September 21, 2021

How to make your product stand out with short stories

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What's the difference between a $400 handbag and a $30 version? It's not materials or craftsmanship.

Sure the leather may be softer and more supple in the more expensive bag, but the biggest difference is that they convey a story about who you are in the world. 

Cost aside, if you care about status symbols, then you'll buy the more expensive bag. If you don't, you won't. It's that simple.

We all know people who spend more than they can afford on status symbols like expensive purses or cars. 

Often those people have a compelling "reason why" they bought it. 

  • It makes them feel good. 
  • They live the sort of lifestyle where the bag they carry is a statement. 
  • It upgrades their simple clothes. 
  • It was on sale, and they've always wanted one. 
  • And on and on. 

Each of these "reasons why" is a way for the buyer to make herself feel good about her purchase.

It's positioning. 

As the saying goes, 

 You sell on emotion, but you justify a purchase with logic." – Joseph Sugarman

  • What does the product do for the customer? 
  • How does it make them feel? What benefit do they get from using it? 
  • That's the power of pocket-sized stories. 

Pocket-sized stories make an emotional connection with your reader.

With your ideal customer as the hero, they show how your product makes your customer's life easier. 

After all, no one ever woke up and said, "honey, we need more software." 

Yet, people sign up for SaaS products every day. 

They want a better way to: 

  • Manage projects 
  • Have an all-in-one way to manage their freelance business from proposals to invoicing 
  • They want an easy way to manage their content assets and share them with clients or their team 

It's a crowded world out there. For every B2B SaaS product, there are dozens of competitors. 

How do you stand out? 

With story.

With stories about how your product can help your ideal clients tame their to-do list and find the time and energy to do other things – like recommend you to their colleagues. 

Jennifer Phillips April is a B2B technology copywriter who has mastered the art of positioning with stories.

She joined us on Wynter Games to explain exactly how you can find and apply stories as part of your copywriting strategy.

Position with a story

Stories create connection, credibility, and turn interest into subscribers.  Stories show a transformation. 

Think for a moment about the weight loss industry.

It's an industry that thrives on transformation tales. You've seen the "before and after" photos of "Megan," who lost 75 pounds when she started using that fitness app. 

It's inspiring. It's social proof. It makes the target audience think it might work for them too. 

And it's a "pocket-sized" story.

You see the photos and instantly grasp the app is about fitness. 

Every company has a story and usually more than one. But they aren't always obvious. 

To find your companies' stories will require the nose of a newshound. A curator's curiosity about why something is the way it is. 

"The best stories are not golden nuggets lying on the ground," she said.

"Instead, to find these stories, we need to talk to other people.

Talk to the customers, the sales team, product managers, talk to other people within the company and outside of the company to really pull them out."

It's a matter of asking questions and listening

Once, she was writing an email series for a client's marketing course.

The target audience was primarily women who enjoyed painting, sanding, and upcycling cast-off furniture and giving it new life. 

The client had years of experience in this field, as well as staging and flipping homes.

During a conversation, she happened to mention that she'd staged homes for HGTV at one point. That became part of the email with a subject line of "Confessions from an HGTV Home Stager." 

That's a pocket-sized story. 

What are pocket-sized stories?

Pocket-sized stories are short but compelling. They're meant to summarize your product or its key benefits in a single sentence.

Such stories cut straight to the heart of why customers buy.

For example, the company that invented the first MP3 player advertised the exciting new product as offering "5 Gigabytes" of memory.

It was 1997, and Saehan Information Systems were excited about the possibilities. However, they had a problem.

Most people didn't grasp what a gigabyte was or what it could do for them. The concept that you could go for a run with a tiny contraption strapped to your arm piping your favorite tunes in your ear was novel. 

What can it do for me?

In Oct. 2003, Steve Jobs advertised the iPod as a "1,000 songs in your pocket."

This benefit-focused approach is a pocket-sized story. I can picture exactly what it'll do for me. 

"Now I want that," Jennifer said. "I don't want the five gigabytes. I don't know what that is. That doesn't do anything for me. But 1000 songs in my pocket? That I can understand!" 

It transforms the product from a "thing" to a desired object. 

How Do You Find Your Pocket-Sized Stories?

So how do you find such stories?

You probably won't find them brainstorming with your C-suite or marketing team.

It's important to talk with customers, sales, and the people who use the product.

To help you dig, Jennifer offered the following advice.

Ask questions

Put on your journalist hat.

You can start with the basic question set of the five W's: who, what, when, where, why, and how.

Use these questions to drill into your product's features and how those features translate into direct customer benefits.

Always get the dog's name.

Journalists are trained to ask for specifics. If someone mentions a dog as part of the story, get the dog's name and breed. It'll add color to the story. 

You might be thinking, "dog, what dog?" Maybe your software doesn't have a dog component. The point is, be specific. 

Recently, Jennifer wrote a case study for a child management software program.

The customer mentioned the software helped them manage government subsidies. So, she asked what type of subsidies, how much it saved them, and related questions. 

Use the "so what" technique

Seeking out real-life examples can lead to those priceless "aha" moments.

Jennifer's favorite questioning technique for gathering examples is to ask the question, "so what?"

Jennifer writes for a software client that offers a scheduling product for dog groomers.

When she interviewed the customer, a dog grooming salon owner, he raved about the automated email and text reminders.

"You might just think, yes, that makes sense," said Jennifer. "They can send the reminders a day or two ahead of time and say, Hey, you know, Fluffy's appointment is on Thursday at 2:00, don't forget."

But when she asked, "so what" and dug a little deeper, she learned that the salon owner was saving $70,000 per year, per groomer, resulting from having fewer no-shows.

Now THAT's a "pocket-sized" story. 

Concrete examples like this are what help cut through customer hesitations and destroy perceived obstacles.

Explore specific product benefits

Both the Apple iPod and dog groomer examples point to the value of speaking to specific product benefits.

This means that you constantly need to look at product features under a microscope to understand how those features help your customers and in what ways.

"If you keep applying that over and over again, it can really help you kind of get to the crux of the matter so that you're going, oh yes, I got it. This is gold," Jennifer said.

She provided another example demonstrating how the note-taking app Evernote's marketing strategy has evolved from vague to specific over time.

In 2013, Evernote used the headline "Remember Everything."

In 2021, their headline reads, "Accomplish more with better notes: Evernote helps you capture ideas and find them fast."

They've given a benefit to "Remember Everything." 

Applying the "so what" technique to positioning stories

The concept of turning something generic into something specific underpins the success of pocket-sized positioning stories.

For example, almost every SaaS company wants to show great customer service and save clients money.

But just stating the obvious doesn't help you stand out from the crowd. In contrast, take a look at the following examples:

  • Better customer service → 24/7 customer service ensures you get your questions answered in 10.9 seconds
  • Improved employee productivity → Saves an average of 5 hours per week in administrative time
  • Lowers IT costs → Saves your company up to $72k/year in IT expenses

"If you can put in specific numbers, that increases your trustworthiness," Jennifer said. "People take note of that, and they go, Oh, well, they must have some data that backs it up."

The more specific you can be, the more real your product will seem to customers and the more likely they will buy.

Use stories everywhere

While micro-stories can make great headlines, you should feel free to use them anywhere you can.

Your story might look slightly different in an advertisement than a landing page or email sequence.

The way you use the story can change. You can pull out key elements and expand, contract, and tweak them as needed will serve you well.

Jennifer recommends saving all of your stories in one place, such as a database or Google Drive, and sharing them across your team.

"Share it amongst the team, share amongst any outsourced copywriters," she said. "Add it to your personas. It really adds to flesh out what your customers care about and what they're concerned about."

Out now: Watch our free B2B messaging course and learn all the techniques (from basic to advanced) to create messaging that resonates with your target customers.

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