Even Leonardo Da Vinci Needs Help With the Story
Can you imagine Leonardo in the 15th Century trying to explain to his buddies over a tankard of ale how a helicopter works:
“You see, there’s this tin can…And it’s got these two steel rotator blades, it flies through the sky, and shoots cannonballs with a laser beam…”
You can almost hear the responses now.
“Leonardo, my man, you’ve been watching too much Battlestar Galactica. Just be patient for new season of Game of Thrones…”
Alas, the life of a TV-watching innovator. This is the same challenge you face when you tell people about something that is new and unfamiliar to them. How do you explain it, in a way that they can connect to? Without it sounding like science fiction.
Sometimes I watch Infomercials just for the fun of it. Honestly, it drives my girlfriend crazy.
I’m sure you’ve heard some of cliche “As seen on TV” promises:
Burn 1,000 calories in an hour, banish that pesky muffin top, and shred intense amounts of fat—in less than 60 days! It slices, it dices, it cooks a perfect hard-boiled egg every SINGLE time! And one of my personal faves…You too can repel liquid from any surface…(Because, really, how awesome would it feel to douse yourself in Dr. Pepper once in a while, just to test how repellant that surface really is?).
Too often, our customers have no clue how to find themselves in our product, service or solution. One of the things we often overlook is setting the larger context so they can.
Set the Frame For An Easy Yes!
Your product story is the invite for your audience to engage with you.
It describes the fresh perspective you bring to your work — including what’s missing from the conversation, and how you address the gap. This is the frame for your story. Here’s why this is important:
More often than not, people feel lost in their own story—much less able to connect with yours.
They need to find their footing before they can even consider whether to pay attention to your product. Without context, there is nothing there to ground them.
It’s your job as an innovator to remind people of the story they might be in. Give them the context they need to feel safe, understood—and in agreement with you. Show them the lens through which to look at what you ultimately have to offer.
What is changing in the world? What is the underlying shift in values that isn’t being reflected in people’s day-to-day experience?
Start with a statement that is an easy YES—and one that makes people feel good. Once you set this larger context, remind them of the obstacle or challenge that stands in the way of what they just affirmed they believe in, care about, or agree with. This is the creative tension—the kicker that makes them say, “Oh right…thank you! No wonder I’ve been feeling this way.
Here is an example:
How amazing is it that we all have the world’s knowledge at our fingertips, and yet we’re completely overwhelmed and struggling to keep pace with the changing information in our field or industry?
This is setting the frame for your audience to say yes. It validates the value and the need for your product—before you even say what it is.
I see a lot of coaches, consultants and change-agents get trapped in the same old problem-solution story. As in “here’s your problem/pain point…but don’t worry, we have the magical elixir for you.” What’s the problem with this story? It makes people feel dumb. Or depressed. It’s just plain reductive, when in fact our lives are more complex than that. Unless you want to be a Debbie Downer, don’t start on a negative note. (You see Infomercials do this all the time…as in, “don’t you hate it when…?”)
If you start with the negative, chances are you’re going to repel a lot of people. If they don’t see themselves in your story right from the start, they will reject your product before you even introduce it.
Yet, if you start with something awesome—something that reminds them of the possibility rather than problem alone—well, than you might just be on to something.
Give People an Experience, Not Just a Product
Setting the frame out of the gate is critical to the success of your product story. You are getting people to engage, to open themselves to your idea or message.
And you know what? Yes begets yes. The moment your customers say yes to your frame, they are ultimately saying yes to your product. The moment they are receptive, they start filtering information that further validates their receptivity.
That’s the opening you’ve been waiting for.
Once you set the frame, you’re in a much better position to talk about your product (or service) and what it does.
Think of it as being properly introduced. If you’re going up in front of an audience, and you have a colleague or friend who gives a glowing introduction that sets the frame for your speech, making you look and feel good—and more importantly, making your audience feel good—there is a big difference in how your message will be received.
Same thing here. Welcome your product before it even hits the stage. Keep in mind, this in an invitation for your customers to feel validated that you see their world as they do. That you care about the same things they do. And that you want to offer them a gift that will help them on their journey. Your product is about your passion—your fire. Stoke some of that fire in your audience, and they will have the trust and confidence and excitement to engage with you.
There’s a great Ziggy cartoon that shows a customer getting ready to order at the counter. The menu has two choices:
Chili — $2.95
The Chili Experience — $4.95
That’s part of what we’re all looking for, isn’t it? The experience more than the product alone—even if we have to pay a couple extra bucks to get it). We want something that comes to life. And by exploring these storytelling frameworks, we are looking at how to literally enliven our products and services with spirit and energy.
Key Questions To Set the Frame of Your Product Story
- What product or service are you trying to frame?
- What has changed in the world, for your work to matter now more than ever?
- Where is your message lost in translation? Where do people most often get stuck?
- What do you affirm, celebrate or validate on behalf of your audience?
- What cultural value(s) shift does your work reflect or embody?
Your story needs to be an easy YES that makes people feel good.
What’s the story of your own product or service? How have you been setting the frame for it—and what’s working, what’s not?