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How to Tell Your Story

In today’s over-saturated advertising markets, storytelling has shifted from a nicety to a necessity. Authentic, effective storytelling creates real connection between you and your audience. 

As a startup, storytelling is not just essential for your marketing, but it should be intrinsic in your selling technique, meetings with investors, and conversations with potential consumers. Embracing storytelling throughout your communications will develop long-term relationships and ingrained brand loyalty.

In this article we’ll introduce you to the art of storytelling, and not in the static “intro, body, conclusion” approach you may be thinking. We’ll discuss storytelling that will help you build your business and find success within your target audiences. If you’re new to storytelling, this article will address key principles that will help you get started.

What is storytelling?

Storytelling brings your overall message to life and creates a “big picture” for consumers to understand and connect with. Building a story for your brand is all about making your target audiences care, think, feel, and eventually buy your product or service. 

Creating a story involves a narrative or series of events that resonates with the target audience, and can be used to create a meaningful connection between your brand and your audience. Techniques such as identifying the narrative and target audience, creating a clear message, building compelling characters and plot, using descriptive language, and eliciting emotions can all be used to create a compelling and engaging brand story. 

Storytelling brings your deliverables to the forefront, addressing how your brand connects with your audience and the challenges they face on a daily basis. By using storytelling in marketing and selling, brands can effectively communicate their message and values to create a deeper connection with their audience.

Characteristics of good storytelling

Anyone can tell a story, but how do you make yours great? How do you inspire your audience to take action and interact with your brand? When crafting your perfect story be sure it holds characteristics that:

  • Creates tension – Are you righting a wrong? Filling a gap in the product market? Or defying an outdated system? Use these ideas to create tension and drive your plot.  
  • Answers profound questions – What big issue, or conflict is your company solving? The answer to that question can help drive your story and connection with consumers. 
  • Supports your company’s mission – Meaningful storytelling can bring your company’s mission to life. Find the stories that inspired your company from the start. 
  • Rooted in truth – What are you doing beyond selling a great product or service? Tell this story authentically and honestly.
  • Guides the target consumer – Ensure the consumer is the hero of your story. Now is the time to guide your audience and help them identify with your brand. 

How good storytelling impacts your startup

Storytelling is essential for every component of your business, extending far beyond the marketing team. It’s the foundation for every written or verbal communication that comes from your brand, including:

  • Elevator pitches
  • Press materials 
  • Pitch decks
  • Sales materials
  • Websites
  • Videos
  • Manifestos
  • Presentations
  • Business lunches
  • Infographics
  • Networking opportunities

Storytelling and selling should go hand-in-hand. You can’t sell to your highest potential without effectively telling your story. However, that doesn’t mean you should have a robotic response every time someone asks about your company. Your story should adapt and deviate depending on your audience.

The story you create for an investor will not be the same story you share with a consumer or media personnel. You have control of your narrative, so make it as audience-specific as possible.

Story and self presentation matter more to VCs than pedigree

Bryan McCleary (Reference: Harvard Business Review)

Five steps to craft and engaging story:

Step 1: Identify your narrative

This is the first step to bringing your story to life. Start by asking yourself, what problem am I trying to solve and what is my solution to that problem? Addressing this will frame your mission in a meaningful way. 

  Try it out yourself

[Startup/Solution] is a [product/service/offering] that allows [target audience] to [impact of product/service/offering] by [brief description of solution].

Example: GoDaddy intends to radically shift the global economy toward life-fulfilling independent ventures. We do that by helping our customers kick ass—giving them the tools, insights and the people to transform their ideas and personal initiative into success, however they measure it.

Step 2: Get to know your target audience

Knowing your audience, and how best to communicate with them is critical when developing your story. Quality audience awareness always starts with good research and access to essential data. Creating an ideal customer profile (ICP) will define the attributes of your most valuable customer through basic data collection and analysis. 

This data collection creates a foundation for your ideal buyer personas. Your customer personas need to be relevant to your brand and to your product or service. It begins with  basic information like the age, job description, income, location, and living situation of your target audience. Then, expand to their interests, hobbies, lifestyle, and personal life as it relates to their buying behavior. 

Finally, you then must ask yourself questions regarding the objectives, buying triggers, and painpoints your consumers may be facing. 

Step 3: Understand and clarify your unique value proposition

Creating a value proposition starts with zeroing in on your product or service. It should always address the customer and their pain points directly. It’s different from your narrative, which has endless opportunities to flex and adapt depending on your audience. Your value proposition should always be fixed in time. Designed to quickly and concisely demonstrate why your customer should buy your product or service.

  Try it out yourself

We help [target customer] do [customer need] by offering [product features and benefits].

Example from Netflix: “Watch movies, documentaries or TV shows anytime on any device.”

Step 4: Give your story character

Your story should have layers of added value for your customer. Adding character and points of tension will create a unified interest between you and your audience. Ask yourself: What profound questions am I answering? What essential role am I playing in society? How is our product/service rooted in our values? Answering these questions not only creates interest, but it adds credible meaning to your business. 

Step 5: Bring it all together with execution & delivery

Your story will fall flat without strategic and practiced delivery. Great execution, regardless of medium, will carry your story to the finish line. From elevator pitches and press materials to pitch decks and infographics, your story needs deliberate execution. Take Mike Zelkind, the Founder and CEO of 80 Acres for example. Rather than saying, ‘80 acres is farming tomatoes!’ he weaves a narrative that leaves your mouth watering and your heart full of nostalgia. He paints a picture that not only ignites your senses, but inspires your own memories and connection to the story he creates. That is the key—to create a story that sparks connection. 

Being authentic, consistent, and practiced is essential to telling your story. When prioritized in your selling technique and day-to-day conversations about your business, storytelling will become an integral part of your brand, helping you to do more, grow faster, and create lasting impact on your customers, investors, and professional network.

This content is adapted from the Telling Your Story workshop put on by Bryan McCleary of Relevance Communications during StartupCincy Week 2022. To view the entire workshop, click here.

Following five years as Press Secretary to US Senator John Glenn, Bryan served for twenty years at P&G. His experience spanned PR, corporate communications, influencer marketing, crisis, and issue management. executive visibility and speechwriting, employee engagement and global communications management. Named official “dean” of PR at P&G, Bryan also led training around the world for marketers and communicators. Bryan most recently served as a consultant to nonprofits, a fellow at the Carter Center, Vice President for Communications and Creative at News America Marketing and Chief Marketing and Engagement Officer for United Way of Greater Cincinnati. He supports clients such as 80 Acres, eGateway Capital, Cintrifuse, Cerkl, P&G, Signet, Proampac, Anavasi Diagnostics, Tek Experts and more.  

He can be reached at bryanemccleary@gmail.com.



Emma O'Dell

Emma O'Dell

Emma is the Marketing & Events Coordinator for Cintrifuse, an economic development organization that is catalyzing the Greater Cincinnati region’s startup ecosystem.


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