Now you may ask “why does a start-up need to tell a story?” No, it’s not so you can have an Oscar-winning movie made about it in years to come à la Facebook’s ‘The Social Network’ but to hook your audience into giving you their time and with a little luck, their hard-earned money. Now-a-days, customers don’t look to invest in a company, its founder(s) or even in its products (to a certain extent) but in its reliable reputation. And a reliable reputation is formed by having a coherent, consistent and credible story that grips the audience and stays with them for a long run. A great brand story can turn customers into long-term fans (think Apple, Tesla Motors, etc.).
Behind every start-up is a founding story that explains why the company was formed, the hardships involved in it, the vision of the company and what all it aims to achieve. All this can be better explained through a gripping story that creates buzz instead of a few dry-and-factual sentences strung together in the form of a press release. That’s not to say that a press release is not required, but it should be accompanied with a brand story that is told as per the vision of the company.
Understanding the importance of a branding story, we at TYS, researched and curated the following tips that you can follow when concocting your own brand story and perpetuating it.
IMAGE COURTESY – CREATIVE CROSSROADS OF THE AMERICAS
1. DIG DEEP, BE CREATIVE
Every story starts somewhere. Maybe yours began in a garage (à la Hewlett-Packard, Apple, and Google), a dorm room (Dell), the streets of a far-off country (Toms Shoes), or as in the case most everyone, in the offices of a former employer.
To find that point-of-beginning of your story, dig deep into yourself and your imagination. Who are you? Where are you from? Why are you doing this? What challenges did you face in setting up your company? What problem in the market are you trying to solve? What’s your solution? What makes your brand unique? The answers may not come to you immediately so take help from others. Ask your employees or partners what they think your brand’s story is.
Don’t think that the founding story is an asset only for the start-ups. Established business firms can too reap the benefits of a strong origin story. As the business grows bigger, the founders themselves may figure less in the day-to-day but the origin story can act as a reminder of the roots of the company and show how to proceed further while staying true to its origins.
Nick Morgan, the author of How to Tell Great Business Stories emphasizes this point,
In a world where people have a lot of choices, the story may be the deciding factor.
IMAGE COURTESY – ISHMAEL’S CORNER
2. MAKE IT EFFECTIVE
It’s common knowledge that some stories prove to be better than others. Some are remembered and retold for centuries while some fade from memories rather quickly. An effective story should bring alive your company’s message, while also being written in a language easy enough to be understood by your target audience.
How then does a story live up to such lofty standards? Well, a great story should have proper structure, strong content, coherency and fidelity. A brand story follows the structure of classic storytelling, i.e., it should have a beginning, a middle and an end. It should possess a particular theme like “nothing takes the place of persistence,” or “true love never dies,” or “it’s all in the delivery.” The story should focus on a hero’s journey through trials to reach a solution. Don’t focus on the company as the hero of the story. People connect with other people, not companies.
Robbie Vorhaus, president and CEO, Vorhaus & Company Inc., cites the example of Domino’s Pizza as an example of great classic storytelling for business,
A young man who grows up in an orphanage goes into the Marines, returns and buys a small pizza store in Ypsilanti, Michigan, thinking he can make more money delivering pizza than waiting for customers to come to him. He opens other stores, buys out his brother for the price of a VW, and builds the company into a $3.3 billion dollar global enterprise. He sells it for $1.1 billion and is quoted as saying “I want to give all my money away and die broke.” The theme here is: nothing takes the place of persistence.
IMAGE COURTESY – DETROIT INK PUBLISHING
3. DON’T FABRICATE
Taking creative license while creating a story is one thing, dreaming up false circumstances is another. What may seem to you to be a small lie could very well lead to painful retribution in our increasingly transparent world, where customers’ trust has taken a hit due to the various scandals. Word gets out faster than we can imagine these days, all thanks to the internet. And the internet – to quote Titus Andromedon from Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt – talks like Chandler (of F.R.I.E.N.D.S), which means ‘mercilessly and dripping with sarcasm’.
4. CUSTOMIZE YOUR STORY
Every company has to cater to several types of audiences, the investors, media people, potential partners, customers, etc. You can’t tell the same brand story to everyone. What you tell the investors will vastly differ from what you tell the customers. You need to personalize your story to suit your audience. Customers look for brands they can trust, media people generally look for stories about people, whereas potential investors or partners may be put off if they think any one person is portrayed as too important.
Steve Jurvetson – the prolific VC behind Tesla Motors, Hotmail, Synthetic Genomics, and SpaceX – elaborates on this,
You want to convince them [the investors] of the institutional strength of the company. That could be a very different pitch, emphasizing an unusual skill set in the company or a unique technology.
IMAGE COURTESY – SCALEFUNDER
5. KEY TO SUCCESSFUL CROWDFUNDING
A well-formed story is critical to a successful crowdfunding campaign, where the roles of investors and customers are merged. Investors, in fact, are your first customers. Stories have a huge role to play in crowdfunding campaigns. They’ve to convey to the readers the passion behind your idea, to make investors out of them.
Slava Menn, co-founder of Fortified Bike Alliance, who ran a successful crowdfunding campaign to start his venture says,
There are two elements to a successful Kickstarter campaign: the product and the story. For it to be something that people walk away from and remember, it needs to be personal and have emotion built into it.
6. KEEP AT IT
Now that you’ve got your story, don’t let it fall by the wayside once your company has becomes established and is on an upward bend. Founding stories have importance inside the company as well. Strong founding stories help create and maintain a common culture within the organisation while also providing a sense of purpose to the employees.
Scott Weiss, a general partner at Silicon Valley venture firm Andreessen Horowitz, says
Everyone, including the guard at the door, needs to know the story and purpose of the company. Every employee is an ambassador.
It’s not an easy task to create a story (that feeling is a little too close to home!) but it’s also not impossible. Once you’ve created your story, read it out to someone whom you trust to give an impartial opinion. Refine it. Over and over again. In the words of marketing legend Seth Godin, “Great stories succeed because they are able to capture the imagination of large or important audiences.” So, write yours!