Let’s face it, an awesome narrative forms the basis on which product marketers are able to build a brand.

The importance of narrative design is becoming increasingly recognized, with Marcus Andrews, HubSpot's Product Marketing Group Lead, predicting narrative design could potentially replace product positioning.

He answered a host of questions relating to narrative design and focused on why PMMs should be using it.

Ooops, you missed your chance to ask a question in this AMA, but fear not, we’ve got plenty more lined up here.


Q: How do you recommend we begin selling through Narrative Design to stakeholders? How can we evangelize and drive adoption of this new positioning model?

A: I think the first step is for people to understand and buy into the concept and the process. Reading my work and Andy Raskin’s work should help with this.

If people don't believe in the process (especially leaders) they won't ever be happy with the output or feel ownership over it. Once people accept the idea then you can talk more in-depth on the process.

I've created an internal workshop for Narrative Design and I use the first kickoff meeting just to talk about the process and structure. I don't love spending so much time on the process, but it helps keep alignment strong; I built my workshop based on what Raskin suggests here.

Once you've completed a workshop - you should have an output. A sales deck or story doc. Socialize that. Pitch it at team meetings or circulate it as a memo internally. If leadership is bought in people will usually be really excited about it.


Q: I'm fully bought into Narrative Design - interestingly enough, I work with companies like Facebook, Google, Snapchat, Bing etc and get to see each one of them execute this. They all do it, and do a good job, but my question is:

What happens when narrative design becomes saturated and starts to confuse customers?

I think if a narrative is accurate, they all converge around the same story with different flavors. My hunch is clarity and execution will help companies stand out (and I see it even with the above mentioned companies).

Andy Raskin has written about narrative wars too, and possibly the answer is some narratives win and stick while others don't, but I know my clients (automotive dealerships) feel overwhelmed and confused by all the info.

A: Interesting question and we'll probably see more of this. I think it's mostly about execution and executive buying. When the CEO feels the story in his heart and everyone at the company is aligned around the same story it's hard to lose.

There is just a strong identity and everyone knows exactly how to execute it. This is part of HubSpot's secret sauce. The original Narrative our founder Brian Designed is so core to everything we do.


Q: I read your article on narrative design last week and it was a really great read. In it, you say "You design a narrative for your company and category, you build positioning for specific features and products. Ideally, you design your narrative once and tell the same story for years."

The company I work at sells several different products but to the same market category, does this mean I should/could use the same narrative design approach for all the products?

A: I would build unique positioning for the different products but have them all ladder up to the same Narrative. If you introduce an entirely new product line, to a new buyer, and in a new market, then you can introduce a new narrative or a big change to the existing narrative. But otherwise you want to keep it really simple. At HubSpot, the inbound marketing story has been our narrative for years. But two years ago we introduced a new Services Product line and it was an opportunity to introduce a new narrative. I worked with our founder on the Flywheel story, see it here.


Q: I've been following narrative design quite closely for a while and have read up on a lot of Andy Raskin's stuff too.

One thing that's very apparent throughout what he says and your article, is the CEO must be involved, but what can people do if you don't get that support or air time with the CEO?

A: Narrative Design is the easiest and works the best for companies who are earlier in the journey. Startups who don't have a clear identity or a plan for how to attack a crowded market. Also, CEOs are more eager to do this sort of work at that stage.

However, it can work at bigger companies. You just have to be a little creative. If you work at a larger company and don't have access to the CEO you have to show that this approach works in smaller ways. If you're an IC PMM and work with a PM on a single product, consider yourself the CMO and the PM the CEO. Design the narrative and you'll have a better product launch, more alignment, and your bosses will notice. It won't become the company's strategic vision but it will get you noticed. Sell it to your director and keep going up the food chain.

HubSpot is a huge company and while I have worked with our founder on Narratives I more often work with the GM (product VP) of my product line on our strategic narrative. In that case they are the "CEO" and I'm the head of marketing and we craft the story together.


Q: If for whatever reason your positioning changes, should your narrative design change in tandem? Or can one change in isolation?

A: They should be linked but your Narrative should be set in stone and your positioning should be set in jello. That's not a great analogy! But what I mean that like your brand you should try and not constantly tweak your Narrative.

There is value in telling the same story over and over again over time. Really focus on getting it right the first time. Update it over the years to keep it fresh and modern, but keep the core the same.

Positioning can change a lot. You have a new product, an updated product, the market shifts, etc. These are all good reasons to go back and update positioning and messaging. But I would only let that impact the larger narrative if the shift is big. We are likely in the middle of one of those really big shifts right now.


Q: Could you please expand on the role of Narrative Design through the product life cycle stages, from early-stage to mature products?

A: Their role should be pretty consistent. I think the Narrative should get more solid over time. At first it's smart to keep it a little flexible, but once you have a product-market fit lock it down.

I find the Narrative is most valuable during launches, so if you have a launch at any stage make sure to ramp it up. This work is most important when a product is early and still figuring out what it is and who it's for, but it's valuable at all stages.


Q: I'm working with an old game/new game narrative right now, containing:

The technical problem,

The business process/workflow problem (across a wide array of user personas),

The bottom-line business impact.

I’m concerned about the story becoming too complicated; my intuition has been to focus on #2 and how it relates to the others but wanted to get your take. Can you help?

A: It's hard to know exactly how to approach it without knowing all the details but I would make sure to start with the change you see in your customer’s world.

  1. What is the big undeniable change?
  2. How has that created a new game? And made it so the old game no longer works?

I agree there is some temptation for these things to get really complicated, but you need to resist this. If you have a feeling it's getting complicated, it's probably already too complicated; your audience needs a simple story.