brand story & messaging

Why every startup needs a story (hint: want funding?)

Carolyn McMaster | September 18, 2018

With all the things a young business has to worry about, carving out time and energy to set down the company story seems like a low priority. But neglecting your story has costs, and developing it—sooner rather than later—has benefits large and small.

I’m not talking about the copy on your About page, though it certainly could be that. A valuable company story is deep and rich, covering inspiration, challenges, claims to fame, accomplishments and vision. (Thinkshift’s “5 Essential Elements of a Great Company Story” infographic provides a roadmap based on a real-world example.)

Startups: funding may depend on your story

Some startups may think, “But we don’t really have a story yet.” You do; it may just have fewer chapters. And your future may depend on telling it. The director of a national startup incubator inspired this post when he told me he’s seen startups with the potential to be great businesses fail to get funding because they didn’t have a good story.

Investors aren’t the only people you can hook with your story. A good story also makes you more appealing to journalists. It’s mostly not about facts (though you should be factual). It’s about demonstrating imagination, drive, perseverance and vision.

Ensure consistent, strong positioning

Your story makes you stand out. For example, the application form for a prestigious award includes the questions, “Tell us how you got started” and “What challenges have you faced?” The answers—not sales or strategy or market position—are key criteria. Having a fully developed, well-told story to draw from saves time and ensures consistent, strong positioning for your company.

Give your brand an anchor

A company story not only provides memorable anecdotes and personality, it also is a foundational brand element and touchstone. Brands are manifest in a company’s actions, not just in its product and services, and your story illustrates how the company’s mission, vision and values inform those actions. Your story can also guide decisions: What would my brand do? Which is the best choice based on our story?

LoveTheWild is a great example of how a brand story can drive success. In 2015, the company was “mostly vision,” says founder Jacqueline Claudia. Two years later, through the power of telling her story (over and over, to the right people), she had landed key investments, starting with earning a top score from the audience based on her short pitch in the Fish 2.0 sustainable seafood business competition. LoveTheWild seafood kits are now in more than 2,400 stores nationwide.

“Standing out is the gold standard—to be able to tell the story of why and how you’re different,” said the incubator director. “Companies that understand they need a good communications strategy will do better than those that don’t. Sometimes it’s the story that makes it.”

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