What King Henry III and the Venetians can teach you about marketing | B2B Marketing

Need advice on how to frame your B2B story? Chris Woodward explains how the 16th century Venetians can help

When King Henry III of France visited Venice in the late 16th Century, he toured its churches and inspected the newly-built frame of a Venetian galley. 

After enjoying a lavish banquet, he was invited onto a balcony overlooking the canal and was amazed to see that same galley, fully complete, crewed and armed – sailing out of the yard he’d visited earlier that day. Building a similar vessel anywhere else in Europe took months, yet the Venetians had done it in hours by employing the world’s first production line (long before Henry Ford had the idea!). The king didn’t know how they’d done it, but he got the message loud and clear; the Venetians were a force to be reckoned with.

In B2B marketing today we often get so bogged down with features, benefits and technical details that we forget we’re marketing to people. There’s a tendency to follow clichéd and formulaic ways of communicating and we forget that storytelling can be highly effective in connecting with an audience and making a point clearly and succinctly. 

There are a few rules to bear in mind:

Live what you’re selling

Whoever came up with that bit of advice tapped into the power of the Venetian’s storytelling. The nuts and bolts of the shipyard, its people and their capabilities, the canals and the power politics. A story can be written from a brief, but not a great story. The Venetians knew the nuts and bolts of the shipyard, its people and their capabilities. You need to get out and talk to customers, visit the factory. Somewhere out there is a great story waiting to be discovered.

Know your audience

King Henry would have no interest in how ‘mortise construction is so 13th century’ or the latest views on ‘hogging’. Only shipyard geeks would. Jargon will leave your disengaged audience moving on to something else. Imagine your audience is like Henry, he had the power to execute anyone who bored him.

Keep it simple

The Venetians needed to demonstrate prowess to King Henry and could have answered that brief in many ways: a display of amazing riches, a carnival of exotic creatures, a fleet of ships. All impressive and entertaining, but their audience had seen that kind of thing before. The galley invoked amazement, admiration, envy and perhaps even fear. Was there a limit to the amount of ships they could build? How many more trade routes could they control? How rich and powerful could they become?

Take a risk

Nothing is foolproof. The galley would have stretched the Venetian production line to its limit. A dodgy fixing or a leak would have left the Venetian red-faced royal guest sniggering. But it didn’t happen. The message is don’t be afraid to take risks.

“Imagine your audience is like Henry, he had the power to execute anyone who bored him”

There are many reasons we don’t tell stories as powerful as this today. Often we’re far too busy, we feel data and research tells us what we need to know, or we’re too afraid to take risks. But the next time you’re asked to tell a story, remember the Venetians and how they distilled complex information into a single message that’s still remembered hundreds of years later.

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