Tech providers invest a tremendous amount of time, money and emotion to develop and deliver products. As a result, product roadmap communications tend to center on great new product capabilities or features first, with limited effort to link them to business benefits and usage scenarios.

Communicating this way about products often does not help both external and internal audiences see their relevance, and they therefore struggle to fully engage with the vision the tech providers outline. These tech providers will often assume that audiences, especially those inside the organization, will share the same enthusiasm and understanding for the product details as product developers do.

In reality, all stakeholders, whether internal or external, evaluate the message through the lens of what it means to them; this can make it harder to get buy-in and commitment from other stakeholders, such as sales, marketing, channel partners or customers.

Product storytelling involves so much more about a product than just its features, including why the company made the product, the changes it has made to their customers’ jobs and where the product is going. The product vision should start with a clear purpose and solve a real challenge.

1. Utilize O-SIR during product storytelling

Communicating the vision for the product portfolio is fundamentally about telling a story about change. An effective structure for change stories is called outcome-situation-impact-resolution, or O-SIR.

The core of O-SIR is a structure that starts with the customer situation, describing the impact of the current state and then closes with how the tech provider’s vision will resolve it.

  • Outcome (O): Open with a short, outcome-oriented headline, sentence or passage that establishes the value that is achieved when the vision is realized. This effectively prefigures the rest of the story, creating a reason for the reader/listener to pay more attention and to think, “I want to know more.”
  • Situation (S): Describe the current situation before the new vision is implemented. What is the big problem that will be addressed for customers and for the organization (and maybe even for society, depending on the company’s mission or purpose statement)?
  • Impact (I): This is the story element that is most commonly omitted. The impact is the clear articulation of the pain, cost or risk that the current situation is causing. It should help to create urgency and establish why a change is important. It provides an opportunity to make an emotional appeal for change. Without the impact, tech providers are hoping that the audience will either already know what it is or make the connection on its own.
  • Resolution (R): Once it has been established that the current situation presents sufficient pain or risk, tech providers can move the audience to a better place by describing how their product vision will solve the problem. As part of the resolution, address the key issues that are being confronted in “the old way” and how this way is an improvement.

The format creates a framework that establishes context and helps audiences see their role in the vision — they see how they can become the protagonist. Once tech providers have the structure, they add an opening that generates immediate interest in learning more.

2. Use product stories that address the audience’s key issues and concerns

Do not shy away from generating emotion in communications — audiences commit to ideas, people and things on an emotional level. If tech providers want to drive action, they need to make an emotional connection, because decision-making and action are actually driven by the part of our brain that is responsible for making emotional connections. It is the purpose-driven elements of the product vision and story that will actually drive commitment and action — the “why” of the product rather than the “what” of it.

3. Help audiences move from vision to action during product storytelling

If vision is what tech providers want their product experience to be for the customer, strategy is how they intend to reach that vision. Delivering a change message, such as a new vision, requires a communications cadence that allows for the top-level vision to be absorbed and accepted first.

When working on product stories, do not attempt to communicate everything at once; if tech providers explore this path, they risk that the audience will be overwhelmed and likely to disengage. This is especially true when communicating significant changes.

Giving consideration to timing also enables tech providers to anticipate immediate and longer-term concerns that might arise among stakeholders. Timing will also affect how the message may be interpreted from a specific functional area point of view. Tech providers can build responses to these concerns through progressive communications.

4. Create different product stories for different stakeholders

To communicate the vision more broadly, tech providers will need different versions of the product story for different stakeholder groups, such as sales, marketing, channel partners or customers.

Build authentic stories that address their situation and make them feel that their needs and points of view have been considered in the larger process. When the product story is contextualized toward specific audiences while maintaining a strong connection to the top “why” part of the story, tech providers achieve consistency while better connecting with different stakeholders.

Many tech providers communicate their product direction by talking about features, but it is the product’s purpose that inspires commitment and enthusiasm. Those who adopt a product storytelling approach will inspire internal stakeholders, ecosystem partners and customers.

Profile photo of Clifton Gilley.
Image: Clifton Gilley/Gartner

This article was written by Clifton Gilley, who is a VP Analyst with Gartner’s Tech Product Manager team within the Technology and Service Providers research unit. Mr. Gilley’s research deals with product management across various technology domains, with a special focus on digital product management and Agile product design and development principles.

Gartner analysts will provide additional analysis on emerging technologies at the Gartner Technology Growth & Innovation Conference, taking place March 20-21, in Grapevine, TX.


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