Startup Storytelling: Why Every Successful Startup Starts With A Story

The best brands in the world have a compelling and emotion-based story that resonates with audiences, as a startup you should too! Strong brand stories attract funding, captivate customers and help you avoid the dreaded business burnout (or a ‘bad exit’ as some call it).

Storytelling is important for startups because it gives them a way to capture the spotlight when they have limited marketing budgets, few customers, or little traction and brand awareness. It lets them use creativity and agility to outflank larger rivals. 
— Mark Evans, expert storyteller

So while a great story can help you differentiate and attract venture capital funding, it can also empower your company culture by aligning with strong values and a personality that will make building the company fun and profitable.

Let’s get started!

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Telling a Great StartUp Story

There are a few factors to consider when creating a killer, standout startup story:

  • Defining the core story through it’s message, conflict, characters and plot

  • Uncovering what drives the company internally

  • Assessing pre-existing perceptions from customers, investors and employees

  • And of course, how the story stacks up against competitors

Customers aren’t buying your product; they’re buying your story.


Research study after research study confirms we’re hardwired to respond to emotionally compelling stories (see Your Brain on Stories). And while we know that stories are at the heart of the digital marketing era - hello content marketing trends! - we also know that story (more than ever) helps us cut through the marketing noise our ideal customers experience every single day.

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Phase #1 | Building the Core Story

Internal motivation. Why start the business in the first place? Was it for the money? The meaning? A need you saw in the market? Being honest about what started you out helps build a more authentic, integrity-driven brand story that will connect to customers and help you gain funding.

Of course our hope is that your startup is about more than the money, which helps set the foundation for a truly phenomenal legacy.

Brand message. Your brand delivers a message everyday in the way it communicates through social media, website verbiage, visual branding, your strategy, and how the user experiences the product or service. What are you communicating about who you are and what you stand for? Are you consistent?

This is also where you review your brand’s persona. What’s your brand’s tone? Is it off-the-cuff or polished? Conservative or disruptive? What audience does it speak to and why?

Core conflict. What are you up against? Is it an outdated system? A big, bad corporation? A social justice issue? Every great story has a juicy conflict at its core. Don’t be afraid to raise some eyebrows, draw a line in the sand or stand up for something!

On the other hand, conflicts don’t mean taking on the largest, most pressing issues. Perhaps the conflict is more internal for your customers. Or perhaps the conflict is often unspoken but prevalent. Whatever the case may be, know that conflict is key.

Defining characters. Who’s the hero of your story? The benefactor? The beneficiaries? The villain? The fairy godmother or supporting role? Your company is defined by three segments that must be spoken to when creating a standout startup story:

  1. You (the founders)

  2. The company itself + employees

  3. Your ideal target audience/customers

Most often than not you’re the hero in the life of your customer but that’s not always the case. Nike does a great job of positioning their products as the supporting role in their customer’s hero's journey. TOMS Shoes takes on a social justice cause by providing shoes to kids around the world. Knowing your role is fundamental for brand notoriety.

The plot. Why does any of this matter? Why should your customers care? More importantly, why should VC’s invest?

Your plot is where it comes together to tell the tale that resonates at a bigger level in the marketplace. The plot is where rubber hits the road and makes the story tangible and relevant. It’s also where you start to play with it in your marketing and branding strategies to create a cohesive, energetic and equitable business.

Phase #2 | Putting Your Story to Use

Get visual. Creating a strong visual story is to your advantage. Research suggests that 83% of human learning is visual (source). By having a strong visual brand in alignment with your story, you better address and spark interest in your startup.

Cohesive narrative. Pulling it all together to create a cohesive narrative may seem daunting but trust me, once it’s done you’ll thank me later! Use your story to draw elements across all channels, including: your website, social media channels, branding collateral, and press releases. Every presentation, pitch and written piece of content must be a cohesive representation of your brand’s story.

Use strategically. At the same time, be hyper-aware of where your customers congregate. Use your story strategically to build loyal fans and a lucrative tribe of customers on the channels that speak to them, not you.

Transparency is key. Modern media has made transparency a key factor in trust and credibility. Use it! Behind-the-scenes looks and employee spotlights are a great way to boost your brand’s story and engagement.

Customer stories. Never forget to include your customer’s stories, narratives, feedback, and reviews when building your brand equity! If people already love you, no need to keep hammering in on your story. Instead, give them a platform to rave about your product or service and watch funding flock to you for having something that matters to people!

Phase #3 | Things to Avoid

And finally, the primary things to avoid when sharing your startup story:

  • Industry jargon

  • Telling vs showing

  • Starting from the beginning

  • Corporate ‘we’ speak

  • Lying

  • Lack of conflict

  • Playing it safe

Is your startup doing it’s story right? If not, check out the StandOut Story Strategy to help you get seen, heard and successful. Like this article or have questions? Leave a comment below!