5 Pixar-Inspired Storytelling Tips for Product Managers

Uber’s Senior Product Manager Divya Anand shares her Pixar-inspired storytelling tips to improve product strategy, share compelling customer journeys, and earn stakeholder buy-in.

Photo: Pixar

Whether you are presenting your three-year product vision to investors or writing a product requirement document (PRD) for your company’s engineering team, a significant part of a product manager’s role is outlining the “what,” “why,” “how,” and “so what?” of product development. In addition to being researchers, interviewers, market analysts, and strategists, successful product managers are also storytellers.

“Ultimately, what you're trying to do with your work is tell a story or sell an idea to various stakeholders,” said Uber’s Senior Product Manager Divya Anand in a webinar hosted by Product School. “The biggest story that we all tell with our products is the story that inspires the customer to actually want to buy what you are selling.” It’s a good idea to incorporate a narrative framework into your slide decks, requirement documents, and product strategies to earn executive buy-in and illuminate meaningful customer journeys.

Here, Anand shares five storytelling tips for product managers — all inspired by methods used by Pixar’s filmmakers, who Anand (and likely anyone who has seen Finding Nemo) lauds as “the world’s greatest storytellers.”

1. Make Your Audience Care

If your audience doesn’t empathize with your story's hero (your customer), they’ll quickly lose interest in the narrative. That’s why great storytellers reveal the emotions that drive their main character’s actions, such as fears, hopes, and unfulfilled desires. When crafting your story, consider your customer’s pain points: What keeps them up at night? What gaps must be filled for them to realize their business goals?

Encouraging empathy enables your audience to get invested in your protagonist’s journey. “This will help engineering, marketing, and design teams want to join you to build something that’s going to make the customer’s life better. The more your audience cares, the more you’re going to get their involvement and ideas,” explains Anand.

Do: Make your customer relatable by outlining their motives, fears, and main business objectives.

2. Present the Stakes

Impactful stories typically involve high stakes for the hero. Stakes move a plot forward and keep your audience engaged.

For example, Anand says the stakes for Uber Eats’ end-user are high. “What is the worst that can happen to a user if our product fails? Maybe someone will be left stranded and hungry after waiting half an hour for their food after we’ve made a promise to them that delivery would occur in 20 minutes. That’s a bad situation,” she says. Underscoring your customer’s stakes relays the importance of your product strategy to your collaborators.

Do: To identify your customer’s stakes, ask: What happens if you don’t launch a specific product feature? What does your customer stand to lose? What does your customer stand to gain? Include these scenarios in your story.

3. Build a Credible Storyline

Stakes are vital to any good story. But it’s essential to build trust with your audience by establishing a credible storyline. Don’t exaggerate stakes to heighten a story’s drama.

Do: Product managers can achieve a credible storyline by presenting a narrative with the “Tell, Show, Tell” structure.

The first step, explains Anand, is to tell your stakeholders about the user clearly: What does the user want? What does the user need that isn’t being provided? Then, show how you will solve the user’s problem: Outline your vision, your innovative ideas, and your designs. Lastly, tell your audience why they should care about your user’s unique situation — what is the “so what?” of your narrative? “With this structure, you'll be able to build your story using all of the data and all of the research you've completed,” says Anand.

4. Revise Your Story

To tell an impactful story, focus on what makes your product stand out in a crowded marketplace. What is your product’s differentiator?

Exploring key differentiators may take some edits. “As product managers, innovation is very important. So always question the status quo on how things are being created in your industry,” says Anand, who adds that Pixar storytellers often discard the first idea they have … and the second, and third and fourth to reveal true innovation. “Discard your ideas until you surprise yourself,” she says.

Do: Edit your story. And then edit again. And again. Multiple revisions will help you craft an impactful product journey that resonates with your audience and helps you achieve your goals.

5. Begin at the End

“From a product standpoint, your story’s ending should ultimately tie back to some key metric or objective your team has,” says Anand. Start your story with these main goals in mind, and everything you say in your presentation or PRD should tie back to this objective.

If you realize your story doesn’t point back to your metrics, this is a warning sign that your product strategy may not be viable, and it could be worth reassessing your product roadmap. “Writing with your key metrics in mind will help ensure that you are creating the right story for your product, customers, and business,” says Anand.

Do: Before you build your story, write down the top metrics or objectives most important to your presentation or document. Craft your story around these core points.

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