By Mykola Siusko, Ambassador manager, Nym Technologies SA
Every startup is based on communication – communication with your team or investors, relations with your consumers and partners. What lies behind every communication is telling stories to each other. The ability to tell really powerful stories is the key to your potential success.
Let’s talk about communications and how to make them really bold, how to empower your startups to tell compelling stories that will help you stand out from the crowd.
Every year, about 305 million startups are established globally, making it crucial to differentiate oneself from the massive crowd. Investors and consumers attending big fancy events like Slash or Web Summit are like visitors in a huge shopping mall. Shiny branding and loud voices make it difficult to memorize nice storytelling.
Many startups, intimidated by the massive audience and competition shy away from showing their true identity. This makes them invisible in sense of what kind of group they represent, what kind of ideology they represent.
For example, a Ukrainian startup Reface presented themselves like typical Americans. You could swap founders’ pictures on Tech Crunch with the pictures of other startups and they look the same. This year, they’ve changed their presentation to emphasize they are hardcore Ukrainians. Just like many other startups.
I think this is important shift in how we perceive ourselves and how we care about our own identity in terms of communication, because our communication should start from identity.
Communication should start from identity
You as the founder, a visionary driver of your startup idea, should embody ideology that will lie behind either your product or your target audience or your aspirations. So, you should embody the vision of your company that should be based on your own experience or experience of your family, of your country, of your context. Otherwise it would be hard to trust you, to believe that your product matters.
Every journey needs a bold hero, and each startup founder can be a hero. He or she could be a potential hero in the eyes of investors, partners, consumers, or even conference organizers. Hero making is a long-term storytelling that lots of people are working on.
In Hollywood, they have a framework that is called Hero’s journey. It’s a framework behind lots of the Marvel movies, Star Wars movies. The idea of this framework is to help a hero solve his or her biggest issues and overcome the biggest enemies on a journey to a certain big success. Because every hero needs this journey in order to become successful.
What we need to remember is that every startup is a journey. You’re not born with success.
Think about the Star Wars, for example. In the beginning Luke Skywalker doesn’t know how to control his power. You, as a startuper, don’t know how to unlock your growth – overcome the market friction, skepticism of your audience and investors, get through attention span of them, and stand out from a thousand of other pitch decks or social media ads to get your audience’s attention.
Every startup is a journey
Learning how to make every of these steps is a journey, be it your heroization or your journey as a startup. It is going to take some time, it’s a long-term journey.
Product as a Hero
However, making yourself a hero of your startup is not the only way. In some cases, a product can be a hero. We’ve seen lots of great products, especially in the gaming space when the device is a hero. In such cases, consumers are not aware about the people creating the product.
One example is Nintendo Switch – most people don’t know who is behind the product besides the company Nintendo and the legacy of Japan.
So, think what your legacy is. If you’re from Ukraine, what legacy are you adding to the product? If you’re an IT person behind a software product, it’s one thing. But if we’re talking about a product like Ajax Systems or another hardware product, how would you add your country specifics? For example, Germany used to say that they made things really great in terms of the lifespan of the products.
Positioning a product in the spotlight – the so-called product-centricity – is an interesting question. It reflects how you would perceive your identity within the product line. When searching for inspiration for putting identity into your product line, I strongly recommend you to go out of your comfort zone to another market. For example, one great market to get inspiration of storytelling is the gaming market.
In the gaming market, they shape perception of how hardware devices are seen from the point of view of their consumers with the help of storytelling. For example, how a SteelSeries mouse unlocks the power for every gamer. How it shapes emotions of a human being. Because you, as a startup founder, always deal with other people: investors, partners, advisors, consumers. They all are human beings and if you go to other markets that work with human emotions, perceptions, and communication, you would deeper understand the complexities behind the human nature and storytelling.
Mascot as a Hero
Another way to create a hero instead becoming one yourself is by introducing a mascot. If you are too shy to share your own personality or do not feel qualified enough to pursue consumers, building this virtual character as a hero at the center of your communication also helps. Websites like GitHub or services like MailChimp are using these virtual characters to build an emotional connection between their idea and consumers.
Right now, when we go more and more into the virtual world, especially after the COVID, the role and importance of this virtual heroes will just increase. So, onboarding them into your team may bring you lots of benefits. Here’s an example from the so-called web free market: people are onboarding avatars as their protagonists when they want to communicate something bolder than they are on visual presence.
The second component of the storytelling is path that can be used from different perspectives.
Let’s analyze how Google build their storytelling in terms of the path. Over time, they moved through a lot of frameworks. One of the frameworks, which they were selling to the partners and startupers as well, was micromoments. It’s an interesting concept. It means that a consumer, when selecting and searching for a product, passes through lots of the stages. On every stage of the evaluation of the product, comparing it with others, choosing the best price option, and then buying, there is a moment of influence. And you could enhance with the help of Google. So, they were trying to tell you, for example, as a marketing budget owner, that you need to spend five times more to promote your product, because you need to influence your consumer at different stages of their evaluation of your product.
However, now the Google team moved from the concept of micromoments to the emotions, to biases. In terms of this concept, they invite you to work with biases of your audience. You could ask yourself: what kind of biases someone from your core audience – i.e. an investor, partner, or consumer within their journey on the usage of your product – may have. Along the client journey, when the beginning is when a client thinks that they may need the product one day, and the ending when the client has bought the product, the fighting here happens in the middle. One of the biases that you may want to target, you’re your prospect client is at this stage is social proof. It means that a consumer only trusts you, if other consumers recommended me.
For example, Amazon recommendations and stars. The consumers read reviews and then they evaluate the product IMDB rating. When you are planning to watch a movie, you go and check rating.
When we’re talking about the storytelling, every story should have certain roots. So, after the hero there’s the brand you promote. The brand is not just a logotype or naming, it’s the whole ideology – what do you stand for, what do you mean, what’s your background?
Every story has roots
Branding should embody your ideology that stands behind the product, the idea, and the sensation. For example, in the story Star of Wars, the idea behind is the journey of finding your own inner power. In the case of MailChimp, it’s the app that helps you find your own power of communication because e-mail communication still matters a lot.
However, branding is not just fancy design or naming, the storytelling of the visual branding helps to enhance your story with the idea that you put inside your storytelling. Most brands do it in a similar way – something really colorful. If you visit Product Hunt, you would see that 99% of the brands look really similar.
If an investor passes through 100 of these brands, he or she can’t remember them. They all look the same although they use different color palettes. So, to stand out from the competition, it may be useful to do things differently – be minimalist, use a black-and-white palette, edgy style, inspiration from other industries, or something else that relates to your story.
The big hype of the last years is the desire of people to become a part of the club. When you try to build a community around your product, you may think about it as a private club. You clients are members of the club and you want them to be ambassadors of your product, promote your product organically.
The quality of design in this case is not that important. Social ties are what create hyped products.
Your partners and potential investors and humans, so you should think how you address them as human beings in various aspects.
Present your team
There is space for storytelling even in how you present you team. If you pitch for investors in similar T-shirts just like hundreds of other teams, you will look at least boring. To get inspiration in how you can look different, go the creative industry.
Here’s how a design agency presents their team on their website. They have pets, kids, hobbies. They are really interesting just to mingle with.
Remember that your potential partners and investors are also human beings, they are not interested just in products.
Small things like how you look and how you present yourself impact the perception of the consumer or your partner. So, in this sense, dedicate lots of time to the team. Because as you know, the team is one of the most important assets that others are evaluating and always checking how you look, how you think, how you present yourself, what diversity is present there, and stuff like that.
Looking for ways to present your team, don’t be afraid of new emerging technologies. The teams that project virtual avatars and who are working now with Nike, Adidas, and other enterprises by creating virtual collections, they try communicating with the new generation of consumers in a different way. Because the new generation of consumers won’t communicate in old ways and they want to consume brands in a different manner.
It may not work for all B2B companies, but now Skoda moved into Metaverse with their new project. They want to look also cool for the younger generation of consumers.
Some investors are really young and if you look appealing to them, look cool, it may help you find the funding for your project, instead of hitting wall of the corporate centric investors or VCs.
A tool that could help you create a set of avatars for your whole team is Union Avatars. It doesn’t cost much, yet helps you present yourself in a completely new way. What’s important here? You present yourself as the fresh thinker, someone who is a cutting edge, who knows the trends. Lots of investors, partners, and conference organizers want to have people who are on the forefront of innovation.
Find your villain
An important thing that could help you shape, style, product characteristics is to know what you are fighting with. In every big story from Hollywood movies, there is a villain that needs to be taken down. Many public figures also define themselves through what they are fighting with. For example, Bill Gates is fighting with poverty.
Try to find your own villain, a problem, or a competitor. It’s not that you’re fighting for real, your villain could be your problem and all your ideology behind your website or behind your product idea.
When you know your villain, you could look differently, speak differently, present yourself differently, act differently. It helps you to have a mirror on understanding of what kind of story you want to build, why you are building this story, and why it really matters.
In your world, your competitors or other startups are villains. That’s because you’re fighting for the same investor budget or the same attention in media, conference, or even Google, when you’re paying advertisements. Analyzing how they look like, how they feel like beyond your category, helps you build a really compelling story.
Give a simple argument in your favor
However, when you’re building your story, remember to tell your partners why they should choose you. One simple argument will help people realize why they should choose us. To be super-understandable is as important as building visual branding, creating a hero, using fancy avatars. Even a person that has no time and limited attention span should be able to understand what’s the value of your company or product.
Practice human-centric approach
One of the most important things that you could do within your storytelling is basically put a human inside communication. Not a user, not a consumer. Then you would understand that this person experience emotions or troubles, forgets about the product, may return to your product in half a year.
Put a human inside your communication
When you think of every person as a human being, it will help you understand that sometimes it may be better not to send a pitch deck directly to your investors, but to go to party with this person and not sell at all. Then, when the time is right, you could talk about your product or company.
Your consumers are also people. Even if your sales channel is Amazon, these are the people that use the products. If you respect their integrity in their life, respect their diversity, it really helps to build long-lasting relations with these people, because you would care about them.
The storytelling is based on a dream that you sell to others. For example, Elon Musk’s dream is a dream about the future, which is interesting because no one knows what the future will be. But he’s saying “I’m making my own way to the future.” Lots of people want to join it because they cannot create their own vision of future.
When you think about the mission or vision behind your product, don’t sell just a product. Create storytelling around the value that your product creates. Maybe this value is how the life of a person changes in five years.
SpaceX is saying that we will create multiplanetary life. We will unlock this new future that we cannot comprehend right now, because we have devices no to reach to that level of progress. In this sense they’re not selling rockets. They’re selling this idea of a multiplanetary life. The Mars is there to help you envision that long journey. If you’re a consumer, investor, or partner, and you like this vision, you would join.
Lots of startups are missing the core vision – how they see the future and their own role within five years from their initial startup launch.
To form an outstanding story, go beyond your startup world.
- Watch strange movies that will help you develop your taste. Because every story, every brand, every storytelling you create lies around your own taste. If you don’t consume different products, markets, then you have limited perception on how to build a story. Especially, when you evaluate others who are bringing a story on your table, like design agencies. Especially, if you’re a tech person. When you consume more culture, it will help you to broaden your perspective and intellectual capacities.
- Use consumer product that are well-designed, especially within the skin care market. Why? Because they care about a human being and they will help you develop some sort of empathy that will help you better understand your consumers. This industry works one-on-one with people and they ask you questions that you would like to ask your consumers: “How are you today?”, “What do you like?”, “Do you sleep well or not?” When you communicate in these stores one by one, it really helps you to become more humane and then you can build stories around humans.
- Get out of your comfort zone and try to search for really strange or unusual architecture, when you travel or search Internet. You are a startuper, so you don’t want to think like everyone else. You want to create new ideas within your communication, your marketing strategies, your investor communications. Maybe the next time instead of sending a cold pitche to TechCrunch journalists, you would create a conference within these unusual places that have their own power of impact on the people.
All of these ideas will help you expand your cultural baggage and offer original ideas presented in an unusual way. Remember, you need to stand out from the crowd.