It begins with an idea. Then come the hours of hammering out form, function, and features. We pour our hearts and souls into the act of creation, driven by the new-spun inspiration of fresh ideas. And then. . .
We write a stale product definition document, create a list of bullets in a few PowerPoint slides, and try to sell that to those whose job it is, most often, to say NO.
What were we thinking?
I'll tell you what we were thinking: We were putting the left-brain spin on a right-brain problem. You want to sell your idea, you have to put the eyebrows on it. You have to make it real for the world outside your own vision. You have to take the emotion and excitement you feel and, somehow, impart that to your investors, partners, employees, and customers.
Fortunately for you there is a tool that can deliver you from the hell of stale concept presentations.
It's called storytelling.
Whether you know it or not, you have a storyteller living in your genes. We are a race of storytellers. It has been our primary mode of communicating since we first set eyes on one another and the spark of consciousness fired off.
When you want to convey the emotional impact of an event to someone else, what do you do? You don't lay out a cold bulleted list, do you? No. You tell a story about it. You tell people (a) what was going on before the event occurred; (b) build up tension; and (c) describe what happened in terms of the sensations you experienced.
When you want to convey emotional impact, story is the only way to go. Remember all those Kodak Moment ads? Odds are if you are over 30 you do. Why? Because they weren't selling film. They were selling the capture of good times, the emotions of happy memories.
Engineers, Listen Up
Selling the emotion is precisely what you want to do. We are so tuned into the dryness of enumerating features that we forget no one buys lists of features. And here's a secret: They don't buy benefits, either.
What they buy is emotional satisfaction. I would argue that every investment, every purchase decision is in the end based entirely on the feel of the thing.
We build up a lot of emotion when we're in the process of bringing new ideas to light. Why would we not then give others the opportunity to catch fire, too? I guarantee that if you do not ignite the imaginations of your investors, partners, employee, and customers, your idea will be stillborn.
The Basics of Storytelling
The universe of product storytelling is too large to fit in short article. But here are three tips that will get you going and a couple of references that can help you along the way.
- Know your audience. If you have not yet created an ideal customer profile, stop now and work on that profile until you have a vivid image of that person embedded in your mind.
- No matter what your product idea is, there is an emotional appeal to it for your ideal customer. To get to the emotional appeal, be sure you understand the problem-solving opportunity and the cost (financial/emotional/social) to the ideal customer.
- Use your imagination. Write a paragraph from the point of view of your ideal customer describing the emotional impact of using the product. And don't give me any of that, “Oh, I'm a terrible storyteller" stuff, either. Storytelling is your birthright. We all have the gift to some degree. Let yourself go and put yourself firmly in the customer's shoes.
Once you've written that simple one-paragraph summary, take it to the next level and write a one-page scene featuring your ideal customer using the product. Create a day in the life of your ideal customer showing him or her using your product and the effect its use has on solving the key problem.
Don't sterilize the emotion. In fact, overemphasize the emotional elements to be sure you capture it completely. You can refine it later.
Sure it takes some effort. But you'll be amazed at the effect such a story will have on those whose approval you seek.
Storytelling is a tool that will help others see the unique value of your product the way your customers will see it. And, in the end, that's what sells both the idea and the product.
So. . . tell me a story. . .
For Further Reading. . .
- Story, by Robert McKee
- The Entrepreneur's Concept Assessment Toolbook, by Michael Knowles and David Leland
- The Story Factor, by Annette Simmons
Michael Knowles, co-author of The Entrepreneur's Concept Assessment Toolbook (available at http://www.booklocker.com/books/1988.html or Amazon.com) helps businesses take what they do best and focus it on success. A Principal in One Straight Line LLC, Michael has over 25 years of experience helping companies create communication strategies help them engage customers, employees, investors, outsourcing partners, and the community.
Michael can be reached at email@example.com .
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