Why a great product needs a great story

The difference between good products and really successful products often comes down to how well the product was marketed. Good marketing is essentially just telling a compelling story of why your product will solve your customer’s problems.

However, telling a good story is not just about creating cheesy advertising campaigns or empty marketing messages. There is an art to being able to portray a story effectively to an audience.

In this post I’m going to be looking at why telling a compelling story is so important to the success of your product, what the most important aspects of telling a good story are, and how you can go about creating a story for your product too.

The fundamentals of business

The world of business seems like such a complicated place when you are looking in from the outside. Great institutions, educational establishments and international organisations all make out that business is a complex set of skills and experience where only a chosen few can survive.

In reality, business can basically be distilled down into four simple components.

Supply – Do you have something to offer?
Demand – Do people want what you’ve got?
Attention – Do you have an audience to talk to?
Storytelling – Do you have a story to tell?

So hopefully you have an amazing product that solves a real customer problem. You have built an audience of people who are interested in your product.

Now how do you tell the story of your product?

What are stories good for?

Everyone likes a good story, but it can be difficult to appreciate exactly why a story is good. It’s not a surprise that stories are such an important part of our lives when you consider the following three benefits of storytelling:

Illustrating a point

Stories are really good for illustrating a point and showing the importance of the consequences of the story. For example, if you wanted to show a child why she shouldn’t play near a road, it is easier to tell her a story of a little girl getting hurt than just telling her it is dangerous.

Being rememberable

Good stories are more rememberable than just straight facts because we are better at recalling the events of a story. A good technique for remembering a lot of things is to construct a familiar story, and so, if you want your point to stick, tell a story instead.

Convincing someone of an idea

When you are trying to convince someone, it is much easier when you take them along the logical progression of a story. I’ll get deeper into this later on in this article, but I’m sure you can relate to a time when you were convinced of something after someone had told you a story, even when you were apprehensive to begin with.

Why stories are good?

I’m sure I don’t have to convince you on the effectiveness of stories. We all grow up listening to stories from our parents and teachers and so the flow and structure of a good story becomes so innate that we recognise them instantly.

Good stories entertain and engage with the audience and so it makes listening feel effortless. I’m sure we have all sat through a boring presentation or speech where time seems to stand still. Contrast this to a speech that uses story telling to illustrate a point. These types of speeches are usually far more captivating because they use the unique attributes of a story to entertain and keep us on the edge of our seats.

When you talking about an idea or a problem, the audience can often miss the point of what you are telling them if you can’t relate it to something real in their lives. Stories make abstract concepts seem real because we find it very easy to make the connection once it becomes part of a story. Stories are also able to put a human face on an idea. Without a story it is often easy to misunderstand the importance of a problem. However, when the same problem is told as a story, it makes it much easier to understand the significance of the problem because we can relate it to real life.

Telling a story also taps into the emotions and empathy of the audience. When you tell the story of how a character faced a certain problem, it is much easy for the audience to put themselves in the characters shoes. When you make a general claim about a problem, it is easy for an audience to underestimate the consequences.

And finally, stories make complex ideas seem much more simple. This is because we can all relate to the structure of a story and so when a problem is described using this common framework, it makes understanding the problem much easier.

How to tell a good story

We probably all have different biases for what we think makes for a compelling story. Whilst there are many finer points of what makes a good story, I think the following 7 sections model the broad framework of what separates good stories from the bad.

1. Make clear and compelling points

Good stories always have a clear point and a takeaway message that the listener should understand. Not only that, but the point of the story should be extremely obvious. If you think back to when you were a child, fairy tales are the ultimate example of good stories. All fairy tales follow the same framework and they always have a clear lesson for the child to abide by.

2. Short and to the point

Whilst many Hollywood films seem to struggle to maintain a enthralling story for 90 minutes, you should aim to keep your story short and to the point. Humans don’t have very long attention spans and so if you lose your audience it won’t matter how good your story is if no one is still listening.

3. Keep it fresh

Whilst many of the best stories follow in the same footprints of stories that are as old as time, you should try to keep the story your are telling fresh. By this I mean, use the common formulas of good storytelling, just put your own unique slant on it.

Classic story lines of “boy meets girl”, “unrequited love” or “struggling against adversity” will always work, but blatantly stealing story ideas from your competitors won’t go down very well.

4. Easily understood

The best stories are personally relevant to the audience and put characters into situations that we can relate. For example, if you have ever worried before a big event, felt guilty after you had done something wrong or hurt after someone had betrayed your confidence, you will find it much easy to understand the actions of a character in the same situation that you faced.

5. Engaging

Good stories are always passionate and engaging or they become dull and uninteresting. Stories where you can identify with the characters enables you to feel empathy for their situation. A good story should also arouse the curiosity of the audience and keep them on the edge of their seat. A good feedback mechanism of telling an engaging story is when the audience is hanging on your every word.

6. Reflect our values

Stories should reflect our basic values, beliefs and experiences if we are going to connect emotionally with the characters. For example, if your character betrays the trust of someone, your audience is not going to feel empathy and so you might be unable to make the point you were aiming for. You need to keep your story consistent with the values of the characters you are portraying.

7. Make sense

And finally, all good stories should make sense! All stories flow in the logical order of a beginning a middle and an end. A story should have a setting, characters, goals and a predicament. Each of these basic components are critical to crafting an engaging story.

The common structure of a good story is a character faces a problem which leads to an action, often through adversity, before finding a solution.

By following this simple framework, you significantly raise the chances of connecting with your audience through storytelling.

Conclusion

Stories are a critical component of business and marketing. All good products need good stories because stories are a fundamental component of how we as humans connect things in our lives.

Stories are good because they are engaging and compelling. Telling a story is also a recognisable format for illustrating a new or abstract concept to an audience that is unfamiliar with what you are talking about. The common framework of a good story allows the audience to follow your logical path to enlightenment.

Telling a good story comes down to following the common structure that we all recognise. By creating compelling characters that the audience can empathise with, we can effectively illustrate the consequences or the opportunity of the message we are trying to convey.

We have all grown up with stories and so they are a recognisable format for humans of all ages. You might think that storytelling is only for children. But in reality, storytelling is a crucial component of marketing, business and even our daily lives. When you want to communicate a message to an audience, there is often no better way than telling a story.

Next week I’ll look at companies and products who have nailed their storytelling and show you exactly how they have done it. As consumers become more aware of the abundances of choice we have in products and services, companies that can connect to an audience through storytelling are the ones that are going to succeed.

Why a great product needs a great story
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