Legally Blonde has to be one of the world’s most informative two word movie titles. It tells you everything you need to know about the film the moment you read it and the movie delivers almost precisely what it advertises.
The faster and crisper you can tell the story of something the sooner you can get believers in what you are doing. If you are starting a business you need believers, they are your customers, your team, your suppliers, even your family. (and yes, if you must have some, your investors.)
There is a catch in having a great story, which is that if you cannot deliver at all on its promises you will likely fail, and the better the story the bigger the failure can be, just look at Enron.
So assuming you can actually deliver some value to solve a paying customers pain, there are two key elements of your story that are vital. The most important aspect that your story should address, as Pip Coburn says, is your perceived pain of adoption. The perception of how hard it is to use your solution is easily mitigated by a good story, and this is more important than your pricing in terms of being a barrier to you making sales. (Sometimes price is part of the perceived pain yet its less prevalent than you might think.)
Services that give lots of value for free may be looking to grow really fast, like Google, or they simply may not have a good story, like friendster. Every business I am involved in I always aim at pains, push towards having a really good story and to keep evolving the story so it matches the business and becomes crisper and tighter.
Still, over and over, I see people bringing me business plans that have an executive summary that is dark and impenetrable, or covered in the greasy fingerprints of incompetent consultants who use buzz words and jargon to make the company mission and vision sound cool.
The most important part of your business story needs to be that it conveys to your customers what it is you are doing and what you stand for in as few words as possible. Even the name of your company can be a part of this. Yet even if you have a difficult to understand name like “Nokia” you can mitigate that with a great story in the strap line “connecting people”.
This is even more true if you offer a new service. You want people to figure out what you do as quickly, and in as emotionally satisfying a way as possible. Of course once your brand is big enough you might decide to drop this part of your story because everyone knows what you do already, like “Ebay”, “Amazon” and “Google”, all of which have to some degree become words in the dictionary.
Still Facebook, who are by all measures pretty big these days, still has a two line explanation of what they do on their home page – “Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life.”, and if they still do it, why shouldn’t you? Also it’s much cheaper to iterate your story than it is to innovate your service and it can make just as big a difference.
So start with your story, get it good, then test it (use AdWords and a dummy website and all your friends as sounding boards), and then perfect it and keep perfecting it till your brand is a new meaning in the dictionary, because that is the really critical element in any startup.