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Product Narrative: How to Use Fiction to Get Your Story Straight
 

In recent presentation, David Riemer of the Haas School of Business explained why story telling is so powerful.

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Studies have shown that fiction can be more persuasive than truth. And the same can be true when it comes to product narrative.

At least, according to David Riemer, executive-in-residence at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley, who spoke to a crowd of a few dozen Monday night as part of Haas’ Entrepreneurial Best Practices Series. Riemer talked about how to tap into the world of fiction (without losing the truth) for a company's product narrative, outlining a few famous entrepreneurs who've done it successfully.

Speaking of transporting to other worlds, writing fictional story lines is how Twitter used to learn about its users, according to Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey. Riemer played a video clip of Dorsey explaining how he’d write user narratives about imagined Twitter users -- for example, a Chicago man who frequented a coffee shop in the middle of the city. 

“If you do that story well, then all of the prioritization, all of the product, all of the design, and all of the coordination that you need to do with these products just falls out naturally,” Dorsey said in the video clip. (With its recent IPO, Twitter's 'creation myth' has also become a hot topic).

Academics have studied why stories so dramatically alter the way that information is processed and why fiction is sometimes more easily believed. Jonathan Gottschall, author of The Storytelling Animal, wrote recently

"When we read dry, factual arguments, we read with our dukes up. We are critical and skeptical. But when we are absorbed in a story we drop our intellectual guard. We are moved emotionally and this seems to leave us defenseless."

Of course, Riemer said, that’s not to say that product narratives shouldn’t be based on reality.

And discovering the true story can take quite a bit of research. Take Huggies for example. Riemer said the company spent years doing R&D in order to create a better diaper. In fact, Huggies went right into parents’ homes to study the way they went about their day and interacted with their children. After a while, researchers started to notice a common sentiment among the parents. 

“They leaned in and said, ‘Do you know what I hate?’” Riemer said. “‘I hate when people look at me and they say, is your kid still in diapers?’”

And there was the inspiration-- and the product narrative--for the Huggies Pull-Up, a discrete diaper that looked like clothing.  

Riemer added that for start-ups, sometimes an angle doesn’t emerge until after launch. Take a lesson from former Apple CEO Steve Jobs who wasn’t at all sure how to market the iPod Touch. 

“Was it an iPhone without the phone? Was it a pocket computer? What happened was, what customers told us was, they started to see it as a game machine,” Riemer quoted Jobs as saying. “We started to market it that way, and it just took off.”

Last updated: Oct 29, 2013

LAURA MONTINI is a reporter at Inc. She previously covered health care technology for Health 2.0 News and has served as an associate editor at The Health Care Blog. She lives in San Francisco.
@lmmontini




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