Creating an epic product story that grabs attention and fuels adoption is easier said than done. How do you start translating features into an engaging narrative?
As a seasoned product marketer and CMO obsessed with the art and science of storytelling, I've broken it down for you. In this article, I'll share key lessons on:
- Applying storytelling techniques to your GTM strategy
- Bringing emotion into your brand narrative
- Aligning cross-functional teams around a common story
- Testing if your story is actually working
- Parting advice for getting started
So, join me for actionable tips on taking your GTM storytelling to the next level!
The science of storytelling
When people first approach storytelling, they often feel overwhelmed. They think writing a story requires some special talent and just isn’t something that everyone can do naturally.
But actually, story structure is quite scientific. And just like anything scientific, it can be broken down. The best example of this comes from Joseph Campbell's book ‘The Hero With a Thousand Faces.’ He analyzed thousands of narratives from across the ages and found a very common pattern in all of them, whether they were Hollywood movies, songs, children's stories, or epic poems.
The pattern he identified goes like this: An underdog protagonist faces challenges, learns, grows, and eventually returns to a sense of order. It’s called the hero’s journey, and, psychologically speaking, our brains love it. It resonates with us because we go through mini-versions of this journey every day.
However, in my course, Storytelling Certified, I try to make it clear you don't have to follow some epic three-hour movie journey. Instead, you can simplify the hero's journey framework. Campbell outlined a 12-step version, but you could do eight steps, four steps, or even just two steps: order, chaos, then order again.
Any great story shows some kind of order, then descends into chaos, and then returns to a new order. Knowing this very simple framework already puts you on the path to great storytelling, whether it's for an email campaign, or just doing your own internal influencing in a meeting.
Stories are a really effective way to align people around something complicated and make it simple – and the simpler you can make something, the more it will resonate and the better it will be remembered. That’s the power of storytelling: it’s a magical way of taking something complicated and making it very simple and emotional.
How to apply storytelling techniques to your GTM strategy
When you break it down, a go-to-market strategy is really about education and driving adoption. We're trying to convey information in a memorable way while also getting our audience engaged with using our product. That's why storytelling is such a vital part of an effective GTM.
First, it's been proven you're 22 times more likely to remember information delivered as a narrative versus just logical sentences. So, if you can work key ideas into a story rather than stating them plainly, your messaging will be stickier right off the bat.
Second, stories evoke emotion which makes people more likely to take action. Tapping into that can increase engagement and adoption.
With that in mind, storytelling should be baked into your GTM from the very beginning. Many of the ingredients to build your story should come directly from your overall brand positioning and messaging.
Crafting compelling stories requires understanding your brand essence, mission, differentiators, and how your audience sees you. That's why a close working relationship with your brand marketing team is so important.
I don't view storytelling as something you need to inject into your go-to-market strategy – GTM and marketing have always involved storytelling in some form. It's more about bringing in the science of storytelling to make those stories even more effective.
To enable people to do that, in my storytelling course, I teach three key areas to focus on:
- Structure: Understanding story frameworks and archetypes to craft an overarching narrative.
- Delivery: Ensuring your messaging resonates emotionally.
- Credibility: Grounding your stories in an authentic purpose that connects with your audience.
Establishing those pillars upfront gives you a strong foundation to build on as you develop messaging for specific campaigns and segments. It provides guardrails so marketers down the line can tap into the core themes and tone even as they customize stories.
How to bring emotion into your storytelling
Another key part of crafting a compelling marketing story is to not focus too much on the product or feature itself. Instead, focus on the value and impact it creates.
For example, if you’re aiming to build anticipation for a big launch, don't just say, “Here’s the product and this is what it does.” Instead, tap into emotion and show people you're building towards something exciting.
A great way to do this is through testimonials. Showcase the effect your product has on real users by having them say what they enjoy about it, why it excites them, and how it will improve their lives. This content will resonate even if, as so often happens, your launch ends up being delayed. That’s because it connects to the broader narrative.
This is where alpha and beta testing really pay off in GTM. Getting early user feedback helps validate your messaging with authentic quotes and experiences. You may even realize the value your product delivers is different than what you planned.
Being open to those learnings and integrating them into your marketing keeps the story real. That's why focusing on the value created, rather than the product itself, is so key.
This is an age-old strategy whose roots can be found in Aristotle's triangle - credibility, logic, and emotion. Every great story and campaign requires all three elements. However, the order you sequence them and the balance between them is what makes a story truly effective.
From my experience, logic isn't always the most important factor. If we can bring people along on a journey with our brand, we can use our product features and go-to-market campaigns as part of a broader narrative arc spanning months or even years.
The logic of what our product does provides the raw material, but it's not the whole picture. Layering in credibility and emotion is what transforms functional information into an engaging story people connect with on a deeper level over time. It's a trap to lead too much with logic and specs. Credibility and emotion are evergreen - unless you make any major strategic changes to your brand direction.
How to overcome writer’s block and unify teams around a narrative
The biggest challenge I hear from people wanting to improve their storytelling skills is that they find themselves just staring at a blank page, not knowing where to start. That’s what makes people think, “Oh, I’m just not a good storyteller” when really they just need a framework to get them started.
With this in mind, I pulled together what I call “The Story Engine Canvas" based on interviews with talented storytellers about what helped them create compelling narratives. It's built around three key areas that address the main reasons people struggle with storytelling:
- Structure: Providing story templates and sequencing based on storytelling fundamentals so there's a clear framework to start ideating, experimenting, and putting pen to paper.
- Personas: Marketers already develop customer personas, and bringing them in as the protagonists of your stories is a natural way to make them relatable to your target audience.
- Credibility: Ensuring your stories align with your brand mission and values so they resonate authentically with your audience.
I've used this canvas successfully with various teams. Getting cross-functional partners involved in shaping the narrative from the start, rather than just handing them a finished story, increases buy-in tremendously later on. It’s also a great way to gather more ideas upfront. So much of our role relies on internal influence and alignment. Solving for that early in the story development process is invaluable.
How to know if your story is actually working (or not!)
A question I get asked a lot is how do you judge if a story is effective, especially when it's so personalized to the target audience? But there are some simple, universal ways – it's similar to how we test a design, a slogan, or any other marketing material.
First, get external feedback from your target customers after experimenting to see what resonates. As we've seen, storytelling is much more memorable than straightforward facts, so try hiding the key points you want to be remembered in different stories, then test which one drives the most recall.
Second, if a story seems to be falling flat, analyze it against the credibility-logic-emotion triangle to see what's missing or imbalanced. I recently did a workshop with a fintech brand dissecting one of their email stories. We highlighted everything that added credibility, logic, and emotion, and it quickly became obvious that credibility was completely lacking.
So, now you have a recipe for improvement - identify the gap, then brainstorm ideas to inject that element. For credibility, you might want to work in some testimonials or case studies, for instance. Having options to experiment with and add in is powerful.
In short, judge stories like any other marketing material - through validation testing and audits. Follow the same logic you would as a product marketer testing campaigns.
If you or your team are struggling to figure out where to begin crafting a story, here’s a great exercise to try: Ask everyone in your team about the proudest moment of their life and write down their answers.
Those proud moments inherently contain the key ingredients of a compelling story - a protagonist overcoming obstacles to achieve something meaningful. It’s a fantastic way to start ideating storytelling concepts.