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Developer Marketing: Why product storytelling is so powerful and how to do it right! (with video)

“Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories you tell.” Seth Godin.

Storytelling has been around for millions of years, and if you do it well, it captivates people. By adding storytelling to your product marketing, you will hook your audience and help them understand how your products can solve their problems or improve their lives. 

Storytelling is essential when we market to developers. They are busy folks. They don’t like marketing fluff. 

You’re on the right path with your developer marketing approach if you can make your product discoverable and show developers how your product can help make their lives easier by doing their job better and solving their problems. 

Learn the excellent tips on doing it right from Tracie, a strategic product marketer with experience in B2B and B2C industries for more than 20 years. She has specialized in the positioning, messaging, and go-to-market strategy of new and existing products in technology, financial services, consumer packaged goods, and hospitality verticals. 

In this interview with Tracie Stamm, she discusses the power of product storytelling, focusing on marketing to a technical audience.

tl;dr

  • Product storytelling is the oil in a sales and marketing engine. Use it to scale your activities.
  • Product marketers who sell to enterprises now speak with the practitioner (developers). They are the ones leading purchases of new technologies and tools.
  • Follow your buyers’ journey, and craft your product story with a funnel approach using a problem-solution framework. 
  • Leverage your customer’s voice to curate a product story that impacts your buyer and leaves an imprint.
  • Great product storytelling can help you connect better with your prospects and ultimately shorten your sales cycles. 
  • Multi-sensory education helps your audience consume information in a meaningful way. Hands-on product experience may play an important role in your buyer journey.
  • Curate content with the developer in mind. Dig into their pains and daily schedules. Depending on the task and time of day, they will crave different content. Understand when they want hands-on content, blogs, videos, and podcasts. 

 

 

What is a product story? How is a product story different from a brand story? 

 

In my view, as a product marketing enthusiast, product storytelling is the heart of product marketing. It’s critical for the organizations looking to grow from those first few customers to something that’s truly scalable in terms of a sales and marketing engine. You need your product story to achieve that level of scale. 

The journey to a strong product story

Often, organizations start with a story that looks, feels, and sounds like, “here’s the widget, let me show you.” After time and growth, organizations pivot their messaging to “here’s the widget, and here’s who else likes the widget”. 

But what starts to move the needle to scale the market and organization is the ability to tell the product’s story from the perspective — problem to solution. 

Brand stories play a different role in your marketing

Brand stories are much more emotive. They exist to encompass what will ultimately be a wider, broader line of products and solutions. Brand stories tell you why we’re in business as an organization, our ethos in solving problems, and how we like to solve them. 

Versus, the product story says, here’s the pain you experience, and here’s a way to solve it.

Example of a brand and product story — Nike

Here is one example I’d like to share, and it’s on the B2C level, Nike. 

Nike is a highly recognizable brand. You can recite their tagline, “Just do it!” by heart. Even if you are not an athlete, You understand that they’re in the business of equipping athletic performance and athletic pursuits. 

But if you look into their product stories, they get more granular.  Nike has different product lines in terms of the athletic pursuits they serve. 

I am a runner. Nike tells me what I can achieve with my running through their products. So Nike Running is a product story I pay attention to when I see it. It comes down to the same value props, no matter what you’re shopping for — ease of use. 

Am I going to have better performance? Is the experience more pleasant? Wiping the sweat away from my body as I run. That’s part of the product story. 

So I think there are some inherent differences in terms of the altitude of storytelling. 

 

Why is product storytelling relevant for developer marketing? 

 

Developer marketing is unique from enterprise marketing. It’s a subset of marketing today because you’re messaging the end-user more prominently and less so to the IT decision-maker. 

The move to cloud-based solutions

Cloud-Native has done a ton to give organizations options and flexibility. This is one of the main drivers why developer marketing has become so critical. 

When you can take your app, any app, and decide where it runs, how it runs and who accesses it, how much they access it — and do that more now than ever before. The developer is the heart of this transition for organizations.

This flexibility has driven the art of engineering. Developers have specialized skill sets. You have traditional app developers, cloud-native app developers, and those that know specific dev languages and infrastructures.

Developers are making purchasing decisions

Organizations increasingly depend on developers with profoundly specialized skill sets to run their IT shops and guide them. This has been a new paradigm in the last several years. It’s made organizations much more dependent on the practitioner than ever before.

Product marketers who want to sell to organizations are speaking with the practitioner more than before. In the past, We used to speak more to the decision-maker level. Now it’s the practitioners.

 

What framework can marketers use to curate product stories for developers?

 

The framework that I come back to time and again is the one that I learned when I first started my career in product marketing, and that’s from the Pragmatic Marketing Institute

 

Top of the funnel product story

They have created a funnel of storytelling where you begin with the market challenge at the top level. For example, when you hear the trailers for the movies that kick off the experience. The voiceover in the trailers says, “In a world where cloud-native apps are the baseline of all IT shops, developers are tasked with … fill in the blank”. This is to introduce the market challenges. 

What is everybody facing? What are many people facing that is the externality driving the nature of the work we do today. 

 

Middle of the funnel product story

The next level is, here’s what’s needed. What’s required to address that market challenge is agile development, CI/CD pipelines, etc. You can start to tell some of how we address this broader market challenge.

 

Bottom of the funnel product story

The next level is the ideal way to address those challenges. Here’s what’s needed, the solution, and the ideal solution. Here’s what excellence looks like. 

You introduce your product or solution in a way that maps to the pillars you laid out in your ideal solution. 

This is the framework and approach that I take to messaging for all products I’ve worked on in various verticals. 

 

How can marketers make their product story stick?

 

I am passionate about the voice of customers. As a marketer, I’m passionate about product marketing, but I know its limits. There’s only so much that a prospect will take in from sales and marketing. 

Our goals are not aligned in the Venn diagram. We have our own unique drivers. Any savvy prospect is attuned to that.

Your customers’ voice will make your story sticky

One of the best things I like to augment my voice in marketing is to leverage the voice of the customer. I can leverage customer references, customer storytelling, and various media to tell the story. After I’ve set up the problem and the solution, now I want to hear it from the industry peers in their own words.

The customer story offers the prospect a more profound ability to connect to the value prop. It’s more emotive. We are honing into something more relevant by using the customer’s voice because it’s not a paid voice. 

 

How can you trigger developers into action with a good product story?

 

It can vary depending on where they are in that buyer’s journey. 

Guide developers through their buying journey

I always want to be mindful of that when speaking to prospects. Are they at the top of the funnel? Where they are developing an awareness of their problem or the product.

Let’s compare this to a prospect that’s lower in the funnel. Where I’m driving prospects through their consideration process, the prospect developed a shortlist of potential solutions to their problem, mine included. 

Further on, are they at a deeper level right before we get ready to hand the lead off to sales, where they’re developing a preference for my product among their shortlist of possible solutions. 

So it depends on where they are in that progression and what content I’ll offer the prospect. 

 

The early buying stage

In the earlier stages, I’ll offer some thought leadership content that talks about that market challenge from my voice, my organization’s voice, and establishing ourselves as experts in the space. To be their trusted advisers and navigate them through their questions.

 

The middle buying stage

We consider our solution together with your shortlist at the middle stage, and here’s where I tell them why they should choose us.  

This will include some of those customer stories that I mentioned before. “Here’s why these customers prefer us, their use case, their outcomes, and how well those outcomes matched what they initially sought when they shopped for a solution and selected our solution.

 

The bottom buying stage

And then the bottom stage, the preference phase of the buying journey. Particularly with the developer audience. This is where you start to talk about technical implementation and its feasibility in their current environment. Maybe you’re talking speeds and feeds. The ability to stand up the solution without a lot of pain. 

This is where the prospect is saying, “this sounds good. Can I adopt it, adapt it effectively, and get my money’s worth?” So a layer down in technical detail. 

 

What are good examples of product stories, and why? 

Replicated — buy vs. build multi-prem solutions

The flagship story anchors on the classic build versus buy question. We have this problem. We can build it out ourselves. That sounds hard, painful, and costly. Or I can outsource that solution to focus on what I want to spend my time on, what I am better at doing, and what will bring more opportunities. 

At Replicated, we leverage the great customer story to be the face of that messaging. Hashicorp was a prominent customer for Replicated. 

HashiCorp’s story

Essentially,  HashiCorp went through this process where they said, “Hey, can we cobble this together? We have all the parts of the functionality we need. WhileReplicated just delivers it out of the box. 

For HashiCorp to build it themselves, they would need to throw a lot of their rare, expensive developer resources into the project. The truth is, that developers should use their time to develop their core capabilities. This way, they meet their own unique market needs to satisfy and drive revenue.

Developers are a discerning bunch, and rightly so. Leads want to keep engineers focused on what matters most to the business. 

With Replicated, Hashicorp can offload dev functions that are essentially, for lack of a better term, boring. Tasks that are not the dev team’s highest and best use of scarce resources.

Developers have acquired very specialized skills that are unique in a very constrained labor market. They don’t have to work on projects, products, and development work that they don’t find interesting, satisfying, or creative. They want to be working on what matters most to the business. They hold the cards. 

 

Instruqt — buy vs. build virtual IT labs solution

From Instruqt’s perspective, we also have a similar situation where most of our customers, who have a development background,  describe similar pains before using Instruqt, the virtual IT Labs platform.   

They try to build their own labs, and it turns out it’s a lot more complex than they planned. They spend a lot of their time on maintenance and building environments instead of what they want to do. When all they want is to simply introduce their products to their customers using virtual IT labs. 

Instruqt offers them an out-of-the-box solution. We offer many state-of-the-art features that meet their needs, either for lead generation, sales enablement, or training.

 

The Matriots — a product story outside of the tech industry

But I could offer another story. Let’s take a step back. As you mentioned in your intro, I’ve worked outside of tech for even broader products in various industries. I had a client in the state government space, a bipartisan political action committee called The Matriots. 

Not unlike a startup, the Matriots has a humble grassroots origin story. They started with a few people rallying around the cause. Saying we see a market challenge that we think we can help solve. 

But as they grew in size, they realized they had grown into a fragmented story, both in their brand and product. So the challenge for me, working with them as a product marketer, was to help them define who we are, what we do, and what we offer uniquely in the market. It’s classic product marketing positioning. 

 

How can marketers work with sales to close deals using product storytelling?

 

Create deeper connections to speed up sales cycles

I’ve spent a lot of time in enterprise product marketing, where the sales cycles can be nine, 12, or 15 months long. That’s a long time to have revenue tied up in your pipeline before realizing it. Looking for ways to shorten that should be top of mind for any organization. 

Product storytelling can better connect with your prospects if you can leverage it. 

 

Product storytelling helps you read the room 

Who has the pain, and who cares about the solution? If you can understand that, it will start your storytelling well upfront and help you get the right people in the room. So when you do tell the story, you’re telling it fewer times, more directly to each of those people in the room, and hopefully shortening your sales cycle there. 

 

Strengthen your product-solution selling framework

Second, you can use the problem-solution storytelling framework I referenced with the pragmatic marketing framework.

You can better customize the product solution storytelling when you know who’s in the room and what their pains are. You can tailor your story to the prospects’ use case and the buyer personas. So now you’re messaging more quickly and authentically to connect with the people in the room. 

 

Buying circles are only getting larger. Tailor the right message fast

The average enterprise tech sale can involve a buying circle of seven or eight, minimum. So telling a story that relates appropriately to each of those roles is critical in getting your pitch across efficiently with fewer touches.

 

How do facts and figures play a role in product storytelling?

 

Selling to developers can be more challenging but is also the same as any other audience with any other product. And I’ll tell you why. 

 

Developers value their time

In my view, it’s more challenging selling to developers. They’re a tough bunch, and rightly so. They build these highly specialized skill sets in a space that has increased the value and in a labor market that is deeply constrained.

Developers write their own tickets right now, and they tend to want to work on the most substantive, creative, meaningful work. With their specialized expertise, they can sniff out pretty quickly whether or not a product is worth its salt. 

 

Developers are asking the same questions as other buyers

Now getting to the point, developers are the same as any other audience looking for a product. Their questions are not that different than another buyer persona for another product. They want to know if a solution will help drive their work. 

Back to my Nike running example, when I’m looking at running clothes in the store, will this make me a stronger, faster, and happier runner than my other product choices. 

 

Developers want to know if your solution will help them work better

In the example of HashiCorp, in the build versus buy challenge. Is this solution going to make their work better? Is this going to help me offload the stuff that I don’t like, I’m not good at, and is not a great use of my time? Is the solution going to make my work easier? Will it make me happier to come to work every day? 

Because if it doesn’t, I, as a developer with these unique skills in this constrained labor market, am not happy when I come to work. I’ll find another project. 

I know developers that have taken employment with the mindset that this will be a six-week project, and then they’ll find the next project after that.

Data, facts, and figures are important when you market to developers because you have to find a way to convince the developer that this thing is going to work for them. 

Data is a great way to do that. 

 

Text-heavy documentation is usually the main asset in developer marketing. What’s your opinion on this?

 

People have different learning styles. But I would argue we all have different learning styles in other contexts. 

I think you don’t necessarily have to deliver content to suit different types of learners. It’s more about when they are consuming your content. 

  • In the morning part of our day, commuting in whatever way commuting may look like in today’s work from anywhere reality.
  • In the middle part of our day,  we have a few cobbled-together minutes of lunchtime, and we’re standing in our kitchens putting together our lunch and available to listen but not available to look. 
  • At the end of the day, when we’re tired as knowledge workers, we need an easy button to absorb some information via osmosis. 

As individuals, we can span a range of learning styles over just the day. 

 

Build a content library with diverse content formats

I like to create content that can serve any one of those contexts. What we’re doing here is a video audio podcast. I would take something like this and chop it up into different formats. 

You can deliver audio-only,  video, and clip it out, so you’re focusing on one question and answer at a time. Maybe break it down into chapters for small consumption. You can make it available to somebody in its entirety. 

 

Curate easy-to-consume, bite-sized content

I like to think about the different ways that people are in the course of their day and how they may or may not be available to consume information and customize it for that. In the past, we used only to create long-form written white papers.

Now I think we are more focused on the consumable little chunks and morsels that you can not just drip out to the market as marketers. But make it available to people to choose their adventure and customize the content they consume as efficiently as possible. 

 

How do hands-on product experiences differ from videos and text?

 

People are more engaged with hands-on content

Research shows that students absorb content much more effectively when the professor is sitting at the table for a live collaborative discussion versus when the professor’s standing at the front of the room just talking to the students. 

I believe that this is because it’s a little more hands-on in the former scenario. It gets integrated a little more. And that integration is what helps people learn and retain information. 

 

The impact of multi-sensory learning 

Similarly, I’ll stay with the education model for a moment. I have a dyslexic learner in my family, and she needs to bring information in and fully integrate it is what they call multi-sensory learning. She needs to see the material, hear it, and touch it. 

Multi-sensory education is part of what brings the information in a meaningful way. It can be as simple as running her finger across the words on the book—that act of integrating the third sense.

 

Start thinking about multi-sensory product education  

As a marketer in our professional work, I believe we are no different. The way we learn and experience something gets much more meaningfully integrated when we can see, hear, and touch it. 

As product marketers touching the product is critical and can touch the product in a low-demand way. I don’t want only to be able to touch the product with the salesperson. I don’t want to only touch the product with a technical person helping me with it. 

When I run into problems, I want to get over those barriers independently to explore the product thoroughly to make a decision. 

 

What recourses do you recommend product marketers use to become better storytellers?

 

Pragmatic Marketing Institute

I already mentioned the pragmatic marketing Institute. This is my cornerstone of learning classic product marketing. Today, it is a great resource when I know I have a question or want to refer back to those foundational roots. 

 

The Product Marketing Alliance 

Product Marketing Alliance is a professional association that offers ongoing professional development. There is a live slack channel where you can be in the community with other product marketers. It’s like Open-Source for product marketing. 

People are very open to sharing knowledge between professionals that can expand verticals. When I have a question or want to learn something new that someone’s doing, that’s been an amazing resource.

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Show Notes

Tracie Stamm

Articulate Marketing Strategy

Pragmatic Marketing Institute

Product Marketing Alliance

Connie Tai
As the CMO at Instruqt, Connie oversees the overall marketing strategy across all marketing initiatives, acquisition channels, and distribution channels. Together with her team, she's responsible for the company's blogs, podcasts, overall content strategy, and product launch and customer demand campaigns.

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