storytelling

Last week, I participated in Startup Canada’s Twitter chat about storytelling. It was insightful and thought provoking because there were different views about “storytelling” and how brands should approach it.

Personally, one of the most interesting parts was a spirited back and forth about the importance of a good product versus a good story. My take is that starting with a good product is a no-brainer because it charms users and, as important, makes it easier for marketers to do their jobs.

On the other side of the other discussion was the idea that developing a good story is paramount because they reflect a customer’s needs, interests and motivations. In other words, the product is shaped by the narratives that surround it.

So what’s the right approach or philosophy?

To be honest, there isn’t a right answer because good arguments exist on both sides.

Even though I’m a storyteller, I’m a disciple of “good product” playing a leading role. I’ve seen many startups develop products with no value or, at best, they are nice-to-have rather than need-to-have. In terms of benefits, features and usability, they don’t delight enough to generate enough traction to be successful.

When you have a product that delights (and “delight” can be a relatively minor thing), it is easier to create narratives that resonate with target audiences. Good product sets the stage for effective storytelling because it puts target audiences in the right frame of mind. When a product is good, stories thrive by amplifying their value and encouraging people to share and recommend.

The other reality about selling a bad product is its inadequacies will eventually be discovered. In the short-term, good marketing and storytelling can overshadow mediocrity, but this is a temporary band-aid. With access to a wealth of information, it takes no time for consumers to learn the truth about a product, and share with others.

In an ideal world, good product and good stories are created hand-in-hand. This alignment should happen from the early days when the product is still being developed. The creation of a good story can play a key role in shaping a product’s look, feel, and features. A good story also makes it easier for an entrepreneur to hire employees, raise money, attract partners, and attract customers.

Unfortunately, many startups discover the need for a good story when they are struggling. It usually happens when they painfully discover a good product isn’t enough to build a vibrant business. As a result, they suddenly realize the importance of telling a good story. Hopefully, they arrive at this realization before it’s too late.

What do you think is more important? Any examples of a startup that began with a compelling story? One that comes to mind is Dollar Shave Club, which arguably drove its success with an entertaining video.


To learn more about the power of storytelling, check out my new book Storytelling for Startups. It provides entrepreneurs with strategic and tactical guidance on how to tell stories to the right people in the right places. I also provide storytelling workshops. For more details, drop me email (mark@markevans.ca)

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