When a person is deciding whether to fund, invest in, buy from, collaborate with, or join your company; they will have an instant intuitive hunch based on whether what they’re hearing agrees with the stories they believe in. Our brains are extremely protective of the stories we already believe; quickly finding evidence to support them and dismissing evidence that challenges them. It does this because the stories we believe make us feel in control.

To bring people with you on a journey of change, you have to tell them a story that works with the stories they already believe, to help them feel in control.

For entrepreneurs, looking to use story as a powerful tool for growth, this means knowing who your story is for and understanding the stories they already tell themselves.

Knowing who your story is for

Who’s the hero in your story?

Ken Haemer, AT&T’s former presentation research manager, says; “Designing a presentation without an audience in mind is like writing a love letter and addressing it ‘to whom it may concern’”

This advice is true for communications across all channels. As an entrepreneur, who’s passionate about your business, it’s easy to think that your product or service should be the most important thing on the minds of your audience. But it’s vital to recognise they’re the heroes in their own lives; deciding whether you are the right mentor to guide them on their journey.

Our Lean Story Canvas is a great tool to help you map out what this journey looks like for a funder, investor, customer, collaborator, potential recruit, or employee. If you only have time to map out your story for one of these audiences, focus on the customer. Funders, investors, customers, collaborators, journalists, and potential recruits are all interested in businesses that understand a clear customer need. You need to show why your innovation matters to your customers, not just to you. 

A common question is, ‘which customer should I choose?’ There are two different ways to approach this, that often lead to the same answer:

  1. Create a Story Canvas making your most valuable customer the Everyday Hero. This could be the single largest customer you would like to win, a potential customer already expressing an interest, or the customer where you can have the biggest impact with the least amount of effort (those most likely to buy now). The Pareto principle shows that 20 to 30 percent of your customers usually generate 70 to 80 percent of your profit – who are these customers?  
  2. Create a Story Canvas based on a mindset common to all your customers. For example, Octopus Energy has built its story around environmentally concerned customers who are frustrated with the ‘pricing trickery and poor customer service’ of the Big Six energy providers; regardless of whether they are household or business customers.  

These two approaches often lead to the same conclusion. Starting with your most valuable customer helps you discover a mindset common to all your customers; starting with a common mindset reveals who your most valuable customers are. Reaching this point means you have a story that is super-appealing to your most valuable customers but appeals to the mindset of all your potential customers.   

What does your hero want and need?

Understanding not just who your Hero is, but what they want and need, is key not only to telling them a successful story but to winning over other audiences.

As Christian Inglis, Senior Innovation Lead – Clean Growth & Infrastructure at Innovate UK writes: 

“During my 10 years working at Innovate UK, I’ve noticed that one of the common gaps in companies’ innovation stories has been a failure to adequately address the question of:

Where is the customer need?/Who will buy your innovation?

This is something so essential to us, investors, and customers that it is always a surprise when I encounter conversations that require a lot of digging to understand.”

For the Story Canvas think of wants as the tangible, more measurable things your audience is consciously after; such as a promotion, shorter response times, or higher profits. Needs are less tangible, harder to measurable things your audience is unconsciously after; like being seen as innovative, feeling like their work makes a difference,  or leaving a legacy. 

Octopus Energy clearly understand the wants and needs of their audience, as can be seen in the three Gifts they offer as a Mentor:

1. Fair prices for everyone – over the past year, the difference between our fixed and standard price was less than 1% – Want

2. We won’t leave you hanging – we’ve answered your calls within 2 minutes on average over the past year – Want

3. 100% green – all our electricity comes from 100% renewable sources like sun, wind, and water – Need

You’re Gifts as a Mentor to your customers don’t have to reflect both ‘wants’ and ‘needs’. Particularly for B2B customers, it’s common for them to all address ‘wants’; but showing you can deliver on their ‘needs’ should appear elsewhere in your story. 

What motivates your hero?

The finalpart of knowing who your story is for is thinking about what motivates your Hero. Pat Dade’s Values Modes Typology, is a useful tool for doing this. It divides people by values, identifying three core groups: Pioneers, Prospectors and Settlers

Pioneers are inner-directed, meaning they are motivated by self-realisation. Their views are governed by values of collectivism and fairness. In their personal lives they are ambitious but seek internal fulfilment rather than the esteem of others.

Prospectors are outer-directed, meaning they are driven by the esteem of others. They are motivated by success, status and recognition. They are usually younger and more optimistic. They are often conscious of fashion or image and tend to be swing voters.  

Settlers are sustenance-driven, meaning they are motivated by resources and by fear of perceived threats. They tend to be older, socially conservative, and security conscious. They are often pessimistic about the future and are driven by immediate, local issues affecting them and their family.

Octopus Energy clearly understand that many of the homes and businesses they target are either Pioneers or Prospectors (with some Settler tendencies); i.e. they want to look good to others, while not paying a lot more for the privilege.

Now you know who your story is for, you’re ready to understand the stories they tell themselves. 

Head to Part 2.