Thursday, March 29, 2012

On SXSW: Does Your Product Have A Plot?

Courtesy CNR.
What a curious question.  Does your product have a plot?  Do mine?  Are we talking about a plot in the sense of creative writing with a beginning, complication, climax, and resolution?

Yes, actually, that is exactly what David Womack, at SXSW, was discussing.  His point of view was curious, and while the analogy makes some sense at a high level, when you start considering complications, it became a bit harder wrap my head around.

So here's what I came away from the talk with.

Every product we construct on the web, every process, follows some sort of plot.  The plots may not be very good in most cases, but there is a plot.  Let's use this model:

  • Someone wants to buy a truck.  Specifically, a used Peterbilt 379 semi.
  • They then proceed to Google and search "Used Peterbilt 379".
  • A link there takes me to
  • This person then uses the filters in the navigation to narrow down a candidate truck.
  • They view the ad's detail page.
  • They decide to email or call the seller, or not to.
  • They look for more trucks or navigate somewhere else.

Straight-forward, right?  So how does this follow Freytag's triangle?

The consumer story starts with performing the search on Google.  This is the beginning of their story.  The start of my product story starts with the user's arrival from Google.  While I have some control over where my links appear on Google through SEO and social engagement, as far as user experience is concerned, the story starts with their arrival.

The Complication, or rising action, is the user's use of the filters to narrow down results.  It is their looking at certain ad detail pages and considering those vehicles.  The Climax is them deciding to actually make a phone call or send an email lead.  Or their decision not to.

The Resolution is after closing the deal.

And that's the story.  So what, right?  It's just a clever analogy.

Well, maybe not.  There is more to it than that.  Mr. Womack stresses the features that make a good story.  And what makes a good story?  A story with an engaging Complication and a satisfying Climax.  A story that has emotional complications and hooks.

My thought as David dug into this was something along these lines of:  "How in the hell do I make the process of buying a truck emotional?"

He had an interesting example:  Product Reviews.

So Amazon's story wasn't terribly different from mine in the early days of the internet:  search, find, buy or not to buy.  Then they added product reviews and suddenly added a healthy dose of reality, or humanity, to products.  People could review them and write witty stories about their experiences with them, or warn other customers against poor products.  The reviews helped the Climax element, to buy or not to buy, become more emotional.

Mr. Womack used the example of the 55 gallon drum of Passion Natural water-based lubricant.  Here was something that most of us would have no need to view or look at (or would you?), yet there are 64 reviews, some of them with hundreds of "I found this review helpful" thumbs ups.  Because people are leaving reviews, others are viewing the product, if only to read those reviews.  For the product, there are now thousands of folks that are aware that they can purchase a 55 gallon drum of lube.

Helpful, I know.

A better example, I think, is the 3 Wolf Moon shirt.  For three months straight, this t-shirt became Amazon's top selling piece of apparel.  Why?  Because Brian Govern left an entertaining review that went viral.  Wouldn't everyone like to see that story with their merchandise?  (Learn more here at

If it weren't for Amazon's review process and the emotional engagement it provides, the company that prints these shirts would not have had so much success.  All of this, just because of a customer review.

This happens every day, on a smaller scale for everyone visiting Amazon and every product on Amazon.  They search.  They Find.  They read reviews to assess a product's quality or satisfaction then decide to buy or not to buy.

Not only is this good for the 3 Wolf Moon t-shirt or Passion Natural lubricant companies, it is also good for Amazon.  People come to their site just to leave reviews.  People come to their site just to read reviews.  They might even buy something they normally wouldn't (3 Wolf Moon), just to be a part of the story.

Or they may buy them because of Amazon's suggested items.  The use reads a review of a product and decide not to buy it.  But wait, Amazon has suggested something similar!  This is another example of using additional complication to the rising action of a product story line.  Now there's more to choose from.  All with reviews.

So, how will you make your site more complicated?  How will you engage your users emotionally?  David Womack convinced me this is a part of the puzzle while designing our web and device applications.  Further more, and worth another blog post, is how this plugs in with social engagement and social signals in SEO.

Social signals will become increasingly important and social activity is a very personal, emotional experience.  How will your product fit in?

1 comment:

  1. Nice. I had not thought of the buying process in this way.