The reason why your value prop is full of “and”, your product is full of features, and your strategy is full of verticals and use cases (and exceptions to both), is that we are biased towards additive solutions.
We think that adding is better than subtracting when we look for solutions.
People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole.
If you work in marketing, you have certainly heard this quote by professor Levitt. But that is not true, because nobody wants a quarter-inch hole in their wall. They might want to install some shelves to keep things organized, or perhaps they want to fix the furniture to the wall to prevent it from falling, or they might want a tool that makes them feel more comfortable and ready when there is some work to do around the house.
The point is that you should never stop at your product, nor you should stop at the first thing people do with your product.
Go further, understand their motivations, accompany them on the journey they are taking, and you will be with them all their lives.
Companies have a strong tool they can leverage to influence behaviour: rewards.
The problem then is not that companies cannot figure out how to increase employees collaboration, how to break down silos, how to foster innovation, or how to build a safe space for feedback. The problem is that the focus is – sometimes unintentionally – on a contrasting behaviour, which gets strenghtened with rewards.
Despite thousands of years of evolution, we are still pretty primitive in our behavior. We seek what makes us survive and thrive, and we stay away from what puts our lives through any kind of hassle.
And so, companies do two big mistakes when they talk about what they do. First, they forget that they are not the hero. Second, they ask prospects to burn too many calories to understand why they should become customers.
The result is that people run.
The way companies tell their story can follow a consolidated way of storytelling.
A CHARACTER who wants something encounters a PROBLEM before they can get it. At the peak of their despair, a GUIDE steps into their lives, gives them a PLAN, and CALLS THEM TO ACTION. That action helps them avoid FAILURE and ends in a SUCCESS.
The character is the customer. And the engine of the story (the story gap) is the thing the customer wants. Of course, you need to know your customer very well to start from here. In particular, you need to know:
What do they want to become?
What kind of person do they want to be?
What is their aspirational identity? (i.e., How do they want their friends to talk about them?)
Once this research is done, it should become clear that what they want is something relevant for them. They do care deeply about closing the gap and joining with the object of their desire (if they do not, there is no story).
The problem is both external (e.g., a bomb, skyrocketing costs, increased competition) and internal (e.g., failed detective, inability to grow, staff leaving). In fact, companies should strive to frame their product as a resolution for both the external and the internal problem.
The guide is you (finally!). For your product to be a reliable guide, it needs to communicate empathy – we understand how it feels ..; like you, we are frustrated by .. – and competence – we know what we are doing (testimonials, logos, statistics).
The plan can either be a process plan, that describes the steps the hero needs to take to buy the product (and achieve success), or an agreement plan, that lists the major concerns of the hero and counters them with agreements that alleviate the fear – if you buy our product, we will do this; in case you need help, we offer 24/7 service.
The call to action can either be direct – buy now, schedule an appointment – or transitional – download the whitepaper, get started with the free trial.
The dodged failure needs to be expressed. Many refrain from doing this, because they feel they might be perceived as negative guides. Yet people are motivated by loss aversion: if there is no loss your product helps them avoid, they will avoid the loss (i.e. expenditure) represented by buying your product.
And finally, the success. Just be very clear what it looks like, how it feels like, what the end vision is. You can’t get too specific.