Telling the story before making the product: a critical startup success strategy
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Elements from the Brand Strategy Workshop Image Credit: RED-id

How telling the story of the product in the strategy phase can have positive effects on its creation

“If you can’t tell it, you can’t sell it,” claims Peter Guber, the famous executive, entrepreneur, educator, and author, who is most famous for films like The Kids Are Alright, Soul Surfer, and Bernie. When it comes to creating digital experiences or UX in general, telling a coherent and short story of what that experience is could be invaluable in the creation of the product.

For brand builders, this is nothing new. They’ve been telling stories in order to connect with their customers for decades. They know that the best way to engage with customers is to tell stories that represent their values, and embody their aspirations.
Stories are a great way to communicate, and in a world where sharing is not just an experience, but an economy, there is no better way of having your message spread than telling it in a unique and coherent way.

Customers are no more looking to buy a utility than they are to buy features. They are looking for context, one that they can identify with and is aligned with the way they view the world. Stories are a great way to provide and communicate that context.

So why isn’t the story part of the product creation process? Shouldn’t the co-authors of the product engage in a similar way? Too many startups and companies brand their products way after they’ve been conceived, and this core element of the message gets lost in the process.

In a world that is suffering from featuritis and MVPs that give new meaning to the word “minimum”, telling the story of the product early on can help add focus to the features and the experience that our customers really need, and to align them with the goals of the business.

Working with a developer Photo Credit: Hero Images / Getty Images Israel

There are many methods for telling the brand story, and it’s important for those involved to find the right way for them. However, contrary to traditional branding methods, telling the story in the digital age is best when it involved all of the stakeholders, and is a co-created process. Find a method that’s right for you, and alter it so that everyone who will be involved in the creation and use of the product can be included. Leverage on the knowledge and insight from all of the people involved.

Use that story throughout the product creation process continuum. This will help communicate the product throughout its various creation cycles. It will help those involved connect with the product’s unique message, and weed out elements that don’t align with the story.

Take for example a platform we redid for TestPrep, a leading global test preparation provider. After some research and a few workshops with key stakeholders, we identified their product’s story, which went like this… “A premium service that gets you prepared for the right test now”. This reflected their user’s needs for an immediate and accurate test preparation, and their willingness to pay for a quality service that can help them land the job they want.

This story directly affected the design and the business model. For one, the entire user flow was designed so that there is little motivation to “explore” other products, but to focus on the solution that is right for the user, and get them to start practicing. This is very much in contrast to other e-learning models that exits online today (such as Udemy, or Lynda.com). We also simplified the licensing system by standardizing pricing, enabling the user to make a purchase decision based on quality and content, not on price.

Element from the PrepTest homepage Image Credit: RED-id

The visual design and brand were all redone to reflect the “premium” quality of product. For example, we chose to implement a ladder image in the logo, using it as a metaphor for gaining a higher achievement, even beyond expectations.

Element from the visual brand process Image Credit: RED-id

It’s true that the brand story can’t be told before there is any idea of what the product will be. Understanding the business, its goals, its users, and crucial needs are all part of the strategy that creates a credible foundation for digital product creation, but adding the story to that pool will highly increase its chances of being coherent, adding focus, and most importantly, standing out from the rest.

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Orit Zetouni Sade

About Orit Zetouni Sade


Partner at RED-id, a UX specialist, and lecturer at leading colleges and universities in Israel on UX related subjects. She has an MA in Interaction Design and over 15 years of experience in creating delightful digital experiences. Orit speaks and runs workshops all over the world.

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