Storytelling has recently become a buzzword. If you are working in the field of digital product management, you probably heard about it in some way. It is widely used in every phase of a product life cycle: all the way from design to marketing. But is it really something that we can use in our daily work? In this post, I collected cases where storytelling can be a useful tool to create and sell digital products.
Why is storytelling important?
“You’re never going to kill storytelling, because it’s built in the human plan. We come with it.”
– Margaret Atwood
Before we move on to the practical benefits of storytelling, we need to understand why it is so valuable.
The art of storytelling: How it helps us explain difficult concepts
In high school my history teacher always complained about me not being factual. I recited the great stories of history, but without the exact dates or places. I thought that something was wrong with me. Now I know that it was a completely natural behaviour, because people can remember “patterns” more easily than every single detail.
It is a common knowledge, that we use stories to make our world meaningful. What is more, our brain detects patterns of information in nature’s visual forms, like faces, figures, flowers, as well as it detects in speech. Because of these two things not only are stories meaningful but they are also familiar patterns to us.
In practice, we can take advantage of this nature of storytelling to communicate among team members and to explain our ideas to stakeholders. You can also use it to explain how the product you are building can be useful to the target audience.
Storytelling with data enable us to create a shared understanding
Storytelling has the potential to generate a shared understanding of a situation, a subject, or a problem between people. And because of its engaging nature, it has the potential to attract and maintain attention as well as to allow audiences to make meaningful connections.Thinking about how to build a product usually involves feature lists and backlogs. Stories bring user pain points and goals to the forefront of the conversation and help teams create a shared language of why they’re building a product or feature and who it will benefit.
Storytelling tips: Stories help us empathise
Empathy is the ability to see the world through the eyes of others. In terms of design, it means understanding and exploring people’s needs, in order to design and build a perfect solution for them. Everyone in the product team should have a shared understanding of the processes users go through and the thoughts they have when using the product. And ultimately, the whole team should recognise the target audience’s goals.
Storytelling is a great way to infuse empathy into the project, and it can be extremely useful for design thinkers. When we hear stories, our brains are tricked into thinking that we are genuinely part of the story. For example, the empathetic emotions we feel towards the characters of a story are similar to the empathy we feel towards real people.
What makes a good story?
In general, a good story is about something that is interesting or important to a certain audience. Because of its highly subjective nature, it is hard to define what we can consider interesting. However, there are some universal rules that we can follow. Let’s check them:
- Fun. Good stories keep the reader interested and concerned about what’s coming next.
- Educational. They stimulate interest and contribute to the knowledge base of the reader.
- Universal. Good stories can be told to different audiences and tap into the experiences and emotions of many people.
- Organised. Concise organisation is followed by good stories and the organisation contributes to the communication and absorption of the core message.
- Memorable. Great stories are written in the reader’s mind, either by inspiration, scandal or humour.
While there are other structures, twists, and approaches, good stories boil down to three essential elements, these are the following:
- Characters. The introduction of the characters involved.
- Conflict. The lesson is often illustrated in how the character transforms through challenge.
- Resolution. How did the character(s) change?
Using storytelling in product design
Storytelling in business: Successful communication with your product team and the executives
The agile framework already recognises that in order to build a usable product, we need some kind of common ground with those who will use it. User stories are part of an agile approach that helps to shift the focus from writing to talking about requirements. Have you ever wondered why they are called stories, and how this practice developed? You can find a nice image below that helps explain the story.Even though the above sentence is far from the actual stories we have already talked about, it demonstrates the basic function of storytelling: provide context for the development team and their efforts. After reading a user story, the team knows why they are building the product, what they’re exactly building and what is the value it creates. They help to provide a user-focused framework for daily work — which drives collaboration, creativity, and a better product overall. What is more, if you think about your product roadmap, it can also be seen as a big story, where the heroes are the team members. Next time you prepare a roadmap presentation for your stakeholders, don’t forget to think about it like this.
Visual storytelling to understand your users
Storytelling plays a major role in our work at UX studio. A great story catches attention, offers insight, and inspires actions for teams and stakeholders. There are many ways to communicate stories visually, for example with journey maps or empathy maps, but the most prominent technique is storyboarding.
Storyboarding originally comes from motion picture production. Walt Disney Studios is credited with making storyboards famous, using frame sketches before actual production. Basically, it is a sequence of drawings that represent the planned shots.
In UX design, we use the same method like Disney did: we are drawing sequences, but in our case, the “movie” is about the product and how people would use it. This way we can predict and explore the experience of a user with a product visually, so we can understand the nature of interaction between people and a product over time, giving a clear sense of what is really relevant to users.
Compared to a text-based user journey, storyboarding has additional benefits: it is more visual hence it is easier to process the information included in it. This characteristic also makes it more memorable, so you can understand the problem quickly and also remember the situation by just looking at it.
In case you are interested in creating storyboards in details, check out our article complete guide to UX Storyboard Creation.
Digital storytelling as a marketing tool
As I mentioned earlier, storytelling is a powerful tool not only to empathise with your users, but also to communicate your product values to them. Storytelling has always been an important aspect of marketing, but nowadays it is getting even more critical because in today’s digital noise it is extremely hard to catch people’s attention. But it is not just about attention or awareness.
People primarily rely on their feelings and emotions rather than on factual information when making purchasing decisions.The simplest way to use storytelling in marketing is by using the problems your users face. These problems are the villains and your product’s solution is their hero.
However, there are some out-of-the-box approaches as well. The best stories often come from the users themselves. For instance, Airbnb uses the power of customer storytelling by giving people an opportunity to tell their own stories. These community-driven stories will always be more authentic than something that the Airbnb marketers would try to create. The website is called “Airbnb Community Stories” and is very interactive with a daily mix of stories.
The story never ends
As you can see, storytelling is not just a technique that writers or performers use. It is a powerful tool and it’s only up to you how you want to use it in the different phases of product management and design. You can incorporate it into an agile framework, encourage marketers to tell a brand story on your product landing page, or just simply use it to empathise with your users. The possibilities are endless.
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