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Storytelling for Success: How to Design a Convincing Product Narrative (5 Steps)

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Andy Raskin

To take your pitches, presentations, and positioning to the next level, you have to tap into the power of narrative storytelling.

My guest today is Andy Raskin, strategic consultant and storytelling expert. In this episode, you’ll learn how to use storytelling frameworks to establish trust, create emotional connections, and gain traction.

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We covered:

  • What Andy think “positioning” exactly is
  • An example of a company that does narrative positioning well
  • Can you measure the success of product positioning?
  • How to create urgency in your positioning
  • Why the CEO should lead the product positioning exercise
  • How Andy implements his framework in 5 steps
  • The one question that sparks debate in positioning discussion
  • How you should approach positioning when you have multiple target audience
  • What Andy thinks marketers should learn for the next 5,10, and 50 years

Full Transcript:

Louis: Bonjour, bonjour, and welcome to another episode of everyonehatesmarketers.com, the no-fluff, actionable marketing podcast for marketers, marketing consultants, founders, and tech people who are just sick of shady, aggressive marketing. I’m your host, Louis Grenier. In today’s episode, you’ll learn how to position your business using a narrative storytelling instead of bland, descriptive positioning. My guest today is a strategic messaging and positioning consultant. He had CEOs align their teams around a strategic story to power sales, power marketing, fundraising, product, and recruiting.

Louis: We’ve talked a lot about positioning on this show, but my guest take today is quite different from what we talked about in the past. His clients include venture-backed companies like Andreessen Horowitz, First One Capital. He’s also led strategic storytelling at Salesforce, Uber, Square, Intel, General Assembly. As you can see, a lot of very, very big names, so that’s why I’m super happy to have you, Andy Raskin, on board. Welcome.

Andy: Thank you. Thank you, Louis. Just to be clear, Andreessen Horowitz is not my client, but I have worked with a bunch of teams that they’ve funded.

Louis: Right, yes. So sorry for the mix-up. Yeah, so you’ve worked with clients that are a part of the venture that have been backed by those venture capitalist.

Andy: Yes, yes, yes.

Louis: As I mentioned in the intro, we talked about positioning in the past. I interviewed April Dunford about it, I interviewed a few other people about it. I’m just curious to hear your take about, how would you define it, first of all? How do you define positioning yourself?

Andy: Well, I think it’s really about how you’re creating urgency in the buyer’s mind to change. The normal way I think we look at positioning is, it’s how do we position ourselves against competitors, and in fact, this is really the view … Starting around the ’80s, you see some of the big authors about positioning, namely Ries and Trout, who wrote the seminal book on positioning, talk a lot about how positioning is basically war. They use this guiding metaphor of war, and it’s a war of you against your competitors, the alternatives. Think what that has led us to is a place where marketing becomes essentially claim-spouting, like, why are we the best.

Andy: What I’ve found is that the teams that are really winning, the ones who are creating categories, who are leading categories, are doing something different. It’s really about a war against the status quo or status quo kind of thinking and approach, and so I really see positioning first and foremost not as a how are we different from them, our competitors, but how is the game you have to play different from the game you used to have to play.

Louis: Right. I think that’s something that comes up a lot, right, and I see that to be the biggest mistake companies make when they try to think of positioning or messaging is that they straight away come to their competitors and direct competitors who they think are the main threat to their business when in fact, as you said, status quo is usually the biggest threat. It’s actually people not knowing anything about your product or company. It’s usually people who’ve never heard from you, who’ve never considered you, and if you really want to make a shift in the markets, what you want to do is tell them a story that encourage them to make a change and move away from the status quo. Right?

Andy: Absolutely. I lead workshops all the time, and I’ll always ask the salespeople in the room, what’s the number one reason you lose a deal? It’s not competitors. It’s not that we lost to someone else, it’s just that the prospect decided not to act at all, or is dragging their feet. This really gets back to the book that I think really framed all of modern marketing, which is Crossing the Chasm. Crossing the Chasm is all about how we have to talk differently to the mainstream folks, how the early folks, they’re they’re almost going to buy no matter what you say. Unfortunately, I think even in that book, the prescription for how we talk is very much that kind of descriptive, “Hey, here’s how we’re different from the alternatives,” whereas I think what’s really what I see as effective is what has changed in the world such that there’s a new approach to winning.

Louis: Can you give us one example of each, so one example of a company that does what we would call narrative positioning properly, and another one that does descriptive positioning, briefly, so we can see the difference between the two?

Andy: Well, one that stands out for me, I probably talk and write about them too much these days, but it’s certainly Drift. I think we could do both examples here. Drift came into a very crowded market. If you look at what their product was when they started, I don’t know exactly, but I’m guessing there were probably dozens of other companies who were doing chat on your website. Those other companies, I’m not going to name names, but if you looked at their positioning and their messaging, it’s all about, “Hey, why we’re better at this, why our features are great,” all this stuff. Drift’s did something very different. They step back and said, “Hey, the way you’re playing the game is no longer viable.”

Andy: They’re saying, “Hey, now people expect you to be there immediately, now. They expect a conversation-type interface rather than a ‘fill out a form and wait’ interface,” and so they structured the whole thing from a change on the demand side in what people are expecting, and very specific about it, not just, “Hey, things are changing. Expectations are changing,” but very specifically about how. Their whole conversational marketing category that they’ve built is all based on this narrative. It’s not a narrative about Drift’s product. I’m sure they certainly have a lot of stuff where they’re touting their product, I’m not saying that that’s not part of it, but the overall framing is not that. The overall framing is this, what I call the new game. Conversational marketing is the way to win.

Louis: Do you have an example of a company that doesn’t use that and use more descriptive positioning? We don’t have to necessarily criticize them or anything, but maybe describing another way another company does it, this descriptive way.

Andy: Yeah, I’m not thinking of one offhand, and I think I would feel uncomfortable calling somebody out, but like I said, virtually all of the competitors in Drift’s space who were there before them I think were taking that approach, which is, “Hey, you have a problem,” so it was the problem-solution approach. “You have a problem, which is something like you want to connect to someone on your website. Here’s our solution, and here’s why that is a better solution than others for doing that.” What Drift did was start from a completely different place, which was not a problem, really, but a shift in the world.

Louis: Right. Another company that comes to mind that did that really well in the past is Salesforce with their no-software, I think, no … What was it? I’m going to fuck it up.

Andy: Yep. Yeah, no software.

Louis: No software, yeah.

Andy: Yeah, and Salesforce I think is the first, the modern example of this. Benioff comes and says, “Hey, this software game you’re playing? That’s over. This new cloud game is the way that the winners are winning.” It’s no accident that I think the leaders at Zuora, which is another example and one that I wrote about, all came from Salesforce, so they inherited that narrative positioning DNA.

Louis: Right. Together today, what I want to really do is go through a step-by-step and using the framework you use with your clients, which will help people listening right now to actually come up with narrative positioning, but before that, I want to touch on one last thing. I’ve developed positioning for companies before, and what I found to be the most difficult part is the time it takes to measure success. I want to ask you about that because what I feel is successful sometimes in the positioning world, that you do, is the clarity it brings firsthand inside the company, from the CEO to the CMO to the people, but then it takes a while to actually be using marketing materials and everywhere else. So how do you measure success for an activity like that that could take months or even years sometimes to materialize?

Andy: Yeah. Well, this is a great question, and I’ve written before my stance about the measurement of this is that we’re not in the domain of A/B testing. This is a strategic narrative that is going to take years to play out. That said, I think there’re a few things I’ve learned about how to keep it on the track to success and also to measure it. One of the things that I started doing, in my career, I’ve been on the receiving end of a lot of positioning work, and often, it would come, the deliverable would be some chart of messages. Like, would be a positioning statement or be like, “Okay, here’s the problem we solve. Here’s how we solve it. Here’s why we’re better than the others.” Basically was an asset that customers never saw. The idea was going to be a foundational story thing that when we did things that customers see, like a sales deck, like a website, we were supposed to kind of refer back to it and then build those things so that they’d have that DNA in there.

Andy: What I found was that never happened. The leadership team would get excited about some positioning, some framework, some brand. There’s all these different shapes, like pyramid or house or whatever it is. Then we’d feel like we’d starting from scratch when we actually built the things that customers see. So I decided in my work to go straight to something that customers see as the instrument of building the messaging. Usually, not always, but usually, that’s the sales deck, which is a weird thing because this is a podcast for marketers, and most people think of this work as marketing work. I think of it as leadership work, that the CEO has to lead this, and so I’m asking in my engagements the CEO with the leadership team support, of course, sales marketing as well, to build this narrative, build the sales deck, basically.

Andy: Sometimes it’s not the sales deck, sometimes it’s another asset, but usually, it’s that.

Andy: You’ve said, how do we get it to spread around? I think the sales first approach is really important. The normal approach is marketing builds it and then kind of pushes it on sales, like at the sales kickoff or something. What I found to be really valuable is to, before we roll it out, before we commit to it, is to start testing it in sales. By testing, I mean are we getting engagement in sales that we weren’t getting before? Are we getting the head nods? Is the sales cycle feel like it’s shrinking, or can we measure that? Usually, that’s the lowest-hanging fruit. If we can, then let’s start telling that story everywhere, rather than the other way around.

Louis: Yeah, okay, so lowest-hanging fruit is updating the sales presentation and straight away showing that to clients, or to prospect, and making sure that it connects with them. You mention a few matrix such as is it easier to close the deal, is the time to close the deal, is it shorter than before, and then, what if you don’t have a sales team? Would you say for example you use the homepage of the website and do an A/B test there? How do you do it when there is no sales team and it’s a different model?

Andy: Yeah. I’ve definitely done it in that case where we use the homepage, but the homepage is tricky because, or website is tricky, because the website has other missions that it has to accomplish. It has to get clickthrough and may even have other kind of missions that it needs to be successful at aside from telling this broad story, so it’s not always the best. Sometimes, we’ll use a CEO keynote as the structure, and then try and distill the points from that into the website, but I have done all of those things, use all of those assets as the asset for building the story. I think the most important thing, though, is that it’s a narrative asset rather than a descriptive asset, and it’s something that customers see, that that doubles as the messaging structure.

Louis: So, when you, if-

Andy: By the way, sorry, some people will say, like, “Hey, if you’re just building the sales deck, then that means you’re not doing work around talking to customers or you’re not doing some specific important work around crafting the messaging.” No. We can do all that work, it’s just that when we get the story, we’re forcing ourselves to see, can we lay it out in a way that makes sense in a narrative format and that’s going to work in sales?

Louis: Right, so let’s say you work with a client for three months, and then at the end, you deliver this narrative. Everyone is happy. How do you know you’ve been successful? Is there one metric where you know I’ve been successful? Is the qualitative metric whereby everyone is behind this narrative? Is it because the sales deck enables you to shorten the sales cycle? Do you have one core metric that you go back to all the time to feel you’ve done a good job?

Andy: Well, first of all, three months I think would be way too long because by the time we get to the end of three months, things have changed, so I just really try to … By the end of around six weeks, we’ve actually done a bunch of iterations, and we’ve taken it out into the field and done iterations in the field, so I like to work about twice as fast as that speed you’re talking about. I think the CEO of Pantheon, his name I Zack Rosen, I think put it best. He said, “Getting the story was really valuable, but what was more valuable in the work we did together was a process for keeping our team aligned on what the story is.” So yes, hopefully, we can get to a story that’s going to last us for years, that’s going to power all that stuff, but a lot of the times, it’s going to have to change.

Andy: For me, what I see as success is not only that the team is using those messages, that we’re starting to see those messages picked up in media. One team I just worked with, their CEO just sent me a link to a article where the headline of the article was essentially exactly the messaging we had built, and this came from that reporter talking to them. I asked the team to create a strategic narrative team led by the CEO, so it’s usually CEO, head of sales, [inaudible 00:19:13] usually a few others, and that they continue to meeting and continued iterating on this thing even after I’m gone. Sometimes, I come back and help if they get to a rough spot, but that they have a structure for improving it once they feel good about it.

Louis: Right. Okay. Makes sense. Now, let’s talk about this six weeks period. I like the fact that you said three months is too long. I agree. It might be too long. Let’s consider the fact, like for the next few minutes, that you are starting a new client. There’s trouble with positioning and messaging, and you come in. Let’s go about it step by step in a way that listeners right now listening to this can take advice from you and apply that to their business. You come into a new business. What is the first step? What is the first thing you do for them?

Andy: Well, in some bunch of posts, I’ve laid out a framework that I use for aligning the team on the narrative. In that framework, there’s five pieces. The whole work to me is identifying what those pieces are. My process is different depending on the size of the company and a few other factors, for instance, like right now, I’m working with a team that’s a large series A, they’ve raised, like, 15 million, and then also a public household internet company CEO and that person’s leadership team, so different kind of process. But we’re looking to identify these five pieces. The first piece is what is this change? Specifically, what is the old game, and what is the new game that your audience is going to have to play to win?

Andy: Great example of this comes from the post I wrote about Zuora. It’s called The Greatest Sales Deck I’ve Ever Seen. Zuora says, “Hey, that thing where you sell one-off products to people and have a kind of a transactional relationship with them? You’re going to sell them DVDs one-off? That’s over. The new game is subscription. Spotify. You’re going to sell them always-on access to whatever they want, and they’re going to pay for it, the use of things without the hassle of the ownership of things.” Defining that old game, new game I think is really the frame for the whole thing. Sometimes, it takes weeks, sometimes more, but we spend a lot of time on that.

Louis: Okay, so that’s the first one. What are the four others?

Andy: Yeah. There’s a lot of talk about how the company story should be like a movie. I think you can go overboard in that. We are not building a three-act screenplay here. That said, there’s something really interesting we can learn from the beginning of movies. Particularly, there’s this thing that happens in a lot of movies at the beginning where … I’ll use Star Wars as an example only because a lot of people have seen it. Luke has been bellyaching, complaining about he wants to have adventure, all this stuff, and Obi-Wan comes to him and says, “Hey, let’s go have an adventure. Come with me to,” I think this place called Alderaan. “I’ll teach you how to be a pilot, the force, the whole thing.” What does Luke say? Luke says, “Ooh, you know what, it’s getting late. I have to go home.” He basically says no.

Andy: In workshops, I always say, “Who does this remind you of?” And of course everyone, especially salespeople, will raise their hands, say, “Oh, the reluctant buyer.” I think there’s something very similar going on in both cases where the person, whether it’s Luke or the people we’re meeting in sales, for all their complaining, they’re actually kind of okay. They’re not actually in pain. We talk about what are their pain points, or selling to pain. Most of these people are not in pain. Otherwise, they really would’ve bought already. They see that the future too is probably, they’re probably always going to be okay. Why change? Why rock the boat? I mean, this is what the economists call loss aversion. Even though there might be some upside that I’m potentially seeing, why risk that if there’s going to be a potential downside? And so what we have to do is get them to see their world in the future differently.

Andy: In Star Wars, how does George Lucas do that? He has the Empire bomb Luke’s parents, or his foster parents, and kill them. Now, Luke sees the future very differently, and we as the audience see it too, of course. Probably, he’s going to be dead because he’s a sort of bratty kid. But then there’s this other game that he’s being invited to play. You could call it the grown-up game, he’s been playing the kid game, and Obi-Wan invites him to that. So, what do we have to do? We have to kill the parents of the prospects. Of course, figuratively. What do we mean by that is we have to show them that there are indeed stakes, that this new game is the one that the winners are playing, and that not playing it, and not playing it well, is a road to ruin, that you’re going to lose.

Louis: So it is about urgency, right? It’s really about defining the game, what the old game is [inaudible 00:25:50] new game, and then giving reasons to shake your boat and actually seek discomfort or actually changing the status quo, giving reasons enough to at least do something to change the status quo.

Andy: Yeah. Yeah. There’s a great FOMO element here. It’s not always possible, but one of the things we like to do is show, “Hey, look at all the companies or people who are winning.” In Zuora’s case, they say, “Hey, look at all the new companies that are thriving and disrupting and creating the value. They’re all subscription,” or what they call usership companies, “versus ownership. They’re selling you this services rather than the asset ownership. And look at the companies who are not doing that. Oh, they’re going out of business, so they’re getting disrupted.” It really is, in a way, a kind of life-and-death portrayal. We don’t have to always be that extreme, but close, as close as we can get with it still feeling credible.

Louis: And here, we are naturally leveraging a few psychological principle about the way we are built internally, right. The urgency, as you say, the storytelling elements. There’s a lot there that is really rooted in people’s psychology and behavior, right?

Andy: Absolutely, and if you just the sort of problem-solution, you know, “What’s the problem? Here’s our solution,” you miss out on all that. You only get that for the people who very, very directly experience the problem, and those are the people who really are in pain, who’re running to the emergency room for treatment. It’s the others who we need to get, and so yeah, absolutely.

Louis: Then, the three other. What are the tree other parameters? I’m guessing one of them is probably down to what you mentioned before about starting from the CEO all the way down.

Andy: Well, that’s more of a process thing about how I run it. As an aside, yeah, I do always ask the CEO to lead this, and that’s not always a popular ask. Not every CEO is up for doing this. I used to say, “Okay, I’ll work with whoever you want to appoint,” and I stopped doing that. I found that when I did that the results were not as good and the team didn’t seem to own it as much, and when it went really well, the CEO was really running it and really taking it on. But the next piece, the third piece of the framework, since sounded like you wanted to hear those pieces, is for every game, there’s a kind of object of the game, a goal. The next piece is really stating that. That goal can really act, in my opinion, as the mission statement. Not the mission statement in company-centric terms, but in customer-centric terms.

Andy: For Zuora, they, I think … And often, this works really nicely as the top line on the website, what some people call the tagline, although I really don’t like that phrase. But they had, “Hey, turn your customers into subscribers.” Turn all of them into subscribers. It’s a kind of asymptotically achievable, “you never really quite get there” goal state. For a while, Airbnb had this message, “Live there.” That is the goal state that I think for the customers, that drives really everything that Airbnb does.

Louis: So if everyone was playing the game, this would be the results, kind of?

Andy: Well, it’s if you are playing, if your customer … You’re asking your customer to play the game, and you’re saying, “Hey, to win at this game, this is where you have to get, or this is where you want to get. Living there.” And, “If you want, play another game where you’re just staying there. That’s going to be a losing game now.”

Louis: Okay. Okay, so what is the change, what is the reason for the change to make people go and change from the status quo to this, what is the object of the game, the infinite goal. What is the number four?

Andy: The fourth one is now, we haven’t talked about really the product yet and us, and our role. Here is where we can start to come in. In every game, there are rules and constraints and obstacles, so if your customer could just sort of win that game without any help, well, there’s no reason for you, so I know already that there are obstacles to the finish line, hurdles that they’ll have to jump over to get there. You want to name these, so, “Hey, what’s so hard about living there? What’s so hard about turning customers into subscribers?”, and really flesh that out. Then, we can now talk about how our product helps us get over each of those hurdles. You know, this is really in some ways the problem-solution [inaudible 00:31:53] start with in the traditional framework, but now, hurdles and getting over them are what I sometimes say as monsters and tools for slaying them. Has much more meaning, because now, these problems aren’t just disembodied. They’re stopping us from getting to some goal state, some promised land.

Andy: Now, the product has, or the services or whatever, has emotional resonance. It’s like the lightsaber. When Luke first sees the lightsaber, it’s kind of cool, but it doesn’t really have any emotional resonance. But then, when he starts using it to start getting to the places where he wants to get, then, it becomes a very dear thing to him and to us in the audience.

Louis: Okay, so that’s really interesting, those four criteria or four parameters or whatever you want to call them, so far. What is the last one?

Andy: Last one is just simply proof. Even if we’ve laid out those other four really well, we’re still going to have [inaudible 00:33:13] and hopefully, we do, because this object of the game that we’re talking about, what I sometimes call this promised land, is it should be really desirable, obviously, but also, it should be really hard to reach. Like, “Really, I’m going to live there?” You can imagine people thinking that back when they first started hearing about that game. “Really, somebody’s going to come pick me up? I’m going to just tap a button, I’m going to get a ride from somebody who doesn’t have a taxi license, and that’s all going to work out?” Still some fear, I think, about that obstacle.

Andy: So, we need to show stories, customer success stories, of people who have won the game, or at least are on the way to winning, and so this is the people who will talk about how we’ve helped them, how we’ve helped them get to play that new game.

Louis: Thanks for going through that with me. To summarize, what is the old game, what is the new game; what are the reasons to act now, what is the ultimate goal of this game, what is the object of the game; as you mentioned, what are the hurdles and obstacles, and how does your product help you overcome those, and finally, what’s the proof. Right? That’s your system, that’s your checklist that you like to tick with every client.

Andy: Yep. Pretty much, yeah.

Louis: Now, let’s go back to this exercise. You mentioned that you do work with different type of clients, and whatever, but for the purpose of this exercise, let’s try to pick a typical client, the typical size of company, or status, or nature of the company, where you can actually give me a process or some sort of pointers that show this is how I go about it. I’m pretty sure you have some similar activities between clients that you can flesh out in this podcast. If you go back to the first step that you would take, is it to meet the CEO and the leadership, is it to straight away talk to customers, is it to talk to sales? How do you go about fleshing out those five items you just explained there?

Andy: Yeah. I’m always kind of polishing this process, and it really does change quite a bit as I learn new stuff. I’ll try to pick out the things that are common. One of the things is, I like to start with the leadership [inaudible 00:35:50] group and hear from them, what are the pieces of this story? What is this old game, new game? What are all these different pieces that we’re talking about? You can imagine that in a group, once you get a certain number of people, we come out of this with a lot of notes, a lot of board notes. There’s [inaudible 00:36:18], there’s alignment on the general idea. People have different words for expressing things, or different words’ll mean different things to different people, so [inaudible 00:36:28] with a lot of ideas. Then the next thing I like to do is work with the CEO. Two things next. One is to work with the CEO on narrowing all this down to a draft, to a draft flow, usually of the sales deck.

Andy: At the same time, I ask the team to start asking essentially the same questions, those five pieces or the four ones, because the fifth one is really about customer stories. Start having them ask those to customers. [inaudible 00:37:11] words that we use, and at a minimum, they’ll kind of [inaudible 00:37:25] that they help other teams do customer survey, like NPS-type surveys from within their apps. We were trying to think of this kind of, what I now call the object of the game statement, that’s going to appear at the top of their website and in their sales stuff, and we couldn’t think of one that didn’t seem really trite, like, “Retain your customers,” or something. We were interviewing one of their customers, and just before the interview, we’d looked at his LinkedIn profile. His bio line said, “My mission is to win customers for life.”

Andy: That win customers for life basically became that object of the game statement. It does totally fit into that whole change around subscription relationships that now, instead of selling someone a car, you actually are selling them a relationship, if [inaudible 00:38:32] subscriptions as they started to take on, a relationship for their entire life about car ownership or car services. We work on that, and then we get to all that stuff, and I work with the CEO to take all this information and boil it down to a draft. Then I have the CEO present that draft to the team. This is usually like a week after that first session. The team gets to see it for the first time and say what’s working and not working, and by the way, this is always the low point of every engagement that I do because everyone had all these amazing ideas, and now we’ve thrown out [inaudible 00:39:22] necessity to [inaudible 00:39:25], and there’s a lot of feelings about that.

Andy: The good news is, the team is always right. Not about every little single thing, but the thrust of their request for kind of a course correction always makes it a lot better, and so CEO and I by design go back to the drawing board and try to incorporate some of that stuff. As we get closer, we then design it so that we can actually take it out on, if it’s a sales deck, sales calls, if it’s a CEO keynote, some talks, and then we get some feedback about how it’s playing in the wild and start tweaking it.

Louis: All right. Okay. Thanks for going through that. I know you might have a bit more steps, but I want to come back to the first one to start with. For people who are listening to that right now and want to go through this exercise, you would recommend them to put in the same room the CEO and leadership, right, and you try to have customer success, sales, marketing, ops, support, all departments represented in this meeting, or is it a selected few?

Andy: I usually leave it up to the CEO who the CEO wants there, but I do limit it to usually around five or six people total. I find that if it gets more than that, then we’re going to really have a problem aligning everybody. Not to say that those people aren’t important too beyond that circle, but we’ll have to kind of go in successive waves, kind of ripple out from that middle group, get them aligned, and then take the next group, try to get them aligned, and bring it out like that.

Louis: If you had to select one question that you really love asking during this phase, what is it? What is the exact question you like to ask that seems to bring the most discussions and the most heated debates?

Andy: I think it really is this question about what is the new game, and I think the reason that the discussion around it is so interesting is there’s a lot of ways you could name it. You could pick something very, very broad. It’s almost like a journalistic exercise. If we pick something too broad, too high, then we’re going to lose interest of the audiences we’re talking to, and if it’s too narrow, it’s just not relevant to enough folks, so finding that sweet spot is really, really important. It’s less about a certain question that I ask, but it’s more about me listening as the discussion starts to unfold for what I kind of think of as the nugget.

Andy: Usually, the team’ll have some sort of first answers to this thing, and it won’t be very satisfying. Then, there’ll be a discussion. Often, it’s a discussion about how, how do we think differently about the world than our competitors? It’s about me trying to level them up from a, “Our design is better,” or, “Our this is better,” to, “What’s our fundamental philosophical difference from them about how we see the future and the world?” Often, it won’t even seem that important in the discussion, and I’ve learned that I think developing an ear for this and pulling it out and building some discussion around it is super, super valuable.

Louis: Yeah. From experience, what happens is it’s like, whenever you interview your customers or you talk to sales, the first few minutes are going to be a lot of bullshit, a lot of surface-level thing. Then, once things are being said and re-said and said again, people tend to lose a bit of the barriers, and they start to speak like they would normally speak. Right?

Andy: Yeah. Yeah.

Louis: Then, they start using the words that they would normally use, and like their customer would normally use, and sometimes, as you say, it is just one or two, three words, maybe, to get it and just say, “Ah-hah. That’s really interesting. That’s powerful.”

Andy: Yeah. Sometimes, it comes also, like I said, I’ll have the CEO present back to the team. You know, it’s the first few … oh, this is going to be the low point and set everybody up for that. It’s still emotionally very difficult. Everybody still was thinking, like, “Yeah, yeah. He’s saying that, but I think we’ll get a really good one from what we said last week, from all the great ideas we put on the table last week.” Often, the way the CEO first goes to it is that they don’t like it, and being able to have that conversation about why they don’t like it, what’s missing, often also will lead to a better place.

Louis: Right. Then you mention, you go [inaudible 00:45:21] and you start to create a first draft. Instead of creating guidelines, documents and whatnot, you try to use a sales deck or the homepage, as you said, but usually, you use the sales deck. I know it might be a difficult question to answer, but what are the typical three or four slides that you always put? Is it always the same structure, is I old game, new game, what’s the goal of this, what’s the ultimate goal? How do you structure it?

Andy: It’s really hard to I think have a template for it. It’s kind of like, if you read a lot of books on screenwriting, there’s a bunch of books that are really popular in Hollywood that, like, everybody’s has and reads. At the same time, I think there’s also this belief that hey, if you just followed that and do exactly what they say, it’s going to be a horrible movie. I find there are kind of principles and things, touchstones, that I look for, but always, we’re having to modify it for the specific company, the story, the team. There’s always just something different, but the pieces are the pieces that I laid out, this old game, new game shift, the winners, the object of the game, the obstacles to the game, obstacles and then how we overcome them, is the basic structure that we use.

Louis: Right. Then you mention you present it to the team. The CEO will then present it to the team. You get feedback, right, and this feedback is usually super useful. Then you would update your draft again, but then you also mentioned something interesting. You also said that you tend to talk to customers directly, right, to interview customers, so I’m curious, when does it enter into the mix? Is it after you got feedback from the team and you have a solid draft, or do you tend also to try to talk to customers before that?

Andy: Often, talking with customers is hard. Not every team has customers that are able to talk, willing to talk, have time to talk, so it really has been different in different cases, but I would say in general, as soon as we get the feedback, the CEO and I are discussing it and how we have to modify, do we want to modify. Then, we’re sharing it with the team in regular checkins that I institute with the team, sharing the highlights of what we’ve learned, what we’ve heard, and how we’ve changed it based on what we got from them.

Louis: Okay. You seem to rely almost exclusively on internal data, in a sense, internal source. Right? Is there any other sources that you use to build this draft and to build this story, and if so, which ones?

Andy: Well, the customers are a big one. Customers are not an internal source. They’re a big input in, maybe the most important input, into where this is going. But yeah, very often, there will be … There may be analyst stuff that the team brings to it, there may be analyst calls as we’re taking it out, so when we’re taking it out … The important thing is let’s get something and then bring it out and see how is that playing, and so there’s many different audiences that we can start gathering input from and starting making a call as a group. If an analyst says this, does this mean we change our whole story, or do we just consider that analyst one data point, and we’re going to stick with it? Lot of decisions to be made.

Louis: Yeah. What I like very much about your approach is the speed at which you tend to put a draft out there and get feedback. I think that’s critically important. It could take years of time for companies to settle on positioning, and as you said, things move so quickly that it might be a massive mistake, and actually, it is a massive mistake. Right? One last questions that I know you get asked a lot is about, what if I have three different type of customers that are quite different from one another? Should I change and have one positioning for each? What do you say to that?

Andy: You’re hitting on the general form of this question is hey, we have different audiences we have to speak to. Those audiences might be different verticals, they might be different personas, like seniorities or roles within a company, especially in B2B world, and you really have two choices. You can create us an individual story for each of these audiences, but the problem with that is you kind of become very schizophrenic. You don’t really have any identity. It’s like, “Hey, tell me who you are, and then I’ll tell you who I am.” It’s also a lot to remember for your team. Like, “Oh, what do I tell this person?”

Andy: The other approach is to find some way to start with a common story that you tailor out for the different audiences. I think this is really one of the huge strengths of this narrative approach. I mean, the narrative about subscription economy or whatever this new game is is not a role-specific story. It is a story that is playing out and affecting each of the industries and roles and personas and audiences that you’re talking to, if we’ve designed it properly. I actually wrote a post about this answering this exact question. It’s called Tailoring Your Pitch For Multiple Audiences. [inaudible 00:51:57] approach in is to start with that change, and then for each of the audiences, talk about how it’s playing out for them.

Andy: Zuora does this really well. They say, “Hey, we’re in subscription economy. Hey, what does that mean? In music, it means we’ve shifted from DVDs to Spotify. In autos, it means this,” so there’s an industry vertical tailoring that goes on, and then there’s a role tailoring. I saw the slides they did for a big conference where they had, like, one section, one audience or session was for. VPs of product. One session was for CIOs. They’ll say, “Hey, subscription economy, VP of product, in this world, your role changes from, ‘Hey, in the old world of transactions, you were like a feature manager. Now, you’re a relationship builder.'” They would do this from-to of your role and how the game shifts for you personally, for this audience personally, based on the high-level new game that everyone is having to play.

Andy: That approach, I think, has been really successful for teams that I’ve worked with. It’s nice to also, especially if you go on a sales call, you might have a mixed audience of people in different personas or different industries. Then, you can even have a [inaudible 00:53:34] where you’re calling out how new game changes the game for the specific personas, and that creates a discussion around that.

Louis: Andy, thanks so much for going through your process in detail. To summarize it briefly, as you said, the five things you want is what is the change, what is the old game, what is the new one; what is the urgency, why should people take action to actually challenge-

Andy: Which is specifically about winners and losers. How is this creating winners and losers? Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Louis: Urgency, what makes people challenge their status quo to take action; what is the object of the game, the end goal; what are the obstacles and how does your product overcome them, and then what is the proof. Right? I always ask a few questions before the end of the podcast, the first one being, what do you think marketers should learn today that will help them in the next 10 years, 20 years, 50 years?

Andy: Oh, I think every marketer, really, everyone in business, but particularly marketers, can study story structure. It’s kind of like the brain’s API of how humans are wired to take stuff and to take in information and believe things. This is not about telling cute anecdotes in your speech, it’s about structuring the messages that you’re giving in a kind of story narrative framework.

Louis: All right. What are the top three resources you’d recommend listeners today? It could be anything from podcast to conferences to books to anything.

Andy: One book that I love is, it’s not typically considered a marketing book, but it’s called Never Split the Difference by Christopher Voss. It’s a negotiating book. Not sure if you know, Chris Voss was the FBI’s lead hostage negotiator for some time. He talks about an approach to a negotiation where he’s not using the same words, like narrative positioning, but he’s essentially doing that. He’s talking about how, basically in all of his negotiations, and he’s successful virtually every time in negotiating the safe release of hostages, is all about telling the captor’s story back to them and getting acknowledgement from the captor that we’ve got it. Usually, that comes in the form of what he calls that’s right, so instead of getting to yes, getting to that’s right. If we can get to that’s right, then we’re building trust.

Andy: This is really the whole idea behind narrative positioning is instead of aiming for yes, you are the best, we’re aiming for that’s right. You understand my story, and if we can get to there, then there’s this other thing that happens, I think, where people just assume you must have the best product, or you’ll be the best person to go with.

Louis: I think that reminds me-

Andy: So that’s one-

Louis: That reminds me, sorry to cut you, but it reminds me quickly of this, I think it’s in Japanese camps during second world war, where they were using very, very similars tactic to indoctrinate Americans, by making them admit a small fault in America’s politic, and saying yeah, that’s right, and then they move on to something bigger and bigger, and then, after five years, they write propaganda for Japan and without being asked.

Andy: That’s it. That’s it. Hopefully, we’re not doing this coercively. The whole point of the that’s right, when we really get in its valuable, is that it’s a signal that kind of on their own accord, without being put in any kind of course of situation, they’ve said, hey, yes. You really understand me.

Louis: Right. So what are the two other resources you recommend?

Andy: If you’re interested in story structure, two things I can recommend. One is just any book on screenwriting. There are a bunch of really good ones. Story by Robert McKee is kind of the classic one. Not written for marketers, but a lot of the echoes of what I’m talking about and the origins of it, really, are there. Then also I think America’s treasure storyteller, our most treasured asset in this world, is Ira Glass, who’s the producer of This American Life, radio show and podcast. Ira has, he published what he called his manifesto on how to structure a story. What’s interesting there, too, is a lot of it really is about stakes. What we talked about in the second point of the five that I mentioned, around here’s a lot of story ideas that sound good, but aren’t going to work because they haven’t laid out the stakes. As you said, the why does it matter. What’s the winning, what’s the losing, and why do we care? Those three are what I’d recommend.

Louis: Really good recommendations, especially for those are not marketing books, and I appreciate those type of resources because usually, they lead to a lot of insights. Andy, once again, thank you so much for your time. Thanks for going through your process with me, for being patient about all the steps you’re taking with your clients, and for sharing that many examples. Where can listeners connect with you and learn more from you?

Andy: Best place is on LinkedIn. You can just reach out on LinkedIn and connect. That’s always a really good place. That’s where I do a lot of writing about this stuff, post articles. Also, my website is andyraskin.com.

Louis: Awesome. Once again, Andy, thanks so much.

Andy: Great. Great talking with you, Louis.

Next: check out the 500+ marketing resources mentioned on the podcast over the years (sorted by the number of mentions and format).

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© 2017 - 2020
NOT SEEN ON TV - FIGHTING MARKETING BULLSHIT SINCE 2017 - BY LOUIS "BONJOUR BONJOUR" GRENIER
© 2017 - 2020 NOT SEEN ON TV - FIGHTING MARKETING BULLSHIT SINCE 2017 - BY LOUIS "BONJOUR BONJOUR" GRENIER