Traditional agencies and brand strategists may be a luxury only big companies can afford, but that might be set to change if James Hurman has anything to do with it. After two years in the making, the Previously Unavailable founder has just launched Storytech, an online platform that takes small to medium businesses through an online, do-it-your-self brand strategy process and helps them come out the other end with an exciting story to tell. Idealog talked with Hurman about why New Zealand entrepreneurs and start-ups often struggle to tell – and sell – their story.
When you’re a start-up, being able to tell an engaging branding story is crucial for getting investors on board and to make customers fall in love with what you’re creating. The problem is, marketing is often labour and cash-intensive, so it quickly begins to fall down the priority list.
But what if you could consolidate that branding exercise into a one-day, intensive, self-run online workshop?
That’s what innovation agency Previously Unavailable’s founder James Hurman wanted to find out. After the company’s success in helping launch brands such as Simplicity Kiwisaver and Stolen Rum, the business has had a steady stream of start-ups and small businesses knocking on its door to help with their brand strategies. The only problem was that given the size of the companies, the process would be too expensive for them.
“If you’re a small business, you can’t afford consultants and agencies, but you’re more in need than anyone of a great story that communicates to the customer in a really powerful way,” Hurman says.
“Storytech came out of wrestling with that challenge. We had to somehow make that branding process between 10 to 20 times more affordable if we were really going to be of service to the New Zealand start-up community."
He says the lightbulb moment happened when the team thought, ‘What if we put the process into a day and condense it into an online platform?’ That way, users can take part remotely from a garage or a meeting room, spend a day crafting their branding strategy with the help of experts, but the price point is far friendlier ($500, to be exact).
At the same time for Previously Unavailable, it doesn’t need to be in the room with these companies – it’s self-sustaining, like how Airbnb doesn’t manage the houses on the platform, it lets the people themselves manage it using the technology.
Storytech in action
And after two years of prototyping and testing the product with small businesses, Storytech was born: a do-it-yourself model that is completed online over the course of a day.
It’s a bold move, but using technology to make these kinds of processes more accessible is something punters can expect to see more of – take the Digital Suitcase education platform Tech Futures Lab launched last year, for example.
According to Hurman, New Zealand start-ups and entrepreneurs really do need help telling their story. While New Zealanders are famed for being great innovators, he says the classic Kiwi humility born and bred into us from birth can leave us at a disadvantage when it comes to telling a brand’s story.
“It naturally means that when we’re entrepreneurs, we’re a little bit inclined not to want to go out and beat our own drum too much,” he says. “And whilst that value is a really nice virtue – it’s really admirable as a human being – sometimes it stops us as businesspeople from putting our heads up and talking about ourselves. It’s a cultural thing.”
As well as the cultural undercurrents affecting the business world, he says it can also be a confidence on a personal level.
“You can have the best product in the world, but if you’re not confident about what it means to someone else, it makes very hard to have the energy and confidence and pride to sing about it,” he says.
“One of the things we’ve looked at with the prototyping of Storytech is we ask the question during exit interview, ‘Can you give us a sense of whether you’re more excited about your story than you were than with whatever it was before? Does this leave you feeling more energised and excited about your story?’
If you’re energised then implicit in that is confidence and it’s so much easier for them to go out and talk about it, without feeling like they’re showing off or getting it wrong.”
Idealog has written a fair bit in the past around this contradictory New Zealand melting pot of pride and self-doubt, as well as how Kiwis have been called ‘humble to a fault’ in business.
But perhaps New Zealanders should take comfort in the fact that finding the balance is key, and being overly confident can land you in a situation like that of Fyre Festival founder Billy McFarland, who used social media marketing to sell a dream festival that didn’t measure up to its advertisements, frauded investors and was sentenced to six years and ordered to pay US$26 million in October.
Hurman says while he wants to give the people the confidence to be bolder in telling their business’ story, he also doesn’t want it to lead to another Fyre Festival.
Toms as a case study
“If you look at that guy [Billy McFarland], he had unbridled confidence but he was also a criminal,” he says. “A part of our psyche says that if you’re overconfident, then there could be a link between that and scamming people, as well as not having enough empathy for people.
“No one wants to look like the scammer shyster that’s trying to win you over with words and shiny objects when there’s not a lot of substance beneath that. Storytech isn’t about creating a flashy story, it’s about the substance the business has, how it can communicate that eloquently, simply and make people understand what it’s got.”
He says the content uses case studies of well-known brands and takes a no-nonsense, practical approach rather than feeling like a “wanky, fluffy marketing session”.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re a teenager with a start-up, or a Fonterra – with branding, you’re asking the same questions to unearth what’s special and unique about you,” he says.
Though it’s early days, he says so far, reaction to Storytech has been really positive, with it being applauded for its accessibility and affordability. Hurman says big agencies haven’t felt threatened by the model, as the tech has been created for people that consider them out of the question.
“There’s very few companies in Storytech’s target that would be able to afford to go to an agency, so I think agencies have their place. If you’re a big company spending millions on marketing each year, then of course you’re going to use your agency for this kind of thing.
“This has been created for that massive group of companies that aren’t even in the market for an agency.”
To find out more, check out Storytech's website.