How Signifyd Builds Messaging for Audiences in a B2B World

Sourabh Kothari, Director of Advocacy, Brand, and Content at Signifyd, joins the Content Pros Podcast to discuss the power of storytelling and why the most important story doesn’t have your product in it.

In This Episode:

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Full Episode Details

Stepping Out to Seal the Deal

Content marketing is storytelling is content marketing is storytelling. But what if we told you that the most important story you need to tell doesn’t have you or your product in it?

Sourabh knows that the best marketing stories start by imagining your audience without your product and end when they finish the story themselves.

Removing your company from the equation keeps your perspective in line with your audience’s needs, wants, and journeys. Once you know what they are missing and how they will look for it, you can perfectly position your story to fill that need in the place where they will be searching for it.

Additionally, nobody likes to be talked at these days. If your story requires a passive audience, it will fail. Creating a narrative that is interactive will attract and hold your audience’s attention in a noisy world.

If your content lines up with what they need and gives them an opportunity to join in, they will finish your sentence and buy your product.

In This Episode

  • How the ultimate end-user of a B2B purchase leads to a more emotional buying process than B2C
  • Why successful marketing storytelling means a focus on characters instead of story
  • How changes in audience expectations leads to dynamic and collaborative presentations
  • Why winning content means first thinking of how your audience would succeed without your product

 

Quotes From This Episode

“I’ve made it my job, regardless of title, to be a dedicated storyteller.” —@sokothari

All buyers in all aspects of any market are human. Click To Tweet

“The characters are where you will win or lose your audience. That’s where all storytellers and marketers need to start.” —@sokothari

“You have to understand that the conversation is happening with your audience, not to your audience.” —@sokothari

The most important skill in communication is listening. Click To Tweet

“Your competitors are a great source of learning.” —@sokothari

“We’re not in a static world of content. Everything is interactive.” —@sokothari

“Understand how the market is actually crafting the story without you and then you can come in and master the story that would be better for that market.” —@sokothari

“You will have very different thoughts about the premise of your content 24 hours after you think you’re done.” —@sokothari

Being direct is going to save you a lot of time.” —@sokothari

Resources

 

Content Pros Lightning Round

You did have a bit of a test with film. What did that look like and where does the passion come from? I moved from sales to marketing to get into the media business and then packed my bags, left Wall Street, and went to film school because it’s the most impactful medium.

What’s the stupidest movie that you love? Anything with Jim Carrey because he’s always aware that this is ridiculous.

Transcript

Randy: Welcome to another episode of Content Pros. I’m Randy Frisch from Uberflip. As always I’ve got with me Tyler Lessard from Vidyard and today we have a very exciting podcast. We’re going to dig in I think a little bit to like storytelling, but before we get to that, even just the ideas of how do we think about our audience, who’s the audience we’re talking to and what can we do better as content marketers to up our game on the delivery of the presentations that we put forward with our content strategies. Tyler, you want to intro our first guest today and tell us what we’re in for?
Tyler: Yeah. Well, we’re excited to have Sourabh Katari here with us. Sourabh is somebody who I’ve had the chance to work with for a number of years across now a couple of different companies. One of the things I’ve always really appreciated about Sourabh’s approach to marketing and to content is that he is a storyteller at heart. One of the foundations of great storytelling is of course understanding your audience and creating a story, creating messages that are not only relevant to them, but that we know are going to touch them both mentally, but also emotionally. It’s something that I think we understand bringing to life in lots of different ways including through video and other forms of content and things that Sourabh has been doing for a number of years very successfully.

With that, Sourabh, why don’t you take a moment to introduce yourself and just give the quick background on where you’ve been the last number of years and what your focus has been?

Sourabh: Sure. Thanks for having me. Like Tyler mentioned, I’ve worked at a number of large and small companies. I’ve been fortunate to have worked across two major continents, Asia Pacific and North America. For about the last 20 years I’ve pretty much made my job regardless of title to be a dedicated storyteller. What has made it a little different from a lot of very qualified storytellers who I call friends is that my storytelling has been completely committed for business to business audiences. I have yet to convince a consumer to buy anything. I just convince businesses to buy from other businesses. That can be a lot more challenging, but I’ve enjoyed the last two decades of doing that.
Tyler: In the B2B world, Sourabh, it’s a good point. It’s a different mindset in terms of how you communicate and how you build stories. I think one of the things we all keep hearing about is even in the world of B2B it’s still a human to human conversation that we need to be having. I think some marketers are getting there, but a lot are still I think struggling to get to that point of how do they create stories and messages and content that really appeal to people in a B2B context, but still as individuals and still to their motives and to what drives them to succeed in their business. Would you mind talking a little bit about that and how you tend to approach storytelling and building messaging for audiences in a B2B world?
Sourabh: Absolutely. One of my favorite quotes and I can’t remember where it’s from is that 80% of all B2B buyers are humans because obviously that’s meant to be facetious. All buyers in all aspects of any market are human to your point, Tyler.
Randy: For now. For now, right. We are entering into the AI world, but for now we’ll accept that, right?
Sourabh: Correct. Randy, I can go there, right? Where I’m working right now, we are all AI. There are literally buying scenarios where AI could be making the purchase based on some legacy consent from a human.
Randy: That’s amazing. Amazing. I digress, but go for it.
Sourabh: Yeah. We’ll get there when your fridge is authorized to buy your daily groceries based on your preferences, but the decision was actually not made by you for a specific product. We’re getting there. Anyway, coming back though to humans, what’s different in a business to business scenario which is obvious but we’ll state it anyway is that the purchase is being made for your company and so the success or failure of the purchase is going to reflect on your success or failure as a professional, not as an individual, right? When you have to buy things for your company, you’re buying them not just for use by yourself, but by your team and sometimes for the entire company. For example if you buy health insurance for your company.

The decisions can take longer. They can be more complicated, but I would argue that they are no less emotional. Storytelling is actually more important because when you’re buying for your company, you’re going to have to convince a lot of other people with the same story as opposed to convincing one person to buy for themselves.

Tyler: One of the things that I found and I’ve appreciated with yourself is with an approach to storytelling and B2B you’ve got … I think you’ve got sort of two different personas you’re dealing with and you have to understand those really well. You’ve got the persona of the business and you’ve got the persona of the individual. Great storytelling to me is able to bridge that gap and appeal both to almost the requirements of the business, but to the emotional aspect of that individual and what they’re trying to achieve. How do you go about building your messages and building your stories in that world? What kind of questions do you ask and how do you get the outside in view to really understand what’s going to motivate somebody to make a decision?
Sourabh: That’s a good question, Tyler. I’m very traditional even though I work in what are considered some advance mediums and in the coming years I’m excited about getting into even more advance mediums with 3D, AR and VR given what I’m doing with content. I’m traditional in my approach to storytelling and that I am still first and foremost a character-based storyteller. For those who are professional storytellers or if that’s what you do if you’re a writer or an editor for example or a video producer or director or a writer or editor, then you know what I’m talking about that there are two sort of schools of thought around storytelling.

One is plot-based where the story of the narrative, the sequence of events is most important and that can be migrated to different scenarios and to different characters. I’m of the other school of thought that it’s all about the characters. There’s great flexibility in the sequence of events and what happens, but the characters is where you will win or lose your audience. Going back to our earlier point, that’s where I think all storytellers or all marketers frankly need to start. You really need to understand the characters that represent your audience. If there’s a buying center, there are multiple characters involved.

If they’re executives, how an executive’s character differs from the person that you might be working with or if an executive needs to buy, but someone else is going to use your product, well, those are different characters and you’ve got to nail the character that is going to carry your story because if you’re character doesn’t change, if nothing changes about your character, then all you’ve presented is information. You haven’t actually presented a story.

 

Randy: I love that perspective, Sourabh. I think just to give everyone who’s listening to this podcast now some perspective to what you’re talking about, I mean one of the things that I was commenting on as we were starting this podcast off air is how many questions you asked Tyler and I about the audience for the Content Pros Podcast. I think a lot of that had to do with you being able to better relate to our audience, who are they, what interests them, versus just coming on here and doing the same thing you’ve done on 3,000 plus webinars because you’ve done quite a few. I think as marketers that’s something that we really need to take a step back and do. I applaud you for that personality or character, focus that you take.

I think Tyler, you and I can probably talk to doing this a lot in how we sell our solutions whether it’s you at Vidyard, me at Uberflip. We try and really identify with the persona who we’re selling to, who we’re going to solve for and what are their problems on a day to day basis. Maybe you can give us, Sourabh, like an example of how you’ve been able to pull that into your storytelling with these characters that you’ve sold to either now with Signify or in the past with Cisco.

Sourabh: Absolutely. I have to admit that I am generally the least intelligent person in the room and that’s been a blessing for me since I was young. I was born into a family where I had a brother who was far more intelligent and another who was far more athletic. I was kind of out of luck by the time I was born. There really wasn’t much competition. I’ve made it a practice, I’ve made it a life to learn from others very quickly and to just be in the right place at the right time. I bring this up because what I do apart from storytelling from a content perspective and marketing is I’m also a public speaker and that’s been very, very fortunate for me. I’ve been very lucky to do the two things.

Because while I get paid to deliver the same session or essentially the same story to different audiences, I can never do that. That would be the fastest way to end your career as a public speaker. What I have to do is cater every presentation, every minute of every session on stage to the audience I’m connecting with because then I’ll get that human connection that drives dozens of questions after I’ve finished speaking and then dozens more when I get off the stage which is what you want from a public speaker. Someone you feel you can connect with and someone who could help you going forward after the event is over.

I bring that back when we talk about content that is not at an event is you really got to understand that the conversation that’s happening with your audience not to your audience. That there’s just no tolerance from audiences anymore especially on social media or in digital channels for you to present to an audience. I’ll come back to this in a question when we talk about brand, but the sort of North Star when you’re designing content and you’re trying to craft a story is that the audience should be able to finish parts of the story if you were to take it out. If you are confident that would happen, then you’ve got a story worth telling.

Randy: I love that perspective. It’s funny. Just yesterday I think it was I was actually sitting in on an interview here. It was an interview for a sales rep. Our sales reps here when they come in for a job interview, they actually do a presentation. I felt by the end of it as though sitting through a presentation like at school, right? Where they were presenting the slides and they were going through them and they had them nailed, right, but there was no interactive element. I think that same thing that you’re just talking about there where you make it more of a room where everyone’s participating is the key more and more. I think a lot of that as you pointed out is probably being driven by the way we’re interacting on social.

The fact that we can interact with famous people or non-famous people wouldn’t have existed 10 years ago.

Sourabh: Exactly. Using sales as a good analogy here, Randy, I’m going to call out that before I was in marketing I was actually in sales. While I did well in sales, even if I wasn’t the best sales person, the one thing I had and it drove everyone else on the sales team nuts is I always have the highest referrals because again I always made it a conversation. To me the most important skill in communication is listening, not presenting. Not even measurement. It’s just the simple art of listening which by the way is not very simple.

There’s a lot of layers of listening that one has to train oneself to get into because when you’re in a conversation and you’re taking a point, you can get really caught up in making sure that your point is ready and you can stop listening to the conversation or the person or in a broader sense a brand can stop listening to a market. Then you’re lost. Then no one’s going to actually care about what you’re saying because you’re not saying it to them. You’re saying it to yourself. Coming back to sales, sales people generally will have a long and prosperous career if they can get referrals. Even if you don’t close the deal, you’re the person that the people in the room would want to refer future business to.

Well, then now you’ve got a brand as a sales person and hopefully you’re carrying the brand of your company as a company that they want to be associated with even if they’re not ready to buy at that time.

Randy: That’s a great takeaway for people to work with their sales teams on and coach them on that discovery stage as you’re referring to. We’re going to take a quick pause in the podcast. Come back after we hear from a couple … I should say after we listen to a couple of our sponsor reads here. Then we will talk about how does a marketer listen in on how things are going.
Tyler: Welcome to our Content Pros Podcast with Sourabh Katari. Sourabh, I want to double down on what you were just talking about with respect to listening to your audience and listening being the most important part of communication. I absolutely love that idea. Actually our own team recently realized that a lot of the content we were producing, it was the content we wanted to produce. It made us feel really good and feel like great thought leaders because it was really innovative and really forward thinking. We started to discover that for the majority of our audience, it was way ahead of what they were talking about or thinking about. The questions they were asking were so much more basic than the answers we were trying to provide.

It really started to shift our own content strategy. We realized that we need to listen more to what they’re really looking for and not what we think they’re looking for. That’s actually started to change the way we plan out our content schedule and look at what kind of … Not only type of content, but also the mediums that we’re using. Maybe pivot off of that and talk a little bit about how you’ve done that in the past and maybe from a practical sense, how do you listen to the market as a marketer? Where do you get your insights on what the audiences are looking for, what challenges they’re facing to inform the way you build your messages?

Sourabh: Absolutely. Let’s start at the very beginning, right? Every business was founded to solve a problem. As you grow in the market and as you gain more customers, you either solve that problem better to the point where you solve it best and then you just get acquired because you’re really good at that one thing or you solve other problems. Then you can raise a lot of funding and solve a lot of problems and gain a lot of customers and you’re off to the races, right? Congratulations to you.

Coming back to the notion that you solve a problem as a business, the very first thing you should ask yourself when you’re trying to design content and it’s really hard to do if you’re a known brand because you got to get your ego out of the way is how would your prospective buyer or customer solve this problem without you, if you didn’t exist, if your product didn’t exist, if your company didn’t exist. All the awards you’ve won didn’t exist. How would they solve this problem without you? Because that’s their reality. They haven’t bought yet. You don’t exist for them. Start from there. What is that person actually looking for? What are the search terms that they’re using? What’s their language for articulating the problem and how important is it to them?

Do they search for this thing between 9 and 11 in the morning or 8 and 11 in the morning especially West Coast folks? 8 or 11 in the morning or do they search for this  after 4 p.m.? Very different priority, guys, as to when someone is searching for something and what kind of content do they consume when they search for it. Your competitors are going to be a great source of learning for all of this. Imagine you’re the buyer. You cannot buy from yourself. Who would you buy from? Why would you buy from them? All right. Now you’ve got the problem articulated from the buyer’s perspective in their words, right? Search terms they would use. Now understand who the buyer is. Are you talking predominantly male? Female? How do you know that? Well, we’re not in a static world of content.

Everything is interactive. Look at who’s leaving comments on content that you think is working in your industry. Is it men? Is it women? Are they early in career? Are they later in career? Look them up. Look at their profiles. Everything’s public nowadays, guys. Take the feedback that your competitors are getting and probably not using and use it for your content. Look at what people said, the good and the bad. Obviously do the same on your own site and with your own brand. I’m saying if you don’t have a brand or you don’t have a story at all, this is how you develop it as you go into the market and understand how the market is actually crafting the story without you. Then you can come in and you can master the story that would be better for that market.

I’m going to pause there. Does that make sense as a foundation for how you would listen?

Tyler: Yeah. It totally does. I really admire that because it’s a very different idea from what I generally think about. I love that notion of take yourself out of the industry and think about how would somebody solve this problem without you. Could they and if so, how would they? I think that’s actually a really brilliant approach because now you’re trying to understand the very specifics around the steps they’ll need to take to get there and that’s something we found really work in our own content strategy these days is looking at those individual ideas of okay, they would need to do this and then they would need to do that. We’re publishing content to solve those very specific problems and mapping those back to those keywords.

I think it’s absolutely on point. Randy, can you argue with this please because I hate all of this. We all agree. There’s got to be something.

Randy: I’m like taking notes for my marketing team. This is wrong, right? It’d be more controversial so that people wake up here. I guess maybe the only part I’ll challenge you on is how to do you have time to do this because everything you’re saying makes so much sense, but I think as marketers obviously we’re all deadline focus, we’re trying to get content at the door. How do you possibly make time to not just monitor your own content, but actually monitor the content of your competitors or the content that would exist if you weren’t out there? How do find time to balance this and maybe in the organizations you’ve been in which are in some cases very large organizations, Sourabh? How has that been balanced?
Sourabh: Yeah. Time is the ultimate resource because when it comes to freedom which is what I think most of us want more than anything else except maybe love, right, but let’s not go there on this podcast, when it comes to freedom and true autonomy from a professional perspective, time is the greatest challenge. If you don’t have time, you don’t have freedom because you’re already committed to doing something else and that’s the end of the game. I tend to multitask, but not in the traditional sense of the word. I don’t multitask and trying to do multiple things at the same time because I’m actually terrible at that. I can only really focus at one thing at a time and I like to focus on one thing at a time for a while.

I’m a little old fashioned. When I’m developing content, I like the idea and this is hundreds of years old of sleeping on it. You will have very different thoughts about your story, your copy, your email subject line, your title, your characters, even the premise of your content 24 hours after you think you’re done, when you just take a fresh look at it because your subconscious mind has had the time to process it while you were sleeping. It’s sad, but we all do that. We think about work when we’re sleeping and we try to represent it in our dreams because we care about our work, right? We’re not forced to it as maybe our ancestors were hundreds of years ago. Coming back to time, how do I get to commit to understanding an audience, how do I get to sleep on things?

That sounds ridiculous. Who has that much time? Because we cut down a lot of the other stuff we don’t need to do. I know this sounds almost too trivial or too optimal, but the truth is when we’re developing messaging, when we’re developing content, we go straight to the source. That saves us a lot of time. For example when I’ve worked at larger companies, I would challenge the executives directly in front of the camera when we weren’t rolling instead of trying to challenge them three weeks before and spending three weeks on something that would take three minutes when we have a direct conversation. Being direct is going to save you a lot of time.

If you can be direct with the people that need to actually control the story or that are going to deliver the story or that know the story the best, you can avoid guessing. As a marketer you know this. If you can take the guess work out, you’ve saved about 70 to 80% of your time.

Randy: There’s a lot of great points in what you just said. First, I’m really glad that I’ve found another person who can’t multitask. I’m definitely in the same boat. I use it to my advantage though, right? I often say to my wife, “You know if I’m listening to you, I’m listening because I can’t possibly be doing something else at the same time. You know if I’m doing something else, you shouldn’t even try.” I think a lot of the more serious points that you made there in terms of focus is something as marketers we need to do a lot better on a day to day basis. Tyler, I don’t know. How do you get your marketing team over at Vidyard to pick which details to get into versus the higher level areas that really move the needle?
Tyler: Yeah. One of the things we’ve tried to do is have really targeted focus, almost like sprint like activities on different personas or different targets. We actually try to do it cross functionality within the team so we get different perspectives. We’ll have our product marketer and one of our designers and perhaps one of our content marketers all kind of attack a persona at the same time. When I say persona, some of the things that you talked about, Sourabh, we will try to do which is we’ll actually go in and find real people, real individuals that are out there to your point commenting or being active in the community that obviously represent the type of person that you want to be selling to.

We’ll dive in and try to really peel back and learn as much as we can about that individual. I’ve always like that idea of having a few different perspectives because one person’s take on how that person is engaging a certain type of content maybe different from somebody else’s interpretation. We don’t always have the luxury of that, but what we’ve tried to do is do those short sprints and say, “Okay. We’ve got an afternoon here. We’re going to go off and brainstorm on this and quickly dive into it and come back with some ideas.” I think that can be effective. It’s tough. We always find data that’s statistically relevant of the whole industry, but sometimes you just got to make those bets and do what you can.

Randy: I think both of you are hitting on great advice. We felt this at Uberflip at times. Sometimes we weigh too much to that deadline. I remember recently the event marketing season that we all go through which is often at the beginning of spring and then back again in the fall. We waited too late for our messaging, for our booth as an example. We went to the first event and it didn’t work, but we did … I think had we started a little bit earlier and Sourabh you said like had we had time to sleep on it a few nights and look at it and come in with different perspectives, we probably would have nailed it maybe on the first iteration a little bit better than what we adjusted for the next events. I think a lot of us can benefit from more the discipline that you’re really talking about there.
Sourabh: Again Randy, I didn’t figure that out. This all came from failure. Like I said, this wasn’t brilliance. It’s just experience. Honestly we learned and I learned the hard way that you have to delegate and you have to decide because it’s so much better when you’re creating content or you’re trying to influence an audience to be cared about by 20% of the audience than to be irrelevant to 80% of the audience. You do not want to be a message that everybody understands, but nobody cares about.
Randy: That’s great advice. That’s great advice. We have a few minutes left. One of the things we always like to do at the end of our podcast here together is get to know you outside of work a bit. I was trying to dig a bit. I found out a little bit of tidbits that we’ll hit on here. Before you’ve had this amazing career in content marketing at companies like Cisco and ON24 and now Signify, you did have a bit of a test with film. I’m curious what that looked that and where the passion comes from.
Sourabh: Yes. That was actually one of the reasons I left sales. I come from a business family. Every single person in my family is a sales person because if you’re in business, you’re selling. I couldn’t get into the media business in sales. I moved to marketing to get into media and then I was doing marketing at Merrill Lynch on Wall Street and I did another crazy decision. I left Wall Street, packed my things, took my money and went to film school in LA. That’s all because of old …
Tyler: I’m sure your family was really excited about that.
Sourabh: There was actually an intervention. My family is very large and it’s very traditional. My father is one of six brothers. A representative of each brother was at the dinner. Two and a half hours talking me out of leaving Wall Street to go to film school. I listened. I did what I thought made sense. That’s why. For me the power of the story is not the number of people that hear it, but the amount of behavior that changes because of it. I felt that the most influential media that’s out there where people actually change the way they think was film. Nobody admits it, but they think a little differently after they’ve consumed an entire story, a writ story like a movie. It can affect you for years. It can affect you your whole life. That’s what I wanted to do.
Randy: All right. Now we want to get to know the more relax side of you. Now that we know you like movies and I think everyone’s walking away from this podcast with a whole bunch of notes that they’ve written down, but what’s the stupidest movie that you love?
Sourabh: The stupidest movie that I love.
Randy: Yeah. Like one of those Will Ferrell or whoever the one you go to is where like you just need a good laugh, you need to relax. What’s that movie you go to?
Sourabh: Oh man. That’s a good question. It’s hard. I think my go to sort of brilliant-stupid actor is Jim Carrey. Anything with Jim Carrey because Jim Carrey is actually a very gifted actor and a true comedian. He’s had a really hard sort of sad life. It’s easy for him to make comedy and make you laugh. I’m always aware and I think Jim’s always aware that this is ridiculous.
Randy: It’s so true. It’s funny. I used a Jim Carrey movie analogy today with The Truman Show when I was just talking about the bubble that we live in, right? It’s such a great movie. It’s funny. I’ve got my young kids actually watching some of his movies now. They’re just starting to gain that appreciation for his humor. Tons of fun.
Sourabh: I’ll give you a quick sort of off screen reason why I’m a Jim Carrey fan. I’ve rarely seen it done, but he’s successfully joked about how he wasn’t even nominated for the role that was probably Oscar-worthy. He did that at the Oscars. For me that’s a true comedian. Like bravo.
Tyler: Absolutely.
Randy: Well put. Well put. Well, this has been fantastic. We really appreciate you, Sourabh, coming onto the podcast sharing all this knowledge with us. If people have enjoyed this podcast and are enjoying learning about content marketing on this podcast, I encourage you to also check out the ContentMarketingClass.com. That’s ContentMarketingClass.com. It’s run through Convince and Convert through Jay Baer who’s another great storyteller and speaker like we’ve talked about today. He’s doing a class to really get people understanding the value of content marketing and how you can up your game in your organization.

Beyond there, this podcast has many other podcast versions and episodes that you can take a look at at ContentProsPodcast.com which is part of that Convince & Convert family of podcast and content that you could trust. On behalf of Tyler at Vidyard, I’m Randy Frisch at Uberflip. Thank you so much to Sourabh for joining us. Sourabh, just as a last point, any content that you’ve put out that people should tune in for?

Sourabh: Well, I mean I think like everyone here I’m very public. I encourage any audience to reach out with questions and to Tyler’s point to challenge anything we’re saying. My profile just about everywhere you’ll find it will have content linked to it. If you’re so inclined, take a gander, right? Just try out any of the videos or presentations that I’ve put out there and I would be very keen to hear back. Again I’d love to hear what your audience thinks about what we’re saying.
Randy: Thanks so much. Until next time, this has been Content Pros Podcast.

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