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Moving from Feature Selling to Storytelling

By Jeff Vocell and Rowan Noronha

To stand out from the rest, lots of marketers list the features of their products. For a while, this practice seemed to work. With more and more businesses flooding specific markets and taking to digital marketing as a medium, you’ll find product features listed on most websites as the “standard”. But, great product marketers tell great stories and storytelling is really what sells.

Remember, you’re marketing to humans who have feelings and whose quests for a product are driven by emotion. People don’t connect with a company’s product because of its features. People connect with stories. So what better way to connect with your target audience than through storytelling?

FROM FEATURE SELLING TO STORYTELLING

Did you know that a product’s features and benefits are easily forgotten? Stories are much more powerful and memorable. In fact, studies show that stories have a profound impact on our brains. Stories also engage us emotionally, help build trust, and even inspire action. Now that you know the importance of telling a story about your product, it’s time to stop selling features and start telling stories. Here’s how.

1. DEFINE YOUR AUDIENCE (THE HERO)

You can’t just tell any story and expect it to resonate with your audience. Defining your audience will not only help you shape your language, but it will also help you get to know your audience, their previous experiences with other products/services, features they value, their goals, and their pain points. Without this information, you can’t craft a story that’s interesting and compelling.

Who is your target audience? Are they salespeople? Marketers? Growth professionals? How do they want to think of themselves? As you identify your target audience, you can craft a story that will best resonate with them.

2. IDENTIFY WHAT YOU’RE HELPING YOUR AUDIENCE ACHIEVE (NEED)

This will depend on the market you’re in. If you’re in the B2B space, maybe your audience needs a solution that will help them become a better marketer (esteem needs), generate more leads (goal needs), or build emails in half the time (tactical needs). Figuring out what your product or feature actually helps your audience achieve is key to creating a powerful and memorable story.

To do this, we recommend creating messaging for each of these needs and testing it to understand what resonates with your buyers in the best way.

3. IDENTIFY WHAT STARTED THE POINT OF CONTACT (REASON)

What started the conversation? What made them want to seek a certain solution? Can at least 80% of your audience identify with that reason? Is there a shift in the world you are opening their eyes to? Is there an opportunity they’re missing out on?

For example, your audience’s pain may be that they’re having trouble generating leads. And your solution opens your audience’s eyes to something new. Even though marketing has changed how people search for and buy products and services, many companies haven’t caught up, meaning that their marketing tactics include being interruptive, spammy, and marketer-centric. Yet, you show your audience that they should focus on being more helpful and customer-centric. This provides them with an opportunity that others may be missing out on to get more customers.

4. OUTLINE YOUR DIFFERENTIATED SOLUTION (PATH)

You don’t have to list out features to make your product or service stand out from others. Instead, you can include differentiating factors in your storytelling — in a seamless way, of course. What makes your product or feature different from other solutions or other platforms? How is that solution going to help them achieve their goal? How is this different than other ways to achieve that goal?

Let’s take HubSpot for example. The company coined the term “Inbound”, and still remains a guiding philosophy for how businesses can grow better. Second, the platform seamlessly ties together marketing, sales, and service software.

Inbound: Is a human, and helpful, way of growing your business. Marketing today needs to be relevant, and personal, and with the free CRM from HubSpot, automatically integrated with the rest of the platform it’s easy to power marketing teams to create content, and campaigns, that are customer-centric.

All-in-One: HubSpot has an entire platform of tools to build a great customer experience, from marketing, sales, and service software that start free and grow with you. Combine this with hundreds of integrations of your favorite tools and everything is easily tied together in one place.

5. IDENTIFY WHAT AN IDEAL FUTURE LOOKS LIKE FOR YOUR AUDIENCE (RESOLUTION)

Paint a picture of your audience’s ideal solution. What human need or desire does your tool or product deliver on?

What goals is your audience looking to achieve? What does an ideal future look like for them after using your product? Recognition at work for being a top-performing marketer or sales rep? Home in time for dinner with their kids?

Whatever the goal your audience aims to achieve, it’s important to communicate — through your story — that you can help achieve it and how you will do that.


BRINGING YOUR PRODUCT STORY TO LIFE

Skip your fancy list of features and get straight to the point. Keep things concise, correct, simple, and clear. After you’ve ditched the list of features, create a sense of urgency by establishing what’s at stake. Answer the question, “Why now?” Why should your audience take action now instead of later (or never)? For example, you’re trying to establish why your product matters to modern sales and marketing teams. What do you do? Point out how buyer behaviors have changed and the pressing need for sales to get smarter, faster.

Tell your story with positive, sensory descriptions that evoke emotion. For example, instead of saying:

“My sales software can shorten the sales cycle by 40%.”

You say:

“I was tired of sending cold emails to key decision-makers every day. It took too long and took precious time away from what I did best — sell. So I decided to do something about it. I developed this software, which automates the communication between me and potential clients and shortens the sales cycle by 40%. Then, all of a sudden, I had time to focus more on sales. My boss was praising me rather than hounding me.”

Of course, you want your product story to be more well-written and polished (and you may even want to put it in a video for added power). But the latter illustrates a major point: why your audience needs your product and how they can benefit from it. It also highlights their pain points and shows them that you understand the problems they’re dealing with, which is the key to building trust and helping your audience identify with your brand.

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