One of the most effective ways to explain something is to use a story. Humans are story-telling creatures; we consume stories (both real and fiction) in every aspect of our lives, for both work and entertainment.
When people try to understand your new company, they will use stories. The story might be as simple as “they are horrible” or as detailed as “let me give you an example of how they helped me…” or as soaring as “they are changing the world, let me tell you how…” The story may include metaphors (e.g. “they are Google for Sheep Herding”) or use personal anecdotes. Stories come in all shapes and sizes.
If you are lucky, you will be the one telling your story and explaining it in a way that you think captures the entirety of your vision. Unfortunately, most of the time your story will be told by someone else. Hence, it’s important to craft a positive story that others will tell on your behalf.
Everyone who interacts with your company will have a story to tell. That includes customers who had a great experience and investors who believe in your vision. It also includes customers who demanded their money back and investors who decided to invest in your competitors. Depending on their experience with your company, the story told might be great, or very, very bad.
The best way to combat this uncertainty is to realize that everyone you touch is a storyteller, so you should give each person every reason to tell a great story about you. While you can’t control what they say, you can make sure their experience with your company is as positive as possible. Specifically:
- Treat all potential customers. Regardless of whether they become customers, you want them to know that your company cares about them and is focused on delivering quality. Even if they choose to work with another provider, they should walk away feeling good about having contacted your company. You should also be sure that they remember your differentiation very well, so if someone asks them, they will relay that as part of their story.
- Sell hard to everyone you interview. Anyone who interviews for a position at your company should walk out the door thinking your company is something special, regardless if you plan to hire them or not. This means you need to spend time during the interview selling yourself (See Recruiting is a Form of Sales), even if the candidate is weak. You never know who they might talk to about their interview.
- Build relationships with all investors. Even if an investor passes on your company, you should make sure they know how passionate you are and why you believe it will succeed. You may end up raising more money in the future, and these investors might realize their mistake and come back again.
Customers, candidates and investors all talk to each other, and you cannot know who they will talk to about your company. Treating all of the people you encounter extremely well will put you in the best position to ensure their stories are as positive as possible.
Providing a Narrative
It’s not enough to treat people well; you need to give them an easy story to remember. The story of your company encompasses your vision, your differentiation (See The Only Thing That Matters) and your people in a narrative that ties them all together. Often, the best way to do this is to talk about how your market is changing and how your company is at the center of that change. A successful narrative describes your company as more than a company – it describes it as a movement.
Crafting that narrative is something that is a critical responsibility for you as a founder. But once you have the narrative, what do you do with it? It’s not enough to blog/tweet/post about your company narrative, as no one will read it. You need to broadcast it far and wide so people will see it multiple times and become familiar with it. Some examples:
- Public Speaking. When you speak in public about your market, you are telling your story. While you might not talk about your company specifically, the tone and content of what you say reflects on your company. If your knowledge and passion come through clearly, people will want to learn more about what you do.
- Public Relations. PR has a bad name since many companies use it for the wrong reasons (customer acquisition, etc.). One great use of PR is to start telling your story to the world. Your goal is not customer acquisition, but customer familiarity, which is achieved by talking about the movement that is your company.
- Social Media. While simply posting to social media is not enough, engaging in conversations can be very important. People will watch how you behave, who you talk to and how you do it. That will reinforce your story and encourage them to learn more.
Conveying your narrative in the way I describe here is hard, as it requires you to tell your story through actions instead of directly through advertisements. However, you will find that people would much rather hear you talk about a topic that interests them instead of about yourself. Use that to your advantage.
Your story will not be a book you print and store on a shelf; it will constantly be changing. Embrace that and allow your story to grow, while being sure that it stays true to your vision. If others begin telling your story in a slightly different way, that is a good sign that they believe your story and are building on it themselves.
If you are successful, you may eventually have someone tell you the story of your company without realizing it is your story. That is the most fulfilling feeling a founder can have, since it means you have succeeded in spreading the story you are building.
Image credit: CC by Janet 59