More Thoughts on Message

Jan Mellström

Last week, we talked about why having a strong message is critical to launching a product, particularly in the early stages of customer development. But it’s not just the substance of your message that matters — how you tell it is just as important. To understand how to convey that message effectively, we need to take a close look at an age-old art form: storytelling.

Wizardry or Engineering?

Stories are like magic. Good stories can capture our attention, holding us transfixed for hours, and they even have the power to literally change the chemistry of our brain.

But also like magic, if we look very closely, we can start to see the hidden strings and the false floors. While they may seem indivisible and mystical, stories have functional elements that we can study, understand, and reproduce.

In fact, if you start to look closely, you’ll notice that many of our favorite stories — those that have captivated millions around the world and across generations — have practically identical structures. An infographic from Venngage does a great job of investigating this structure, called the Hero’s Journey, in 6 films:

Venngage

While the details change in each story, the overall narrative arc — the underlying, emotional story — is the same. And if you’re trying to tell a convincing story about your business or your product — as you should be — this is an important thing to understand.

What Makes the Story of a Product Compelling

Does this mean you have to write a screenplay with your product as the lead role? Of course not. But it does mean that when you’re telling the story of your product or your business, there are a few key concepts you can rely on.

1. Conflict

The first is conflict. In the examples above, this is most apparent in the section they call “The Road Back.” Harry faces Voldemort. Simba fights Scar. Luke joins the Rebellion to destroy the Death Star.

Conflict is a universal human experience, and we’re inherently drawn to stories of people facing and overcoming adversity. When talking about your business, look for elements of conflict and adversity — it may be conflict you personally overcame as an entrepreneur, or it may be conflict in the lives of your users that your product helps them overcome. The main thing is for the conflict to be high-stakes, relatable, and to center on something of importance to your customers.

2. Structure

Another key factor is structure. Twelve steps may be a little much, but if we zoom out on the Hero’s Journey model, we can actually see three distinct sections: separation, where the protagonist is pulled away from everyday life; initiation, where they face the core conflict and overcome adversity; and return, where they go back to their old life as a new, better person.

Beginning, middle, end.

You can use the exact same structure when talking about your product. Structure your narrative with a beginning that pulls readers in and sets up a problem, a middle that overcomes that problem with a key insight or solution (generally, this is your product), and an end that shows why the world is better because of your product. It’s simple, but it’s powerful.

3. Emotion & Values

The final element, emotion, is probably the hardest to see but the most important. Humans value high-stakes stories because we understand that we, too, will one day face great adversity, and we want to learn methods to overcome it. Emotion, often strong, is present at nearly every stage of each of the movies: Trinity loves Neo, Harry’s mother’s love protects him from the killing curse, and Simba avenges his father by throwing scar off the Pride Rock. These are powerful emotions that each of us experience in life, and they’re also closely tied to core values: love, loyalty, and justice, to name a few.

When developing a narrative around your product, it’s not just important to use emotions and values— it’s important to use emotions and values that are important to your customers.

If your core customer segment values independence and freedom, an otherwise-heartwarming story about family cohesion and group loyalty won’t work for them. You need to customize your storytelling to fit your audience by basing it on emotions and values that resonate with them.

And the Final Touch

Now here’s the real key, and the thing that will differentiate you from most companies: testing.

Just as you test and iterate your product, you need to test and iterate your messaging and storytelling to find the elements that work best for your specific business. Everyone has core values, beliefs, and desires. Regardless of the factual details of your story, it needs to be grounded in the deepest parts of your customers’ psyches.

And, just like creating a product, the only way to achieve that is through testing and iteration.


If you like what you’re reading, please do consider clicking that little 💚 at the bottom and following Rootsly. And if you want to dive deeper into what it takes to develop and launch a product, the team at Rootstrap has created a set of e-courses to help you do just that. Truthfully, we believe that if you want something bad enough and have the right tools, you can accomplish anything. These courses — and our whole business model — are designed to help you get there.

Author

CEO and Co-founder of Neon Roots

Ben Lee is the co-founder and CEO of Neon Roots, a digital development agency with a mission to destroy the development model and rebuild it from the ground up. After a brief correspondence with Fidel Castro at age nine, Ben decided to start doing things his own way, going from busboy to club manager at a world-class nightclub before he turned 18. Since then, Ben has founded or taken a leading role in 5 businesses in everything from software development to food and entertainment.