Sell your story, not your product

It never is about selling stuff. It’s about making a match. To do that, people must buy into your story.

Roger Rosweide
11 min readFeb 14, 2020
Copyright: Hapklaar Agency

Selling your product instead of your story is a very unsustainable way of marketing.

In this article, I’ll explain the psychological effects on consumers of product marketing instead of “story marketing” and what adverse effects this could have on your branding.

Then, I’ll explain some basic ways that you can start to incorporate story marketing into your customer journey.

If, after reading, you wish me to expand on the topic please upvote.

I own a creative marketing firm in Amsterdam that does growth hacking through storytelling.

The belief behind this combination of methods is that if you want to lead traffic from one place to another, you must find a reason for people to follow you.

Attention is short, and people must feel enticed to click through. A great way to do that is by creating cliffhangers in plot development, as you tell a story over multiple platforms/pages/media.

I’ve found myself telling different versions of the following story to my clients as an understandable way of starting to explain what we do and why we do it.

It’s nowhere near the whole story of how to do good story marketing. I’d love to tell it though, perhaps through a number of different articles. So, let me know!

This article is intended as a help for all professionals that also wish to explain the nature and intention of storytelling in marketing to their clients, co-workers, friends, relatives, etc.

Additionally, this article might help you if you’re a startup founder or student who’s relatively new to storytelling and marketing.

Create a story that clicks.

A while back, we did a video shoot for a new woman’s fashion label.

Our goal was to capture the essence of a strong, independent woman in under a minute.

We picked a minute so the same video could be shared on Facebook and Instagram at the same time. The concept of the video, embodiment of a strong, independent woman, was in line with the brand’s philosophy and target audience.

One of the lessons learned is that without sound (since most people don’t watch with the sound on) and with constraints on time, it’s all about telling a story through body language.

We didn’t want to create a distinct story. At least not with a beginning, middle, and end in under a minute. From past experiences in storytelling through ads, we knew that most people would never maintain watching a one minute plot to the end and be satisfied.

Copyright: Hapklaar Agency

Instead, we wanted to demonstrate a confident attitude and purpose in our female lead. The woman’s look and movements would then enhance her femininity and power. Our story was about communicating a state of mind.

We shot a woman walking through a restaurant and sitting down at a table where a man was waiting for her. As she sat down, he would pour her a glass of wine and give it to her.

His demeanor would be of someone who wants her. He longs for her. Instead of giving in, she remains stable and unimpressed. Eventually, she stands up and walks away. Her motives remain a mystery.

What happened? Did they break up? Is this a date gone wrong? Are they in a fight?

One thing is for sure: he has no power over her.


Keep developing your plot.

Our next step was to launch a Facebook/Instagram ads campaign, using the video. The results were excellent, with lots of people feeling intrigued and clicking on the link to the website.

They wanted the story to continue and hoped for the plot to develop.

The only thing we missed out on was to keep the story developing on the website as well. As, at that point, we had no control over the page. This became clear from the Analytics we had in place through Facebook business manager.

We witnessed a dropoff after coming to the website that was larger than we would have liked.

We anticipated this dropoff since we had no control over the website. We purposefully chose to make the story abstract and about communicating a state of mind: she is in charge.

The plot, we hoped, would develop in people’s minds and take shape as they saw the design of the website, the clothes, and the overall look and feel.

Instead, we should have insisted that the plot developed until someone reached the Thank You page.

As a storyteller and growth hacker, this was obvious: enticing people to go where you want them only works if you can tell a story through different platforms/pages/media. Your plot development leads them to the designated finish, the punchline, if you will.

This finish could be when visitors reach the Thank You page. But heck, you could even go so far as to say they never reach it. Even after delivery, the story could continue like a saga.

It never is about selling stuff. It’s about making a match. To do that, people must buy into your story. Don’t trick yourself by thinking you must sell the product instead. That’s a very unsustainable way of marketing your product.

Since this experience, we have always tried to do one of two things:

  • “Own” the whole customer journey the client has in place.
  • Work closely with all stakeholders in this process.

The results have dramatically changed the success rate of our customers, as well as for the products we build ourselves. If you don’t, you cannot guarantee the development of the story and become subject to other methods to get your traffic to finish the purchasing process.

Product Marketing is only a start.

Before we get back to Story Marketing, let’s first consider Product Marketing.

Product marketing is the process of promoting and selling a product to an audience. Also, product marketing is defined as being the intermediary function between product development and increasing brand awareness.

Let’s be clear: developing and innovating your product, as per the second definition, is very important. As you learn about your customers, you improve your product. This leads to a better product, which means you have something to communicate. This leads to more brand awareness, which means you sell more, learn more, more development, etc. The spiral goes up and up.

As per the first definition, there are a couple of obvious pitfalls.

First of all: if you market your product by merely ‘promoting’ it, you make it very hard to get people’s interest. There’s not much you can say, other than naming what your product does, to make them click from your ad/post/article to the next page. There’s a considerable downside to this strategy: you make your product the hero of their story.

Copyright: Hapklaar Agency

Shouting the benefits of your product on all available channels makes you subject to the patience of the consumer: how much are they willing to put up with your unwanted voice in their head telling them they need your product?

Because getting attention this way is super hard and hardly exciting to consumers, companies often resort to giving discounts, extras, and endlessly repeating the benefits of the product over its competitors (which is a big no-no, because now you have somehow got them thinking about your competitors!).

You establish value by introducing your product, name what it does, then telling why this product exists and how it benefits the consumer’s story. Yes, the consumer’s story. Not yours.

Nobody wants your product to be the hero of their story. Consumers want to star in their own stories. More on that later.

Please don’t give discounts to get attention. It deteriorates the ‘why.’ You’re saying that the product is excellent, but the reason for being isn’t.

Please don’t compare yourself to your competitors. As stated above, you shouldn’t even have them think of anyone but you.

Finally, please remember this: your customer journey is a funnel with many different layers.

You can only communicate your discount/comparison/special offer once. Usually, that’s the first thing people do. How are you going to get people to click to the next layer once you’ve played out your special trick?

Copyright: Hapklaar Agency

Your discount/comparison/special offer is like that final trick up your sleeve. Your “if-all-else-fails” or “if-people-need-that-final-push” trick that can do wonders at the end of the road.

But don’t play that card right away, because people will perceive your product immediately as unstable in value. Meaning there must/could be something wrong with it.

Never just ‘market’ your product. Give them a reason to buy into your story.

You’re not the hero.

Storybrand is a marketing company in America that has developed a unique method about how you can position your product.

I advise you to buy their book under the eponymous title. It helped me a lot.

As a communication alumnus, the basis they use for their formula seemed very familiar to me. They use the story structure of Popov and Joseph Campbell, among others, to start thinking about brands in the form of stories, in particular the archetypes.

Let’s take an example: Harry Potter.

Storybrand advises that companies do not position themselves as the main character in a story but as the helper. As stated above: don’t you make your product the hero of their story.

If you want to know more about this, leave a message below, and maybe I will deal with this in the next article. It helps to get positive feedback.

In short: your product must become the helper in a story where your consumer is the hero.

It is essential, in the context of this article, that Harry Potter (your consumer) is always positioned as a human with faults, regrets, and uncertainties. He succeeds because he is helped by his friends (your product), who are also not without mistakes.

What connects them is that they are sincere, talented, and committed to the good cause. They only succeed together. Heck, Harry Potter would even be the first to admit that he isn’t the hero.

What is so beautiful is that all characters who assist Harry Potter are far from being superheroes as well. They are ordinary people with certain qualities but who distinguish themselves in perseverance, motivation, and sincerity.

Their ability to take risks and commit themselves to someone else and the good cause is what connects them.

This example applies to all the great stories and the archetype structures that underlie it: The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Game of Thrones, The Hunger Games, Divergence …

Once you know something about this archetype structure, you will see it (to the point of fatigue) everywhere.

The plot usually goes something like this (I’m butchering this for the sake of brevity):

  • The hero is introduced as a person with potential, but unaware of it
  • There’s a call to action: the hero becomes aware of the journey he must undertake
  • Helpers present themselves to accompany him on the journey
  • The hero goes through hell, learns a lot, things almost go wrong
  • His helpers teach him something about himself that end the misery he is in and set him on the right path
  • Eventually, the hero transforms into the hero he needs to be to finish the journey
  • Happy ending (some people die, not you though)

Note: the hero always possessed the inner qualities to complete the story; his helpers merely helped him transform into the person he needed to be.

Tell your story over different platforms.

What does this all mean?

Never forget that your product isn’t the hero. Better yet, the story you tell shouldn’t even be solely about your product.

The story you tell is about how your customer is the hero and how your product can help them transform into whatever/whoever they need to become.

Getting back to the Harry Potter analogy, realize that you are one of Harry Potter’s friends who distinguish themselves in a particular area, but that you too are not without mistakes and improve daily.

Your job is to help the main character (the consumer) transform into the hero. You’re in this together.

You’re not selling your product to the consumer. You’re matching your help (product) with the hero’s (customer) journey.

What can you do?

Create a story around your brand that you can tell over different platforms. Ideally: make your plot develop as your audience gets closer to the ‘finish.’

Find out what essential human problem your product helps to solve. Remember that you aren’t solving the problem, you’re helping to solve — the more basic and existential the problem, the better.

Now, dig deep into the emotional state of the problem. How does it feel if your hero (the consumer) solves this problem?

Incorporate different levels and plot development into the different layers of your customer journey.

Make sure you start telling a story on level A but continue telling it on level B. Further the plot as customers move to deeper levels.

Create cliffhangers at the end of posts/videos/articles to entice people to follow your product’s story. Have them follow the story to the finish.

That means you can save your punchline (insert: discount/special offer) to the end as a knockout.

Remember that it’s excellent to be completely vulnerable in this process. Treat the outer levels of your communication channels (social media, newsletters, etc. — your cold outreach) as a place where you can communicate part of your journey.

It makes your company accessible if you talk about ups and downs.

But, as consumers get to deeper levels of the customer journey, as they get closer to your product, be sure to position yourself as more confident.

Your journey might be full of learnings. Your product should appear stable (AF).

In conclusion.

The structure that we discussed above is a genuine way in which you can share content about daily affairs in your company.

The difference, however, is that you start thinking better about how you plan and position these things.

View the total picture, start thinking strategically about how you tell the story about your brand. It changes the way consumers look at your product and positioning in the long term.

I’m guessing you didn’t read all the Harry Potter books in one weekend. In the same way, you won’t tell your story in one go.

It’s about a constant effort that you have to make, but one that will deliver a lot in the long run: a genuine commitment to your brand because you have a fascinating story that reflects reality.

As long as you have a healthy alternation between the goods you are trying to promote and a sincere look at how these goods came about, I heartily recommend experimenting with actual, story-based content.

If you enjoyed this article and wish to read more, please comment or give me a follow.

It really helps to give me the motivation to start writing all the other articles I have in mind.

Copyright: Hapklaar Agency



Roger Rosweide

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