Every story needs a protagonist. A hero. You would be wrong if you thought it was your product. It’s not. It’s your customer. And your product stories should describe how your products or services improve your customers’ lives. That’s the “How will this be used?” message, a story that comes in two versions. The first, a modern thriller, that explains how your protagonist and product come together to solve a problem. This is the story that’s used by sales and marketing to sell what you have. The second version is science fiction, a story of the near future that has an improved version of the [user, customer, patron, passenger…] at its center. That’s the version of the story that’s used by product and engineering to build the products of the future.
“The savviest designers know that telling the story of your customer and their human challenges first is necessary to design a product that fits into an existing human narrative to make it better.”
This “How will this be used?” message is studded with rich detail that shows the value or benefit provided by your product or service. Describing and explaining that value is what marketers, advertisers, and other strategic communicators use product stories for. Engineers and designers use a different form of product story (sometimes known as “user stories” or “product storyboards”) to visualize how users interact with the technology.
What’s in a good product story?
A good product story might contain some or all of the following:
a description or image of the product being used
a depiction of users whom the viewers/consumers relate to and can care about
a depiction of what’s at stake for the user when/if they don’t use the product (not just the user using the product)
a depiction of the user(s) in a setting realistic to that world
a depiction of the buyer (if different from the user(s))
a depiction of the environment in which that product solves a problem or brings value
a depiction of what value the product adds, what problems it helps people solve
a depiction of currently existing alternatives to the product
A good product story isn’t long, though it can be adapted into a script for a skit or a video. It can also be summarized in a tagline or single metaphor. This tagline can become the reference point in people’s minds for the product story. Steve Jobs famously did this when he described a computer as , “a bicycle for the mind.” A phrase that inspired a generation of hardware and software engineers at Apple. It is worth reading a longer version of the quote. In a 1990 interview, he said,
“I think one of the things that really separates us from the high primates is that we’re tool builders. I read a study that measured the efficiency of locomotion for various species on the planet. The condor used the least energy to move a kilometer. And, humans came in with a rather unimpressive showing, about a third of the way down the list. It was not too proud a showing for the crown of creation. So, that didn’t look so good. But, then somebody at Scientific American had the insight to test the efficiency of locomotion for a man on a bicycle. And, a man on a bicycle, a human on a bicycle, blew the condor away, completely off the top of the charts. And that’s what a computer is to me. What a computer is to me is it’s the most remarkable tool that we’ve ever come up with, and it’s the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds.”
- Steve Jobs
A good product story takes a generic form that is usable by a range of audiences (salespeople, customers, etc.) – a specific type of story does not need to be specified for each type of audience.
Gavin is a founding partner at fassforward consulting group. He blogs about PowerPoint, Presenting, Communication and Message Discipline at makeapowerfulpoint.com. You can follow him on twitter @powerfulpoint.