The galvanizing story, part 2: The guts

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Doug Kessler

15. 04. 2019 | 8 min read

The galvanizing story, part 2: The guts

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In the previous post, I dad-danced through How We Got Here in B2B (via things like print ads, fabric softener, the internet, the content marketing revolution and then… now).

And I argued that the center of all B2B marketing should not, after all, be content for content’s sake.

And that, while Performance Marketing is without doubt the new thing to get great at, it’s not at the center of all B2B marketing (it’s essential for effective demand generation).

The center of all B2B marketing must be The Galvanizing Story.

Galvanize is a strong word with lots of muscular synonyms—jolt, startle, stir, spur, prod, shock, urge, motivate, stimulate, electrify, awaken, fuel, animate, energize, inspire…

In this context, we like it because it implies surprise, empathy and action:

Why you need a galvanizing story

With a galvanizing story, your strategy, content, creative, website, sales calls and performance marketing all have a focus—a shared, guiding concept.

Without a galvanizing story, your strategy and execution are disconnected; content pieces are isolated; and tactics are stuck in their swim lanes.

So the galvanizing story is a uniting force that guides all of your marketing. It’s like a mission statement but with a lot less Kool-Aid and a lot more mojo.

(Yes, the word ‘story’ in marketing is over-used and its meaning often distorted. This isn’t about Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. And it’s not about a three-act plot. It’s simpler than that.)

A galvanizing story is a narrative that explains the need for your product or service and its impact. Why you bothered to bring it to market. Why anyone should give a shit that you did.

“We make blockchain-based AI for dogs.” is a simple description of what you do. You’ll need that too. But it’s not a galvanizing story.

Your galvanizing story is kind of an elevator pitch. The reason anyone should invest their time and money in your offer.

Elevator pitches play a critical role in startups (especially those seeking funding) but they tend to fall away once the company is already up and running. But when you lose your central story and don’t replace it with anything, you create a void at the center of your company and your marketing.

A great galvanizing story will fill that void, answering the big Why questions: Why you? Why me? and Why now?

5 parts of a galvanizing story to think about

Galvanizing stories are all different. Yours might simply be the reason the company was started. Or even a classic mission statement (if it’s true, and fresh and… galvanizing).

But in building yours it can really help to think about these five parts:

1) The change in the world – Every B2B brand needs a clear, compelling world view, centered around a significant change in the world of the customer that makes the status quo unacceptable.

The change shouldn’t be controversial. The prospect has to recognize it and agree that it’s important.

But it can’t be old news. Saying that ‘today consumers are digital’ is a trite observation. (No shit, Sherlock.) Saying that there’s a massive switch to on-demand consumption is starting to get interesting. (Though in a year or so, it may sound obvious too).

The world view and the change you’re highlighting needs to be a fresh spin that weaves acknowledged trends into a clear pattern.

2) The new potential – The change creates a new potential for improvement. This can come from solving a throbbing problem, from seizing an opportunity, or from both.

The potential has to be worth getting out of bed for and credibly achievable. If the reward and the effort are out of whack, it won’t motivate anyone.

There’s risk at both ends of the spectrum here but over-puffing the potential is more common. A lobby carpet company might credibly talk about making great first impressions on office visitors but if it claims to deliver a ‘customer experience advantage’, we’re into Kool Aid country.

At Velocity, we tend to look for upside potential (seizing big, new opportunities) but solving pain can be good too.

Software that speeds up invoice processing has a ceiling on its value. At best, you can drive it to zero. Software that opens up new markets by better leveraging customer data? The upside for that is unlimited.

Either way, your story needs a clear view on the new potential created or demanded by the change in the world.

3) The obstacle – This is the thing that’s stopping your prospect from responding to the change in the world—from solving that problem or seizing that opportunity.

The obstacle can be a mindset or a legacy technology or the cost of existing solutions… but it has to be real. It has to actually be inhibiting the prospect from realizing the new potential.

A great galvanizing story has a clear enemy. What’s yours?

4) The breakthrough – This is the reason that the obstacle can now be overcome and the potential can now be realized.

‘Now’ is an important word here. It’s okay if the answer has been there all along but it’s better if something new made progress possible. That’s the breakthrough.

The breakthrough will often be technological. It could be a specific innovation (like, say, CRM software when it was new) or the application of a more general innovation to a specific problem (like new database technologies making a new kind of marketing analytics possible).

It could be a business model breakthrough. Like eliminating the middleman in a market. Or a combination of technology and model (like marketing automation).

The main job of the breakthrough is to give the buyer a reason to believe. A reason to stop and consider their status quo in a new light.

What’s your reason to believe? What has changed on the supply side that makes great new things possible?

5) The pay-off – This is about the benefits that the breakthrough will deliver. The reasons someone will be happy they took the trouble to change the status quo (change, let’s face it, is always a pain in the ass).

The other parts of the galvanizing story should be pretty believable based on logic alone. The world really is like this. There is real room for improvement. The obstacles are recognizable. And the breakthrough is easy enough to understand.

But this part of the story is different. Here, credibility is a big issue. Because whatever claim you make will suffer from the gazillion marketing claims that have gone before (most of them bullshit).

Here, instead of over-playing the benefits, it can pay to underplay them. To avoid any suggestion of hype. The key is to support the hell out of the pay-off claim.

Your galvanizing story depends on this credibility. So do everything you can to earn it—everything from market data, product usage data and social proof to analyst reports, commissioned surveys and customer stories.

A warning about formulas

A really strong galvanizing story probably won’t come from simply filling in the five parts. That kind of exercise can lead to the banal slideware we’re trying to avoid.

But I do think it helps to have a good answer to all five parts. If nothing else, it’s a great way to get the right conversations going about your story. You might de-emphasize the ‘change in the world’ part and highlight the breakthrough. But working through the five parts can help tease out a coherent narrative that you can build your marketing around.

The role of logic in all this

The galvanizing story may be supported by data but it’s far more important that it does two things:

  1. Offers a fresh perspective
  2. Simply makes sense.

It’s a house you build from the foundations up: if the world view feels right and the potential and obstacle and breakthrough make sense, the story holds up. If any of the parts are weak or don’t actually follow from the previous ones, the whole thing wobbles.

And wobbling things don’t galvanize anyone.

Statistics and ‘proof points’ can only help you so much here. If the inherent logic of the thing is flawed, the support won’t matter. And if the logic is inexorable, the data may not be that important.

Stress test your galvanizing story. Leave the Kool Aid out of the room and push hard against each of the five parts of your story. If they don’t feel rock-solid… ask why. Fix it. Don’t take a flimsy story to market.

Beyond slideware

It’s important to not let your galvanizing story get trapped inside a marketing matrix on page twelve of the brand deck.

Those frameworks can be a really helpful way to distill and organize your key messages as a ready reference. But they’re unlikely to excite or inspire anyone.

A galvanizing story should always be customer-facing. So it has to be exciting. You want to be able to run campaigns around it. To evangelize it.

A company needs to feel it’s starting a movement. No one brings Powerpoint to a movement.

Interlocking stories

If you’re a one-product company, you may only need one galvanizing story. But if you’ve got more than one product or line of business, you’ll need one for each—and an over-arching one for the whole company.

I even like to think this way for any specific content piece. If you’re tackling a single issue or use case for a single product, you still need a story: a change, a new potential, an obstacle, a breakthrough and a pay-off.

You don’t need to cram that story into every piece but it’s there, in the background, guiding all of your most important decisions.

You can do B2B marketing without one (but why?)

Even as I write this stuff down, I’m acutely aware that it will feel like Marketing 101 to a lot of people.

After all the attention given to martech stacks and multi-channel analytics, this really is a ‘back to the future’ concept.

But I’m always surprised at how few B2B companies actually have anything like a galvanizing story. They have lots and lots of content, but it’s all sprayed out into the market without any reference to a central story or idea.

That’s a big disadvantage.

We’ve marketed with galvanizing stories and without them . The difference is pretty stark.

In the next post, we take apart a sample galvanizing story to see how it works and the impact it makes on a marketing strategy.

(And if you haven’t read the first post yet… you’re a rebel).


Update: My friend Bob politely asked if I stole this structure from the very smart, very articulate Andy Raskin and his 2016 post, The Greatest Sales Deck I’ve Ever Seen.  Answer: not knowingly—this is stuff we’ve been recommending to clients for a long time (including in the 2014 slideshare Irresistible Content for Immovable Prospects) (and in Harry’s excellent piece The New Media Message)—but I do really, really like Andy Raskin’s work and have to admit, this 5-part structure is uncannily similar to the deck Andy references and analyzes.

So, to the degree I did unconsciously steal any of Andy’s ideas, well, it’s his own fault for being so damn smart and convincing.

Thanks for pointing it out, Bob. You bastard.

Published in:

  • B2B positioning

  • galvanizing story

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  1. Sherlock Holmes

    April 29th, 2019

    This comment is a part of the emphasis comment-series on the galvanizing story blog-series; you can see one on each article.

    In the first comment, I used a thick-black-marker over the direction-curve that Doug was drawing. This time, I’ll emphasize on why moving towards that direction (having a galvanizing story at the center of your B2B marketing) can help your marketing surpass the time-test.


    In the B2B buying cycle, what may start in spring from your booth at a conference gala, might only reach the first sales-rep call in summer. And much like the weather, time brings change in your marketing components too – from the copy of your printed tri-folds to the ideology of your interactive content.

    Such changes, even if knick-knacks, have a risk to dry the relationships being wet at the back-end. The risk arises because although the changes are (I hope) accountable towards your overall marketing strategy but that strategy is accountable to… NONE – except the vaguely poured mission statements and values of the business.

    This, is a BIG FAT problem; the symptoms of which are speculated (if digital; what back-end isn’t?) by our MarTech drones but the core-cause of which is not brought forth in our stakeholder meetings.

    Much like the CMO being held accountable for the strategy, the strategy also needs to be held accountable to someone; not in the returns/impressions manner (too late to test and pass) but in the old-school gangster manner (too afraid to ditch and fail).

    That gangster… can only be your galvanizing story.

    Any worthy-to-market action, that doesn’t happen according to it, must fall back at the very beginning*.

    This way, each interaction passes the time test: your booth guy handing over your printed tri-folds, the content-assets on your website, the exploratory-scripts of your sales reps, and even the pitch of your sales executives in a presentation meeting.

    How? Because all are talking differently but using the same communication driver: Your Galvanizing Story.

    The bottom line is simple: When your marketing strategy is created within the sphere of your galvanizing story, each interaction feels like a hand-in-hand jolly walk in a garden; be it the spring, summer, winter or autumn.

    *excluding the insanely honest (wink) or the charmingly sweary campaigns (dual-eye-wink).

  2. Doug Kessler

    May 1st, 2019

    Well, this just gets better and better.

    Now I have to figure out who Sherlock Holmes is.
    (I know, I’ll get help from… shit).

    On to Comment #3!

  3. Audian Paxson


    July 17th, 2019

    Sherlock addresses the EXACT question that was in this reader’s thought bubble… “Can an effective marketing strategy be developed without (or before) a galvanizing story?”

    Slow your roll trolls…it happens, a lot. I have seen many galvanized (more like petrified) marketing strategies be THE obstical to building or changing the core, galvanizing story.

    Hold my beer, I’m not done. To me (<<<-emphasis), a galvanizing story, with the addition of a specific audience (who we are passionate about serving) is critical for every employee. It can represent guide rails for all. It can represent "the change" we seek to deliver.

    Okay, gimme back my beer.

    You drank the rest of my beer! WTF!

    1. Doug Kessler

      July 22nd, 2019

      Never lend your beer to a marketer.

      I’ve seen effective marketing happen without an overt galvanizing story… but wonder if it’s just that the story is down there somewhere, guiding all those executions and campaigns…

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