Storytelling connects customers, companies and products by forcing us to think about people rather than processes
One of my favourite technology quotes is from Laurie Anderson: “Technology is the campfire around which we tell our stories.” It reminds me that technology is not a series of tools and processes, but is a tool for people, made by people.
Storytelling is an essentially human way of communicating and problem solving. Using storytelling to innovate around products and services can help to refocus what can be dry, technical conversations back on to customers, the people whose needs and expectations need to be met.
Storytelling can inform how we create products
Asking customers to tell the stories of their previous or ideal experiences with products can help to better understand how those products are used. User research sessions such as focus groups and workshops often prove most productive when invitees are given tools to express themselves in stories.
Stories also help people who are making a product understand who and what it’s for. It helps them to buy into it’s purpose and visualise it’s function in the kinds of situations that it’s intended for. Storytelling is also an inherently accessible medium for sharing knowledge, allowing more people to understand this context-of-use. Telling the story of customers and their behaviours invites opportunities for producers to imagine new features, tweaks and innovations that enhance the product’s purpose.
Storytelling can invite conversation
Storytelling can create a bridge between brands and their customers, inviting conversation that can bring new ideas, viewpoints and feedback to influence the direction of services.
Sugru is an incredible example of this in action. Sugru is a coloured self-setting rubber. Not so glamorous a description, I know, but they have established themselves as a 21st century DIY cure-all. This self setting rubber has proven itself malleable and delicate enough to make jewellery, yet strong and durable enough to be a quick fix for car engine parts. These stories of how customers have used Sugru — shared on the company’s website — have enriched the product and the community of innovating customers that has formed around it.
Storytelling can connect with needs and desires
Storytelling can communicate the functional and emotional value of products to savvy customers. People aren’t moved by lists of features and PowerPoint slides. The best way to connect with people is to speak with them in a human way. Stories can convey values and personality in a way that's immediate and personal.
Why are we paying attention to storytelling now?
Speaking our language
Video and photography have been democratised. More people than ever have powerful cameras in their pockets everywhere they go. When we communicate with each other in person, on the phone, on social media - we are telling our stories.
We are fluent in storytelling with conversations, video, photos and graphics (YouTube, Instagram and Vine). We are great at storytelling, but also expect it from others.
Social media and personalised interfaces
Social media has opened up new opportunities for storytelling, and is inviting audiences to take part in those stories. Unsophisticated marketing sticks out like a sore thumb - It's obvious when someone is trying to sell you something on social media. Communicating with a savvy audience means communicating in a personal, human way.
Rich interactive technologies made more accessible through the use of new standards, open source projects and frameworks are reducing barriers for storytellers. Making use of elaborate visual design and animation, natural language recognition, understanding of context, use of video, and other enabling features that increase storytelling potential is easier across more devices than ever.
Technology has been humanised
Thanks a lot to tech innovators like Apple and people like Donald Norman and his influential books ‘The Design of Everyday Things’ and ‘Emotional Design’, a user-centred design approach has become the norm for creators of new technology. This approach puts considerations of people’s emotional and social needs at the centre of design processes.
The technologies we use every day are not just for finding information and making spreadsheets. They're also connecting us with family, friends and communities. It is only natural that the services and content distributed through these technologies is humanised too, and there’s nothing more human than storytelling.
What makes a good story?
But what makes a good story? A story that awakens something in you, that's memorable and interesting. For that I turn to the storytelling experts - Pixar.
Pixar's Andrew Stanton, writer and director of Finding Nemo and Wall-E, did a TED talk on what it takes to make a great story.