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Last week, an early-stage startup took a polite pass on a messaging and marketing strategy project.

On one hand, I wasn’t surprised because the entrepreneurs are bootstrapping the development of a mobile application.

But, to be honest, I see their decision as a mistake because they decided to run with a story that doesn’t strike me as compelling or relevant to target audiences.

It is a classic case of loving the application but not taking a step back to look at why anyone would be interested. It’s not for a lack of domain expertise but not understanding how something new can fit into the lives of people who already have plenty of options.

Not having a good story is a recipe for disaster.

Rather than saying the right things to the right people, a startup struggles to demonstrate its value and why it matters. As a result, their story fails to resonate. It is not embraced or shared. Instead, the story goes nowhere. End of story. End of the ball game.

Good stories matter because they establish a rock-solid foundation for everything else a business. Sales, marketing, customer service and raising capital flourish when propelled by a good story. A good story captivates, intrigues, excites and draws people into your universe. It sparks conversations, build relationships and opens up opportunities,

Armed with a good story, companies move forward with clarity and confidence. They know what they say makes an impact.

So what are the key elements to a good story?

It begins by knowing your target audiences – customers, media, analysts, partners, etc. You know what makes them tick, their interests, challenges, dreams and – as Andy Raskin says – what’s at stake. You have an in-depth about what will ignite interest in your product or service so you can easily craft stories that resonate.

The way to obtain this knowledge is talking to potential customers on their turf. Go to where they work or play to see how they operate and learn first-hand about their needs, expectations, and options.

It’s the only way you can discover if what you’re selling is sellable. You may learn consumers aren’t interested or don’t understand what your product or service. If this happens, it’s back the drawing board.

I have a client, for example, who went to bars frequented by university students to learn how they socialized and spent money. As one of the oldest people in the bar, he stood out like a sore thumb but it gave him real-world intelligence.

New products need to be more than a good idea. They need to solve a problem, make something better or provide a new way of doing things. It’s the product/market fit proposition.

But even a product that meets a need flounders without a good story. To reach the people who matter, good stories make the product come to life. People can see themselves using the product. They can imagine the experience. Think about the stories told by Airbnb about the joys of travel as opposed to being able to book online places to stay.

Many start-ups and fast-growing companies struggle because their stories are terrible. The problem is a lack of appreciation as a powerful sales and marketing tool and a competitive differentiator. Too many entrepreneurs are too close to the action to take an outside in view of the world. As a result, their stories fail to make an impact and businesses don’t move forward.


I work with fast-growing companies looking to grow even faster with marketing that actually works.

My strategic and tactical services, which harness the power of storytelling, are driven by frameworks and processes to create strategic messaging, brand positioning, strategies, and content. If you want marketing that makes an impact, let’s talk.

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