September 20, 2023


The Startup Playbook: No. 8

Telling Your Company’s Story: The Underappreciated Role of the Storyteller-In-Chief

Most climate tech founders start at a similar position–no revenue, customers, employees, investors, or product.

Instead, there’s a vision and a critical need to translate it into a compelling story that will convince potential investors, employees, and customers that you, the founder, are the right person to solve the critical problem you have identified. Simply put, a climate tech startup founder must be the Chief Storyteller Officer. I cannot understate the importance of telling your story. But how do you share it? Charisma and courage are required, the latter being more important than the former. A strong brand is essential, too. In fact, it may be the most critical ingredient of all. A convincing, authentic brand is the product of a thoughtfully defined marketing strategy, communicating a clear and consistent message about your company and product through various channels to reach target audiences. Now, I recognize no startup founder will start their journey with Apple’s marketing budget, but launching your company with a basic strategy in mind is valuable. One that defines the company’s message and identifies the tools you need to become a great storyteller-in-chief.

The Value of a Strong Brand

It’s easy for marketing to become an afterthought in the early stages of your climate tech startup. Many founders contemplate this expense and say, “We’ll deal with that later...” In certain instances, a stealth mode strategy (developing your technology in private to arrive in the market with a ready product) is best. However, most startups build in public view, making your marketing strategy and the resulting brand useful to the company and its chief storyteller in several ways.

First, a well-curated brand builds consistency. Don’t waste your time sharing conflicting messages. Every aspect of your marketing and every person on your team must tell the same story. A consistent narrative makes for a more powerful brand and efficient organization.

Second, you establish brand equity, which is the value of your brand in the marketplace. It represents the perception and awareness others have of your company and its products. In other words, brand equity will provide serious leverage for your cost of sales. Climate tech startups often make the mistake of thinking their work within our “feel-good” industry creates immediate and sufficient equity. But an increasingly crowded field of startups means your message must go beyond saving the planet. A compelling marketing strategy and carefully implemented tactics create a brand that embraces climate action and articulates the specific problem the company is trying to solve.

Third, brand building should translate into your sales pipeline. Even if your product isn’t ready for its first customers, establishing the sales pipeline is critical for every startup. You want to implement a customer relationship management (CRM) tool as early as possible. Your brand will help populate it with leads, preparing you for the moment you’re ready to fully implement a sales strategy.

Fourth, you’ll prevent a few avoidable mistakes. For example, you don’t want to choose a company name or logo today and only to be forced to change it a year later because you didn’t consider your competitors’. Or you couldn’t acquire a website domain that closely represents your company’s name.

Fifth, a great brand provides a sense of professionalism and purpose to your startup, helping your startup raise money, attract talent, and secure first customers.

Let’s Build it

Let’s break this down into six steps. Remember, we’re developing a basic strategy that meets the economics of the moment and positions the founder(s) to begin sharing the company’s story.

  1. Assemble your marketing team
    Unless you, the startup founder, are an expert, marketing is not something you tackle alone. You don’t design your company’s logo with Microsoft Paint. You’ll need a reputable firm to provide tailored support for each stage of your company’s growth. At the company’s origins, this support may translate to logo design or asset development like graphics for an investors’ deck or tear sheet. As you mature, your marketing team can provide additional support with complete website design and development, video production, and advertising campaigns. Find a consultant or firm that meets your needs, get them excited about your work, be honest about budgets, and build a strong relationship with them! At ClimateHaven, we’re lucky to have our team, the great folks at Stark / Raving, providing excellent support for our brand building. They know climate, they know startups, and they know growth. If you reach out, tell them ClimateHaven sent you!
  2. Craft your strategy
    With the right partner assisting you, it’s time to craft your company’s initial marketing strategy. Note that I said “initial.” As your company develops, your marketing strategy and exercises can and will get more sophisticated and very expensive, resulting in extensive brand strategy guides that govern all aspects of
    your marketing. For now, your initial strategy should cover the brand elements that promote consistency. Outline your company’s name, logo(s), tagline, key phrases or messages, standard fonts, color palette, etc.

    In addition, the strategy document can identify the tactics you’ll use to build your brand. Many of these strategies can be economical–they should be at this stage. A list of tactics could look like the following:

    a. CRM Tool (i.e. Salesforce)
    b. Website (using a service with design and hosting capabilities like SquareSpace)
    c. Social Media (LinkedIn, Instagram, TikTok, etc.)
    d. Blog (to share thought leadership)
    e. Google Business Profile
    f. Newsletter, including relevant tools (i.e., Mailchimp)
    g. Swag (t-shirts, stickers, and more)
    h. Conference and Tradeshow gear (tablecloths, banners, etc.)
    i. Business cards
    j. Investor Presentation
    k. Company Tear Sheet (for potential investors or customers)

    This list is incomplete but represents the most cost-effective assets to get you started.
  3. Now use it
    By outlining your tactics in your strategy document, you also provide a pathway for implementation. Your marketing strategy is useless unless you use it!

    Some strategies may require help from your marketing team; your website is a good example. You may choose to use SquareSpace and their templates, but ultimately, invest some capital into your marketing team creating at least the home page for your website.

    Most of these tactics, though, can be deployed by the founders. Here are a few key items to remember:

    a. Cautiously, pick your name. Do A LOT of Google and domain name searching. Before it’s finalized, run a trademark search on the USPTO website.
    b. Protect it! If your budget allows, file a trademark application for your name and logo.
    c. Be consistent. Stick to your marketing strategy as you promote your message.
    d. Snag your domains and social media handles as soon as possible. You may want to snag a few extra (i.e., related names) to protect against infringement.
    e. Be efficient with your digital media strategy. Find a good rhythm for publishing and maintain it. Cross-post when you can. Use your blog posts to inform social media posts and newsletter content, and tag others when possible!
    f. Don’t spend money on paid posts at the onset. Your capital (which is likely your own in the earliest stages) is too valuable.
    g. Marketing support, especially digital media, CRM cleanup, and photography, is suitable work for an intern, fellow, or co-op.
    h. A good company T-shirt is worth it. Enough said.
    i. Have a variety of logo files ready to roll—color, black and white, JPEG, PNG, EPS, etc. Stakeholders will ask you for all sorts of versions, and you want to be ready to roll.
    j. Maintain a sound library. Keep all your marketing materials well organized on your DMS for easy access by your team. From current files of decks to logos, maintain everything so no one is confused.
    k. Archive old materials. See above and avoid confusion.
  4. Then measure it
    It is always best to understand what is working and what isn’t regarding your brand building, so measure your marketing activities. See where growth comes from and let the data inform how your marketing strategy should evolve. Your website host, Google, and social media platforms all have great analytics tools you can rely on to inform your performance measurements. You can include this data in a dashboard tracking your quarter-over-quarter growth. This dashboard is not only great for you but also excellent for your board!
  5. And refine it
    Follow the data and see how your marketing efforts translate into your follower count, contact lists, and sales pipeline. Listen to your marketing team’s guidance, doubling down on what’s working and adjusting or abandoning what doesn’t. Refine carefully so the brand remains consistent, even as this evolution occurs. Ultimately, you’ll need to revisit your marketing plan altogether. You will spend time and capital with your marketing team building a strategy worthy of your stage and business, so hire team members who will lead your marketing and expect a lot from them.

Crafting a simple and economical marketing strategy that will produce a compelling brand and make you the best storyteller is beneficial at the nascent stages. With no revenue, customers, employees, investors, or products, you’ll have a lot of storytelling to do!

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