For most entrepreneurs, when you’re starting out, your story is all about preparing for pitches. You want to show investors you have solid traction, the coolest product and a passionate team ready to solve a big problem. Your primary goal is to get a second conversation by telling a compelling story about what you are doing and why users are craving it.
Getting noticed as a startup is difficult. You need to charge into pitches with a take-the-throne mentality. If your team can’t sell the idea or articulate the right value proposition, it will cost you.
During my time at 500 Startups and Portland Incubator Experiment (PIE), this is exactly what I focused on: preparing for demo day. I practiced my pitch over and over again until I could recite it in my sleep. Startup accelerator demo days provide you with access to investors, press and momentum, so it’s your job as the founder to close the opportunities. Pitching is exhausting work. Between two accelerator demo days and SXSW, I pitched over a dozen times in front of large crowds.
But what happens after the pitch? What story should you focus on? As a founder, you’ll be pitching forever — whether you’re fundraising or not. The following are lessons I’ve learned to be true for living your brand story beyond the pitch.
Know Your Purpose: Focus on Why What You’re Doing Matters to Your Customers
As a founder, your pitch story is personal or rooted in your personal beliefs for starting the company. As your company grows, your story must evolve to bring others along with a compelling vision of the future. Your story is shaped by and catered to your target audience. If you understand your customer, you will know where to find them, how to talk to them, and how to motivate them. Who are your most valuable customers? What barriers get in their way? What motivates them to take action?
Figure out why what you’re doing is important to them. Invest time and effort in shaping your purpose around the stories that matter most to your audience. Your purpose is where your strengths meet your customers’ deepest needs. You are working toward a crystal-clear answer to the not-so-simple question of “what are we all about and why should anyone care?”
Identify and Rank What Makes Your Brand Special
Look beyond your competitors and dive deep into your own key differentiators. Answer these three questions: What drives you and your success? What are you deeply passionate about? What makes your company different or special?
Identify the pieces that are most relevant to your core audience. Some elements are basic expectations, while others competitors can claim. Determine which aspects set you apart and are relevant to your audience. This will be the basis for what makes your brand different and attractive.
Have a Clear Point of View
A good story helps a prospect envision how they could use your services. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in B2B or B2C. Your brand story is the first product feature your target will be exposed to. No one cares about your product development milestones, but everyone loves a good story.
Your point of view should focus on “why” you matter to your customers. It should be clear, simple and conversational. It should resonate emotionally to how they should be using your product or service. Identify key user scenarios that showcase how you solve a real problem and develop one sentence about your brand and your unique value.
Successful brands all have one thing in common: They inspire action. The brand story is injected into the corporate DNA. They think about what products, services, or offers they can create to underscore their POV.
For example, Under Armour’s core brand story is about believing in the power of your own will and an athlete’s never-ending quest to reach greatness. This is exemplified in their I Will What I Want TV spot featuring Misty Copeland and their Rule Yourself spot featuring Michael Phelps. It’s also reflected in their business decisions. Within the past two years, Under Armour has acquired apps that help people achieve their fitness goals. They now control the world’s biggest digital health platform, with over 62 million people logging onto one of their apps at least once a month.
Uber’s story is around instant gratification — giving people what they need, when they need it, whether that’s a ride or some other delivery. This inspires Uber to align the brand with opportunities to open up more possibilities for riders and launch hundreds of “surprise-and-delight campaigns,” from Uber kittens to Uber ice cream and Christmas trees on demand.
Deliver a Story That Aligns With Everything You Do
Startups need don’t just need a minimum viable product, but also a maximum viable brand. Your brand positioning isn’t just about painting a picture of what you’re doing right now. It’s about showing people what’s possible and having a story that informs every action you take, from hiring to product decisions.
I have met many entrepreneurs who have a compelling product or service, but who lack the ability to tell a good story or create the right value proposition for their audience. I hope by sharing my lessons I can help startups reap the benefits of having a compelling story. A story that can bring clarity to everything the company may do — one year, five years or 50 years after your first demo day pitch.
Ryan Stoner is a serial entrepreneur and brand strategy and marketing leader. He is currently the Group Strategy Director at Phenomenon.