The Greatest Story Ever Told

At the start of any new year, a slew of gurus and thought leaders come out of hiding. Ben Hayes, Director at Grasp Brands, explains.

LinkedIn articles are published and twitter threads are written, as lists of trends and technologies that we need to embrace are posted. Mixed reality. Blockchain. AI. No doubt you've read one such piece in the past few months. It's all interesting stuff but frequently promotes ill-thought action, especially when it comes to planning marketing efforts for the year ahead.

Thinking about brand goals is put to one side and replaced with an idea to do an 'industry-first' experience. The medium is prioritised over the message, and in 2019 that's not going to work for startups. Consumers are smarter; competitors are rife; channels are crowded. Now more than ever, startups need to develop a clear narrative around who they are, what they stand for and against, and how they're different. They need to explore the one thing that won't change in 2019: the ability to tell a good brand story.

Given that there are over 550,000 marketers on LinkedIn who list themselves as 'storytellers', you might think there was little need for this exploration. However, most startup stories are not worth listening to. They place too much focus on themselves, not their customer, and are full of lofty statements rarely backed up by data.


Think of it like building a house. First, you start with the foundations: an observation of the world around you. "There is too much/too little of something." You explain why this is the case and show the effect it has on people (your customers). Articulating why you exist, and what your mission and vision for the world is, should then come naturally.

Side note: this first step isn't dissimilar to 'the hero's journey' narrative that a number of pitch coaches focus on. A founder sets out on an adventure, faces a moment of crisis, comes up with a business solution and everyone lives happily ever after. The problem with that narrative is that it tries to create a story around an inspiring entrepreneur, often forgetting the customer. It rarely talks to and through that customer, to engage not only them but their audience, and their audience's audience.

Back to our house analogy and the second step is to add some structure to it. What do you do in one sentence? How do you do it? What are the benefits and features of your product? Who won't use it? Why won't they? What makes you special?

Finally, you decorate. You think about your personality, tone of voice, writing style and so on.

Once all of these parts are in place, everything becomes easier. You know what needs to be said, you just need to think about how to distribute your message. If that's by using Virtual Reality (VR) or voice technology then great. Go for it. But when you do, go long term.

Too many startups create a brand story or purpose specifically for a marketing campaign or culture document, forgetting it faster than they wrote it. When this happens not only will customers call you out for being inauthentic (that horrible word), but your own employees won't know what the company is trying to do or where it's heading. So, before you rush off to explore the latest in VR and machine learning, think about the key messages you're trying to get across this year. New technologies should be used much like a drunk uses a lamppost; for support, not illumination.