I recently started working on my first book on product leadership (very exciting, rest assured you’ll hear more about it in the future). As a first-time author, I am reading a lot of writing advice. One such advice I ran into I found particularly relevant for product leaders, and in fact, I see many people making this exact mistake when they give their product pitches. So here is the original advice, followed by my take on how to implement it in product work.
I got this advice from Omer Barak – journalist, writer of both books and movie/TV series scripts, and a writing coach. Since he has been doing a lot of writing of all types, he was able to share some do’s and don’ts for specific formats. He called it the fundamental mistake that book writers are making.
In a movie or TV series, anything you write needs to be later on produced. Specifically, if you write a fancy scene with many details, someone needs to later go and make these details a reality. And in production work, it can be costly.
But in a book, you can write all the details you want, for free. You can go as fancy as you like, as costly as you like, and simply create it with your own words. Your readers will see it and feel it without the help of any costly production. Your words can create a complete world for them.
The mistake that Omer mentions is that book authors often don’t use this power which lies at their fingers’ reach, and instead are stingy with their words as if every word costs them something, while it’s actually free. Not only that words and detailed descriptions are free, but they also do a much better service to your audience.
Think about the following story, for example:
“There is this boy who is actually a wizard, but he doesn’t know that. At some point, a giant comes to pick him up for the wizard school. They arrive in London, go through a wall and get on the train.”
Would you read Harry Potter if it was written like that? Of course not. It’s hard to follow, not memorable in any way, and most of all, boring.
Your Product Is Harry Potter
Now think about how you describe your product. It can be to your customers, investors, internally in the company, or even to your friends and family. When you are talking about your product, are you painting an entire world as J.K. Rawling did, or are you stingy with your words as in my example above?
Unless you pay special attention to it (which I hope you would following this article), you most likely do the latter. There can be many reasons for it, let’s start with the most obvious one.
Do you actually know what your product story is? I’m sure you know all about its features and capabilities. I’m sure you know – at some level – what is the problem that you are solving with your product. But do you know it deeply enough to be able to tell the story like J.K. Rawling?
One of the things that surprised me when I first watched the Harry Potter series, was how much the movies resembled what I had imagined when I read the books. You see, the books were so detailed that my imagination had to go down a very specific path. That’s one end of the equation. The other is, of course, the movie production, which had almost no deviation from the original books, and did invest in making all the details a reality in the production despite costs.
Telling your product story in detail helps you with these exact same things: on one end, it helps you ensure that your audience understands what you actually wanted them to understand because when you provide details they cannot have a completely different idea of what you meant without seeing conflicts. You are helping them to tune in on your story. On the other hand, now that you want to execute on it and make your story a reality, everyone involved knows much better what it takes and what they should and shouldn’t be doing.
Bring Them Into Your World
When I give CPOs feedback on their product pitch, they often tell me about pieces I find missing “but they already know that”. For some reason, we are very afraid to repeat something people already know. There are a few problems with that approach.
First, many times you don’t really know that they already know that. You think they do, but if you check, you might be surprised. They might know some version of it. They might have known and forgotten. There might be new people in the room.
Second, even if they do know, they most likely don’t live and breathe it day and night as you do. They have other things on their mind. They just finished another meeting where they got multiple action items, and then someone caught them in the hallway for “just a question” which turned out to be something else they need to deal with. If you want them to be with you, to dive into your world, you need to bring them into it. Start with what they already know. It’s a great tool to create alignment, and take it from there.
Third, since you want people not only to listen to what you have to say but also remember it, describing your product as a grocery list isn’t a great idea. People remember stories. That’s how our brains are wired. Tell a great story to help your audience remember you and your product.
Don’t Talk About Features
Often when I ask my mentees to dive deeper into the details of their product story, I indeed get many more details. But they are the wrong details. Not because they are wrong per se, but because they are not the details that matter and help paint the picture for the audience.
We all feel more comfortable talking about tangible things than about feelings and abstract ideas. Tangible things in the product world mean features, how-to’s, UX, etc. It’s all about the product itself. Feelings and abstract ideas, in that case, are the problem that you are trying to solve with your product, how the customers experience this problem, how it impacts them, how they deal with it today, and how they feel about it.
Not so easy to talk about, especially if you are not sure of all the details. You see, there is no right or wrong here, so you can never be 100% sure. Pressing a button in the UX and showing what it does is much more certain. But it’s not where you need to deep dive.
Instead, force yourself to live in the problem space for a while. Think about your customers like Harry Potter. Tell their story. Your product is only means to an end for them, it’s not the center of the story. Make it about them. Describe their world in detail, at the level J.K. Rawling did. Get to a point where anyone hearing the story can imagine it the exact same way. And of course, make sure your product fits well in the story. If it doesn’t, you might not be pitching to the right audience.
Storytelling the product pitch is one of the topics the participants of CPO Bootcamp will get to practice. They will use specific frameworks, like SCIPAB for example, get to iterate the story and get direct feedback to make sure it is well told.
Whether you participate in the CPO Bootcamp or not, invest in your product story. Create the world you can create with your words. Be a magician.