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Why Startup Brand Stories Matter

When Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak founded Apple Computer in 1976, they had a great product.

The Apple I and Apple II computers were undoubtedly market leading products and the company got rich off the Apple II. But the Apple II isn’t what made Apple into Apple.

Photo Credit: L'aventure Apple

Photo Credit: L’Aventure Apple

Wozniak made Apple possible with his ingenuity and engineering prowess, but Jobs made Apple powerful with marketing. Despite Apple’s success in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, Apple arguably didn’t come of age until 1984.

When Apple launched the Macintosh in 1984, Steve Jobs wanted to differentiate it from the computers made by competitors like IBM. Using George Orwell’s book ‘1984’ as inspiration, Apple crafted a masterful story that was in line with its worldview, its culture, and its values. At a cost of $1.5 million dollars, Apple told this story in a commercial directed by Ridley Scott that aired during the 1984 Super Bowl.

Today, that commercial is considered one of the greatest of all time and the launch of the Mac is considered to be one of the most successful product launches of all time.


Apple told a great story.

The 1984 Super Bowl commercial resonated with Apple’s target market by positioning the Mac as a saviour in an increasingly monolithic PC market. Apple was different. It was innovative. It was cool. Apple was the James Dean of computers.

As Steve Jobs would later narrate in another campaign, Apple was for “The crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules and they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. The only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”

By crafting a story that communicated this message to a market that was just getting used to the idea of personal computers, Apple made the concept a bit easier to identify with.

In a new and unchartered market, telling a great story made Apple stand out.

Apple continued to build on this narrative over time with stories like ‘Think Different’ and with its ‘Mac vs. PC’ campaign.

Photo Credit: Adam Lehrhaupt

Photo Credit: Adam Lehrhaupt

At the end of the day, while Apple makes great products, it tells even better stories. Collectively, these stories make up Apple’s brand story and help to build lasting relationships with consumers.

According to the Content Marketing Institute’s Debbie Williams, “a brand story is made up of all that you are and all that you do. From the company’s history, mission, inspiration, goals, audience, and raison d’être, it’s why you exist.”

Here are 6 things to remember when thinking about your own brand story.

Great Stories Inspire

At its core, your brand narrative should aim to inspire and convey a sense of purpose. Challenging consumers to ‘Think Different’ allowed Apple to position itself and its customers alongside some of history’s greatest thinkers and icons, such as Gandhi, Martin Luther King, John Lennon and Albert Einstein.

Great Stories Build Relationships

People value relationships – everyone likes being a part of something more. A great story helps people to not just understand how you can solve a problem they have, but understand why you should be the one to solve it.

Great Stories Are Targeted

Your story needs to speak specifically to your target market. As Seth Godin has written, “if you need to water down your story to appeal to everyone, it will appeal to no one. The most effective stories match the world view of a tiny audience—and then that tiny audience spreads the story.”

Great Stories Are Personal

As an entrepreneur, you need to be aware that your company’s narrative is an extension of your own. Steve Jobs understood this better than most. He was different and so was Apple. As an entrepreneur, a big question you need to answer is, “what’s my story?”

Great Stories Spread Easily

Make sure your story is short, easy to consume, easy to remember and easy to share.  If you’re looking to formulate a story, try answering these simple questions:

  • Why you do what you do?
  • What problem or problems are you trying to solve?
  • Why are you best positioned to solve them?
  • Does your startup fall into one of these 5 brand story archetypes?

Great Stories Are Social

Thanks to the social web, your target market can interact directly and even influence your stories, all of which helps to provide real world credibility and a degree of validation (social proof).

Ultimately, storytelling is the key to building your startup’s brand because people connect with stories. Stories provide context. They are personal and command attention in ways that business-speak doesn’t. They are memorable and help build trust with your audience. From a sales perspective, you can’t ask for much more.

Like all entrepreneurs, you are undoubtedly passionate about what you do. Thinking about why you want to do it will ensure you have a great story to tell and not just a great product or service to sell.


sam-brennand-photoSam Brennand

Marketing Manager at Venture Accelerator Partners

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