Doing this one thing will revolutionize your sales and marketing.

Features and facts don’t inspire, instead tell stories of a better place.

“A person's hand holding a camera lens over a mountain lake” by Paul Skorupskas on Unsplash

Great marketers and great salespeople tell stories.

They craft a vision of how the world has changed, our struggle to adapt, and our need for help.

They then guide us, ever so gently, to a new and better place, one where our pain slips away.

Mediocre marketers and salespeople use features to sound impressive.

Need proof?

Samsung touts processor speeds, megapixel counts, and screen resolution. Apple put a thousand songs in your pocket and highlight the magic of capturing moments.

An example of storytelling from Apple: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v76f6KPSJ2w

In the 80s, Adidas advertised lighter weight shoes, superior soles and the pattern of soccer cleats. Nike told the world to “Just Do It” and showed us that blood, sweat, and tears were what it took to be a champion.

Starbucks gave us places where we can connect, share moments with those we care about and find comfort in a warm drink.

“A Diamond is Forever” and by extension so too will our love last.

Storytelling changes the world.

It’s not enough to wrap a narrative around what you’re selling. The story has to be a vision of who and what your customers could be if only they took the plunge and made the purchase.

In the post below, we’ll run through an exercise in crafting and improving the story being told by four technology companies, all of whom are selling features, when they should be selling a better future.

Full transparency beforehand, I know people at all these companies. I am not working with these companies, but it felt more natural to tell the story of brands I had more than passing familiarity.

1. Emburse

Emburse is a startup attempting to make sense of the mess that is employee expenses and corporate credit cards. If you’re struggling with managing expenses inside your organization, check them out, their platform is quite impressive.

Platform aside, their messaging falls into the trap that so many others have fallen into, they’re selling features.

Features don’t inspire, and the current headline on the website certainly doesn’t.

Current Messaging and Challenges

No promise of how life could be using Emburse, no photos of people on the website ( we buy from people ) and while having a “request a demo” form can be worthwhile when used correctly, why are we asking the user to do work right away?

Current Headline: Virtual and Physical Cards for Business Expenses and Vendor Payments

Sub Headline: Share virtual cards or distribute physical cards to organize expenses ahead of time and manage spending across your team.

Audience: business owners, CFOs, comptrollers, anyone in finance in a large organization. medium-sized business owners looking to remove friction

While the product(s) Emburse sell, are physical and virtual credit cards, it’s neither the real problem people need help with, nor does it inspire.

What Emburse is selling, is peace of mind, predictability and the assurance that from a financial perspective, your company is in good shape.

The vision Emburse should be talking about is one of security, of a promise to their customers that we’ve got you covered, now and into the future.

Proposed New Direction and a New Story

New Headline: Every Dollar, Under Control

New Sub Headline: Manage employee spending, while moving at the speed of business

Every Dollar, Under Control, is the promised land, a calm place where you never need worry about money again ( yes that’s a tad hyperbolic, but we’re aiming for aspirational here ). It’s how you’ll feel once you have Emburse implemented and your financial worries assuaged.

The sub-headline can then be a bit more descriptive, while still ending with another promise, that of Emburse being there as you grow and change because that’s what businesses do.

Under or beside that headline, I’d suggest a large / banner photo such as the one below. A person, or people, looking satisfied ( showing potential customers how they’ll feel with Emburse ) and containing a phone to plant the idea that Emburse supports mobile.

*Tip: Whenever possible, have photos of people facing or looking to the right ( or towards the shopping cart in an eCommerce site. It’s psychological reinforcement of looking forward, making progress and thinking about what can be, instead of what has been.

Below, is a stock photo, but I’d suggest where possible taking your own pictures, ( tied to testimonials ) and ensure that the subject(s) accurately represent your customer demographic.

Photo Credits: Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash

The old way; you can get credit cards, from us, to manage employee expenses.

Emburse’s new story; we’ll provide you the financial security you need to run a successful business.

The rest of the website can focus on what the platform offers. Doing so after teasing this new future will set Emburse up so much better than the story they’re currently telling.

2. Feedback App

The team at FeedbackApp took a look at a marketplace of food ordering platforms and knew they could do better.

Adopting a model similar to Toms Shoes, Feedback App offers consumers the ability to give back to the community, by just ordering the food they want.

Current Messaging and Challenges

The current sales pitch to consumers is going in the right direction but doesn’t drive home the simplicity or power of the offer. Am I downloading a charity app or something for ordering food?

Mobile ordering is an excellent way to remove friction, but discounts on food aren’t inspirational, and giving back is far too broad a term to motivate anyone.

This story has to be getting what you want first, about helping others second, all with a side benefit of saving money last.

Current Headline: Giving back has never been so delicious.

Sub Headline: Feedback provides a win-win-win solution for vendors, diners and society by offering time-specific promotions on great local food. Reduce food waste and your bill.

First order of business in improving the FeedbackApp story is that they need to acknowledge that they’re serving two audiences.

  1. General consumers looking for food ( segmented by; deal finders, the social issue inclined )
  2. Restaurant owners and managers ( always in need of more business and better marketing )

There isn’t a sales pitch on the homepage to restaurants, so already we’re ignoring one half of the audience required for this to be successful.

What we do see on the homepage is a photo of empty seats, the opposite of what one half of your audience wants.

Proposed New Direction and a New Story

The genius of Tom’s Shoes or a Charity Water is they found a way to make lives better, while not attaching the negativity so common in charitable endeavors. They didn’t reach into your pocket for your hard earned dollars, they avoided the guilt trip and told a story of empowerment and inspiration.

FeedbackApp can capitalize on the same ideals, by getting users to focus on getting the food they want ( need ) and helping others as a byproduct, we tell of a future state where consumers can feel good about themselves without having to put forward much effort.

New Headline: Give by getting

New Sub Headline: The food you want, when you want it, with a side of helping others

Alternate Sub Headline: Order the food you want, when you want it, with a side of helping others

With “give by getting,” we’re telling users that they need to do nothing more than filling their bellies, and by doing so they can make their community ( and the world ) better. It is quite literally the least amount of pain, to do the most good.

Additionally, by focusing the platform on discounts, we create a better financial future for the restaurant owners ( discounting is a race to the bottom ), for the FeedbackApp platform ( more money coming in, means more money to be made ), and of course, for the charitable organizations, they choose to support.

Imagery for the consumer needs to demonstrate a human touch, can include food and should reinforce the concept of giving and receiving. Not sure I’m 100% sold on the photo below, but it does feel like with the hands extended forward, palms up, an offering that is easy to accept.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

As a secondary option, the coloring of this photo is too dour, but as an example of how you might art direct a photo shoot, it’s almost perfect. An offer of food, a smiling human, even a little heart on the apron reinforcing the do good nature of the endeavor.

In this case, the straight-ahead focus of this picture gives anyone looking at it the idea that this is personal, with the service focused on them and their needs.

Photo by Petr Sevcovic on Unsplash

Next, we need messaging for restaurants, because without restaurants signing up in droves, from whom will these customers get the food they want?

Proposed New Direction and a New Story

For restaurants, the need we’re solving for is straightforward; customers, customers, customers. In an industry where a few percentage points can make or break a business, new and creative ways to drive customers ( especially during non-peak hours ) would be a godsend.

New Head Corp: Access customers on demand

New Sub Corp: Help your customers and the community get the food they need

The concept of accessing customers on demand is the dream scenario for restaurants. No longer waiting for customers to walk by, FeedbackApp through the combination of order ahead, helping the community and offering timely promotions will drive customers and do so with predictability.

In a perfect world, the photos on the page would show both a satisfied looking restaurant owner and a packed restaurant. Not finding that, I’d suggest going with pictures of real restaurant owners / managers, looking towards the screen ( symbolically at other restaurant owners ), appearing happy and content.

The old way; a win, win, win for vendors and diners, with promotions

FeedbackApp’s new story; Nourish yourself and the community. Grow your business.

3. JoeCoffeeApp

JoeCoffee takes the concept of ordering ahead and focuses it on the 50,000+ coffee shops across North America; specializing in the needs of the coffee consumer and the coffee shop owner.

Starbucks has spent a lot of money to demonstrate the value of ordering ahead to consumers, JoeCoffee intends to bring that convenience to every coffee shop, regardless of size or technology budget.

Current Messaging and Challenges

JoeCoffee also runs into the problem of selling features instead of a better, coffee filled, future.

Headline: Order ahead, earn rewards, support local coffee

Sub Headline: The most convenient way to support local business

JoeCoffee, like FeedbackApp, struggles with acknowledging both of the primary audiences they serve:

  1. Coffee buyers — the individual customers, like you and me, across all demos, potentially more of the commuter and business types, taught by Starbucks that lining up is for suckers
  2. Coffee shop owners and managers — busy, not tech savvy, always looking for more revenue, battling to keep costs down

Without a push to educate and sell the vision to both audiences, how can JoeCoffee expect to grow their business?

Proposed New Direction and a New Story

Coffee for so many of us is religion wrapped in urgent need. It’s the magic elixir that gets us moving in the morning, the fuel to get through our day, and consumers can’t get enough. Coffee sales in the US, last year, hit nearly $4 billion in 2017 and show no sign of slowing down.

The promised land for JoeCoffee customers is having the coffee they want when they want it. No standing line, no fumbling through your pockets for cash, no digging through a purse or a wallet for a credit card.

Having JoeCoffee is knowing that when you need your fix, coffee is only a tap of your finger away ( a gentle reinforcement of it being app based ).

New Headline: Coffee at your fingertips

New Sub Headline: Coffee, with a side of convenience. Just what you want. Just when you want it.

The current website photo, while of a person ( good start ), is of someone not looking particularly happy, nor enjoying a coffee. The images below are stock ( and the second one is very seasonal ), but pictures of people enjoying their coffee, looking satisfied would help propel the story forward.

Photo by Dani Vivanco on Unsplash
Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash

Proposed New Direction and a New Story

For coffee shop owners, the messaging has one job, to reinforce the notion that with JoeCoffee, your business will attract more customers ( customers that need less attention and take up less space ).

JoeCoffee as the marketing channel, with the convenience of order ahead and mobile push notifications, is a strong story for an industry where being local and authentic, doesn’t always equate to busy.

Any opportunity to compete on a platform level with Starbucks gives local coffee shops and small to medium sized coffee chains the ability to even the playing field, competing for customers on equal footing.

The message to coffee shop owners and managers, we’ll send more people your way.

New Headline Corp: An endless stream of customers

New Sub Headline Corp: Ordering ahead isn’t only for the big chains

It would be so much more effective in recruiting coffee shops if the imagery on the site reflected life from their viewpoint. The staff making coffee, customers lining up, all a visual reinforcement for how JoeCoffee will let you do what you do while keeping customers ( sales ) coming through the door.

Photo by Joshua Rodriguez on Unsplash

4. Hootsuite

Pretty hard to argue with the success of Hootsuite. They are single-handedly responsible for putting Vancouver on the world’s tech radar.

In the spirit of selling more than features, and focusing on people and what they can achieve, they could do better with their story.

Current Messaging and Challenges

Hootsuite helps individuals and brands publish content across a variety of social media platforms, simplifying the process of having conversations and building community.

Headline: Manage all your social media in one place

Sub Headline: From finding prospects to serving customers, Hootsuite helps you do more with your social media.

So Hootsuite lets you manage all your social media in one place, but is that the inspirational place we want to find ourselves in as their customer?

Proposed New Direction and a New Story

What Hootsuite really brings to the table is the power of an entire team to a single individual. They help their users stay connected to customers and conversations online, and they make it easier than it would be otherwise.

Hootsuite at the end of the day is there to make social media and by extension your working life, more effective.

The promised land for Hootsuite customers is the mastery and ownership of social media, creating a place where what was once difficult and time-consuming, is now easy.

New Headline: Social Media made easy

New Sub Headline: Master messaging in the age of community

Or if you would prefer something a little more alliterative.

New Headline Alt: Social media made manageable

New Sub Headline Alt: Reach customers. Drive discussions. Build community

Audience: brand owners, agency employees, marketing managers, content creators

The Hootsuite platform itself looks great, but the top image banner needs to focus on people getting work done, not on the product.

Pictures of individual people working reinforce the notion of how powerful you can be when given access to Hootsuite. That they can get work done anywhere, anytime puts customers in the driver seat.

The last photo of two people collaborating in a non-office environment would be an option to highlight how teams can work together.

Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash
Photo by LinkedIn Sales Navigator on Unsplash
Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash

No doubt that with following a more rigorous process, or at the very least, gathering input from stakeholders and customers, we could create messaging that resonates even better with our target audience(s), but for a quick thought experiment, I’d put any of the messaging above into an A/B test with what each of the companies are currently saying, and feel confident in a positive result for the story based options.

So, is your messaging selling the bigger, brighter, better future, or do features dominate?

Are you doing all you can to inspire and delight, or are you falling into the trap of telling people what you hope makes you different?

Have you thought long and hard about how you can make a difference for you customers and not just for your bottom line?

Put yourselves in their shoes, solve their pain, tell a story about how you did it, and know that things will get better from there.

Next up, we’ll talk about how this kind of messaging should drive how you’re building your product, and not the other way around.

Love to hear your thoughts, comments or concerns, either below or via @kmore on Twitter.

If you enjoyed this, I’d appreciate one ( or ten ) claps to help surface the article to other people.

More by Kerry Morrison

Topics of interest

More Related Stories