In a world where even Hot Pockets can jump on the “artisanal” band wagon, it was strangely refreshing when Domino’s ran commercials about how terrible their pizza was. The ad campaign offered a video clip mix of focus group responses, as well as company executives reading customer comments like “Domino’s pizza crust to me is like cardboard.”

This mea culpa strategy is hardly the first of its kind, yet why was it so effective? Because it was one word: human. And we’re not just talking about self-effacement–Domino’s let its customers begin to tell the story about the company’s recommitment to a better product.

In this second installment of Pitching 101, we’ll talk about how the more customer-centric your brand story is, the less time your startup will spend apologizing.

1 – What Your Brand Story SHOULDN’T Be

Sometimes, it’s more revealing to say what something is not, than what it is. Neil Patel writes, in his Beginners Guide to Online Marketing:

“Brand storytelling is NOT:

  • A long-winded, 5-paragraph essay about your company
  • A blog post
  • Something isolated
  • A fragmented view into your company
  • Something reserved for the marketing team only
  • A PR stunt
  • A viral video
  • A tool to manipulate customers and prospects
  • Boring”

As you can see, the general sentiment is this: don’t treat your brand story like an object. It should be much more organic and ready-to-evolve, while permeating every aspect of your company. It’s not a pretense; it’s an essence.

2 – Now We Can Talk About What a Brand Story IS

Don’t trick yourself into thinking that the brand story is complete once your startup is off and running. Think of yourself as always beginning in the middle of the action, like a Greek epic. Every decision you make alters the arc of your grand narrative, which is an intersection of many, many subplots.

Brand Story Strategist and author of five #1 Amazon Bestselling books, Bernadette Jiwa defines a brand story as such:

  • “more than content and a narrative.”
  • “goes beyond what’s written in the copy on a website, the text in a brochure or the presentation used to pitch to investors or customers.”
  • “isn’t just what you tell people it’s also what they believe about you based on the signals your brand sends.”
  • “a complete picture made up of facts, feelings and interpretations, which means that part of your story isn’t even told by you.”

Jiwa further writes:

“Everything you do, each element of your business or brand, from the colours and texture of your packaging and business cards, to the staff you hire is part of your brand story and every element should reflect the truth about your brand back to your audience.”

In other words, everything has to do with everything.

3 – How To Piece Your Story Together

Just like the Greek epic, beginning in a moment of conflict (rather than the story’s chronological beginning) immediately snares the reader. Instead of framing your story as “Look how far we’ve come!” you should think of it as “Look how we respond to adversity” or “Look how we’ve learned to listen to the customer.”

Andy Smith, Principal of Vonavona Ventures, advises startups to try this exercise:

“As you think of the elements of the story you want to tell, imagine them as modules, first capturing them on Post-Its, then mixing them up. This easy exercise will break you of the oppressive habit of presenting things in order. Now, Post-Its in hand, think like a movie-maker. Open on a moment of truth. Make people feel it. Engage the senses. Then reach back to the past to savor the contrast. Even if people know how your story ends — it’s usually the product you’re asking them to buy — you can breathe life into the journey of how you got there, how your other customers discovered you, and why it’s made a difference.” (from “The Seven Deadly Sins of Startup Storytelling”)

Of course, your own story is always going to be interesting to you. But imagine that you’re the audience. What keeps you invested in someone else’s trials and tribulations? What doesn’t? The more you think of yourself as the audience, rather than the performer, the more natural and relatable your brand story will be.

4 – Show, Don’t Tell (Without Being Predictable)

No matter how many statistics you can throw at a wall and get to stick, a customer’s emotional connection to your company and products will always outlast any market trend.

Enter the old infomercial strategy of following up product demos with “real customer testimony.” Better the authenticity of an endorsement from Steve and Janet who live next door than the paid props from a SuperBowl MVP, right?

Sort of. Steve and Janet are still getting paid, too.

So any gesture towards the authentic should be, well, authentic. Had Domino’s simply begun its recommitment campaign by showing clips of only customers satisfied with the new pizza recipe, not only is the whole point of the campaign lost (no more cardboard pizza crust), but the hackneyed pattern of demo-then-testimony obliterates any potential for a human connection.

This is not to say that you should completely avoid customer testimony. Rather, in the age of Skype and Periscope, how can you frame your story like no other company has done before?

Authentic doesn’t just mean “genuine” or “honest.” It can also be talking about how true you are to the identity you’ve created for your company.

Keep It Simple. Overall, the greatest key to effective brand storytelling, despite these 1,000 or so words, is not to overthink it. You’re not a magician, and your customers certainly don’t want any illusions.

Always remember what gets you out of bed in the morning and keeps you pushing your company toward its next benchmark, then go from there. And stay tuned for our next installment of Pitching 101.

But, in the meantime, as you continue to develop the essence of your startup’s brand, you’re going to need access to vital mentorship, venture capital networks, and baseline services to help scale your company. Contact tekMountain today to find yet another beginning in your story.  


This blog was produced by the tekMountain Team of Sean AhlumMike PattonRod WhisnerAmanda SipesBill DiNome, and with lead writer Zach Cioffi.

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