwa he's a nice about to tell your board when things are going well. We do a lot of things in our marketing team and we've gotten what I considered pretty sophisticated, but they all really come back to two different approaches and that's it. So at the heart of it we keep it pretty simple, like you said, like one of those things is running events and doing content based networking and getting people to engage with us in a community and that's it. And we may do a bunch of different tactics and ways within that. That tactic to experiment and try things out and figure out what works. But at the heart of it it's just one thing we're doing and that is creating a virtual space where people can get together. To your point, we're trying not that we're not trying to do many different things. We're trying to do a couple things and do them really well. One final question, and it's a question that I've asked a lot of marketers recently, because I had a client who said to me how our BDB companies sparking conversations with prospects, and by that he meant real conversations, not people downloading an ebook or engaging...

...with you on social media, but actually having conversations, because at this time when, again, conferences aren't happening and there's a lot of noise and a lot of content being produced, it's hard to get somebody to agree to actually talk to you. So what are your thoughts on sparking conversations? How do you that happen? I think companies out there need to up their provocativeness and like in the way they put position themselves in the industry and be very clear about that en x in this world, because you can't, for all the reasons you said, as easily spark a conversation. It's what I mean by that is one of the big shifts, and this is tides back to brand of positioning that we made as we became very declarative about our position mid year, and it's had a huge impact on increasing kind of the engagement we've had, true engagement with prospects and a real conversations. We just picked a position and we were everything. We're not everything to everybody. We are one thing and if this is something you believe in, then let's talk, and if it's something you don't believe in, that's okay as well. Good luck. We talked about this a lot of a lot, but go look at be to be brands out there and everybody's trying to play the middle road. Nobody's picking aside, and I think right now you got to pick a side with your brand and be known for something, to be very specific about it, and when you're known for something, that means you're also known for things that you're not. You got to be comfortable with that. That's how you get people really interested in having a dialog. And it won't be for everybody, but the dialog you do have will be substitutent substantial. So just specifically, what a narrative science do like? What did you go from and what did you go to? This is inside baseball for our industry. But, like we know, we've been about data storytelling and turning date into stories and so forth, and we've always known the status quote didn't work. There's a better way. We just started coming out and saying things like no more dashboards. You know, for our industry that's basically saying the way you've been doing it for twenty years stop, there's a better way. And then we played off that. We went into like other messaging in tactics, but it's all back to like there's an old way and there's a new way. The old way is dashboards, the new ways data storytelling. And we just pounded this over and over and it may not mean much to mark to you, but in the analytics community they knew exactly what we're talking about when you say something like that, because the status quo is dashboards and visualizations, and when you say there's a better way, people raise her head and they're like they're at least intrigued to find out what you're talking about. We had kind of played that. We've talked about this all the time within the company or privately with customers. We're never that declarative in the market and as soon as we started becoming declarative in the market and picking aside, we saw a huge influx and demand and interest at conversations with us. That is terrific inside and I think you're right. I think a lot of brands need to be provocative, think out of the box, do things that feel uncomfortable. Because of this day and age when it's really hard to capture someone's attention, you've got to do something different. Really great insight. Cassidy. Really appreciate the time that you spent with me on the podcast and really telling the story of narrative science. Where...

...can people find you online to learn about more about you and and about narrative science? Certainly so you can find out about narrative science at Narrative SCIENCECOM. You can follow us on twitter. You follows on Linkedin. For myself, feel free to connect with me on Linkedin. That's where I spend most of my time on social media. You can also email me at sea shield at narrow sciencecom. Happy to engage on email as well, so appreciate the time mark. Always enjoy talking about this stuff and honored he had me on your thanks for listening to another episode of marketing spark. If you enjoyed the conversation, leave a review and subscribe by Itunes or your favorite podcast APP. If you like what your heard, please rate it. For show notes of today's conversation and information about cassidy, visit marketing spark dotcom blog. If you have questions, feedback, would like to suggest a guest or want to learn more about how I help be to be companies as a fractional CMO consultant advisor, send an email to mark at marketing spark dotcom. I'll talk to you next time.

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