Talk Like a Human, not Like a Robot

Or, The importance of Getting Your Story Straight Before You Get Your First Round of Funding 


OK, so. Say you’ve got a brilliant, game-changing business idea—something you know has the potential to disrupt an entire industry—an idea destined to get you your own Ted talk, land you the cover of FastCompany, and earn you a boatload of money. Say you’ve got a couple of antsy angel investors, a working prototype, and a built-in supply chain—but no budget or time to hire a firm like ours to help you craft a proper story?

Well, you could do what a lot of other scrappy startups do—and keep the perfect from being the enemy of the good. You could put all of your energy and time into engineering, testing, and manufacturing and let the chips fall where they may when it comes time to, say, building a site or crafting your social presence. You could build it and hope they’ll come.

Or you could take a quick(ish) moment and begin to get your story straight on your own—by setting some super-basic parameters for talking the talk. You could do what we tend to tell most of our clients to do—and invest some time and energy in firming up the essential principles that will help you tell a story that will actually resonate with consumers.

Think of it as writing the dev spec for the beta build of your brand. Here’s, roughly, how to do it:


Know Yourself

No matter what business you’re in, you’re going to be up against some pretty stiff competition—from other nimble start-ups to greedy behemoths with a ton of cash. And, inevitably, everyone you’re going to want to talk to is going to have the attention span of an addled teenager. That’s why it’s more important than ever to make sure that you stand for something singular—something uniquely ‘you’. You need to find that one conceptual nugget that sets you apart, and organize everything you say and do around it. In other words, you need to get in touch with the truth about yourself and tell an honest story about what makes what you do (and who you are) matter. Sounds harder than it is, but you’d be surprised…

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Know Your Audience

Basically, don’t fall prey to the temptation to yammer on about yourself. Take the time to really understand who you want to talk to—get to know them, figure out what they care about, pay close attention to what their needs are, and don’t rest until you can actually meet them. When it comes time to tell your story, respect their time and value their patience. Don’t overwhelm them with content that’s not immediately relevant (i.e.: don’t over-elaborate on features to someone who’s only interested in what’s in it for them, etc.). And be very wary of the temptation hard-sell. Build upon the strengths inherent in your origin story by inviting people behind the scenes with you.

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Know the Medium

This means being more mindful of how consumers actually want to interact with you—whether online, in the real world, or via social media. It means not putting up barriers to entry (i.e.: not keeping your social presence totally walled off from your site, say). Sounds obvious, but it’s increasingly critical today to make sure that everything you do and say is as relevant as possible to your audience whenever and wherever they choose to engage with you. That’s why it’s important to be where your audience already is, rather than asking them to come to you—for instance, by spending more effort on your Facebook or Instagram than on your website. Bottom line: it never hurts to be more selective, more deliberate, and more intentional about creating opportunities for discovery.

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Connect Around Common Concerns

In other words, don’t ask consumers to align with you. Find the right way to align with them. And help them align with each other. Build trust by doing more listening than talking. Find the common ground that you can share. Don’t try to be all things to all people. Instead, suss out what both you and your audience actually cares about—and then structure the conversation around those things. Bond with people about things that matter. Stay curious. Don’t over-share. And do whatever it takes to engage in meaningful back-and-forth with people, in real-time. Give people props for their pursuits. And ask their input and advice as you evolve and grow as a business. Trust us, they’ll love you for it.

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Keep It Simple

This one sounds easier than it is—largely because simplicity demands discipline. It requires saying no. And it means making (sometimes) difficult choices and sticking to them. But the dividends are huge. If you streamline your message, consolidate your offering (so that you can speak coherently about all of it, at once, in the same place), and organize your communications (online, in social and in the real world) around the activities and interests of your audience (instead of around your org chart, your product line, or your segmentation model) then you’ll be better able to stay relevant in an increasingly noisy world. Simple, right?


So, anyway, think of branding as a cocktail party. Show up. See who interests you. Spark up a conversation. Or two. Or ten. Do a lot of listening. Don’t hog the limelight. Don’t spill your guts right off the bat.

There’ll be plenty of time for that once you get to know each other better…

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