Want to Grow Your Startup? Then Use Storytelling to Slay the Competition

A good brand story elevates you above the competition. While someone can copy your products or services, they can’t copy your brand. So tell stories that excite your customers and align with their goals. Start movements around your brand. Only then, with a powerful story behind you, will you outshine your competitors – and perhaps lead your startup to a successful exit, too. 

Stories are in our blood

Stories are how we make sense of the world. Our lives are full of beginnings, middles, and ends – some happy, some sad. Stories help us understand our role in a vast, dynamic world, one we can’t assimilate through raw data alone. They’re hardcoded in our genetics, our histories, making storytelling one of the most powerful influences on our thoughts and behavior.

Salesforce, for example, is one of the world’s leading CRM tools. But rather than focusing on customer management alone, their story begins with identifying a shift from on-premise installations to the cloud. They went from, “You can manage your sales contacts with our tool,” to “You don’t have to install this on a computer – you can do this in the cloud and access your information from anywhere in the world, on any device.”

Salesforce was among the first to popularize the SaaS business model. Once they’d identified the shift, they created a new category, and then reinforced the benefits of the cloud before finally placing the responsibility of infrastructure on vendors, not consumers. This idea of flexible, scalable, available-anywhere software levelled the playing field for consumers. They didn’t need expensive hardware anymore, just an internet connection. This was the happy ending customers wanted, and Salesforce gave it to them.

Describing what your product does isn’t enough. 

Competitors will copy your business model. They might even do it better or cheaper than you can. When you compete on price, you’re in a race to the bottom. But when you compete on brand, you’re in a race to the top. You need to excite your customers, turn them into evangelists, and get them rooting for you – the hero of the story. 

How to tell the right story

So how do you tell a good brand story? Here is the framework that worked for me.

1. Identify a shift

When I was in college, I noticed that every business wanted to market to their customers through mobile applications. This shift from desktop mobile was the beginning of Bizness Apps’ story.

2. Create a new category

For the first time, Bizness Apps enabled small businesses to build mobile applications for less than the price of a newspaper ad. Finally, the little guy could stand up to bigger rivals and offer the same things: mobile ordering, mobile loyalty programs, push notifications, and so on. 

3. Reinforce a theme

Some custom-built mobile apps can cost up to $200,000, so few of our prospects could afford a mobile strategy. To thwart their deep-pocketed competitors, our prospects needed access to the same tools, and Bizness Apps leveled the playing field by making those tools affordable. 

4. Start a movement

Our movement was big business versus small business. By making custom mobile applications affordable, we helped small businesses compete. Our drag-and-drop mobile app builder probably wasn’t the best in the market, but we told the best story. 

Best practice tips for storytelling

So, now you’ve seen how powerful storytelling can be, and you’ve got a framework to work from, what else can you do to ensure your story resonates with your customers?

First, keep your story simple. Maintain a sharp, lucid message throughout. It must be clear and easy to understand, and told in your customers’ language. Use visuals to reinforce your messaging.

Second, know your audience. Discover what your prospects and customers care about most. Take an MVP to market and ask them for feedback. Stories work best when you elicit an emotion, so you must understand your buyers’ needs, wants, and pain points.

Third, be consistent. Ensure everyone in your business knows the story, and that every channel you communicate through maintains the same message. Inconsistency breeds mistrust – a ruthless killer of any brand. 

And finally, be personal. Add color and credibility to your story by including personal anecdotes that people can relate to. Giving a little of your background humanizes both you and your brand. People buy from people, so your business should have personality. 

Good stories spread like wildfire. Your customers will tell their friends and family, the press will write about you, and you’ll be asked to tell your story on blogs, podcasts, and maybe even TV. So if you want to rise above the competition in your field, start telling a story that matters to you, your industry, and your customers.