Communicating Ideas Better With The 4Ps Of Business Storytelling

Mahesh Bellie

Published: March 12, 2024

Relentless communication is one of the key traits exhibited by leaders in highly innovative organizations. These leaders provide clarity, purpose and direction to employees to bring valuable ideas to life.

When leadership communication is at its best, so is innovation, as Alex Goryachev, former Head of Global Innovation Programs and Strategy at Cisco and one of the foremost speakers on innovation,  argues . However, while most leaders comprehend this need, the communication needs of the employees—often the originators of ideas—have tended to take a back seat. In my work, I have seen far too many good ideas face rejection because of employees’ lack of articulation skills.

The negative effects of this situation cannot be understated. With inadequate information, leaders neither pursue the ideas nor provide logical reasons to reject them. Employees perceive the exercise as eyewash and feel demotivated, and the negative spiral that ensues effectively halts any attempt to bring about a culture of innovation.

What organizations need is a robust yet flexible communication framework to ensure that good ideas are not lost in translation.

The Gaps In The Problem-Solution-Benefit Approach

In the past, organizations conducted innovation competitions, managers were gatekeepers, committees were selectors and employees made formal presentations, typically using the problem-solution-benefit approach or its equivalent.

However, many organizations today employ innovation platforms to receive ideas directly from employees. Everyone in the organization gets to vote, comment and add to the original idea so that ideas are processed in near real time.

Employees typically are required to provide a simple draft of the idea, rally support and be ready to pitch in any informal setting. This is where some inspiration from storytelling might come in handy.

The 4Ps Of Business Storytelling

An overarching story/statement that connects “people, problem, product and possibilities” (the 4Ps framework) is comprehensive enough to describe most business ideas.

While these elements themselves are not uncommon, articulation is. Let’s define these elements before we discuss the articulation part.

People

Whether an organization produces safety pins or spaceships, it is always for a specific buyer or customer segment—whether it’s a person, a profession, a business function, an industry, a nation or the entire world.

It’s as simple as saying that the target audience for pet food is customers who own pets and not the pets themselves.

Problem

People have problems. Personal problems, technical problems, business problems, financial problems, psychological problems, medical problems and a lot more problems.

And the gateway to a good problem-solution fit begins with identifying the “right problem” to solve for your customers. The significance of this statement cannot be overstated.

Product

This could be a physical product, digital product, solution, service or idea—as long as it addresses the problems faced by the customer, is commercially viable and has market demand.

And a good product-market fit ensures sustainable benefits for the customer.

Possibilities

A possibility is beyond the standard benefits a product can deliver to a customer, whether it’s financial, functional, intellectual, emotional, social or something else.

The usability of this framework now rests on employing these four elements in tandem in a comprehensive story format, as mentioned below.

“For people who face problems, our product helps them achieve possibilities.”

Sounds too simple? Let’s put it to the test.

Test-Driving The 4Ps Framework

Imagine yourself describing Airbnb to someone who does not know about its business. Compare and contrast the Investopedia definition with the 4Ps framework version:

Investopedia Version

“Airbnb is an online marketplace that connects people who want to rent out their homes with people who are looking for accommodations in specific locales.

“Airbnb offers people an easy, relatively stress-free way to earn some income from their property.

“Guests often find Airbnb is cheaper, has more character, and is homier than hotels.
.
“Airbnb makes the bulk of its revenue by charging a service fee for each booking.

“Cons of using this service include not getting what you expected, and, for hosts, renting your place to someone you haven’t had the chance to meet first.”

The 4Ps Framework Version

For casual and business travelers (people) who overpay for the unwanted bells and whistles of hotels (problem), Airbnb is an online platform that connects them with locals who are interested in renting out their property (product) so that both parties get a good payoff (possibility).

The storytelling format is the fuel that drives the 4Ps framework. Because there is a causal relationship between these four elements, the narrator can create knowledge gaps in the listener’s mind that will be filled by the narrative flow.

Also, the purpose of the framework is primarily to provide clarity and invoke interest, and not provide all the details. Once hooked, the listener will feel compelled to ask the next set of questions regarding market viability, risk, etc.

Compared to business-to-consumer (B2C), business-to-business (B2B) ideas require a lot more details per element, owing to the complex nature of the problem and the buying process. There could be multiple buyer groups, and multiple problems seeking a common solution, which leads to multiple benefits, as well. But rest assured, the framework works in these situations too.

Now empower your employees with an approach to think, produce and share ideas with the 4Ps of business storytelling so that you never lose a good idea that can transform your business.
This blog was originally published by the author on Forbes.