10 Reasons Storytelling is The New Product Marketing

April 20, 2013

Storytelling is the new product marketing


Whether it’s a white paper, product sheet, case study or video testimonial, product marketers need to tell good stories. People enjoy stories. They don’t enjoy white papers.

I once interviewed a client for a case study and told them, “I want to tell a story and present you as the hero. So help me understand how you achieved something heroic.” They liked that analogy and set out to help me assemble the story.

Do you see what I just did? I used a story to make a point about storytelling. Did you like my story? Let’s consider ten reasons why storytelling is the new product marketing.

1) We grew up with them.

We’ve consumed stories our entire lives. It started with the bedtime story, continued into poems and fables and then into novels, books, film and TV. Stories get passed down from one generation to the next. If only your product collateral could do the same.

2) There’s a beginning, a middle and an end.

Yes, I know. All content has a beginning, a middle and an end. The difference with a story is that we come to expect a rather clear sequence. Once upon a time…

3) We all love a good plot line.

It keeps you glued to the television. It keeps you up all night with the reading light on. A good plot line keeps the reader engaged, because they need to know what happens next, as well as the final outcome. Your product marketing won’t be as suspenseful, but create a good plot and you’ll hold your reader.

4) We associate with protagonists and heroes.

We associate with heroes, like Rocky Balboa

Photo source: Wikipedia. Who doesn’t love Rocky?

And of course, in the story, the hero uses your product. Who says product placement doesn’t work?

5) Places your candy into an attractive wrapper.

B2B content can be quite dry. Speeds, feeds, dimensions, features, specifications and the like. Conveying this information via storytelling places that boring and sugar-less candy into a neat looking (and recognizable) wrapper.

6) It works in presentations as well.

Product marketers are called on to give presentations to customers, prospects, partners, media and analysts. Captivate your audience by telling good stories. I try to fit a story in during the beginning, middle and end – this makes the entire presentation a story in itself.

7) Stories create an emotional connection.

A good white paper engages with your mind. A good story engages with your heart. Which would you rather have? Find stories in customer use cases of your product. Can any use cases be presented in a way that makes an emotional connection with the reader?

8) It has the chance to entertain.

An entertainer is a form of content marketing

Photo source: flickr.

A white paper or product sheet rarely entertains. Tell a good story, however, and you may be able to entertain your reader. Once you do that, you had them at “entertain.”

9) It increases retention and recall.

Think about everything we’ve covered: plot line, emotional connection, suspense and entertainment. Achieve all that and I can nearly guarantee that your readers will have better recall of your content. As Maya Angelou once said, “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.” As product marketers, it’s our mission to create memorable feelings (not just content).

10) It’s fun!

Hopefully, you produce stories that are fun for the reader. Better yet, you produce that are fun to make! I have a lot more fun producing product content when it’s formed around a story.

How to Use “Brain Rules” to Make Your Next Event More Impactful

June 7, 2012

Pictured: John Medina at 2012 PCMA Convening Leaders. Photo courtesy of MEETINGSNET.


At PCMA Convening Leaders 2012 in San Diego (in January), John Medina gave the opening keynote. Medina is the author of “Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home and School,” published by Pear Press in 2008.

I was unable to attend the Medina’s keynote, but judging by the chatter afterwards (both online and in the convention center), his talk was well received. I spoke to a few attendees who mentioned direct ties between “Brain Rules” and event planning. When I finally got around to reading the book, I had this “event angle” in mind.

Corporate Events

Attendees of corporate events are pre-disposed to interact with one another. You may know 20-60%+ of the attendees — and, even if you’ve never met someone before, you’re tied by the common bond of being part of the same company.

Monitor and Track your Corporate Learners

Rule #3 is called “Wiring” and can be summarized by the line “Every brain is wired differently.” Because everyone processes information (and learns) at different rates, Medina suggests smaller class sizes in schools. Why? So “the teacher can better keep track of where everybody is.”

Corporate training events should avoid the 3-hour PowerPoint presentations. Medina’s Rule #4 (“Attention”) says that “audiences check out after 10 minutes.” If you have a dry, 3-hour PowerPoint, chances are 2 hours and 50 minutes are wasted. Medina recommends that lectures be broken up into 10 minute segments.

To that I’d add that interactive technology be utilized to create a “presenter’s dashboard.” Throughout the session, short questions would be transmitted to all attendees via handheld devices. The question could be survey oriented (e.g. “Are you following the subject matter?”) or could “test” attendees to validate whether they’re following effectively.

All responses would be anonymous and presenters would be trained to effectively adapt and adjust their session based on the regularly-collected feedback. For instance, this method may identify segments that need to be slowed down, repeated or presented in more detail.

Repetition for Key Themes and Information

Rule #6 covers Long Term Memory and includes this nugget: “the way to make long-term memory more reliable is to incorporate new information gradually and repeat it in timed intervals.” To maximize learning at corporate events, then, consider the following:

  1. Schedule “recap sessions.” Featuring the original presenter, who provides a 5 minute summary of the key points from the original session. The remainder is a Q&A concerning the topic of the session.
  2. Reinforce during meals and drinks. In the common areas where food and drink are served, utilize large display monitors with rotating slide shows – the individual slides reiterate key points covered during the day’s sessions.
  3. Follow-on events. Schedule company-wide webcasts a few days (or a week) after the main event to reinforce key points covered.

In addition to repetition, Rule #4 (“Attention”) notes that “the brain needs a break.” This rule notes that a common flaw of instruction is “relating too much information, with not enough time devoted to connecting the dots.”

So here’s my own rule: each hour is divided into 50 minutes of instruction and 10 minutes of break. During these breaks, snacks are served and attendees are invited to connect the dots on whiteboards.

Gamify Your Corporate Event

Gamification of events has been widely discussed; however, a particular Brain Rule tells me how gamification can make a significant impact. In Rule #5 on Short-Term Memory, Medina notes, “The more elaborately we encode information at the moment of learning, the stronger the memory.”

How do we apply this rule? Create collaboration games in which you divide attendees up into teams. Teams are challenged to solve a problem. The act of solving the problem needs to involve elaborate steps (or considerations). And the end goal of learning is facilitated by the game itself (i.e. solving the challenge).

The result? Learning that results in stronger retention and recall (i.e. it made a larger impact) and a little team building thrown in for good measure.

All Types of Events

Exercise and Naps

You should incorporate exercise and naps into your event. Seems a bit crazy, right? Well, Rule #1 is “Exercise” and Medina notes that our evolutionary bodies are wired to walk 12 miles per day. In addition, he notes that exercise “stimulates the protein that keeps neurons connecting.”

The need to nap is covered in Rule #7 (“Sleep”) and notes that a NASA study “showed that a 26-minute nap improved a pilot’s performance by more than 34 percent.”  While Medina notes that this need to nap is independent of eating a large meal, I recall far too many events during which I nodded off in the session immediately following lunch.

My idea: reserve the hour immediately following lunch for the following options:

  1. A visit to the napping room (perhaps a sponsored napping room at a trade show or conference).
  2. Organized yoga sessions.
  3. Guided walks around the venue (e.g. a historical perspective on the city).
  4. Group discussion walks (i.e. a brisk walk with stops for the group to discuss topics related to the event).
  5. Free time – your chance to catch up on email, return voicemail, etc.

Connect with Attendees Emotionally

In Rule #4 (“Attention”), Medina writes that “emotionally arousing events tend to be better remembered than neutral events.” Reading this reminded me of the famous Maya Angelou quote, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

But how do you connect with your attendees’ emotions? Here are a few thoughts:

  1. The music you select and play (and, when it’s played).
  2. The quality of the presenters you feature (how will they make your attendees feel?).
  3. Considering the five senses for all touch points (e.g. sight, sound, touch, taste and even smell/aroma).
  4. The element of surprise (in a good way).
  5. The quality of your after-event events.
  6. The friendliness and helpfulness of your event staff.
  7. Over-deliver on attendees’ expectations.
  8. Be unique and differentiated.
  9. Inspire them to go back to the office and act upon something they learned.
  10. Find and provide things that attendees can’t get anywhere else.


Reading “Brain Rules” convinced me that if we can better understand how the brain works, we can effect change (for the better). To invite John Medina to speak at their annual conference, the event planners at PCMA must have drawn the connection between “Brain Rules” and impactful events. Use the Comments area below to share your thoughts on how events can me more impactful. Thanks!

Note: I invite you to connect with me on .

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