Storytelling is one of the most important parts of product marketing because it’s a great way of introducing your product or service to your target audience. As a product marketer, you need to refine your storytelling to ensure you can build strong relationships with your audience, and convert them from prospects to customer advocates.
In episode three of Product Marketing Alliance's Storyselling podcast, Elliott Rayner, CMO at ARION spoke to Magda Saralegui, former Senior Product Marketing Manager at ASICS, and had an insightful discussion in which they focused on the importance of strong storytelling.
They focused on how to craft the perfect product story for your target audience to receive the optimal impact, specifically honing in on:
- What is storytelling?
- The most important part of storytelling
- How processes change for different audiences
- How to optimize your storytelling
What is storytelling?
When asked to define storytelling, Magda said: “storytelling is basically telling a story about a product.” It’s an essential part of your product marketing strategy as it helps to:
- Keep your audience engaged
- Adds context to your product, answering key questions including how it works, what your customer can use it for, etc.
- Increase sales
- Create a legacy for your brand
- Differentiate your product from competitors
Such is the importance of the storytelling process, you need to ensure you put the steps in place to execute it with precision.
The most important part of storytelling
Q: Some might say the audience is one of the most important parts of storytelling, in some cases, more than the product itself. Would you agree with this perspective?
A: “Yeah, I completely agree. As PMMs, we do focus a lot on our product because it's our baby, and we know that the product’s amazing. I personally do concentrate a lot on the audience, and who I’m talking to.
“If I want to explain something, I have to understand the people that are on the other side, if they're going to understand it, if they're going to like it, and if they're going to relate to it. It’s especially true talking about assets.
“For example, when I’ve created narratives for men’s running products, the consumer is more into the technical side, whereas women are more into how it looks, if it works, and if it's versatile. Therefore, the storytelling is completely different.”
How processes change for different audiences
Q: You've had a lot of experience creating products for men and women. Do you apply a different process when you’re creating products? For example, if I gave you a project centered on men's volleyball, how would you approach that differently from women’s products?
A: “It's really good when you're creating something that you see yourself wearing at some point in your life. However, I always try to be objective and not give personal opinions on whether I’d wear it or not because I don't think the company is going to do well if I'm the only one buying the product.
“That said it’s easier when you know that you're going to wear it. For example, when you go out, test it, and you know things like “it would be amazing if I could do this or that easily”, or “this is really uncomfortable”. But, I think it's really important for a product manager to be super effective, step out of it and look at it outside of your little box.”
How to optimize your storytelling
Use focus groups to optimize the storytelling process
Q: I think focus groups are probably the best way to start a storytelling process because you're literally getting it straight from the people who you're building it for. Do you agree?
A: “Yeah. Plus, with the focus group, people get super creative because they don't really know if something’s possible, impossible, or if it’s too expensive.
“You get a lot of information and when you're creating and bringing in a story, the information that you get from a focus group is a bit of a mix but it adds into the research that you do in trends and also gives insight into the consumer.
“When you're in the middle of the focus group, it's good that they bloom, get super creative, and bring up insightful ideas. Most of the time, they don't really know what they're talking about, but as a product manager you pull it all together and create really good ideas.”
Stay authentic and set yourself apart from the competition
Q: How can you make sure that you can stay authentic and not just bombard people with the same kind of stories that every single brand is telling?
A: “I think that the most important thing is to get into their shoes and just be open about it. If we're tiptoeing around things, this makes it more complicated and diluted.
“The customer is smart and they’ll find out what copied aspects have nothing to do with the company. The most important thing is to be transparent and honest. It’s true that we’ve created a lot of products that even had the same name. But we also must create differentiation with creating products and in the storytelling as well.
“There’s one great example that comes to my mind with two pieces of context. One is that it was in the middle of 2020 and everyone had to work out inside of their house with the kids and the dog around, and there were all those uncomfortable aspects. The second is that tights are the biggest seller for women, especially in sportswear. So this UK brand started to focus on seamless tights. They came up with this great product story, which was so honest, so direct, and the language was very relatable for women.
“The first time I saw it was on Instagram. So it was like a 15-second video that was so bright and clean that you just fell in love with it. I wanted to buy it and try it on because it looks amazing.”
Q: Interesting. Because at that point, you’re buying the story. Would you have bought the tights if you'd seen that same type without that story?
A: “Exactly. At the end of the day, we’re just buying the story, because the story is so good. And when you're looking at the video, like “oh, my God, this is totally me”, I think that's the key.
“That’s what every product manager wants to produce, right? You want to create that connection with a consumer and tell them “I understand you and I know your struggles. So this is what I have for you, and this is why we created this.”
Ensure brand identity and voice is present
Q: You mentioned the heritage of ASICS and how that plays such a big part in the story because, at the end of the day, you're telling the story from the brand's perspective. How much does that go into the process of ensuring that the brand voice, personality, and identity are in there?
A: “It’s good that you say that because it's important. I think sometimes we forget that the product story has to be completely related to the brand story.
“For example, with the tights example I mentioned before, I thought it was brilliant the way they spoke and thought that it would be amazing if we could use it. But, I could never tell the story how they did with ASICS because the language is completely different. Though I was creating similar products with sporting goods, we’re creating similar ideas as well, but it’s completely different because of brand identity.
“The language at Puma is completely different from ASICS. Heritage also makes a difference: one is from Germany, and the other is from Japan, so they’re separate in that way, too.
“I think that’s the exciting part of our job, we have different teams, and different points of view- so the vision is never exactly the same.”
Simplify your story to make it memorable
Q: How do you make sure that the story that you create through the creation of the product is the same story when someone encounters it, whether it be online or in a store? What do you think is usually a helpful thing as a product creator to ensure your story lasts all the way to the person who created it?
A: “What’s the true reason for storytelling? Nobody really remembers numbers. If I ask you right now to tell me a great story, I’m sure something will pop up instantly. So I think the key is that it has to be great. It has to be easy to understand and completely relatable.
“If I do something too complicated and nobody understands it, then how can you expect a sales team to remember? Or how do you expect someone in a store to remember it? When you're looking at things, and they're telling you stuff about them, and there's a constant stream of information, it feels too difficult to process.
“Product creation is constantly thinking about this. So there's a lot of information and a lot of stories, but we must find a story that’s smaller because sometimes it's just a small little thing that actually clicks in your brain.”
In the same episode, podcast host and CMO at ARION, Elliott Rayner shared his own thoughts on a couple of important topics around storytelling:
Try to avoid stereotypes
“You have to be careful not to stereotype. However, in saying that, it’s strange because what we're doing is stereotyping. We're building a demographic but then we can't get to know people individually, so then we have to base our research on these demographic stereotypes.
“There's a quote that I really like: ''the mistake is when you mistake one story for every story”. For example, when you ask one person from a focus group and think “ah, what she said is what all people believe”. And there's a very difficult balance to play there in a story. But, I think that's the difference between people thinking they’re being patronized or thinking “oh my God, that’s me”. That's basically the science or the creativity of product storytelling.”
Tell a visual story
“The simplest way to tell a story is visually telling the story itself and then putting a pop color next to a part of the technology. And trying to get to the point where the person can wear it and go, “I know what the story is just by wearing it”. And products definitely do that.
“I mean, Apple is famous for not needing to read the manual. You can just pick it up, learn it and understand. The dream is “I don't need someone to tell me, you can just show me” but that's a little bit more difficult.”
Want to learn more?
Learn more from Elliott Rayner with PMA's Storytelling Certified: Masters course.
By the end of this course, you'll be able to confidently:
📚 Construct an actionable storytelling framework
📚 Structure your product story like a pro
📚 Connect better with your customers through an authentic product story
📚 Communicate to your audience with confidence and passion
📚 Use your purpose to ensure your story remains consistent
📚 Have an impactful change on your product’s story and success