How I leveraged user stories for my business, Refill Aqua

By marta ·  August 16, 2020

Last year I started reducing plastic from all areas of my life. I did this because I was terrified by the amount of CO2 emissions produced by plastic and the devastating impact it had on the state of our beaches, oceans, and marine life around the world. The more I learned about it, the more I knew I had to act.

After going at it single-handedly, I realized: I can either do this alone and be perfect at zero waste producing only a tiny package of garbage every month. Or I can do something that could have a much bigger impact on a city level.

I opted for the second option and that’s when the idea for Refill Aqua was born.

The mission is to reduce plastic pollution in Barcelona, one single-use bottle at a time. We do it by creating a network of refill stations scattered all around the city placed inside cafes, restaurants, yoga studios, museums and any other place accessible from the street. All those stations can be found through an app which indicates their location, type of water offered, and Google Maps directions.

Refill Aqua app
Refill Aqua app


The idea is for anyone to simply walk in and refill their reusable bottle for free (or for a symbolic price). One bottle gets saved right there and then and if only 1% of Barcelona’s population did it, we would save 1 million plastic bottles a year!

Although the cause is noble (towards the city and the planet), it still needed a proper growth marketing strategy that could be applied to building a marketplace. On one hand we needed refill stations to fill our map, on the other – users of the app who would refill their bottles on the go.

This article tackles the first challenge: establishing a network of refill stations.

It hasn’t been easy. Here’s why.

The pitching challenge of a door-to-door salesman

I’ve never considered myself a particularly good salesperson or any salesperson for that matter. My focus as a marketer has mostly been concentrated on delivering helpful advice through genuine content that created interest and incoming traffic.

So now, being exposed to the challenge of going out there and pitching my idea to the small businesses I’ve shortlisted made me uncomfortable to say the least.

I’ve convinced myself I wasn’t really selling anything. I was just trying to get people on board with an eco-friendly initiative that would become their additional marketing channel.

People didn’t see it like that though.

After adapting my pitch to appear as little salesly as possible, the initial response often was: “we don’t need any water, thank you.”

At the end of the day, I realized I AM indeed selling something, although it might not be directly. The rejection that is so natural for every salesman was difficult for me to digest.

Instead of motivating me to keep going, I just stagnated.

Until I hit the pivotal moment.

Going back to the roots

At some point I thought why suffer and procrastinate when I can focus on what I do best: creating content and using it to generate inbound leads?

The idea was to:

  • Treat every existing refill station we got on board as our unique marketing channel. Most of our stations which are either restaurants, shops, or coworking studios have way higher following on social media than us. Plus their followers include other, potential refill stations (and future users of our app).
  • Tell the unique story behind their business in a form of a little reportage published on our blog and promoted through our channels.
  • Ask each of them to re-post it and share the story with their audience.
  • Include a Call-to-Action (CTA) at the end of each post and story with a little form for potential refill stations to apply.

My hypothesis was:

Creating genuine stories that talk about dreams, struggles, and wins of real people behind every small business compels them to share those stories. This in turn creates more exposure for our content and amplifies our message potentially bringing us leads (new refill stations).

Humans of Refill Aqua

So, I’ve put together a plan and scheduled interviews with our first refill stations.

Here’s how I went about it in six simple steps:

1. Background research

There’s nothing worse than going unprepared for an interview whether it’s with a potential job candidate or your customer.

Doing your homework shows interest and is an ideal conversation starter which opens doors to more in depth stories.

Here are a few tips:

  • Do the thorough research and check their website and social media channels – what is their unique value proposition? What’s their motto and product offering? Is there anything relevant to your story that would be a good conversation starter? – in my case it was to find out how the business was living their eco values and what initiatives they were involved in.
  • Ask open questions that invite storytelling using “how”, “tell me more about”, and “why” openers. For example: “Tell me about your business! What made you start it?”, “I saw your motto is XYZ, can you tell me more about it?. “How are you contributing to helping the environment?”
  • Ask questions related to your business such as: “Why are you joining our initiative?”, “Why is it important for you?”, “Why would you encourage others to join?”. Those will help you form your marketing messaging later on (for your website, testimonials, ads, etc)

2. Interview recording

Whether it’s a face to face or an online interview, I find it difficult to focus on a conversion and take notes at the same time.

I feel like it’s incredibly important to be present to follow the pace of the interview and being able to ask relevant follow up questions.

That’s why I record each interview using simple Audio recording on my phone (asking for permission first!).

In case you’re using your phone to conduct the interview, you can put it on a loud speaker and record it through your laptop. I use QuickTime player’s audio recording for that.

Recording the interview helps me greatly in writing the article, as I do not lose any detail.

3. Taking high quality photos

Not only do our brains consume visuals 60,000 faster than text, images add an extra (human) layer to our stories.

That’s why I take my camera with me to my interviews and ask to photograph:

  • The place itself – I can then use it in our marketing materials and social media whenever there’s such need.
  • People behind it – if they are comfortable with it, I find this to be the key element of every story. Business is a person or a group of people behind it and the sum of their vision, characters, and experiences. Telling a business story is telling people’s stories. People believe others whom they like and can identify with.
User stories
People behind les Tres a la Cuina restaurant
  • Our product/service – in our case, it’s photographing refill stations (the filters), our stickers on their windows, or even someone refilling their water bottle. In other words – showcasing how the customer is using your product.

I have a semi-professional camera, but a smartphone with a decent camera will do.

4. Transcribing the interview and creating a story

Once I’ve recorded the interview, I listen back to it and transcribe it into a doc (if you can record someone and use a transcribing service at the same time, that’s even better!).

While I do that, I start having ideas on how I would structure the story and what sections it should have.

From that, it’s easier to start forming paragraphs, titles, and conclusions which form a coherent and engaging story. (here is our first user story for Refill Aqua)

Once having the first draft, it’s important to see how it relates back to your product or initiative. Can you link to your other articles or any landing pages?

5. Adding CTAs

This step is crucial and links back to the main objective of creating the story in the first place.

My goal was to make signing up for our initiative as simple and intuitive as possible. So I’ve created this Typeform survey with a few questions and embedded it at the end of the blogpost. It’s the same form I used on our homepage, Instagram, and other places.

Here’s how it looked like:

typeform refill aqua

6. Promotion

That’s the most important step which will determine how many people will actually see your story and interact with it.

I started with choosing my main channels. In our case, most of our refill stations use Instagram as their go-to marketing channel. This is where we needed to be to make it easy for people to share our stories and amplify our message.

Here’s what I did:

  • Insta Stories – created a series of Insta Stories using the Unfold app (I always use the same template to make our stories coherent). They told the story of a business in a nutshell. I’ve added some interactive elements from Instagram when posting and of course, tagged our partner. I’ve added the CTA at the end of the stories for people to easily apply if they wanted to become a refill station. Finally, I’ve added them to Highlights I called “Refill Stations” so that they wouldn’t be lost and could be repurposed. They looked like this:
Instagram stories
Refill Aqua Insta Stories
  • Instagram Post – created a regular post as well sharing the story briefly and tagging our partner and pointing to the link in our bio for the full story.

And… Did it work?

That’s perhaps the most important question of all. 

And the answer is yes. It did create ten new leads and more interested people than my face to face pitching. Two of those leads turned into refill stations whose stories will be told in the future.

Was it worth the effort? I think that in my case it was because I got to do what I love most and create genuine interest in our initiative. But I wouldn’t use it as a stand-alone method. 

I think there’s still success in cold outreach emails and face to face interactions and I will keep combining them, mastering my art in each. So far, user stories have shown the best conversion rate, but it doesn’t mean there’s no potential in other channels through systematic and trial-and-error approach.

Leveraging user stories in your business

This strategy worked for my small startup, but it can be easily applied to any B2C or B2B context.

The great thing about user stories is that they are versatile and go far beyond your content strategy.

They can also be repurposed into:

  • Testimonials for your homepage like this one from Piktochart (scroll to the bottom)
  • Landing pages with case studies like this one from Slack
  • Paid ads for LinkedIn, Google or Facebook like these
  • Slides in your pitch deck for potential clients
  • Reviews on aggregator sites like Capterra of G2Crowd (client would have to do it but you can prepare a testimonial based on their own words so that it’s easier to submit)

How to go about identifying potential candidates though?

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  1. Dig into your user CRM (e.g Hubspot or Intercom) and find highly engaged users – can you shortlist people who have used your product continuously?
  2. Check your NPS survey results – can you identify customers who gave you an 8+ NPS score? If you don’t use NPS to measure satisfaction, maybe you already know who is your happiest customer (the one you’ve retained for longest)
  3. Look within your community – Do you have a community of users whether it’s on Slack or Facebook? Or maybe you have a list of customers who are your go-to contacts for beta testing your new features or provide you with feedback. If you don’t have such customers, it’s time to create a small community of the most engaged ones you can always count on for such initiatives.
  4. Find the best company reviews – is your company on Capterra, G2Crowd or another review site? Identify top testimonials from the happiest customers and get in touch.
  5. Do some social media stalking – do your users mention you on social media? You can use tools like Mention to identify your brand ambassadors easily and reach out to them.

Do you know of other ways of finding good user stories? How else are you using them to generate business?

Hope the article was useful!

About the author

Marta Olszewska Marta is a growth marketer with a passion for content and partnerships. Formerly a leader of a semi-distributed marketing team at Piktochart, Marta is now a content consultant and COO at Zengrowth helping companies achieve stellar growth. She has recently founded Refill Aqua, an initiative to reduce plastic pollution in Barcelona. She also enjoys singing and photographing people.
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