Every company website features an “About Us” section.
Sometimes, it goes by a different name. Our Story. Corporate Overview. Company Info. Etc.
Nomenclature aside, all strive to give the visitor a look inside the company, explaining its business, its values and what makes it tick. Naturally, it hopes to make a positive impression. Better yet, it wants to differentiate.
Yet, the vast majority of B2B storytelling on websites serves up a dreadful “About” section.
Too much “OK, enough about me, let’s talk about me.” If you randomly click on a few B2B “About Us” sections, you’ll find companies that are great, enjoy leadership positions, create innovative products, have terrific customers and value their employees. They essentially assemble their copy blocks with a combination of the same five “Legos.”
It’s the opposite of differentiation, blurring into a sea of sameness.
How can this be? How can smart and successful companies end up with copy that would grade out as a C- (or worse) in high school English?
Chalk this up to the status quo. Everyone seems to write “About Us” sections this way, so we will too. After all, everyone can’t be wrong.
But they can.
I put out a call for help on Twitter in which friend and colleague Steve Farnsworth essentially said, “Good luck with that one.”After sifting through 100+ B2B websites, we managed to find 10 B2B “About Us” sections in which the companies apply storytelling techniques to the copy. In doing so, they kick-start the differentiation process.
Most of the examples come from smaller companies and startups. Identifying large companies, say with $1B or more in revenue with fresh “About Us” sections was tougher than finding an ice cream stand in Antarctica.
Basecamp, Key Storytelling Technique: Anecdotes
The best business advice we ever got is from Jeff Bezos from Amazon.com (Jeff bought a small piece of our company in 2006). He told us “Find the things that won’t change in your business and invest heavily in those things.”
He explained it like this… “Take Amazon for example… 10 years from now people aren’t going to say ‘I wish Amazon shipping was slower’ or ‘I wish Amazon had a worse selection’, so we invest heavily in fast shipping and a broad selection.”
So what are those things for us? 10 years from now people aren’t going to say “I wish Basecamp was harder to use” or “I wish Basecamp was slower and less reliable” or “I wish it took longer to get an answer from someone at Basecamp”, so we invest heavily in infrastructure, great design, and customer service.
We don’t chase fads and trends, we stay focused on the things that will always be important.
All companies claim to be customer-centric. By sharing the Bezos anecdote — shouldn’t ding Basecamp because the Bezos brand has taken a recent hit — they gain a springboard into a narrative that matters to their target audience.
Hubspot, Key Storytelling Technique: Failure
Raise your hand if you know a business that would like more visitors to its website, more leads for its sales team — and more customers to fuel growth. Chances are your hand is up. We all know businesses that want to grow. There are millions of them.
Now, raise your hand if you love getting cold calls from eager sales people during dinner. Or spam emails with irrelevant offers in your inbox. How about pop-up ads when you’re trying to read an article on the Internet? No hands up? Didn’t think so. And, as it turns out, most other people share your sentiment.
The problem is that there’s a fundamental mismatch between how organizations are marketing and selling their offerings — and the way that people actually want to shop and buy.
Steps into the potential customer’s shoes, walking through a logic trail that ends in failure, “the mismatch” between how organizations market and sell their offerings and how people want to shop and buy.
Palantir, Key Storytelling Technique: Conversational Language
Why We’re Here
We believe in augmenting human intelligence, not replacing it.
With good data and the right technology, people and institutions today can still solve hard problems and change the world for the better.
In 2004, when we looked at the available technology, we saw products that were too rigid to handle novel problems, and custom systems that took too long to deploy and required too many services to maintain and improve.
We saw automated approaches that failed against adaptive adversaries, and all-or-nothing access controls that forced organizations to make unacceptable trade-offs between collaborating and securing sensitive data from misuse.
We saw a need for a different kind of technology, and we knew it would take a different kind of company to build it. That’s why we founded Palantir.
Software for data analysis is extremely technical in nature. Palantir, which counts the CIA’s VC arm In-Q-Tel as an investor, articulates the “We believed there must be a better way” narrative in a way that can be understood by the average Joe. Plus, the company deserves a brownie point for an opening missive that does not include the words “big data.”
Tapmates, Key Storytelling Technique: The Back Story
It all started in the summer of ’09, when developer mastermind Petr met Robin, a sought-after designer & entrepreneur. The two realized they shared a passion for a new technology that was changing the way the world communicated: the iPhone app. Petr had the coding expertise, but no flair for design. Robin’s design skills were on-point, but he needed more structural savvy.
Together, they were a killer combination and they teamed up immediately.
Two months later they launched Cookmate, their first app. When Cookmate took 1st place at the LeWeb Conference in December 2009, Robin & Petr knew they were on to something. They decided to create their own company — one dedicated to hand-crafting apps that were as aesthetically beautiful as they were seamlessly functional in every little detail.
And so, Tapmates was born.
Reminds of me of the REESE’S Peanut Butter Cups ads in which Mr. Chocolate meets Mr. Peanut Butter, and the two beget a beautiful relationship. While an adjective like “mastermind” typically comes across as over-the-top, I find it exudes enthusiasm for boutique venture like Tapmates. By the way, clever name.
The Hoffman Agency, Key Storytelling Technique: Contrast
Why You Should Care That We’re Independent
Consolidation has hit the communications industry, resulting in four humongous (great adjective) holding companies — Omnicom, IPG, WPP and Publicis — controlling over 90 percent of the budgets earmarked for consultancies.
We’re an outlier.
More importantly, our independence directly relates to our No. 1 mission in life: do great work.
Sure, if you were to ask 100 PR agencies if they’re client-centric, you’ll get 100 PR agencies answering with an emphatic “yes.” But their behavior and reward systems don’t align with that claim. Instead, they focus on the financial side, which manifests itself with account people being measured by their “billability.”
In contrast, we measure our account folks only on variables that matter to clients and their campaigns. This comes back to a belief that if we deliver great work to clients, the financial performance follows (as opposed to the numbers being the lead pin).
If you read the summaries of PR agencies on their websites, they all sound alike with copy touting a client-centric mentalities. We drill down into this concept so it’s more than a platitude. Plus, if you’re going to use an adjective, you can never go wrong with “humongous.”
Qualcomm, Key Storytelling Technique: Conversational Language
Billions, maybe trillions of times a day …
That’s how often people around the world touch something made better by Qualcomm. It could be the smartphone in your pocket, the tablet on your coffee table, that wireless modem in your briefcase … it could even be that navigation system in your car or that action camera strapped to your chest.
Who is Qualcomm, and what do we do? We are engineers, scientists and business strategists. We are from many different countries and speak many different languages. We come from diverse cultures and have unique perspectives. Together, we focus on a single goal — invent mobile technology breakthroughs.
I had to lower the bar so at least one multi-billion goliath could land on the list. With that said, it’s admirable for a semiconductor company to view the world through its customers’ customers, which in turn allows for incongruent phrases like “strapped to your chest.” And given the company’s track record, it can get away with characterizing its focus to “invent mobile technology breakthroughs.”
Rent the Runway, Key Storytelling Technique: The Unexpected
We’re not disrupting an existing market. We’re creating a new one.
While many life necessities have evolved into the 21st century (music, movies, car rides, hotel rooms), the closet has been left behind. By rethinking it, we’re championing a new model and reinventing retail to be smarter and more in line with how we actually live our lives. We exist because we believe a beautiful product shouldn’t only be experienced by owning it.
Not exactly a B2B company, but I love the phrase, “the closet has been left behind.” One doesn’t perceive the mundane clothes closet as territory ripe for innovation. The line on “life necessities” sets the stage for the surprise.
Workday, Key Storytelling Technique: Anecdote
In 2005, software visionaries Dave Duffield and Aneel Bhusri met for brunch at a Truckee diner, a few miles north of Lake Tahoe. They decided to form a startup — one that would sell cloud-based finance and HR software. The two longtime friends had plenty of experience. Dave founded PeopleSoft in 1987 and served as the company’s CEO and board chairman. Aneel held a number of leadership positions at PeopleSoft, including senior vice president of product strategy. On that day in 2005, they resolved to build a company that would revolutionize the enterprise software market. The result is Workday.
I included Workday because it illustrates how the details in an anecdote paper the narrative with realness. That’s what happens by inserting “a Truckee diner” as the place where the founders met, a seemingly trivial detail. If the copy called out the actual name of the diner, even better.
Square, Key Storytelling Technique: Conversational Language
Making commerce easy
We started with a simple idea — that everyone should be able to accept credit cards — and we’ve been rethinking buying and selling ever since.
For sellers, we’re creating one cohesive service to run your entire business, from a register in your pocket to analytics on your laptop. For buyers, we’re making it faster to order from the businesses you love and more fun to pay your friends back.
Buying and selling sound like simple things — and they should be. Somewhere along the way, they got complicated. We’re working hard to make commerce easy for everyone.
Beautifully crafted language frames the Square proposition. The closing line plays off of failure, “Somewhere along the way, they got complicated.” As an aside, is it possible to experience “fun” in paying back a friend?
SAS, Storytelling Technique: Conversational Language
Some people see data as facts and figures. But it’s more than that. It’s the lifeblood of your business. It contains your organization’s history. And it’s trying to tell you something.
SAS helps you make sense of the message. As the leader in business analytics software and services, SAS transforms your data into insights that give you a fresh perspective on your business. You can identify what’s working. Fix what isn’t. And discover new opportunities.
We can help you turn large amounts of data into knowledge you can use, and we do it better than anyone. It’s no wonder an overwhelming majority of customers continue to use SAS year after year. We believe it’s because we hire great people to create great software and service
A second multi-billion company makes the cut. Similar to Palantir, SAS sits in a space run by the math geeks of the world. Yet, it stays out of the weeds with a line that personifies data, “And it’s trying to tell you something.” The entire passage flows with Mad Men elegance.
Earlier in the year, Forrester Research completed a study on 30 B2B websites and criteria reflecting quality of content. Out of a possible 30 points, the average score was a mere 12.8.
“The biggest problem is that the majority of content talks about the company, what its products and services do and how many awards they’ve won, but doesn’t speak to the issues their prospective buyers are trying to solve,” Forrester VP Laura Ramos shared with AdAge.
While this exercise only reviewed the “About Us” section on B2B sites, her point still holds true. Most companies communicate with an inward focus.
The good news for About Us sections —
The companies doing it right show a narrative that empathizes with the target audience. It doesn’t have to be the quest for the Holy Grail. Take an industry perspective. Open up. Share anecdotes. Use conversational language, which by itself can change everything..
Because so few B2B companies take this approach, just these basics will set you off from competitors.