Business Innovation and Marketing with Mike Parsons
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Business Innovation Blog

Read about marketing, innovation, emerging technology and Design Thinking Methods. Includes lean startup, agile development and rapid prototyping tools.

How to find a contagious story in your new product


The gap between product and marketing has significantly reduced in recent times. Thanks to the Internet and smartphones, the moment we use a product can sometimes be the same point in time we share the experience. Think about apps like Strava and Nike Run. In these apps, the sharing of the experience is an embedded feature of the product.

With the opportunity to put 'virality' at the heart of the product we need to ensure we have a story worth sharing. Otherwise, we'll be faced with a situation like we had when Zynga would spam our Facebook activity walls.

We have a choice when it comes to storytelling. Most products and brands chose for the spam route like Zynga. They publish stories no one cares about and use lot's of advertising to attempt interrupt and steal some audience attention.

A few brands such as Nike, Patagonia, Red Bull all choose to create stories that are so good - we'll share them with our friends. Strava, who grows at over 1 million users per 7 weeks, have built story and community right into the product. Strava have designed social storytelling into the product with tactics such as tagging users, maps and rewards.

How do we find a story worth sharing?

To find a compelling story, let's start with the audience. Following an audience deep-dive, we can dive into the story characteristics.

However, before we do that there is one condition to this approach. It would be best if you had a good product. Great marketing cannot fix a bad product. If you want to know how to build a good product, read this.

There are three conversations we need to map in the world of customers.

  1. Customer to Customer

  2. Customer to Non Customer

  3. Influencer to Community

You'll notice that I recommend focussing on how users share stories with each other. I am not particularly eager to look at the audience in isolation because that's not how life works. We are what we read, and the five people we spend the most time with define our success.

Customer Sharing Stories with Customers

The most significant opportunity for a product story lays with like-minded existing customers coming together to share the product experience. Look at the cultural phenomenon of IKEA Hackers. This community of IKEA customers come together to share stories and make new stuff with IKEA products.

You need to scan customer to customer conversations and discover the story characteristics. Having mapped the conversation, you have the opportunity to stimulate that community with the content they desire. You'll often find a customer to customer conversation a story of utility and bonding.

Customer to Non Customer

One of the most exciting things to witness is an existing customer introducing your product to a non-customer. There are several breakthroughs you'll experience when mapping how customers recruit non-customers.

You'll discover how your fans perceive your product and the value it represents. This insight may be different to your assumptions. Moreover, that's handy because all product designers live in a reality distortion field. It’s called the Endowment Effect. The good ones step into reality and have deep empathy for their customers.

Another bonus to documenting this advocacy is that'll use see language and metaphor used to describe your product. This understanding can provide the clues to a telling a great product story. A customer might explain these products

  • Youtube: “Flickr for video.”

  • Dogster: "Friendster for dogs"

  • Bookchoice: "Netflix for books"

Influencer to Community

Influencers can be a powerful accelerator of your story distribution. When an expert with domain authority and a rabid following shares your story, you achieve a significant distribution advantage. You enter a new network of potential customers.

Influencer endorsement and distribution matters because you get out of talking to your existing community. Via Influencers, you will be catapulted into a new network where your story is new and fresh. Good influencer marketing can lead to building a secondary group of customers that can create a social network effect pushing your story to the four corners of the planet.

When you study each of these customer conversations, you need to address each of the following factors from Jonah Berger's STEPPS model. I've written in detail about this in another article.

  • Social currency: We Care, We Share

  • Triggers – Timing is Everything

  • Emotion – Give Goosebumps, Get Traffic Bumps

  • Public - Provide Social Proof

  • Practical value – Where's the utility?

  • Stories – Tell me a Tale.

Make sure you start the storytelling journey with a profound journey into customer conversation. Throughout the process continue to ask yourself why and how people are sharing the story.

This understanding will give you a severe dose of insight into how to create a story worth sharing. Today, the single biggest asset in the world of marketing is advocacy of your story.