Most B2B articles have a pattern.
Introduce the topic, agitate a problem, educate the reader, hint at a solution, and conclude on said topic. This seems like a solid content writing strategy, but it misses a crucial element: no mention of the product or how it helps the reader solve the problem.
So how will content drive demand if you treat your SaaS product as an afterthought? I.e mentioning your product only in passing or worse, not at all in said content.
This culture has to stop.
It’s possible to create content that is both educational and product-focused. It is not an either-or situation.
“Your product or service should play an integral role in your content strategy as well as creation.”
Interestingly, a study by Altimeter revealed that product-focused content brought in the highest ROI for companies by 29%. This finding proves it makes sense to weave your product into your content to accelerate demand gen goals.
But beware not to fall into the trap of product-stuffing.
If you’re not familiar with the term, product-stuffing is when you insert your product into your content in too salesy ways it turns off readers.
Avoiding this trap is necessary and is a huge part of why many content teams don’t insert their product into their content. There’s, however, a balance between the two extremes. And this balance, as you’d soon see, is Product-Led Storytelling or Product Storytelling:
- It’s Product Storytelling, Not Product Stuffing
- How To Create a Product-Led Story That Generates Demand
- Bad Content Examples
- Drive Business Goals With Product-Led Storytelling
It’s Product Storytelling, Not Product Stuffing
In the early days when Tim Suolo joined Ahrefs as CMO and embarked on a revamp of the company, he noticed people weren’t adequately educated on the product. To resolve this, he tested a theory aimed at educating prospects on how to use Ahrefs while they consumed their content.
In Tim’s words:
“My theory is that people don’t sign up for your [SaaS product] and then learn how to use it. It is that people first learn how to use your [product]. And they sign up because they know how to use your tool.”
To implement this theory, he wove the product and its practical application into their content.
This proved effective, as you can see below:
What Tim and Ahrefs does has become known as product-led content writing.
But Product-Led Storytelling, PLS, takes it some steps further.
In a Product-Led Story, there’s a great deal of teaching going on via analogies target readers can relate to, but, the product is at the heart of this teaching. It is not forced into the content or awkwardly inserted. This is important to note. Only weave your product in when it makes sense to.
In his piece on ‘How to approach content marketing,’ Julian Shapiro, Startup Investor, corroborated this point:
“Be contextually appropriate — Mention your product only when relevant. If you lack good segues, rewrite your post to make room for them.”
Now, Product Storytelling shouldn’t be confused with Product-Led Content Writing. There are some similarities, but there are some key differences.
Difference Between a Product-Led Story and a Product-Led Content
According to Dr. Fio Dosetto, Editorial Lead at Wildbit, a Product-Led Content (PLC) is:
“Content where the product is woven into the narrative to illustrate a point, solve a problem, and/or help accomplish a goal.”
Like Product-Led Content Writing, Product-Led Storytelling also involves weaving your product into the story.
But that’s where the similarity ends.
Product Storytelling goes on further than weaving your product into your content. It also involves tying in relevant stories of how customers (like your target reader) overcame specific challenges with your product. Relevant stories in this case mean reviews/testimonials that resonate with the target reader of the piece. Apart from the customer stories, there’s also strategic insertion of CTAs; inviting readers to take mutually beneficial action within the content.
So the strategic and contextual injection of reviews, case studies, and CTAs (calls to action) distinguish PLS from PLC:
As written on Zapier’s blog,
“In product-led stories, the product is at the center of the story—the focus is on how a given product (or service) can solve a problem. This is often demonstrated through customer stories, case studies, and other social proof. “See? Our product helps people.”
From this, we can see a Product-Led Story has three major elements:
- Expert weaving in of the product,
- Reviews from happy customers who share similar traits with the reader, and
- Strategic insertion of contextual CTAs.
How To Create a Product-Led Story That Generates Demand
It’s time to get into the nitty-gritty.
As explained, you need to create a good story that shows the complete user journey from the problem to the solution (with your product). Essentially, you’re turning each content into a sales page of sorts.
But first, how are you sure this approach works?
Well, as the coiners of the PLS concept, we adapt this method to all our pieces and clients’ pieces and get great results like attracting SaaS founders to work with us:
And generating demand for our clients:
Now, how do you craft a story to generate demand without repelling the reader because of your obvious sales tactics?
You follow the five steps detailed below:
1. Determine The Protagonist And Hero of Your Story
Your hero is the person you’re writing for, who has a problem and the means to buy your product. In other words, your hero is your target audience.
2. Find a Suitable Topic
Once you’ve determined your target audience, source for a topic with a high business value, and which addresses the problems your hero has.
Business value/potential in this sense means topics that are closely tied to your product. The rationale behind choosing such topics is that it makes it easy to insert your product and present it as the solution to the reader. Otherwise, you’d end up product-stuffing or weaving your product in awkwardly.
Tim Suolo, Ahrefs CMO expounded on the business potential of their content pieces:
“We don’t care about TOFU/MOFU/BOFU. All we care about is business potential. To assess the business potential of each keyword and topic, we’ve developed something we call the Business Potential Score. And we only try to target topics where our product is an almost irreplaceable solution to the problem.”
Typically the business potential of a topic is scored from 1-to 3 with 3 being the highest and 1 the lowest:
To craft a great Product Story, you should aim for a topic with a business value of 3 or 2.
Our content studio follows this principle.
For every content idea, the writer states the business value and the reason behind the assigned value. The ideas with high business values get approved more than the others:
Does this mean all the content you create in-house must have a high business value?
You can adapt the 80-20 rule. This means 80% of your content is product-focused with a high business value. Then the remaining 20% of the content can be non-product focused like brand-building pieces, company announcements, updates, reports, opinion pieces, etc.
Alex Birkett’s ‘Barbell Approach’ ( (adopted from Nassim Taleb) is similar.
According to him:
“In terms of content, that means I allocate about 65-85% of my portfolio to low volatility, predictable wins like the product led content keywords. I know with a degree of certainty that as long as I execute the proper playbook, I can bring in traffic and conversions with this part of the portfolio, but it probably won’t exceed a certain threshold.
The remaining part of the portfolio is there to capture the upside. It’s the thought leadership, opinion pieces, and the experimental content. It’s the stuff that general wins the hearts as opposed to the minds of readers (which usually wins backlinks, too), yet has almost no predictable business output. The meta-point in the barbell approach is that every piece of content is mindfully produced with a clear intention in mind.”
Now, after settling on a topic with high potential, what next?
3. Prepare the Solution to The Problem
This is where you do the content research and gather all the information needed to take the reader from Point A (the problem) to Point Z ( the end goal: solution).
4. Write. Write. Write.
In between Point A and Z is B – Y. Now, Points B-Y is where the ‘actual Product-Led Storytelling’ occurs.
First, you need to establish an emotional connection with the reader by calling them, and their pain points out in the introduction, then encouraging them to continue with the piece.
Immediately after the introduction, subtly mention your product as a part of the solution being offered in the piece. This will give context to your CTA. Contextual CTAs are very important as without context, they look out of place. Viola Eva, Founder of FlowSEO holds a similar opinion in an article she wrote for Search Engine Journal,
“Make sure the CTA leads to the feature or product that matches what you talked about. A CTA works if it is congruent to the article and the problem that you just highlighted.”
“Tie the CTA back to the problem you’ve just solved. Relevancy is everything when it comes to CTAs.”
As you further detail the information the reader seeks, show (with screenshots) how your product works in tandem to solve the problem outlined in the article. Remember to use recent statistics and expert quotes for social proof.
Then show reviews of customers who have solved the same problem with your product alongside another contextual CTA. All these should be done in the piece’s body, before the conclusion.
So the first thing we did was to call out our target audience and empathize with them on their pain points:
Then we strategically introduced a contextual CTA immediately after the introduction:
We included screenshots of how HoneyCart works:
Now, because this particular piece was a case-study styled piece, we included relevant statements and reviews by happy customers like the reader:
Note: Even if your story isn’t a case study, you should still include relevant reviews.
Here’s how we did for Blackthorn, another client.
In the introduction:
In the middle of the content:
And in the conclusion:
If you’d like to learn more about each step of a Product-Led Story, here’s the 9-step saas content formula we use. On to the last step.
Conclude your Product-Led Story by either reaffirming the points you made in the body/introduction of the content or revealing some new information. You can still relate your product in the conclusion and include a final contextual CTA.
We did this for Honeycart’s piece illustrated above:
Note: Your CTAs can be worded the same throughout or with slight variations. However, the destination of the CTAs should be constant all through the piece.
Generally, in a Product Story, you should have 2-3 CTAs strategically introduced. You don’t want to overwhelm the reader or come off as salesy. And in the spirit of CTAs, here’s one for you:
Bad Content Examples
You should have a clear picture of what an effective Product Story looks like. However, if it is still fuzzy, let’s analyze 2 B2B SaaS brands’ blogs and see where their content could be better if aligned with PLS.
An email marketing tool, Benchmark prides itself as ‘a simple email marketing tool for anyone who needs to send personalized email at scale.’
Sounds great, right?
I agree. But their blog is not as great. Let’s look at the reasons why.
First off, I noticed they segmented their blog into different content categories (smart move btw!):
Unfortunately, some of these categories, and by extension, some of the content under said categories, had low business potential.
For instance, the category ‘content marketing’:
At my last count, they had 22 content pieces in this category. But because the category does not leave much room for the product to be inserted (email marketing is not directly linked to content marketing), it’ll be hard to get in any mention of the product without sounding salesy.
Therefore, any content created in this category cannot be Product-Led, which is a crying shame.
Now, the lack of a product weave-in in the ‘content marketing category’ can be excused because it has a low business value, ergo, little room for the product.
But what about their content with high business value?
Surely, they can insert their product right?
Benchmark email, however, drops the ball in this regard. One of their recent pieces titled ‘What Is Email Personalization and Why Is it So Powerful?’ is a clear 3 on the business value scale. It is directly on the service they offer.
Yet, there is not one mention of their product throughout the piece. No hint that they offer the service mentioned. Not even one CTA!
As a stranger reading the piece, I would never have guessed that benchmark is an email marketing personalization tool. This is bad content marketing.
And this is not an isolated incident.
A lot of their content is the same way. A classic case of wasted opportunity.
Finally, considering their large customer base, they have enough reviews to integrate into their pieces. Again, they don’t do this.
Zylo is a SaaS management tool and they do so well at it. But, on the blog front, they could do more in terms of making their content product-led.
For instance, product screenshots (or the lack of them) in their pieces:
As with many B2B brands, there’s hardly any mention of their product up until the conclusion of the content with a non-contextual CTA:
One final thing they could do to make their content a demand-generating one would be to integrate the reviews on the ‘Customer Stories’ segment into their content when it fits. Doing this would be better than publishing these reviews in a section of their site where most prospects won’t ever find them or care to visit.
Drive Business Goals With Product-Led Storytelling
TL;DR: Content marketing, when done correctly, is supposed to generate demand for a product and retain existing customers. According to Tim Suolo, it does so for Ahrefs:
Unfortunately, many B2B SaaS brands go about it the wrong way by either avoiding any mention of their product or going overboard by stuffing their product excessively without context.
There’s a balance however.
“Product-Led Storytelling captivates the user with the elements of a story and at the same time promises them a solution for their problem.”
The Product-led Storytelling or Product Storytelling approach helps you execute content marketing that presents your product as the solution to your reader’s problem, aiming to convert them to Product Qualified Leads (PQLs).
It’s a unique approach where you can confidently send even paid traffic to your content pages, just like Ahrefs: