We're pleased to feature a guest post by April Dunford, a product marketing consultant who provides strategic marketing advice and expertise to early-stage start-ups. Whether you're running a fledgling business or an established firm, you can learn from April, so read on!
I’m often surprised at the great stories I hear from companies that aren’t being told in their marketing or sales materials. Sometimes I think it’s because companies are afraid that storytelling will come across as unprofessional or they feel stories are only appropriate to tell in a face-to-face meeting. I disagree with that. Not only are stories a powerful way of illustrating the value of your product, in many cases they are the way that your prospects and customers will explain what you do to others.
Here's my take on what makes a good product story:
Characteristics of a Good Product Story
- Illustrates the product’s differentiated value – Highlights the unique value and not just something that any product in your segment can deliver.
- Short and easy to tell – You want sales folks, marketers, and customers to re-tell the story. Keep it short and to the point and people will be more likely to tell it to their friends.
- Relevant to your target market – Think about your customer's specific circumstances and problems, and craft your stories around them.
- Illustrates measurable, concrete results – The results or the “what happened” part of the story needs to be concrete and quantifiable. General statements like “improved productivity” don’t have the punch of “saved a million dollars”.
- Memorable - There is a bit of magic that separates a good story from a great one. Unexpected endings, suspense or humor can all contribute to how memorable a story is.
There are a lot of different kinds of stories that can be told about a product. Most companies think of customer success stories first but there are a lot of other great stories I have heard that work well to illustrate value and are very memorable.
Different Kinds of Stories
- Customer Success – Please don't write boring case studies. One great story is worth a dozen where the customer says things like “we were satisfied with our choice of product x”. I once had a customer say that our product was saving his company “A million dollars a day”. That story was used more than all of the other stories I produced the rest of the year. Imagine what your perfect customer story would be. What would that customer be saying? Don't settle for boring case studies - make sure you have regular customer contact and seek out the great stories.
- Competitive Win – These are great stories because they have the built-in drama of an “Us vs Them” storyline. At one startup I worked at, one of the best stories we had was around a deal that we won, then we lost (our competitor's famous CEO intervened to help them win the deal), and then we won back (the competitor's product didn’t work as promised). This was not a story that we could put down in paper but you better believe we trained the sales reps to tell it every time they came across that competitor in a deal.
- Product or Company Creation – These are often great stories to answer the question “why buy this solution from us?” They let you showcase your knowledge of the segment and how you identified an unmet customer need. It also gives you a chance to showcase how your company works with customers as well as your company values.
Lastly don't forget that stories get better the more that you tell them. Trying them out on people out loud will help you understand what parts of the story work and what parts are putting folks to sleep.
About the author: April Dunford is a Product Marketing consultant and author of Rocket Watcher: Product Marketing for Startups.