“Technology is a glittering lure, but there is the rare occasion that the public can become engaged with the product beyond a flash, if they have a sentimental bond with the product.” – Don Draper, Mad Men
Nearly two years ago, Google Glass promised to reinvent technological interaction from atop our very noses. But now, after Glass’ hopes were promptly shattered, Snap has trained its sights on the very same goal. So why, considering Glass’ very public failure, are consumers are going to insane lengths to get their hands on a pair of Spectacles?
For clues, consider the two products’ public launches. Google took the shock-and-awe approach when introducing Glass, featuring a skydiver landing on a roof handing Glass to a BMX biker who then hands it to someone rappelling down the side of a building. Eventually the product ends up in the hands of Google co-founder Sergey Brin. Google’s intro showcased the product’s capabilities, but it missed something much more important: a captivating story.
Spectacles’ story, in contrast, begins with a launch video pulled from a teenager’s daydream. Played over a trendy track, it shows kids skateboarding, sending snaps, and having an absurd amount of fun. It’s warm, sunny, and relatable, connecting with its audience rather than overwhelming them with technology.
The messaging behind these ostensibly similar products could hardly be more different. Google, while imploring people to incorporate Glass into their worlds, associated it with extreme sports and the tech elite. Snap made a video that looked remarkably like young adults enjoying their regular, everyday lives.
Where Google failed to build a product that people actually wanted to use, Snap is relying its users to tell Spectacles’ story — and it’s working quite spectacularly.
Let Customer Experience Be Your Guide
Creating a Snap-style product story is tough, but it’s not impossible. There’s no hard-and-fast map to follow, so product designers must make customer experience their North Star.
Airbnb, for example, has successfully disrupted the hotel market because of its unwavering focus on the customer experience. If a disgruntled customer calls its customer support line, they’re connected to a real representative, not automated menus. If he or she requests a cancellation, Airbnb not only provides the customer a refund, but also helps him or her find new lodging — perhaps even for free.
Airbnb’s service provides the plot around its product: Customers are valued, and Airbnb will take care of them. In the era when a viral bad review is just a few keystrokes away, the home hospitality brand knows that every customer must have an outstanding experience.
But service alone can’t spin a proper story. The best tales are those that put you in the hero’s shoes. If consumers can’t see your product fitting into their lives — think of Google Glass’ extreme launch — then they’re not going to listen.
To reach receptive ears, as author and speaker Simon Sinek noted, your story should start with “why.” What real-world problem will users solve with your product? It’s easy to rattle through features or share a tutorial, but the “why” is what ultimately bonds your product to its audience.
Shape Your Product’s Story
If your product story is to find fans, it must be one worth listening to. Here’s how to create clear messaging, construct a compelling plot, and involve the right characters in your story:
1. Speak your audience’s language.
Vocabulary matters. Your doctor doesn’t ramble medical terms and then walk away. He breaks problems down in terms you understand. Product messaging works the same way.
If you’re speaking to the everyday consumer, stick to the basics: How will your product make them happier and their lives easier? Technical details tell users about “how” the product works, but to provide the “why,” you must describe real-world uses in everyday terms.
Sometimes you might not even need words at all. While designing Chelsea Handler: Gotta Go!, we made a conscious decision to use emojis as the primary medium for user interaction. Gotta Go! was intended to be a light-hearted, cheeky way to escape awkward moments with a text message. By translating comical excuses into simple emoji, we set a great tone for the brand story.
2. Pay attention to the intro and conclusion.
A good story isn’t just about the climax. Consciously or not, customers are always listening to what your product has to say.
In product storytelling, perception can be more powerful than reality. Does your product need time to download and process content? Instead of reminding users how long the process takes with a loading bar, make it seem as if the product is already moving to the next step. Instagramdoes this beautifully by uploading photos as soon as you enter the final screen in the “publish photo” flow. When the user taps share, the photo already exists on Instagram’s servers, meaning there’s no waiting around for uploads to finish.
We took a similar approach when we built Tape, a social video-sharing app. When the user uploads a video, a local version appears almost instantaneously in the feed. We didn’t want users to perceive a delay in uploading large video files, which would decrease engagement, so we designed around it.
3. Develop your “supporting characters.”
From its advertisements to its app store reviews, every time customers see your product, they’re reminded of its story. As you develop these touchpoints — the supporting characters — create them with the same care you took with the product itself.
When we created “Chelsea Handler: Gotta Go!,” we told its story with this inclusive mentality. We knew users would find us after watching Chelsea’s Netflix documentary, so we paid careful attention to how the app was described within the episode. We tied the app’s copy and screenshots closely to the documentary, even referencing Chelsea in pre-fill text users see when sharing their experiences online.
Think about the “minor characters” users meet before they even engage with your product. What’s the medium in which they’ll first hear about it? What terms will they search? When they finally reach the app store page, what do the screenshots and promotional videos look like? How will users share and talk about it with their friends?
Once your product is in users’ hands, consider its onboarding flow. Is sign-up a pain? What happens if the user forgets her password? When she’s using the product, is the interface easy to navigate? Is she hooked back into the user experience through something like push notifications?
These are the type of questions Apple considers when telling its product stories. Its ads show happy people using its products in every frame. The devices themselves are sexy, and the software is simple by design. Even its physical packaging is sleek. Apple knows that in product stories, the details matter.
Consumers don’t buy products just because they’re the cheapest or the newest. They purchase the products that they connect with. That, above all else, is why the world will be viewed through Spectacles and not Glass.
Mike Godlewski is a senior designer at Yeti, a product-focused design and development studio in San Francisco. Mike loses sleep ensuring each user interaction is as simple and intuitive as possible. You’ll probably find him behind the lens of his camera. Follow Mike on Twitter.
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