In the modern consumer landscape, a killer product narrative strategy can make the difference between rising to the top and getting lost in the shuffle.
My goal as a technology consultant has always been to help companies become unignorable by zeroing in on their unique sales story.
I broke down eight essential elements of a high-growth narrative strategy to help you design a compelling story for your product.
In the era of narrative marketing, there’s a secret framework to standing out: innovate for your customers, not against your competitors.
Product differentiation is no longer enough to help companies stand out. So listing your product's features as a sales strategy isn’t very effective.
David Cancel, CEO of Drift, summed up this sea change in a tweet several years ago. He said:
“Product-based differentiation is going away. Act accordingly.”
If products don’t provide the reason to buy, then what does?
Instead of looking inward to your product, try looking outward to your customers. How do you frame what you offer as improving their lives?
What I've seen to be effective is that the way to go to market is not to think about the key features, but to consider how you tell a story that presents change for someone else. By keeping both internally your team and externally your message focused on this story, what it does is create a customer-centric organization.
Filtering your brand messaging through this lens is an important part of mastering the narrative-growth journey.
A lot has changed in the past decade. Since 2011, there has been a 5,233% increase in competition in the technology landscape.
This exponential growth is a product of increased access to venture capital and the rise of cloud applications like Amazon Web Services.
In the last 50 years, 75% of venture-backed companies failed.
Companies have disappeared or consolidated due to digital disruption.
At the heart is the fact that every single company, no matter their product, is going after the same target audience. There is a finite number of humans on earth, and those humans only have so much attention capacity.
Every single one of these people is going after the same buyers. Even if it's not the same solution, there's only so much cognitive space we have to retain information and for people to gain a share of our minds.
Despite this dire picture, some companies still manage to thrive.
In the B2B space, venture-backed groups that stay in business are the ones that focus on being known (e.g. Gong, Drift, Zuora).
These people are synonymous in our minds with a specific promise. And it's because they go to market in a bigger way. They're not focused on these transactional single clicks that equal one conversion. What they're doing is building fame, notoriety around a story.
Information is 22x more memorable in a product narrative presentation than just facts alone. And this translates into measurable business outcomes.
So let's talk about what a great product narrative actually looks like. What are the ingredients or elements that intrigue and inspire customers, and result in enhanced brand recognition?
Great storytelling is baked into human DNA. But my framework is specific to applying stories to organizations.
The goal is to set yourself apart so people are searching for who you are, rather than what you do.
Below is a visual representation of this product narrative journey and a short summary of each step.
Note: Use these eight steps as a product narrative template to build your own and differentiate your brand.
The people who buy fastest, spend the most, and return most often.
Focus on them first when writing a product narrative.
New concept, new paradigm, established category.
This is something that most people don't do when they design a product narrative, they forget this piece.
There are three kinds of demand: new concept, new paradigm, and established category. The kind of demand you're trying to create affects the story you tell.I’ll dive deeper into what these are in the next section.
How the world has changed making your solution an imperative. The winners and losers that come in the wake of change.
Part of being high-growth is having a reason that people have to do something right now versus that sounding like a nice thing to do. Creating that imperative is around showing them that if they don't take action, there's going to be consequences.
A villain is anything standing in the way of change. What’s holding you back from reaching the promise land.
This is the thing preventing change and innovation. Personifying a villain is what gives your audience — the people who believe you — something to rally against.
The end state for customers, a promise land implies the result you’ll create for them.
If you have a good understanding of your buyers’ pains and needs, you can easily incorporate these into what you can promise.
This represents a one-sentence promise for transformation.
Your market knows it. So does your team.
The key features that create transformation. The “how” you do what no one else can do.
Your superpower is actually your features.
This is where you get down in your points of differentiation. What you'll see is it's actually the least important part for the product narrative design on a market level, on a demand level, a brand level. Because people are going to replicate those features and benefits, but they can't replicate your story.
The essence of great marketing is “people like us do things like this.” Show your best customers that others like them are experiencing the promised transformation.
The goal of all this is simple. You want to become recognizable not for what you do, but for who you are. You want customers to be seeking you out proactively, as the result of successful narrative exposure.
Now that we’ve covered the eight elements of a strong product narrative, how do you put it all together in a way that will guarantee success?
It all comes down to three key things.
A winning product narrative:
1. Helps a specific someone
2. With a real, relevant, and risky problem
3. Delivers clear, believable, hard to otherwise reach promise land
This comes back to elements #1 and #2 of a successful product narrative: identifying your best customer and the demand type.
As we mentioned, the type of demand shapes the narrative you create.
There are three types of demand:
It’s imperative that you identify a pressing problem that will encourage customers to act.
One example would be this article itself. By stating that companies must harness narrative or fail, we’ve brought awareness to an existing problem and identified a solution that can help: mastering the eight elements of a narrative design.
I delivered a change in the world and stakes that make it imperative to go to market in a different kind of way. If you feel at all a twinge of, you know, boy, I better think about the way I'm doing this! When I say that, you can see the effectiveness of this tactic. And it works across categories.
Other brands (like Mucinex) have achieved success by personifying their problem. The cough syrup company has made millions by personifying mucus as an unattractive cartoon advertisement. Disgusting, but effective.
Finally, the third key is to show customers that you can deliver what you promise. Your customer can’t get there on their own. Your competition can’t deliver it. But you can.
There's four elements of a successful promise land. We're going to help them thrive in a new world. It's going to be difficult to reach without help. It's going to help them overcome this villain. And as on a personal level, using our marketing example, it's going to help them self-actualize.
Your company positioning statement can play a role in framing how you deliver what you promise. Companies can also leverage social proof and case studies to illustrate the benefits of working with them.
In the modern age, focus outward.
Rather than focusing internally and talking about your company and what makes it unique, you should focus externally on the customer and their needs. Let customers inspire your innovations. Then, frame your marketing accordingly.
The whole transition you can make by being a narrative organization is to innovate for customers, not against competitors. When you do it right, it drives everything.