I gave a workshop recently about humanizing products and marketing, and we talked about why narrative and great stories matter during design and in our customer communications. Stories of empathy and customer needs inform the design process, and, when we know what challenge we’re addressing with our products, we then know how to tell the story of overcoming that issue when it comes to marketing communications. Even great products need great marketing stories. While it may work for Field of Dreams, the ‘build it and they will come’ approach isn’t a great way to go even for great products. Hope is eternal; yet, it’s not a great marketing strategy.

Empathy and Customer Stories Drive Design

One of the products we discussed was Nest Labs, a product I have written about before. Designed by folks that were part of the iPhone team at Apple, this product is a simple, elegant, easy-to-use learning thermostat that looks good. From a design standpoint – they did lots of things right, as you would expect from people with Apple’s design sensibilities. The product tackles the challenge that many users have – learning how to use a thermostat – and having it yield consistent savings. Most thermostats don’t save setting preferences, they are incredibly inefficient, not easy to program, and unattractive. The Nest thermostat learns users’ preferences so that it reduces heating costs and inefficiencies by up to 50% (savings vary) and it’s elegant, attractive and user-friendly.

Great Product with a 'Why' keepingithuman.com

No doubt – it’s a great product with a great team and origin story. It costs several hundred dollars to start with – there are several generations out now and costs are headed down. It’s a product with a great ‘Why’ behind it. So what could this company do better?

Nest Origin Story keepingithuman.com

Tell a Better Marketing Story

The answer is storytelling. It could tell a better story to customers. The company has a huge opportunity to tell its compelling narrative in a bigger, bolder way to the market. Great products that solve real challenges, open up new opportunities, and make life better for people have a solid story to tell and it’s imperative to tell it in the right way.

How to Craft a Compelling Business (and Consumer) Story

The key to a great story is change; in other words, how does the product leave customers better off?! A great story answers that question in a compelling way. This point is critical: simply showing how customers benefit by saving money or time feels a bit empty and anti-climactic. It is. Great products are supposed to make lives better. So what?! Here’s the key point: never end your story on a monetary benefit. There is nothing wrong that benefit. Of course, it matters. Still, it’s only a surface-level benefit.

The Most Important Element of a Successful Story is Change

Underneath every benefit is a larger human need. Think about Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. People have needs for security, control, freedom, self-esteem, belonging, access, community, recognition and a need to be a part of something bigger than themselves. Why end with a superficial benefit when you can reach people emotionally, cut through noise (lots of me-too products claiming the same benefit), and connect in a way that facts cannot? So tell the human story of how your product leaves people better off. If you can’t answer how you change customers’ lives for the better, then you have work to do. A human need – not product – always drives both design and marketing storytelling.

Great Marketing Stories Speak to the Human Need Being Met

Extrapolating from the benefit of saving money are larger human needs that are being met. Two needs (of a number) with Nest Labs include control (the ability to control one’s environment) and the self-esteem and belonging that come with being greener and reducing one’s use of energy resources. There is value and community in belonging to a movement that is bigger than the individual. When you are part of a larger movement – such as being greener – users feel connected socially to something meaningful. Those are substantial human needs that go way beyond the surface and undifferentiated message of saving just money over time.


Show Me (More Than) The Money!

So how can Nest Labs turn up its marketing power? Tell a bigger and more human story that goes beyond the monetary benefit.

Want to tell a bigger and better story? Find the human element underpinning your benefits and tell that *story* to the world.

What do you think? Email me at kathy@keepingithuman.com