In writing a story about a deep emotional experience living in hospice while my dad passed, I told stories about the amazing care and compassion of the hospital staff –from the doctors to the man who cleaned our room. This culture of caring was clearly integrated into the hospital’s “product experience,” so I was really surprised to go to its website and find a fact-based, transactional, sterile site with promotional banners featuring eye glasses. Because the website was a complete disconnect from my personal experience, I hesitated to link it to my heartfelt story of how I’d been touched by this institution. I overcame my hesitation because my product experience was so profound, but I realized that this hospital is not the only organization where marketing tells one story and the product or brand experience tells a different one. In this case, marketing underleveraged the emotional side of the product experience, but in many situations, marketing overcommits. As consumers, we seek congruency, consistency, and emotional relevance in the brands we seek.
This week, I stumbled across an article by Sarah Doody, “Why We Need Storytellers at the Heart of Product Development,” in UX Magazine. Sarah describes a pervasive problem in organizations from varying sectors, industries, sizes, and stages of maturity, where “teams focus on execution before defining the product opportunity and unique value proposition . . . [which leads] to scope creep, missed deadlines, overspent budgets, frustrated teams and, ultimately, confused users.” She proposes that product innovation requires a new role: the “product storyteller,” who is part matchmaker, marketer, technologist, and artist. Product storytellers ask questions, find answers, and distill a vision or idea into a product story. They develop plot, identify the people, and shape the product around specific values. Seeing the big picture, but going deep, product storytellers connect the product touchpoints into a cohesive and unified story, which is embodied in each and every product experience.
What can a product storyteller do to sync up brand communications with the product experience?
- Ask why your product exists. Storytellers step back from the “how” and “what,” which quickly take you into execution. Instead, they take time to define how your product or service fulfills a need or satisfies a desire – this is how your product adds meaningful value to people’s lives.
- Aim below rational thought. Stories uncover universal truths and human emotions. If you unearth one that represents your brand’s story, your brand will find a place in people’s hearts.
- Break down functional silos. Marketing and R&D teams often live in different worlds . . . housed in different buildings, steeped in different cultures. A product storyteller can connect these worlds by facilitating human connections, which fosters better collaboration.
- Evangelize the brand story. Many innovations come from small start-up companies that are headed by founders who live and breath the product. A product storyteller can unleash the passion these entrepreneurs exemplify.
- Imagine possibilities. Storytellers weave facts together with emotion and plot to help others conceptualize new ways of thinking and solving problems. Unleashing passion, energy, and creativity, storytellers inspire teams to do their best work.
In his book, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the World, Daniel Pink describes the coming of the Conceptual Age where six skills will be needed: design, story, symphony, empathy, play and meaning. He describes story as the “ability to place facts in context and to deliver them with emotional impact.” Storytelling is a conceptual skill that plays across disciplines.