Why do successful product managers harness the use of storytelling?

Well. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… Actually, let’s not get ahead of ourselves and save the Star Wars references for later. Let’s delve into the core reason why product storytelling is so crucial…

In the chaos of today’s world, people are primarily concerned with their own needs rather than that of your product, message, or brand. Therefore, the key to success lies in aligning your product with their goals and effectively communicating that alignment through storytelling. Whether you’re aiming to connect with customers or engage stakeholders, both groups seek confidence before supporting ideas with investments of time, money, and effort.

In a market flooded with too many products and messages, standing out poses a challenge. You often have mere seconds to captivate your audience. And many product narratives lack luster and fail to resonate with potential customers. So, how do we distinguish storytelling from traditional corporate jargon?

Jargon vs. Narrative: Connecting with Emotion over Specs

Corporate jargon tends to be uninspiring, inward-focused, and robotic, primarily centered on selling rather than engaging. The techno-babble to non-technical stakeholders can put them on snooze mode. When a product manager is overly technical and lacks commercial awareness, they struggle to effectively communicate new product ideas. They find it challenging to explain why customers need them, outline competitive advantages in the market, and demonstrate the financial returns the product will bring to the company.

In contrast, storytelling should be captivating, making the audience feel like heroes. It should be conversational, outward-focused, and narrative-based, employing techniques like the seven-point story arc. By making prospects and customers the heroes of your story, you can entertain, engage, and even challenge them with truths that drive recognition and action.

Understanding why adopting your product or service can improve their current situation is crucial. Authenticity and transparency are increasingly valued today, where miscommunication and misinformation abound (think privacy concerns, data breaches, fake news, AI, and techlash… the list goes on). People are drawn to honest, authentic narratives—a stark contrast to the corporate jargon we seek to avoid.

The Power of Story: How Narratives Drive Product Adoption

The Hero's journey Mastering Product Storytelling to Persuade Stakeholders

But why are stories so effective? Stories encapsulate complex ideas in digestible forms, making them easier to comprehend and pass on. They evoke emotional responses, tapping into our limbic brain’s instinctive reactions.

Humanity has a rich history of storytelling, evident in Hollywood blockbusters following the seven-point story arc. This proven technique, seen in everything from Star Wars to Harry Potter, captivates audiences, guiding them through immersive journeys, applicable not only to traditional narratives but also to product storytelling.

Psychology sheds light on why storytelling resonates, particularly the interplay between type one and type two thinking. While logic plays a role in decision-making, emotion is the primary driver. Recognizing this, we must embrace the power of emotion in our storytelling.

Ethics also play a significant role in storytelling. Honesty and truth must be woven into narratives, emphasizing emotions, nuances, and ethical dimensions. Understanding the complexity of emotional triggers and appropriate language is crucial in building narratives that deeply impact audiences.

Crafting Compelling Product Narratives: Your Customers as the Hero

In crafting compelling stories around products, understanding the emotional elements is paramount. Your team, well-versed in user and customer experiences, along with brand guidelines, contribute to this narrative. Your brand’s values and messages shape the tone and content of your stories.

Identifying your audience is the starting point

Leveraging personas or ideal customer profiles helps tailor your story to resonate deeply with your audience. Your product story should focus on empowering customers, guiding them toward success, and addressing their fears and doubts. Here’s a Star Wars analogy to illustrate: In product presentations, it’s common to unintentionally position oneself as the hero, akin to Luke Skywalker. However, the true protagonist should be the customer—the Luke Skywalker to your Yoda. Your role is that of the mentor, guiding them toward success. Therefore, your product story should emphasize the benefits it brings to their lives, addressing their concerns and enhancing their daily experiences. By doing so, you empower them to evolve, with your product serving as the catalyst for their transformation.

The Hero's journey Mastering Product Storytelling to Persuade Stakeholders

From Tech Specs to Real-World Impact: The Storytelling Approach

Let’s look at how two different product managers try to captivate and persuade a stakeholder with different approaches: a technical facts and figures approach versus a storytelling narrative approach.

Technical Facts and Figures Approach

Imagine a product manager, who wants to pitch a product investment into a new, innovative health-tracking smartwatch to a non-technical stakeholder, let’s call him Phil. The PM takes a technical approach.

Phil, our new smartwatch has a quad-core 1.5GHz processor, 4GB of RAM, and a battery life that lasts up to 48 hours on a single charge. It’s equipped with a state-of-the-art biometric sensor that measures heart rate, blood oxygen levels, and even detects irregular heartbeats with 99.9% accuracy. We’ve conducted extensive market research showing a 15% increase in demand for health-tracking devices in the next fiscal year, with a projected ROI of 200% in the first 18 months post-launch. Our competitors are lagging in these tech specifications, giving us a clear advantage.”

While this PM provides detailed technical specifications and potential market performance, this approach may overwhelm or disengage a non-technical stakeholder like Phil. It focuses on the product’s features and potential financial returns without connecting on a personal or emotional level.

Storytelling Narrative Approach

Now let’s take a look at a different approach to the same scenario. Instead of bombarding Philip with technical specifications and data, the PM decides to use a storytelling narrative approach.

Phil, imagine it’s a typical Tuesday, and Sarah, a 35-year-old mother of two, is juggling her job and family life. She’s passionate about staying fit but struggles to find time for herself. Now, picture Sarah wearing our new smartwatch, which not only tracks her steps and heart rate but also reminds her to take a moment for mindfulness exercises and hydration. Fitting seamlessly into her busy schedule. Last month, Sarah’s father, who also wears the watch, received an alert about an irregular heartbeat, prompting him to visit a doctor early enough to receive preventive treatment for a condition he wasn’t aware of. This watch isn’t just a gadget; it’s a companion for healthier living. By investing in this product, we’re not just selling technology; we’re offering a tool for better health and peace of mind. Imagine the impact we can make on lives, much like Sarah’s and her father’s.”

In this narrative, the PM focuses on the human aspect of the product, making it relatable and highlighting its benefits in real-life scenarios. This approach can resonate emotionally with the stakeholder, making the investment more appealing.

Beyond Features: Using Stories to Address Customer Pain Points

The Hero's journey Mastering Product Storytelling to Persuade StakeholdersStories breathe life into even the most mundane features, compelling audiences to invest emotionally in your product or service. The power of narrative transcends time and technology, transforming ordinary offerings into extraordinary experiences that deeply resonate with audiences.

Storytelling skills can help you in many areas of product management, including: Proposition Development, pitching Product Strategy to stakeholders, and Product Marketing.

Learn more about storytelling

To further your understanding of product storytelling, resources like Nancy Duarte’s book Resonate, TED Talks, and YouTube offer invaluable insights and examples. Embracing storytelling techniques is far from a passing trend; it’s a proven method for driving awareness and success in today’s competitive landscape.

This blog illustrates some important lessons from the webinar delivered by Jason Nash, a staunch advocate of the power of storytelling. He previously led Curious Cognition, an independent consulting firm, and he now acts as the CPO for Jam 7 – Growth Agents for ambitious B2B tech companies.

Bonus Tip: Avoiding “Me-Too” Features and Highlighting Uniqueness

When structuring product narratives, aligning with techniques like SPIN sales training (Situation, Problem, Implication, Need) can be effective. Begin with situational hooks to engage the audience, delve into the problems they face, and emphasize how the product addresses their needs. It’s crucial to avoid “me-too” features in product development. If a feature doesn’t differentiate your product or improve upon existing options, reconsider its inclusion. Crafting narratives around unique pain points resonates better with customers and fosters stronger connections.

The climax of the narrative focuses on empowering customers to improve their lives. How does the product or service enhance their experiences or save time? By addressing these questions, you can guide customers toward a confident decision.

Share this page

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *