He’s been a reporter with the Globe and Mail and the National Post. He’s blogged for Forbes and too many other sites to mention. If anyone could teach startups about how to tell effectively tell their stories, who better than Mark Evans?
Besides his work as a former journalist, Evans is the co-founder, Mesh, the go-to conference for startups across Canada. He’s also a popular speaker on startup marketing and provides a consulting service to help entrepreneurs define their key messages. His new book, Storytelling for Startups, brings together some of the best strategies he’s honed with his clients and aims to redefine the way emerging companies create content that resonates with their target audience.
Evans spoke by phone with Salesforce to discuss the book and the challenges for startups in Canada (This interview has been edited and condensed).
Startups are always giving elevator pitches or talking to people about their business. Why is storytelling such a challenge that you needed to write this book?
I think that everybody in some way, shape or form is a storyteller, and we all have good stories to tell. But we’re not trained as storytellers. One of the things that we’re not able to do is identify good storytelling opportunities. They’re all around us, but most people can’t see them, and so I think that throttles a lot of startup storytelling. It’s just not a natural way of how they do business. Most entrepreneurs are technical programmers or developers or engineers. It’s a different language they use. It’s a different way of thinking — in some cases it may seem a bit more straightforward than “creative.”
You talk a lot about the benefits of storytelling in the book, but what’s one that should get more startups focused on learning this skill right away?
If you want to connect with target audiences, if you want to capture the spotlight in ways that align with their needs, aspirations, goals and motivations, then you have to embrace the power of storytelling. The reality is that what startups are doing might be innovative, but there are many other startups doing similar things, if not exactly the same thing. So how do you differentiate yourself? It could be price, but you may not want to compete on price, ideally. It could be features, but people might be able to match your features. Storytelling is a way of driving connections between your company and the people that you want to reach.
You’ve been a big proponent of blogging, but how do you see stories being told through all the other various social tools that are now available?
I think storytelling really depends on your target audience and how they want to consume stories. For some companies it might make complete sense to have a blog, do case studies and white papers. For others, using Pinterest and Instagram and YouTube might be better, if their audience is more visually-oriented. I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all position for storytelling. You just have to do the things that will achieve your goals. That could be brand awareness, leads or sales. Whatever it is, you have to dance where the party’s happening.
The book includes advice on how to identify your top storytellers. How do you think this need will change the way startups hire and train their teams?
That’s an interesting question, because it might lead to the notion of, will we one day have a chief storytelling officer? Will that be a position? We’ve seen chief marketing officers already, but I think marketing people will have to become storytellers as well. Or there are going to have to be people who simply facilitate and drive storytelling. Startups operate in a world where there’s a lot of talk and excitement about “growth hackers” and the ability to infiltrate different communities or to drive the funnel, and there’s a lot of talk about data-driven marketing. Those are all great, but storytelling has to be part of the marketing arsenal too. It’s as important as data, as important as growth hacking.
What are the best metrics to help startups understand they’re telling stories in a way that will work?
For some startups it will be about leads or sales, but for others it might be the number of conversations. I think the most important thing is really defining how you’ll measure storytelling success from the get-go. Whatever they are, though, once you’ve established those indicators and you’re not performing against them, you’ll be able to change tactics, and explore other storytelling opportunities.
Mark helps startups and fast-growing companies tell better stories (aka marketing). His strength is delivering “foundational” strategic and tactical services that establish a company’s marketing efforts so they can connect with target audiences. This includes core messaging, branding, marketing strategies and content creation.
For advice on how to grow your startup, check out the stories and insights from successful entrepreneurs in Salesforce’s free eBook: Secrets to Small Business Growth: Tips from 3 Successful Entrepreneurs.