Category Archives: Marketing

Ready, Aim, Aspire: Why Your Startup Story Matters

Cannon on Georges Island.What happens if your aim is a little off when launching a startup? You better have a great story. A story is not an excuse. It’s the reason why every miss is just the calibration required to do great things.

What’s in a great story?

A story needs to authentically connect. As Seth Godin says in his book All Marketers Are Liars, “A great story is true. Not true because it is factual, but true because it’s consistent and authentic.” [1]

Whenever possible, address a problem head-on. That’s a true lesson from one of my first professional stories. It comes from my days selling motorcycles when I was nineteen years old.

I was brand new to selling. In fact, this story is about the first bike I ever sold from a catalog. And this first sale happened to be with a rather large man who looked the part of a tough biker dude.

When we made the order, both the customer—the tough looking gentleman—and I thought it was for a black motorcycle. A week or so later the bike comes in to the dealership and it’s not black. It’s painted a deep purple.

I vividly remember pacing the floor in the dealership’s repair shop trying to come up with some reason that would justify my mistake…more accurately, trying to pin blame somewhere else. The pacing stopped when the head mechanic walked over. He looked me right in the eyes and said “Jason, don’t ever be afraid to address an issue.” I wasn’t aware he even knew my name.

Well, the customer shows up and the first thing that comes out of my mouth is “the bike is purple. I know we both thought it was black. But it’s not. It’s purple.”

The customer stood there and smiled after my confession. And after thinking for a moment he placed a hand on my shoulder and calmly said “let’s go check it out.”

As we approached, the motorcycle sat outside gleaming in the sun with its deep purple. The customer took a moment to walk around the bike and then he exclaimed “I love it!” I finally exhaled the breath I was holding and made myself a promise to always work to address a problem head-on. Funnily enough, it struck me sometime later that the head mechanic had put the bike in the perfect spot to bring out such a rich color under the sun.

A consistent story in a changing world

I recently picked up a very interesting story. It’s a story of how advances in technology can be transformative. On a day trip to Georges Island (one of the Boston Harbor Islands) I learned that this was the spot of the now decommissioned Fort Warren. The fort was closed due to advances in weapons technology, mainly long-range missiles. The story of Georges Island did not end with the military fort closure. The island has since been converted to a recreational area where visitors come and learn about an important piece of history by seeing where the soldiers lived and trained.

In All Marketers Are Liars, Seth Godin also writes about how a story is required to survive in a changing world. He uses the curse of the Red Queen to provide insight through analogy:

“Just as in evolutionary biology, the game is always changing. The evolutionary paradox called the curse of the Red Queen states that what worked yesterday is unlikely to work today. When Alice was busy playing chess in Wonderland, the Red Queen kept changing the game whenever she moved. The same thing occurs in our marketing wonderland. One competitor makes a change and suddenly the entire competitive landscape is different.” [1]

The cannon displayed on Georges Island may no longer be effective in military use, but it now serves as a remnant of a different time. The story of Georges Island is still being told and it continues to be interesting.

A startup must also tell an authentically compelling story because every new venture has to adapt in order to survive. It’s an aspirational story of why a startup was created in the first place that can stay consistent through this evolution.

1. Seth Godin. All Marketers Are Liars: The Power of Telling Authentic Stories in a Low-Trust World (New York: Portfolio/Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2005), 8, 25-26.

Why is Great Marketing Like Sailing?

Illustration of Pond Island, MaineThere is something powerful about a personal recommendation from a trusted source. A trustworthy friend’s “all-time favorite, must-see place to visit” and their “you’ve absolutely got to read this” statements have credibility—much more credibility than paid ads displayed in your Facebook feed recommending the same things. So how can personal recommendations spur better marketing?

A comparison of marketing and sailing can provide some insight.

Why is great marketing a lot like sailing a boat?

Just like a gust of wind, word-of-mouth is a force that occurs naturally in the world. A sail boat requires the power of the wind to move forward. Similarly, a brand can employ people’s innate desire to share great experiences. Brands offering remarkable products can employ the naturally occurring phenomena of people making personal recommendations on the brand’s behalf. Think of it as putting up a sail to capture the wind. This is called Advocacy Marketing.

Brands that offer a remarkable product experience can be propelled forward by the power of Advocacy Marketing. Brands that don’t—they’ll have to do some rowing.

Marketing should be less like rowing.

Today, marketing feels a lot more like rowing a boat. Each movement forward requires the exertion of energy. Marketing departments will spend vast amounts of money on TV commercials, radio ads, Web links and banners, etc. to compete for your attention. None of these methods have the power to influence you like an authentic recommendation from a trusted friend. And all of them require a constant input of energy and capital to sustain.

This analogy became very clear in my mind while recently kayaking in Maine. My destination was to see a historic lighthouse on Pond Island. The experience of rowing to the island was enjoyable, but I remember thinking how the natural forces all around (i.e. the wind, current, and waves) were so much more powerful than my own efforts to propel myself forward with only a paddle. It was a much easier return trip with the wind at my back and current pushing me forward.