What’s the story behind your product?


Last week, I visited an artist’s studio. This guy creates striking art pieces and sculptures, all made from objects he finds. That is, from items found on streets, farms, old warehouses and so on. They include old signs, unwanted pieces, barbed wire, as well as excess stock from railways, shipping yards and even jails.

When I spoke to him about his pieces, he had a story for every single one. He could tell me that the industrial coffee table I had my eye on was made from wood that came out of a wool mill set on castors that came from a disused train station. He explained how the lamp stand I loved was actually made from crutches discarded by a physical therapy centre. In addition to these details about the origin of the items, he told me the inspiration behind each piece of art and what he was trying to achieve.

The items transformed his art from inanimate objects into pieces with meaning and depth behind them. All thanks to his stories.

There’s no doubt that his customers appreciate the tales behind his creations. You can just imagine them regaling their dinner party friends with the story behind the wall sculpture now hanging on their wall. “The iron in that piece is from Benalla jail. The words on that piece of art are from a town that no longer exists in country Victoria. You should see the guy I bought this thing from – he’s a wacky artist!”

You might not sell pieces of art like this. But that doesn’t mean your products don’t deserve their own story. You may merely be selling widgets but you can still put a story behind them.

Why would you want to do this?

1. A story brings your product to life

If you’ve created your own product, explain to people how you got the idea. Chances are there’s a great story behind it. Often this lends credibility to your product because people understand how it was created. Maybe you’re an entrepreneurial mum who has created a fabulous organic nappy. Perhaps you did this because your own baby was getting skin irritations so you found a solution using nappies with natural fibres.

You don’t even have to sell a physical product. Recently, I spoke to a woman who created a jobs board only for people aged over 45. She did this when she saw her 57-year-old father out of work and at a loose end. It added credibility to her passion for helping mature-aged workers.

2. It helps your customers understand what your product is for

If you have a complex product, tell stories about how your customers use it. For example, try to explain to someone the features of a document storage site that keeps files in the cloud and you’ll probably be met with a blank face. It’s more powerful to turn this into a story.

Benefits versus features
In most cases, explaining the benefits of your product will be more useful than listing a string of features. A classic example of this was when the iPod was still fairly new. These days, we all know what an iPod does. We probably even own three or four of them. But back then, it wasn’t easy to explain what an MP3 player was – or how it worked.

Apple didn’t bother to focus on the features and functionality of the device. It simply stated: “10,000 songs in your pocket.” It focused on the benefits of the device, not the features. All expressed in one simple sentence.

Have you worked out the power stories behind your products? And, more importantly, are you telling them?

This article first appeared on Nett.com.au.

About Valerie Khoo

Valerie Khoo is founder and national director of the Australian Writers' Centre, the country's leading centre for writing courses. She is a journalist, blogger and author. Her latest book is "Power Stories: The 8 stories you MUST tell to build an epic business" (Wiley). Valerie is a keynote speaker, small business commentator, and investor and mentor to startups and businesses in Australia.