Company narrative - Why it's your most important marketing asset in the startup early days
"I'm going to give you some homework," I announce to all my CEO clients. "Before I can even start helping you build the marketing machine you need, I need you to write your company narrative." I usually give them a week to complete the task.
Homework? Yes. Homework.
If you thought great marketing is about pretty ads and lead generation models, think again.
Your company narrative is the most critical marketing asset you could give your marketing team in the early days. The information included in it will serve as the basis for your company's brand, visual identity, brand voice, and strategic and tactical initiatives that your growing marketing team will create.
What is a company narrative?
The company narrative is your business story or strategic narrative that weaves together the key strategic elements of your brand, the culture you hope to create, your customers' ideal world and pain points, and your business strategy into a coherent and powerful story that can inform and inspire internal and external audiences.
Created as a written document that keeps evolving as the company matures, the narrative describes its purpose, vision of the future, customer pain points, how the company's product will solve these pains, develop over time, and create a new reality for its users. The document also outlines how the company will operate, its values, employer branding principles, and the significant milestones it would strive to achieve.
Why is the company narrative so important?
Startup founders are visionaries who dream of a better world where the pains and problems of their customers are solved by their product or solution. As they assemble a founding team around them, their success depends on how attractive their vision is and their plans to make it a reality. Their first employees buy into the initial idea and are interested in joining the founders on the ride. As the company grows, more and more people need to buy into the vision like investors, advisors, and customers. New employees coming on board need a set of principles by which they can operate. The narrative serves as the basis for rallying everyone around your vision and ideas.
Who should create the company narrative?
"I am not a good copywriter. You should write it for me."
No one can write it but you - the founder. Why? Because no one but you knows the true vision and planned path of your company and product. Your job is to write the first draft and then hand it over to your CMO, who will know how to craft brand messages from it. You will then hand the edited version to your leadership team, and with the help of the CMO, they will:
Craft company values for employees to follow;
Create your long term product roadmap based on the ideal world you described; and,
Design the principles of your company's customer experiences.
"How do I start? I need a template."
No problem. Here are the primary sections you should use:
Background and history - Who started your company and when? Tell us who the founders are their background. What brought them together?
Motivation - What are the negative experiences (or disappointments) that made you say: "I need to solve this problem!" Describe your customers' pain points. Why is the world broken?
Solution - What is your company's answer to the problem? What's the fix? Describe the ideal world of your customers without the pain.
Vision and goals - What does your company want to achieve? What's your vision of the world and mission for the company? Why are you doing this? What drives you?
The roadmap - Is your solution just the first step for building a better world for your customers? If yes, describe the following steps. How will your solution evolve?
Values - What values guide you? How would you like your employees to behave, act and operate?
Image - How would you like to be perceived by your customers? What are the emotions or thoughts you would like to trigger?
Differentiators - How are you going to win? What makes you unique or better than everyone else?
Business strategy - Your startup will evolve from an early-stage company to... what? How?
A view of the future - What will your company/market/company/world look like in five years?
The narrative is a vital part of creating a strong and marketable brand. The best narratives evoke an emotional response. They inspire and trigger a will to take action.
I've created several company narratives throughout my career. Each was unique, just like the company. Every founder going through the process used it to find their voice. It's a fascinating experience and one you will enjoy too.
Get to work!