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The Product Sells Itself is Dead: Why Storytelling Should Drive Demand Generation

Emotive Brand Expert #1: Greg Howard

As a brand strategy and design agency, we have the privilege of being able to visit innovative companies from a myriad of fields. From global law firms to burgeoning start-ups, we get to pull back the curtain and observe how brands are built, from the inside out.

Drawing on our ever-growing network, we’re excited to launch our Emotive Brand Experts series. In these posts, we’re interviewing past and present Emotive Brand clients to discover what they do better than anybody else — and how that expertise can be used to embolden your brand today.

In this post, we speak with Greg Howard, who is currently working on an exciting new company that’s operating in “stealth mode.” Formerly, Howard ran marketing at Kenna Security, a fast-growing cyber security company. Before that, he ran marketing at AppDynamics, where he helped the company grow to a $100 million run rate and become a Gartner Magic Quadrant Leader in only a few years’ time.

Nothing Sells Itself

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: “I don’t care what it looks like, I just need it to work.” So often in business, especially when it comes to B2B companies, there’s a misperception that if your technology is good enough it will sell itself. After all, if you’re selling software to developers, why would you use your limited time and resources on aesthetics?

“Not only do I believe that the product sells itself is dead,” says Howard, “but I don’t believe it ever really existed in the first place.”

From Howard’s point of view, people underestimate just how much energy it takes to get someone’s attention in this crowded marketplace. Silicon Valley alone has more than 23,000 startups. By the time you finish reading this sentence, it’s quite possible someone has just created another Uber for x.

“Buyers are constantly inundated with messages, so getting your messaging and brand identity is absolutely key,” continues Howard. “There’s simply too much noise out there. If you don’t do it right, you’ll never get through.”

You’re Only as Strong as Your Story

Take it from an expert: even if your technology is running theoretical circles around your competitors, you still need a compelling brand story and visual identity to match. Technology without a story is like shopping in the canned food aisle without labels. You might have the best tasting dish out there, but the customer has no way of discerning that information. Maybe you’re delicious mulligatawny soup. Then again, maybe you’re dog food.

“If you want to be successful at demand generation,” says Howard, “it all starts with emotion. You need to dive into the mind of the buyers and figure out what they do on a daily basis.

What does their world look like? What is their pain? From there, you can craft a compelling story, and everything else — testing, campaigns, iterating — comes from that story.”

So, if story and brand strategy are so crucial to the success of a company, come how it’s often viewed as a low priority? According to Howard, it might be a matter of definition. In the B2B world, phrases like “brand strategy” and “narrative” are dirty and misunderstood.

“People tend to think of ‘the brand’ as this overarching thing — this separate, high-level, expensive endeavor,” says Howard. “The truth is, when you’re small, everything you do is brand strategy. Every interaction with a client, every email, every coffee meeting, that’s brand building.”

Pain Points Are Starting Points

For the story-adverse, Howard suggests another way in — pain. What’s the most frustrating part of your developer’s day? What’s that thing they’re missing? When companies begin to truly understand the life of their prospect, the story will form out of their common frustrations. Your job as the storyteller, then, is to solve those problems through the vehicle of your technology, product, or service.

Even still, it can be tricky to identify or focus a brand story down to something manageable. How big should you cast your net? What if you solve multiple pain points for multiple audiences? And when you’ve been sinking 12 hours a day into a company for the last five years, how can you begin to see the forest for the trees? Based on Howard’s experience, that’s when it’s time to bring in an outside source.

“I’ve grown brands with and without outside agencies. I can say it’s always better if you can utilize another perspective,” says Howard. “The key is finding the right people who can bring something new to the table. If you can find someone who knows your brand well enough to articulate your vision but has enough distance to see the holes in your big picture, that’s the sweet spot.”

Emotive Brand is a brand strategy and design agency.

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