How your startup can rise above the crowd with storytelling & positioning

Published on
November 18th, 2021
How To
💌 Join 500K+ subscribers who get the best of tech every day right to their inbox
Share On
Standing out from *all* the noise is harder (and more important) than ever.
There are more startups & competition than ever. More funding announcements, blogs, podcasts, webinars, LinkedIn posts... the list goes on and on. For early-stage startups, it can be overwhelming to figure out how to rise above all this noise and make your company, your product, your message stand out.
The secret to breaking through? A commitment to storytelling and positioning.
Okay, there’s a bit more to it than that. Your brand’s story and your product’s positioning need to be unique, personal, simple, repetitive, and reach the right audience. But this is how you avoid getting lost in the crowd, among the 10,000’s of other startups who won’t make it.
I learned the importance of storytelling and positioning through my journey with Accord. In February 2021, we announced our $6M seed round led by Stripe and Y Combinator and established our core message, our point of view: sales should be a partnership, not a vendorship (tip - you don’t need to use real words). This led to dozens of our first paid customers, 100’s of hot leads, and another $1M in funding. It wasn’t an ‘overnight success’ — it came from months of crafting our story and positioning.
Then again, in August 2021, we launched Accord on Product Hunt with the (elusive) goal of getting to #1 on launch day. Despite only getting to #6, we were featured in the next day’s ProductHunt newsletter going to hundreds of thousands of readers, and were flooded with new leads.
It wasn’t just a fluke that we stood out — I believe that was due to the clear story, positioning, and drumbeat we had been thoughtfully building over the past year. . And although may not have hit our target of #1, we more than achieved the outcome and impact we aspired to.
Throughout these milestones, we focused on Accord’s POV: From Vendorship → Partnership. There’s a simple framework we used for building this message, which I’ll walk you through below.
The 4 steps: simple, impactful, and accessible to every startup.
Simple doesn’t mean easy — it takes commitment, creativity, and the willingness to put yourself out there. But the bar isn’t as high as you think. Anyone can do it. You can do it, no matter what level of funding you have or how experienced you are. And it will help your brand stand out, driving you closer to your goals.
1. Have a personal, unique point of view.
Especially for founders, being passionate about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it is critical. If you don’t believe in it, how is anyone else going to? You need to identify YOUR personal, unique point of view for your company or product (everyone else’s are already taken). Find your “why” and make that the core of your story and positioning.
My brother Ryan and I started Accord after working in sales for years. We experienced firsthand the frustrations and challenges of B2B sales teams, and we set out to solve those challenges ourselves.
The DNA of Accord is centered on creating deep partnerships, radical collaboration, and authentic trust. We believe that sales should be a partnership, that sellers should develop empathy for the buyer’s problems and work with them toward a solution, not just push their own products. From Vendorship → Partnership is our unique POV, it’s very personal to us, and it’s at the center of everything we say and do.
2. Keep it simple.
It’s not easy to make your message shorter when you feel like you have so much to say, but it’s necessary if you want people to hear and absorb it.
When we first started Accord, we were very jargon-y in our messaging. We used a lot of sales-specific terms and buzzwords. But when we transitioned from market research to actually thinking about how to talk to people about our product, we simplified our message. From Vendorship → Partnership.
Breaking down your story to its bare bones is a critical part of the framework. Find its true meaning. Go even simpler than you could imagine. You may think it’s dumbing your message down — it’s not. It’s making it accessible and memorable.
In the wise words of François Fénelon, writer and theologian: “The more you say, the less people remember. The fewer the words, the greater the profit.”
3. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
How many times have I said “From Vendorship → Partnership” in this post already? That’s the next secret to rising above the noise: repeat yourself. Repeat until you think you’re being annoying. Trust me, you’re not.
With so much to compete with today, the only way to hammer your message and your story home is to repeat it anywhere and everywhere you can.
We repeat the same story across multiple channels with Accord: our website, LinkedIn, newsletter, podcast, investor updates — you name it. Our audience consumes content in different places, so this ensures that people will see it no matter where they are. Repeating your story across channels also creates familiarity with your audience: they’ll associate the consistent message with your brand.
4. Distribute your message.
Now that you’ve developed your story and your positioning, you need to get it out to the world!
This last piece of the framework is the one that takes the most creativity and investment (time, not money necessarily). But you can’t skimp on this step. Strategy is super important here — making sure your story gets in front of the right people.
Where does your target audience spend their time? Where do they consume content? For example, if you’re targeting other early-stage founders, don’t focus on the big-name industry journals or Forbes. That’s not where your early adopters are. Instead, focus on IndieHackers, ProductHunt, LinkedIn, Twitter.
What type of content are they consuming? Keep their values and their priorities in mind. If they’re super busy people, they most likely won’t attend your webinar live — but they may watch a recording later. The point is: meet your audience where they are!
In a crowded marketplace, the key to standing out is finding your unique POV, simplifying it to its core, repeating it, and getting it in front of the right people.
There are many resources out there to help you develop your story and positioning: Made to Stick, Building a Storybrand, and this post by Andy Raskin on the greatest sales deck he’s ever seen, to name a few.
But the most important thing is to start with you and be willing to put a strong POV out in the world.
Comments (16)
Ross Rich
Hope this was a helpful perspective and curious to hear if this resonates with folks :)
Ryan Rich
Very cool - thanks for sharing!
Mari Chiba
Great advice Ross!
Wayne Bingham
Really interesting perspective. Addresses what I think is a big problem, people won't listen if you have nothing to say. Partner sounds good but I have started to question and have moved to Servant. Suspect we would still agree.
Sandy Rowley SEO
Stories are the most important factor with on page metrics.