The best way to approach anything new is by putting aside what you know about it.
We have been taught that experience matters more than anything else. And since today everything needs to happen now (even better, yesterday), we augment the importance of experience and try to get farther by doing more of what we have done so far.
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.
There is a popular meme that tells about the relationships between a job done fast, well, and cheap. You can do a job fast and well, you can do it well and cheap, you can do it cheap and fast. What you can’t do is fast, well, and cheap at the same time.
The meme fails to tell another truth, though. A bane to many companies. That is: you can’t do a job fast, well, or cheap if you want to maintain full control on the outcome.
You can’t do fast, because when the job is ready, there are still review phases to go through. Often featuring vague feedback, last minute changes, and unsubstantiated personal opinions.
You can’t do cheap, because all the layers you are adding have a cost. And even more expensive is the price you pay for the people who leave once they realize their talent comes after tenure.
You can’t do well, because by the time you get to the finish line, what you have is a frankestein that satisfies everyone and excites no one.
So, if your goal is to maintain full control on the outcome, any of the combinations in the meme is a much better path to execution. Change, or be prepared to be kicked out of the game.