Why Great Technology Isn’t Enough
Unlocking Go-To-Market Success with Strategic Narratives for B2B Technology
75 percent of venture-backed companies never return cash to investors. Even with the advantages of capital and a product in which investors believed, the most innovative technology brands often die before they ever gain a foothold in the market.
For a decade, a16z’s Ben Horowitz has been telling tech companies, “A company without a story is a company without a strategy.” Despite this maxim and repeated failure of groundbreaking technologies, tech companies keep falling into the same trap—summarized by Horowitz as, “We have great technology but need marketing help.”
Despite their features, benefits, and capabilities, the value of technology companies is often obscured by convoluted, jargon-heavy messaging that fails to resonate with and drive urgency among buyers. For any technology to achieve widespread adoption, its value must be easily understood by its audience.
How do you bridge this gap? The answer is simple: Your brand’s strategic narrative has the power to transform complex technology into a simple solution customers can’t live without.
It’s Not the Technology—It’s What the Technology Makes Possible
In “Crossing the Chasm,” Geoffrey Moore pinpoints the challenge of bringing a revolutionary tech product to market. Early-stage technology company leaders, all within the first 3.5 percent of the market, are innovators. When the company first launches, it connects with fellow enthusiasts who revel in the nuance of a product’s capabilities and appreciate its innovation.
To cross the chasm at 13.5 percent and into the mass market, buyers become both increasingly skeptical and much less likely to understand how the product works versus the value it delivers.
This shift is remarkably difficult for founders who tend to hail from deeply technical backgrounds. Their unshakable belief in their own innovation stems from a fundamental understanding of both the tech itself and the problem it addresses. In a world of rational buyers, the best tech would always win. But in our universe—where even B2B technology is bought by emotional human beings—translating technical capability into a narrative that hits home with a non-technical audience is what ultimately captures the broader market.
Woden client ReFirm Labs was founded by NSA experts to identify firmware vulnerabilities. ReFirm’s product, Centrifuge, was more advanced than any other on the market but its emphasis on dense features like “complete file system extraction” and “byte code deconstruction” didn’t connect with buyers outside the most seasoned cybersecurity practitioners.
ReFirm’s purpose was straightforward. It existed to expose vulnerabilities in firmware to prevent attacks before they occur. ReFirm developed a strategic narrative that captured why it was born in the first place and what truly made the brand essential: “The best defense is a good offense.” This simple message and the narrative created around it resonated with a wider range of buyers, enabling the brand to experience rapid growth until it was acquired by Microsoft in 2021.
As companies scale, their audience becomes less technical. This is especially true for technical products selling into the enterprise that must communicate their value to multiple layers within an organization—from product features for technical buyers to broader transformative potential for executive decision-makers.
To cut through these varying tiers of buyers, a technical product needs a simple story that consistently positions it as a strategic solution that impacts business outcomes. It can be challenging for buyers to understand what makes one complex technical product different from another. A strategic narrative clearly defines that differentiation by leveraging a memorable, emotional context.
Binary Defense, a Woden client, faced this issue. Binary Defense’s initial success was built on technical prowess, but technology and expertise alone weren’t significant enough to differentiate it. Buyers had difficulty comprehending the technical differences between firms such as Binary Defense, CrowdStrike, or SentinelOne. Instead, Binary Defense built its brand story around the cultural fit between the company and its clients (according to Forrester, one of the three reasons companies select a cyber partner).
The foundation of Binary Defense’s strategic narrative became: “The right partner is the best defense.” This simple language emphasized the power of collaboration, enabling Binary Defense to communicate its value in a way that was unique and urgent. Later in the conversation, Binary Defense’s messaging highlighted expertise and technology through the lens of partnership.
A story-based approach isn’t a call to discard specs. Story creates a framework that identifies where technical details can be most effectively leveraged in the customer journey. Different buyers have different needs. A CTO might be swayed by features and benefits, while their VP looks for market differentiation and the speed of product delivery—and story determines the common purpose and shared value that connects each of these buyers.
Customer-Centric Messaging Makes Them Care
70 percent of all buying decisions are emotional, not rational. Stories have always been used to appeal to the emotional side of decision-making, which makes them an ideal tool for driving buyers down the sales funnel. Stories encourage them to commit on an emotional level before they fully grasp the technology behind a solution.
A technology company’s strategic narrative must be built around its customer’s most pressing needs and desires. A compelling brand story is an essential strategy for connecting with audiences, differentiating your brand, and driving growth. It illustrates the evolution of the Information Age, painting a vivid picture of how your company and product enable customers to overcome obstacles and thrive in this new reality.
All strategic narratives are built off a consistent structure that you can use to translate your technology into emotionally resonant language that drives buying decisions:
- Identify the change in the world: You entered the market because something changed. Acknowledge how your customer is struggling to adapt. Give them real stakes. Your technology is more than just a product—it’s the response to a real-world issue.
- Build around your buyer: A great story isn’t about how great you are; it’s about how great your customer could be if they win in a digital world. Shift the focus from your brand to your customer as the central character.
- Your brand as the trusted guide: Position your brand as a credible mentor, offering insight, expertise, and the tools the customer needs to navigate to this new world. Your expertise is meaningful because you can pass it down to the customer.
- Technology as a talisman: Your technology possesses both physical and magical aspects. Go beyond the details, articulating how your technology enables the customer to overcome their pain points. Reveal the power it unlocks within them and their business.
- Reveal what’s possible: Help your audience see the transformative potential of your solution. What does success look like with your product in their hands?
Ultimately, stories drive growth—and an emotionally compelling strategic narrative serves as the framework for tech messaging that fuels adoption.
For example, Paccurate is an advanced cartonization platform that optimizes shipping costs. When the brand engaged Woden, it fought to convey its value to buyers who didn’t already conceive of the benefits of cartonization. Paccurate recognized the importance of aligning its messaging with the most urgent needs of its customers. “We [were] playing 3D cartonization chess while our audience [was] playing checkers,” said CEO James Malley.
Paccurate’s strategic narrative shifted buyers’ perspective from the mechanics of how cartonization works to the control it made possible. This simplified messaging, paired with a more accessible product, improved traction and helped the company raise another $3.5M in its most recent funding round.
A story-driven approach doesn’t undermine your technology. It gives your product necessary context that makes it indispensable to every potential decision-maker.
The strategic stories used by essential brands follow a consistent structure. Download Woden’s guide on how this approach works, and how to stand it up in any company.
Different Buyers, Different Needs
Different buyer personas each have their own pain point. A strategic narrative offers the framework that unites these different perspectives, but it must be tailored to individual personas to ensure the message will always resonate.
Redis has long been the most popular NoSQL database—but the company behind Redis, Redis Labs, had trouble evolving from a purely open-source to selling an enterprise solution. Its tech-focused messaging aligned with the interests of developers and engineers, giving it an open-source toehold in 85 percent of enterprises. Regardless, in-memory speeds and distributed caches failed to appeal to executives who needed to make an enterprise purchase.
Woden helped Redis Labs develop a strategic narrative built on the belief that: “The companies that run fastest run Redis.” This core message was adapted at all levels of the sale to consistently frame the technical product in a way that was unique to the needs of each buyer.
Technical Buyers: Diving Deep into Details
Developers, engineers, and other tech-savvy stakeholders aren’t just looking at the product; they’re dissecting it. The pain points they face are rooted in real-world technical challenges, and they seek solutions that directly address these obstacles. Because these buyers overlapped heavily with the open-source community that already understood Redis’ capabilities, the Redis Labs connected the promise of speed in its enterprise offering in three ways:
- Capabilities: Redis offered unparalleled in-memory speeds for unstructured databases.
- Features: Redis’ durability and distribution kept teams operating quickly.
- Benefits: Redis ensured fast, reliable data processing for a variety of structures.
Although each of these details are technical in nature, they’re united by the promise of speed—which allowed for shared understanding when discussing Redis Labs’ offering with senior buyers.
Management: Making Performance Possible
Managers of engineering teams, such as VPs and directors, are less concerned with tech specs and more with how the product helps their team reach its goals. Their own product deadlines are what animate this buyer most urgently, and Redis’ strategic narrative provided a framework for messaging that spoke to those needs.
Redis’ rapid data-processing capabilities could expedite product development. This was framed to buyers as “speed to market.” Redis articulated that adopting its platform would enable faster product releases—an approach that tailored the message to the needs of the management buyer while simultaneously articulating the same value embraced by engineers.
C-Level Executives: The Story of Their Strategy
Enterprise technology must persuade C-level executives to make a big change without a profound understanding of what the product is or does. Redis catered to the C-level perspective by emphasizing the “speed of organizational transformation,” catalyzed by the speed of its technology and the velocity it gave product teams. The message was clear: with Redis, companies were better poised to achieve their goals quickly.
Strategic narrative linked all three types of decision makers to the common thread of how Redis’ product aligned with their own needs—and all agreed that it was the database they most exigently needed. Redis’ enterprise offering has since become a staple in a significant portion of Fortune 500 companies.
Story is essential for simplifying complex technology and making it relevant across diverse buyer personas. By establishing an emotionally compelling strategic narrative, Redis ensured consistency in its messaging to tech buyers, managers, and C-suite leaders.
Your buyers may be different, but they likely still range from highly technical to acutely strategic—and all perspectives must be woven through a narrative for maximum impact.
Navigating the Customer Journey
A strategic narrative works vertically with a company’s different personas and horizontally across each stage of the customer journey.
Woden client Strategic Risk Associates had positioned itself as “digital risk intelligence and performance platform built to continuously inform, enlighten, and empower executives and boards.” This highly technical, convoluted messaging described its product features, but failed to highlight a key differentiator: the holistic approach SRA takes to managing risk.
SRA’s buyer, the Chief Risk Officer, didn’t view the brand as essential. SRA recognized that this challenge stemmed from a lack of connection and sought to draw out the emotion that sat behind its innovative technology—repositioning its core product, Watchtower, as “the holistic risk intelligence platform.”
SRA established credibility with Chief Risk Officers by demonstrating how its partnership transformed risk into opportunity, institutionalizing the CRO’s view of risk. Just as this type of story makes a product’s complexity navigable to a variety of personas, simple messaging that relies on emotion is also what moves prospects through the customer journey.
Here’s how SRA leveraged the story in its pre-sale customer journey:
When your buyer first becomes aware of new technology, you must reveal to them how their world has shifted. Even in B2B, it’s a person, not a business, that makes a buying decision. You can drive an urgent, emotional response by depicting the change that has occurred, making it clear that the change will impact them, and tying it to a pain point they already feel. Technology should play a minimal role, if any, at this stage of the journey:
- Define your buyer: SRA’s buyer felt as though they were on the “outside looking in” with the C-suite. Your brand can stand out by searching beyond the title to understand what they really want. In the case of SRA, it was a consistent risk framework for their enterprise.
- Hone in on the most urgent pain points: Risk leaders had already embraced technology in their role, the problem was extending their own risk framework across the company. This was one of Watchtower’s most vital differentiators.
- Connect emotionally: Where competitors address standard problems solved by technology—risk officers slowed down by a myriad of spreadsheets and conflicting departmental views—SRA focused on the non-technical pain that kept its buyer up at night.
Once a buyer is aware of a distortion in their world and the challenges it facilitates, the story must shift to focus on them. Think about how your product enables the buyer to achieve their business outcomes, rather than how to leverage technical details at this stage in the funnel. If the Awareness stage emphasizes “why now,” the Consideration stage should emphasize “why you”:
- Connect with the customer: SRA’s positioning is focused on risk leaders’ need for a comprehensive view of risk. The strategic narrative is about them, not the technology—an ideal bedrock for building trust.
- Leveraging a simple origin story: Your origin story is a powerful sales tool. SRA’s founders were bankers. Its origin story establishes credibility through shared experiences and treats the development of Watchtower as a solution to a common pain point.
- Purpose over pitch: Mutual purpose does more to inspire an emotional connection with the buyer than technical features ever could. SRA’s purpose—the future of risk management demands transforming experience into expertise at scale—aligned with the buyer. This shared purpose is the base for introducing what the product itself actually does.
In the Evaluation stage, your technology’s features, benefits, and capabilities come into play. Technical details should reassure, not overcomplicate. The details of your product must validate the emotional story you’ve been telling buyers all along: why the product prepares them for change, why it’s built for them, and what it makes possible.
- Simple call-to-action: SRA distills Watchtower’s hundreds of features, benefits, and capabilities into one memorable promise: transform risk into opportunity.
- Define your differentiators: Instead of describing value through features alone, SRA emphasized Watchtower’s ability to think and prioritize like a Chief Risk Officer.
- Use technology as reinforcement: Buyers make an emotional commitment to the sale before being immersed in the product. Watchtower is set up to reinforce the narrative.
- Features: Its centralized dashboard offers a panoramic view of risk, speeding decision-making and empowering the risk officer.
- Benefits: Integration of the full risk profile means that the CRO can make transparent, enterprise-wide decisions.
- Capabilities: The software offers crucial foresight, guiding institutions toward sustainable growth—just like a Chief Risk Officer.
By this point, the buyer is aware of their need and weighing solutions—which is why demos are most effective in the Evaluation stage. In its demos, SRA presents the Watchtower platform as a holistic solution, not a tool. Buyers do receive technical details on how Watchtower works and how it can be customized for their institution, but the demo is fabricated around reinforcing shared value, rather than framing the product as an abstract good. Effective demos streamline the complex, making tech products simple and accessible to all buyers.
Although each stage of the journey emphasizes a different component of your narrative, the buyer will only convert if those elements are derived from the story as a whole. As your buyer’s journey progresses, you must know where the narrative is taking them—and encourage them to embrace a product they may not fully understand.
Essential brands like Strategic Risk Associates simplify technical messaging to connect with buyers on an emotional level. By emphasizing emotion over jargon, aligning feature-driven language with direct pain points, and deriving messaging from a strategic narrative, your brand can communicate the value of its technology in a way that drives conversions.
When your brand makes a promise to customers, you recognize that your technology is what enables it to deliver. Innovative companies are built by innovators—a truism that is both demanded for their inception, and one that can actively hinder their success when it’s time to expand into broader markets.
The brands who effectively cross this chasm are able to construct a customer-centric strategic narrative that operates on many levels. Your story should present a change in the world, connect to the buyer emotionally, and articulate the value of your technology in simple, effective language that does justice to its complexity. A narrative that can balance these needs while speaking to diverse stakeholders does more than clarify strategy—it makes a brand essential.