Effective communication is a valuable commodity for any product marketer, and storytelling certainly falls within this bracket.
But how can product marketers convey their messages to their audience well, whilst striking the right balance between fact and narrative?
We spoke with Elliott Rayner, Head of Product Marketing at Babbel, who shared his insights on how PMMs can refine their storytelling skills.
Q: In my experience, I’ve found it difficult to track the exact impact that storytelling has had, and the revenue it has generated. How do you go about aligning product storytelling with concrete metrics that can prove its purpose?
A: “The truth is this will always be very difficult. It is similar to measuring the value of an organization's brand in the market.
“This becomes easier in the digital industries. With performance marketing we can create two very different product campaign stories, A/B test them, and inevitably track the performance of each. This gives us very clear feedback on the stronger story and its actual value.
“When it comes to proving the value of storytelling, it is no coincidence that the world's most successful and valuable brands also have the best brand and product storytelling.
“A great resource here is Simon Sinek's Golden Circle. This shows that purpose-driven storytelling can completely change how a product is perceived.”
Q: What have you found to be the most successful medium to tell your brand’s story? Blog posts, spoken presentations, or digital media? How big a part does this play in the success of your story?
A: “Sometimes the way your story is delivered can be more important than the actual content.
“There was a famous study on the effective communication of meaning and emotion. It concluded that effective communication is split by 7% the actual use of words, 38% tone of voice, and 55% body language.
“Of course, this is applied to public speaking or a presentation but I believe these patterns also apply to media and digital communication. We react differently to the same message depending on who delivers it and how they deliver it.
“The most successful stories tap into that most basic human element. It's why so many brands have mascots, endorsers, or faces to the company. To humanize them and in doing so make the message more relatable and effective.
“Another great trick here is to use the actual consumer, how many brands or product stories are told from the point of view of the user/consumer?
“So, remember: keep in mind the 7:38:55 ratio whenever you are crafting a story.”
Q: Every PMM knows that comprehensively understanding your audience is key to creating a believable and impactful story; do you have any tips for really stepping into the shoes of your customer and gathering those insights?
A: “So much of a PMMs job should be spent directly on Insights. Internally studying your products and brand and externally with the market and your users. It's only with a deep understanding of all these areas that you can create a true product/market fit, and in doing so the perfect story to accompany it.
Q: In telling our personal story, consistency is next to godliness. We attack those who seem to tell different tales about themselves.
But is that honest of us? Personal stories are multi-faceted, sometimes incongruous, and frequently meandering. That’s life.
Can we give life to products with stories that reflect the human experience, and should products have one story with one message that motivates buyers, or can they have many angles that appeal to people in different ways?
A: “This is a really interesting question. I think being honest about your inconsistency can also make you truly authentic.
“A great example of this is sharing beta tests with your users before your product is ready for release. In this way you are saying to your users, we are not perfect, we need your help to take this further. That might feel inconsistent coming from a powerful brand voice, but it also feels human.
“The most important thing to keep consistent is your tone of voice. It is ok to change our opinion, to admit mistakes, to change direction. As long as your tone of voice stays consistent. This is what consumers feel loyal to.”
Q: We use storytelling to help bring our products and brands to life. To achieve this, one has to select a storyline that aligns with their company culture, values, goals, etc.
How do you go about creating a storyline that perfectly aligns with your company from your experience?
Employee advocacy plays a really important role in company storytelling, how do you go about promoting a culture that ensures that each employee tells the same company story and helps promote the brand?
I’m also keen to establish the key steps to follow if you want to create a long-standing storyline for a startup that’s hoping to appeal to a niche and new market category, and in your view, which brands or companies have nailed their brand storytelling?
Finally, what’s the best approach to take in your company storytelling if you want to appeal to Gen Z?
A: “I’m a big fan of Patagonia. In the fashion industry, where so many of the voices sound the same, they took a huge risk in saying something different. Something completely radical: to not buy their products.
“Their brand purpose of sustainability directly contradicted their business goals of maximizing sales.
“This contradiction also presented an opportunity. The opportunity to say something that competitors couldn't. This not only gave them a unique voice in the market, but also a level of authenticity. Which is the secret to great storytelling.
“The response? A sales increase of around 40%, which is conflicting, but impressive evidence for the value of authentic storytelling.”
Q: In a saturated marketplace with a wide variety of competitors offering similar solutions, how best do you suggest the story should be told to stand out from the crowd?
A: “The problem we have is that the modern consumer has a strong sense of authenticity. Why does Tesla suddenly care about my well-being? An emotional message from an unemotional brand feels strange. It feels the same as if a friend we have known our whole life, who has never shown any deep emotion, suddenly starting sending very deep emotional text messages to you. We would sense it as something strange, and it is the same with brands.
“Instead of starting externally with the consumer, you need to start internally with the brand purpose. What makes us unique? What are we trying to achieve? And most importantly, why?
“By building a story this way you will not only end up with something unique but hopefully, authentic. And those two things combined create great product stories.”