I went to the Startup Grind conference in San Francisco earlier this year and it’s one of the better ones that I’ve gone to. After a day of meeting some colleagues in the valley I got settled in for the opening keynote. Once the main sessions were done, Derek Anderson the founder of Startup Grind did something unique. He gave the microphone to the audience and asked a few people in the audience to tell them what they are awesome at. They got to about 6 or 7 people. I was one of those people.

There were about 1500 attendees that I got to address with the elevator pitch that I’ve crafted for myself. “I’m a story architect. I help startups figure out what their story is and how to get that story to market.” It was an incredible opportunity, and right after that the session ended and I had quite a few people wanting to talk to me. I had “Story Architect” on my name tag and throughout the rest of the conference people remembered who I was. It was a great ice-breaker and I left the conference with some new partnerships, and a few new clients.

So how did I come up with the title? What is a story architect? This came about almost by accident. Last year I started my own firm after 14 years at Dell in sales and marketing, focusing on Social Enterprises, which are a passion of mine. I called the company Impact Assured. I also didn’t want to call myself CEO or President because I thought that was boring. So almost pulling the title out of the air I decided to call myself Chief Story Architect.

I learned 2 things last year. The first was that my skills applied just as well to tech startups as it does to social enterprises due to my background, and that tech startups really liked what I had to offer. So in good Lean startup habits I pivoted to expanding my market. I also learned that the business name, while it worked for social enterprises was less effective for startups. What worked really well though was my title. I found that when I introduced myself as a story architect at events, it piqued people’s curiosity. It was a perfect hook, which is a requirement of a good elevator pitch. After some extensive testing I decided to change the brand name of my business to The Story Architect.

How did I come up with The Story Architect?

How did this come into my brain? The mechanics of this will help explain a bit of the process and skill that I bring to my client projects. When I work with a client on a brand or a message my process is immersive. I try to learn everything that I can about my client, their customers, their customer’s pain points, their root causes and impacts, as well as the solution, their market, and their competitors. I talk to the principals of the startup, I talk to some customers, I read research reports, I read reviews, I look at Slideshare decks, I comb through social media profiles. I really get to know my clients.

After this accumulation of knowledge, the creation of the messaging becomes an intuitive process. I’m very good at taking all of this detail and coming up with messaging in what very much seems like “on the fly”. I remember sitting down with one client after a 4 hour whiteboarding session and writing her tag line on the board. Her reaction was that I did in 4 hours what she was trying to figure out for the last 2 years. I find that the right message often just “comes to me”, like my title did.

Creating my brand was a similar process. As I thought through my career, what made me successful in sales, and successful in marketing was the ability to understand the elements of a market, a customer, their problem, and a solution and to bring these elements together in a cohesive story. I was in effect, architecting the story of the pitch, or the message, or the sales script in whatever activity I was a part of. I also had to do lots of presentations. Thousands of presentations. I had to go to conferences and tradeshows, I had to train sales reps, I had to present in staff meetings, I had present at customer events, and our sales reps would bring me in to pitch enterprise hardware to our clients.

I built a process for myself out of a whole lot of presentation training, presentation books, and any other tips that I could find. I took a lot of inspiration from Nancy Duarte, Guy Kawasaki, Steve Jobs, Ted Talks, and a host of other sources. I built a story development template that I used for my presentations and it worked exceptionally well. I also realized that I could use the same process for copy writing, sales scripts, video planning, web copy and pretty much any other customer communication method. I call my process the Story Blueprint, which I will discuss in a future post.

Want to learn more about me or my process? I’d be happy to sit down for a coffee to discuss.

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