Back when I was studying communication at the university, I was fascinated by the ability of filmmakers and writers to create compelling stories that kept people engaged frame after frame, page after page.
Later on, I discovered that all these exciting events happening subsequently in their narrative were not just the fruit of imagination (well, at least partially) but they were part of the storytelling technique that has a very solid structure and foundation.
If you think about it, stories are essential to the human experience, it’s how we understand the world around us, how we make sense and engage with products. When you talk to our friends about how great that app was, allowing you to order food online on a sad and rainy Saturday evening, you are telling them a story, an engaging one.
Donna Lichaw wrote a book that is using the “story” framework to help people and organizations think about their products or services as “stories” with a beginning, a middle, and an end.
What makes stories and products great, then?
According to Aristotele, you need:
- Characters (the heroes of the story),
- Goals (these heroes need to accomplish a specific goal),
- Conflicts (without them, it wouldn’t be a story, it wouldn’t be as engaging as trying to reach your goal and encountering obstacles that you overcome with great effort and bravery).
Donna synthesizes the concept with a Math formula! Incredible right?
A x B = C
A is the force that a character exerts to meet his goal. B is the force that acts against the goal your character is trying to achieve.
If you multiply the forces, you get C, this is the climax: the final resolution of the conflict.
In summary, the conflict is what makes stories more engaging and in the case of products or services, the resolution of it (climax) is what makes your customer come back again and again to use your product!
According to Donna, there are three types of stories that you can use to make your products incredible:
- Concept story: It lasts only a few seconds and sets the stage to get your customer intrigued by your product.
- Origin story: This is how someone becomes your customer for the very first time. It’s the origin of a love story between your product and your customer.
- Usage story: This is the story of someone using your product step by step. How your customer will use your product? It’s usually based on real data, or it has the form of a series of hypotheses.
What all these stories have in common is a very “solid structure”. Once you start using this framework, you will immediately realize which stories have a solid structure and which don’t.
Let’s have a look at the structure step by step:
- Exposition: current state of things. Your character has a goal, and he wants to achieve it.
- Inciting Incident/Problem: What is getting in the hero’s way that is not allowing him to achieve his goal?
- Rising Action: a series of events that the hero is performing to meet his goal.
- Crisis: potential hurdles. Impediments that must be overcome to get the hero to the highest point of his experience.
- Climax/Resolution: Here the problem is solved and the highest point of the experience is reached. Your hero, in the case of a product or service, is experiencing the value of your product.
But we need to raise the bar, this is not enough to make a story an incredible one.
- Falling Action: What then? What is the final action that will make the story memorable in front of the eyes of your users? Ops… Heroes? It could be a small animation or something that will maximize even more the value of the experience, such as a Thank-you page. An example that stuck in my mind is the little multicolor unicorn that Asana makes appear and disappear when you complete multiple tasks. Isn’t it cute?
- End: The end. The flow is over and the user/hero met his goal. Now he is changed and should have learned some kind of lesson.
Let’s see the Concept Story framework in action with a digital product extracted from Donna’s book: Slack!
Exposition: The current state of things
- Who is your target customer? Busy professionals.
- What’s good in their world as it relates to your product or service? Communication and collaboration at work are easier and happening more than ever before. They’ve got more tools to get their job done — a plethora of ways to get in touch and collaborate with their team.
- What is their general goal as it relates to your product or service? To communicate and collaborate with a group of people.
- What is their problem or pain point? Communication and collaboration are a pain. While it’s easier and more accessible than ever, it’s still difficult to keep track of everything or keep it all in one place. This means that what should be easier ends up being harder, wasting their time and money.
Rising Action: The name of the product
- What is the name of your product? Slack.
- What type of product is it? An online collaboration tool.
Crisis: The competition
- What does the competition look like? Free online services like Gmail or IM. Existing services that people might already pay for like Base-camp. There is a very long list here.
- What mental hurdles might keep them from adopting your solutions? What, sign up for another online service? Ack. No.
Climax/Resolution: The value
- What will help them solve their problem and overcome a crisis moment or resistance? What’s your product’s primary value proposition or differentiator? Unlike the competition. Slack is a one-step solution. Have your communication in one place. And the best part: they can access it anywhere, anytime, from their desktop, web browser, phone, or tablet.
Falling Action: The takeaway
- What do you want people to think, feel, or envision after learning about your product? They imagine themselves using Slack with their teammates… And, maybe, never using email again. That would be cool.
- This is where the users meet their goals. To communicate and collaborate with a group of people.
- It’s where the business meets its high-level goal, too. What’s the business goal? Broadly, to help people better communicate and collaborate with a group.
So what is the lesson learned from this amazing tool/framework? There are plenty of products and services out there, but none of them will create compelling experiences for their users if they do not have a solid story in place.
By reversing engineer the root of your customer’s problem, making them experience the impediments, solving their internal conflicts by giving them value and add a touch of “memorability” to their journey, you can create products that people love and will go back to use again and again.
You can create your never-ending story with your customers and make it as much intriguing as a Netflix series.
For sure, I will start thinking more like a storyteller and infuse my stories with some more “magic”.
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