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Most startups are focused on tackling a problem or creating a new way of doing something. Unfortunately, they don’t tell good stories about their products because it’s  not a priority or they don’t know how to do it.

In working with dozens of startups over the past eight years, I have developed an approach that asks key questions: What do you sell [product or service]? Who needs it? Why does your product matter to target audiences?

These questions should be easy to answer but many startups struggle because they’re focused on developing and selling products, not necessarily meeting the needs and interests of consumers. It’s why too much startup marketing puts the spotlight on features and prices rather than benefits and experiences.

To make it easier for startups to understand the storytelling approach and grasp the importance of being customer-centric, I created a Storytelling Canvas that includes the following elements:

  1. Why storytelling?
  2. Commitment
  3. Product
  4. Target audiences
  5. Uniqueness
  6. Value propositions
  7. Your story
  8. Your storytellers
  9. Tone of voice
  10. Marketing channels
  11. Marketing priorities
  12. Competition
  13. Market

Startups can develop better stories and build marketing campaigns by providing details for each box. It forces them to clearly articulate what they do, who they do it for, and why they are unique, as well as where to tell their stories. [Download the canvas]Storytelling Canvas]

Let’s break down the different sections of the canvas:

  1. Why storytelling?: This is an important place to start because it establishes the reasons that a company wants to embrace storytelling and marketing. It identifies goals, problems, and motivations. It provides insight into why marketing matters, expectations and who is driving things forward.
  2. Commitment: To succeed, storytelling has to be embraced. Being luke-warm about marketing or quasi-enthusiasm is far from ideal. Being honest about the time, money and people to be invested makes it easier to know how much storytelling that a company is willing and able to do.
  3. Product: In simple terms, what are you selling? It is important to simplify things so anyone – customers, employees, partners, investors, family, and friends – understand what you do. If people “get it”, they turn into brand advocates and ambassadors. Too many startups complicate things by including everything but the kitchen sink.
  4. Target audiences: Who’s interested in your product? It can begin at a high-level (e.g. 25-to-35-year-old women who live in cities and commute using public transportation). Then, buyer personas are created to identify the different groups within your target audiences (e.g. women who are single, married or have children). Tip: the best way to create buyer personas is talking to customers.
  5. Your story: Every startup has a story about what they sell, who they serve and why it matters. It is a straightforward proposition because, after all, it’s only three questions. Again, the trick is keeping it simple. A good approach is Geoffrey Moore’s template: For  ____________ (target customer) who ____________  (statement of the need or opportunity) our (product/service name) is  ____________  (product category)
  6. Your storytellers: Who is going to amplify, share and distribute your stories? Is it internal people such as the founder, community manager or social media manager, or external people such as influencers, bloggers and the media? Identifying your storytellers makes it easier to help them tell your story, which could include content and tools.
  7. Value propositions: This addresses a crucial question: what does your product matter and how does it meet the needs of target audiences. It could be as simple as MailChimp’s “Send Better Email” or Statflo’s “Keep your wireless customers for life”. A  powerful value proposition engages potential customers, which is important in a multi-tasking world where first impressions count.
  8. Uniqueness: What makes your company better or different? How does your product stand out from the crowd within a competitive landscape? Is it price, features, usability, customer service or community? It is about carving out a unique position in the marketplace.
  9. Channels: Depending on the product and target audiences, there are channels that make more sense. Identifying the marketing channels to use, opportunities and possibilities makes it easier to connect with target audiences.
  10. Channel priorities: After identifying the different options, the next step is establishing priorities based on several variables: cost, resources required to execute, role within the buyer’s journey, and potential to drive strategic goals. Then, each channel is ranked to divide marketing that needs to happen now, soon and later. This lets startups be focused, rather than having a scattered approach.
  11. Competition: Startups don’t operate in isolation. Every startup has rivals – large incumbents, indirect rivals (e.g. Excel vs. online accounting services), struggling players and new, emerging startups. It is a valuable exercise to define how each rival positions themselves. What are their value propositions and key benefits? Are there words or phrases that stick out? What marketing channels are used and are there unique approaches?
  12. Market: How large is the market and why is it growing, changing or evolving? Who are the most attractive customers and what are the biggest considerations when buying and purchasing a product?

Completing each section of this canvas provides startups with a solid foundation upon which to build their storytelling and marketing. It makes a startup be clear about what their product does and why it matters. It encourages startups to identify the interests, needs, and motivations of target audiences. And it makes startups think about how to position themselves within the competitive landscape so they stand out from the crowd.

For any startup looking to develop a better story and a marketing roadmap, this canvas is a user-friendly and effective tool.

Any feedback or suggestions how to improve this canvas?


Are you a startup looking to accelerate your marketing? I helped dozens of startups drive more awareness, leads, and sales. There are different ways we can work together – everything from messaging to strategic planning and content to get customers into and through the sales funnel.

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