How to create the world’s most market-leading, disruptive, innovative, unique start-up
What start-ups should consider when crafting their stories
Max Tatton-Brown offers some excellent advice to start-ups on choosing a PR agency. I agree with much of what he says, but I would also approach the topic from a slightly different angle. I’ve worked with many start-ups and while the interest in innovative companies is growing, there is no doubt it is becoming harder to stand-out from the crowd. And, unless you do stand-out through your marketing efforts, it will be harder to drive engagement with your key audiences and ultimately build towards commercial momentum.
The temptation is to resort to superlatives (such as the ones in my headline) to garner immediate interest in your brand. This is a very bad idea, unless you have crafted a compelling narrative to back-up your attention-grabbing statements. If not, interest will quickly dwindle. Before even thinking about catchy soundbites, you must go through a critical self-examination of who you are and what you stand for. Then, only step out into the spotlight when you can confidently address four key areas: context, originality, identity and outcomes. I would be base my choice of agency on whether/how they have interrogated you on these points.
Context: fully answering the ‘So What?’ question
When trying to make an impact through earned, owned, paid and social channels it is tempting to jump on the latest trend. Using Google Analytics and SEO it’s easy to see what is “hot” and attempt to join the debate. The other aspect of context is that becoming known as the latest “new, new thing” can be a double-edged sword. Clickbait headlines may drive people to your content, but you really need to have thought through the substance behind them.
The trick is knowing how to make your story resonate in the world of your customers. It requires an in-depth understanding of the context your technology operates in, and how you articulate your response to the major concerns of your customers or prospects. Too often I have heard start-ups talk about how their technology will disrupt a sector, without fully unpicking what is really bothering customers. Indeed, there are many examples of technology being developed that is looking for a problem to solve, rather than the other way around.
The important question when considering context is “So what?” Why should customers care more about your product, algorithm or application? How does it address their concerns? And why should your message merit more airtime than established brands like Amazon, Google, Facebook and Microsoft? This is why originality is so important.
Originality: creating the right to speak
If you’ve got to grips with your context you can respond to the “so what?” question with a more original, compelling answer. The quality content hubs and influential commentators understand that this originality of thought is critical to making a story relevant to the world their readers live in. If you can create the same level of originality, clearly illustrating why people should take notice of you, you will stand more chance of captivating broad audiences.
One thing that start-ups must be conscious of is the role of “belief” when telling their story. No successful founder or entrepreneur could ever be accused of lacking self-belief and this can be a great force for good when it comes convincing audiences of the originality of your story. You need to be comfortable describing how your technology fits into a broader context, so mainstream audiences can understand where to place you compared with other contenders.
Some are so overwhelmingly guided by their belief system that it narrows the scope of how they articulate their story. Too dogged an approach will encourage observers to examine your claims more closely – if you fail to add substance your story will quickly unravel.
The other major challenge with creating a story that gives you a “right to speak” is that (to state the obvious) your company is at the beginning of its journey. We often work with emerging companies who do not even have a product to sell yet but need to raise the profile of their innovation to attract investment, recruit talent and encourage early adopters to experiment with their technology. You can, of course, claim an original approach to your technology design, be passionately convinced it will disrupt your chosen market, but you will have to work very hard to convince audiences to focus on you rather than the tech giants. I believe the source code for your originality lies in the foundations of your identity.
Identity: the formula at the heart of your story
Knowing your identity, knowing what you stand for and why you are in business is fundamental to how you communicate with the world. It should form the basis of your narrative and you should concentrate all your efforts on formulating this identity before you go out into the world. Rush it and your audiences will see a confused story that won’t engage them.
Strong, lasting brands are famous for the legends associated with the origin of their identity. The garage where the founders first worked together. The chance discovery that led to a breakthrough. The university drop-out who believed they could change the world. As a start-up founder you may feel it sounds pretentious to think this way, but you should have this ambition. Your identity can be defined by the heritage of your founders, the academic roots of your innovation, the aspirations of your vision and the strength of your financial backing. You must piece this story together and tell it convincingly from day one, if you are to stand out, illustrate your context and be original. As your company evolves, your product begins to take shape and you go on to commercialise your proposition, your identity will of course change and embrace other priorities, but when you first start out you must bring your founding ethos to life.
Outcomes: the business impact
In marketing and PR terms, measurement is very important, but it must be related to a business outcome. This can be more difficult to define when you only have a proof-of-concept for a product and are some way off needing to attracting large numbers of customers, but there are still ways to show a business impact from your communications. At every stage in the evolution of your company you need to take your audiences on a journey to build up their understanding of you, your products and your story. It requires patience and a willingness to allow interrogation your narrative, but if you can articulate your story effectively over time you will build a profile as a trail blazer and an industry expert, which will lead to validation of your proposition and excitement around your market potential.