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The art of product storytelling: how product teams can balance evidence with empathy

Product narratives should be grounded on clear, quantifiable data points; product teams have to use powerful statistics like revenue, active users, and retention rate as evidence to get buy-in for their vision. 

But data alone won’t create the emotional connection you need to captivate your users and convince your stakeholders.

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Organizational awareness

Last updated

21 Oct 2021

The best product storytelling goes beyond the facts and figures and puts user needs center stage. By crafting compelling stories, product managers can make stakeholders and users fall in love with their product plans—and inspire their product team to connect with the deeper function of the product they’re developing. 

This article guides you through product storytelling strategies that can help teams deliver great product experiences, communicate product value to key stakeholders, and stay aligned around core goals.

Use Hotjar to take your product storytelling to the next level

Hotjar helps you weave visual evidence and VoC feedback into compelling narratives to convince your stakeholders.

Why storytelling is a product team’s superpower

Our brains are hardwired to respond to personal stories. We’ve always communicated by telling tales about people overcoming challenges and obstacles. Stories move us and help us remember key ideas and learnings. 

So how does this relate to product teams? 

Product teams are product communicators. PMs carry messages from users to organizational departments and back to their development team. 

Successful product managers need to convince stakeholders to invest in a well-researched product vision—but you won’t move your audience with a barrage of technical specifications and user stats. Product teams have to weave product data into a coherent, compelling story that sticks.  

That’s why storytelling is a superpower for product teams who need key stakeholders to understand why your products matter.

Forget about facts, figures, charts, and statistics. It’s the fastest way to get people to tune out. Think about any story you love. How many facts and figures do you remember? Product storytelling is no different. Your goal should be to grab and hold people’s attention by creating an emotional response.

You want your audience to see themselves as the hero of your product story, understand how they’ll overcome their most pressing challenge, and imagine a better future thanks to your product. You can use some facts and figures to prove your point, but if they aren’t wrapped up in a good story you’ll never hold anyone’s attention.

Katie Deloso
Co-founder at Knurture

4 methods of storytelling for different audiences

Strong product narratives forge strong emotional connections. But product teams need to adapt their product stories to a diverse range of stakeholders. 

Compelling stories can help users engage with the product and improve cross-functional collaboration within the organization. 

Here are four key roles great product narratives can serve for different audiences: 

1. Seduce users

Sure, feature tables can be useful in helping users weigh up product decisions. But they’re not emotionally seductive. 

Product marketers need to tell strong stories to draw users into engaging with the product, but storytelling isn’t only for marketers: the whole product team should think of the product experience as a story and aim to keep users hooked through the entire journey. 

Product narratives aren’t about selling to users: they’re about communicating with them.

One of the biggest mistakes we made at the start was viewing product storytelling as a form of advertising. Once we focused on direct user communication instead, we made headway with our product narrative. Instead of doing a product pitch in marketing language, we developed our product narrative by building a relationship with our users and providing solutions to the problems they told us about.

Alex Kus
CMO at Buddy

2. Improve user experience

A powerful product narrative helps users understand how tools and features will help them and guides users through the PX from start to finish. 

Great storytelling contributes to great product design. By understanding—and communicating—the narrative of your users’ needs, you can craft products that fit seamlessly into their story and offer them real value.

💡 Pro tip: connect with your users’ stories by learning how—and why—they engage with your products. Product experience insights software is a great place to start. 

Hotjar Heatmaps and Session Recordings let you see what your users see and identify key frustration or drop-off moments in the product experience. 

Hotjar Surveys let you go deeper into understanding the underlying needs that explain why they’re using your tools in the first place.

3. Secure stakeholder buy-in

It’s tempting to bombard executives and sales departments with concrete facts and figures to support your product vision. But intra-organizational product narratives should also be emotionally engaging. 

The best stories balance conceptual user narratives with core business goals. Tell organizational stakeholders how your product vision will meet user needs and help them achieve their departmental KPIs. 

 4. Instill passion in the product team

Product managers are people managers. And (say it with us) people 👏 connect 👏 with 👏 stories. 

Strong product narratives can help teams stay connected to a shared vision and mission, increasing alignment and motivating them to create the best possible product solutions. Storytelling can also help teams tap into their role in the organization's broader narrative as a whole.

Product storytelling is important for PMs to do on their own, but it's also an excellent activity to include others in. When you share why you're building something with stakeholders who have diverse interests, product story mapping is a great way to capture everyone's opinions and get product consensus. The more product managers can include stakeholders in the product narrative, the stronger product consensus will be.

Tyler Tracy
Product Digital Marketer at Instinct Marketing

Key elements of compelling product narratives

Engaging stories have a beginning, middle, and end. Your product narratives are no different. Here’s how to structure a compelling product narrative:  

Beginning: introduce the conflict

Whether it’s Frodo needing to destroy the ring in Lord of the Rings, or your users facing challenges in their work and lives, the best stories start with a problem to be solved. 

Your user should be the protagonist in your product narrative. Start your story by painting a picture of their needs and issues. Then, escalate the action by outlining the obstacles that stop your users from solving these problems. 

User research techniques (and tools like Hotjar 👋) will help you figure out exactly which problems they’re facing. 

If you’re crafting a story specifically for business stakeholders, like executives or marketing teams, you’ll also want to incorporate the problems your organization needs to solve, referencing key business challenges and KPIs. But the user is always the story’s hero: keep them center stage.

💡 Pro tip: get creative! The best storytellers don’t simply state the problem to their audience. It’s about showing, not telling. 

In your product narrative, evoke what experiencing key problems looks and feels like for your users. Get your audience to imagine themselves in this scenario or remember times they experienced similar issues.

Use case studies and create specific characters rather than falling back on stock user personas. Develop different stories about why different user types may need your product.

Middle: add context and introduce your product

Here, you’ll start to add more detail to your narrative by telling the story of your product and how and why it was developed to solve the problems you’ve already outlined. 

Anchor your story in the context of user goals.

You can use the jobs-to-be-done (JTBD) framework to get to the heart of the value your tool can offer users. Instead of guessing their needs by looking at what they do with your product, JTBD asks why they do it: which key goals does your product allow them to achieve? 

The middle section is also a chance to heighten the stakes and build emotional drama. 

Convey a sense of what using your product will feel like, and start to get your audience excited about a possible solution to the conflict. 

End: resolving the conflict

By now, your audience (whether it’s your users, business stakeholders, or product team) has all the setup they need to be receptive to your solution. 

Communicate how your product will solve users’ problems or how your product strategy will solve business objectives.

Paint a detailed picture of how your product solution will impact them. But also convey the pain of not going ahead with your solution. Combine concrete statistics (opportunity costs; loss of revenue; drop-off in conversions) with emotional consequences (satisfaction, success, relief, failure) to make your ending pack a punch. 

6 tips for telling a great product story 

The secret to great product storytelling is blending key evidence points with narratives that communicate your vision at a deeper emotional level. 

Use these tips to master the art of effective product narratives: 

1. Start with the why 

Your first step should be defining the overall purpose of your solution. 

Ask yourself: why does this product exist? How will it transform stakeholders’ lives? 

Then ask why now. Build a sense of urgency by showing why this is the right time for stakeholders to engage. The why should highlight what they’ll lose if they delay buy-in. 

2. Adapt the story to the audience

The most effective way to engage your audience is to speak their language.

Consider the particular needs of the audience you’re addressing and only include the most relevant information for them in your story. 

This will be different for users, for your team, and for organizational stakeholders. For executives, you may want to use the language of relevant KPIs and OKRs, while you may want to address the development team using a more technical but user-focused vocabulary.

Speak the language of the people you’re trying to influence. Learn what they care about and use those ideas and their vocabulary in your stories. 

Your users care much less about features than they do benefits so stories to users should focus on what they’ll be able to do with the product. Stories to leaders should focus on linking product and business success: how will this help them to achieve corporate goals?

Jeff Gothelf
Product Development Expert

💡 Pro tip: use Hotjar’s tools to ensure your product story speaks to users. 

Hotjar Surveys and Incoming Feedback widgets connect you with users’ thoughts and feelings in their own words. This VoC data gives you key information not only on what your users’ problems are but how they talk and think about them. 

Echo your users’ VoC feedback to frame your product story in language that resonates with your user base. Better yet, put direct user quotes at the heart of your story.

3. Keep it simple

"Keep it simple, stupid (KISS)" as the old acronym goes. Don’t complicate your story with complex, wordy language. Keep the style and narrative simple and streamlined. 

That means being selective: cramming in every data point or use case will dilute the impact. Just show your audience what’s relevant for them. 

Simplicity also involves repetition. While you might adjust how you present your story for each audience, the core elements—the why—should remain the same in each version. Don’t be afraid to repeat your core message. 

4. Use visual tools

Nonverbal communication is fundamental to storytelling. Use visual media to enrich your content and strengthen the impact of your product narrative. 

Go beyond the standard visuals—charts, metrics, and graphs—and get creative with storyboards, story mapping, user recordings, and videos.

Remember, Hotjar tools help you quickly spin up your product experience insights into compelling visual evidence to back up your stories. 

5. Create a culture of micro-stories

Stories are powerful tools for selling a major product vision or convincing a customer to convert or renew. 

But product stories aren’t only for the big moments. 

Frame everything in terms of product stories. Engage your team in micro-narratives within the product workflow: tell the story of why we need to do this development sprint or why we’re prioritizing this bug fix. 

Convey micro-stories to users, too: tell them why trying a new feature will solve their problems faster or why they should use the product a little more frequently.

6. See stories as ongoing conversations

The best product stories are always in development. Keep the conversation going long past your product story’s initial ending or resolution. 

Invite users and stakeholders to contribute to your product story as it develops. Ask them to suggest ways to improve the product, help you discover new user needs, and show you the impact the product is really having on them. Keep testing your story by measuring product performance and collecting user feedback for continuous discovery.

Bring your users with you on the journey into new stories and new products. 

The power of a product narrative that lands

Crafting a product narrative that lands can secure stakeholder buy-in, optimize user engagement, and make product teams more passionate and productive. 

Product managers who become expert product storytellers will also find that their own conviction and knowledge of the product and users improves. 

The best product narratives place user needs at the center. Hotjar’s product experience insights tools help product teams discover the core user needs that form the basis of their story. With Hotjar, you can test your user hypotheses and be confident you’re telling a powerful story that will light a fire under stakeholders and make your product vision a reality.

Use Hotjar to take your product storytelling to the next level

Hotjar helps you weave visual evidence and VoC feedback into compelling narratives to convince your stakeholders.

FAQs about product storytelling