Let’s talk about storytelling for startups

Whether we like it or not, we are all storytellers. True, some of us are better at it than others (including being liberal with the truth). But in the end, nothing beats a well-told, compelling story in tapping into our intrinsic emotions. That’s why storytelling for startups should be an essential part of any entrepreneur’s marketing strategy.

Let’s talk about storytelling for startups

“Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories you tell.”
– Seth Godin 

The power of storytelling

Let’s face it, as humans we love stories. Before we can even read – or even sit upright without assistance – we are thrust in front of a book and regaled with fantastical tales. At first the images on the page and the changes in pitch of voice of the reader are what make us gasp in awe and listen in wonder. Later on, it’s the intricate and clever use of language, and suspense about what may happen, which has us simply spellbound.

That right there is the power of storytelling. And we see it in use everyday in the marketing machines behind some of the world’s biggest brands, such as Nike, Google, Apple, Adidas, Coca Cola, etc. But if you’re thinking that you need huge budgets and resources to introduce compelling storytelling, then you need to think again.

On the contrary, storytelling for startups is even more relevant. That’s since you have the opportunity to convey a raw, authentic story behind your small or upcoming product or business that can really resonate with your target audience. 

Yes, you will need to consider a few things. Your audience, above all. And the type of content you will produce to tell your story, the medium through which you will tell it, and what the end result should be. But these are things you need to do anyway with all content you create(and curate) as part of your content marketing approach.

So, let’s see how storytelling for startups can really turn your product or business into a compelling story. One that offers a real life ‘happily ever after’ tale for your marketing efforts and ROI.

Storytelling for startups: it starts with a… pitch

If you’re running or working at a startup or fledgling business – or are about to launch one – there’s no doubt you will have read or will read a ton of material and advice about the perfect pitch for a startup. Now, there are many different ways to do it. But the general consensus is that there must be a compelling story to tell. And here’s where storytelling for startups, well, starts.

Your first two steps in storytelling for startups should be:

  1. Create the story behind the ‘why’ for your business/product. i.e.
  2. Create the story behind your business and its vision

Just like every person has their own unique story to tell, the same goes for every business. The issue is that sometimes it’s not always clear what that story actually is. One thing is certain. It’s not your product. Don’t get me wrong. You may have a great product, and you may even be quite rightly a bit obsessed by it. But the truth is that in general, products are boring. They don’t offer any insight into the people behind the product, why the product was created, and what the vision of this product may be. That’s why you have to think of your product, or your business, as a personality.

Who are you? Where did you come from? Why are you here? What are your goals, what are your flaws or gaps? And lastly, what is your story?

The above should all go into your slick, simple and persuasive pitch deck. Once you have that (and we’ve got you covered how to do that in this post), then you’ll have the trunk of the various story branches. And these will provide the key aspects of your marketing storytelling efforts.
Every story you tell as a startup founder or business owner should begin with these two questions:

  • Who is my audience?
  • What is the main message I want to share?

Once you have got the answers to these two questions, then your story can start to flow. 

The art of persuasion and story ‘types’

In marketing, especially for startups, your storytelling needs to shrewdly persuade your audience that they either need or want your product. There are various ways to do this, but your focus should be on the story ‘types’. They are the best medium to persuade your audience of your authenticity and humanness.

The key thing is don’t hold back. As a startup founder or small business owner, don’t be afraid to tell the full story. Even ones you may consider ‘boring’. From the early-beginning hustles and struggles, conflicts, failures and/or setbacks, successes, etc, as well as some behind the scenes stories of the people behind your venture.

There are so many experiences that you go through. And it’s always fun to look back and see where you started from and what happened along your journey. This helps your audience understand and relate to the kind of passion and dedication that went into creating, launching and growing your venture.

Let’s have a look at a few classic story angles which you can use:

The success stories

Did you start your business in a garage or in your room while still living with your parents? Maybe you bootstrapped your venture from the ground up? Or did you just work hard and hit on a great idea and managed to get some funding immediately. All kinds of success stories can be a hit with different audiences.

A word of warning, though. Always take care when telling your tales. Be humble, be self-deprecating. When you start talking about how great you are, science has uncovered that the listener often switches off. That’s due to a dislike of boasting. The best way to get round this is to try and tell your story in a way which relates to lessons you’ve learned; or the major influences and people you have met along the way.

The fails

Think about the setbacks (large and small), as well as challenges you faced and managed to overcome. Since failure is a big part of eventual success (we all know there’s no such thing as an overnight success), and many people experience the woe of failure, make some of your stories about the hard times. When things went wrong. When you show your vulnerability people can relate to it on a personal level. Everybody has failed at one time or another.

The keeping it simple stories

One of the main things every startup fights for is attention from customers. It’s the most valuable currency. Especially in this crazy digital age we live in. So always remember to follow a less is more, approach. Save the details for other story types, like the next one on our list.

The Behind-the-scenes stories

These kinds of stories usually work better for more established companies. But they have also worked for startups and may work for your business. Behind the scenes stories can be candid interviews with the founder or other team members. You can talk about the origins of the company, how it all started, as well as a ‘day in the life’ type content piece about the people behind the startup. This could be how you deal with customers, or showing how one of your engineers works on developing the product. 

Techniques  

Obviously there are a variety of techniques that you can consider when telling your stories. Many startups quite rightly use a blog, which they then also publish on other creative publishing platforms, such as LinkedIn or Medium. You can also use visuals, authentic photos from your business and/or product and its people. Publish Q&A’s, and video content for social media and for your website. You can also use “How to” type blog articles and/or interactive content with visuals and video. That’s to offer “free education” on your product or topics closely related to it which have value to potential customers.  

One last ‘why’ for startups 

Not convinced yet? Shame on you, then, because you should be. But, if you needed one last push over the edge on the positives behind storytelling or startups, then how about this. The best way to get a customer into your product is to tell them a story which they can relate to. A story about how your product “heals” a particular paint point, or makes their lives easier.

This is how storytelling helps startups in terms of the practical side, from theory to practice. Focusing on pain points or problems, or just talking about things that are really important to them, can make you their new hero – for life! Because when there’s someone that knows all of your daily pains and gathers them together in a story or stories, it actually feels that someone is not only listening to you, but that they also understand you and know how you feel. And consequently, you start not just to trust that person, but they can actually become one of your best friends. Security, trust, engagement. If you also manage to sprinkle in a little inspiration (when relevant), then you are on to a winning story. 

A quick tip to try

Another thing you can try out is using storytelling right from the beginning. That is, when conducting your customer interviews and you don’t even have your final product (maybe only a demo MVP is available) you should tell a story to your customers that will help them understand, visualize your future idea (get into the concept) and give you all the feedback you need. Customer interviews, at every stage of the build-measure-learn process, are one of the most important aspects of building and growing a startup. 

Go forth and tell stories

The benefits of storytelling for startups, then, are multiple. When done properly, telling a compelling story can be your startup’s ‘superpower’ in many ways. And this can be helpful in cutting through the noise.
And you can use the same mentality, that which derives from storytelling, in all aspects of your business. This will enable you to get into your customers hearts and minds, as well as their shoes, and offer them a product that makes them feel like home.

Let’s talk about storytelling for startups was last modified: January 9th, 2020 by Graham Wood
Graham Wood

Graham Wood

The Starttech Ventures Storyteller. Studied Journalism with Business at the University of Central Lancashire. Has worked in various product marketing management positions for the likes of Nokia, Samsung and Vodafone, as well as in several journalism and media roles since 2000.