Ryan Stoner | Brand Strategist

Startups need to pitch their company to investors for the capital to start (or continue) building the company. Brand agencies pitch projects or ideas in order to sell to an existing customer, or to win over a new one, to start (or continue) building a brand.

I, personally, have pitched to investors for startup funding, to earlier adopters to sell my products and the biggest brands in the world to sell ideas, so as I reflect on my experience with pitching all kinds of ideas to all kinds of people, I realize just how much information there is to share.

You have your great idea, now step zero for any pitch, regardless of industry, is understanding the mentality of the person or company you will be pitching to.

But then what?

I want to talk about the strategies and differences between these kinds of pitches, and how you can learn from both styles.

How They Differ

Startup Pitches

Startup pitches are used to take a fledgling idea to actual company. They may be used in a later round of funding to ensure that resources of the team can match the scaling/output of the business. A startup pitch means putting your fate into the hands of strangers, often over, and over, and over again. This is nerve-wracking, and exhausting, and every presentation needs to seem fresh and be relevant to each person you’re pitching to, every time.

The content needs to be made as concise and short as possible. Make sure that your significant points are in the right order to tell your story.  Entrepreneur and pitch coach Andrea Barrica gives startups only 120 seconds for their pitch, and says “I was working with a technical founder who said, ‘I need at least 10 minutes to explain my technology, it’s too complex,’” Barrica recalled. “I told him what Einstein said: ‘if you can’t explain it to me in a minute, you don’t understand it well enough.’”

It’s much more important to light a fire than it is to give every detail up front. Not all people hearing your pitch will have the same background.You can leave the technical details out of the first pitch. The minutiae don’t help you grab attention, the stories you tell do.

Start by describing the world without your product, or changes in culture that have occurred over time. Don’t be afraid of a little drama. Telling your story in the manner of a David and Golliath, or Joan of Arc, leads to a sense of urgency. You noticed this change in the world, and you are the first one prepared to meet this change head-on. Because you are talking big-picture, you are not just talking about your customers, you are talking about everyone. Including your investor.

Talking about cultural shifts and the changes that they create allows you to put your pitch into the “adapt or be left behind” spotlight. You know what is happening, and how you are relevant. Those who are unaware or unconcerned will be left behind, and those who hesitate will lose.

You need to include the “secret sauce” that makes your product different. It’s not just about “solving a problem”, it’s also about being the only one to solve it the right way.

If you company has a specific type of tone or conversational style as a brand, it’s important that your pitch includes that same voice. It’s okay to be informal, funny, or wacky, if those words also fit the story that you are telling about your company. Not only is it okay, it’s preferable. It makes you memorable and helps engage the people you are pitching to.

It’s okay if you are an introvert or socially awkward, as long as you understand what your pitch style is and use that with authenticity. You have to be brilliant, you have to swallow your fear, and you have to effectively communicate the pitch. You can be quiet and powerful or loud and outgoing, as long as you keep your pitch short, sweet, and authentic.

If you have a prototype or demo, now is the time for it.

Brand Agency Pitches

Where startup pitches are about the company doing the pitching, brand pitches are all about the company you are pitching to. Brands tell stories about the known value you can provide to your customers and paint a picture of the future showing how they can get the most value.  

Brand pitches are often more about the story than the product or company. What is the identity of your potential client, and how can you help them portray that identity to the world?  What are the shared values you can draw out? What kind of company do they want to be in the future? What kind of customer is their ideal customer to appeal to? Think of the pitch as a play. The scene needs to be set, and whatever media or presentation tools you use, your performance has to match the tone of the play.

In a brand pitch, your audience needs to be swept up in a nuanced story with themselves at the center. Break your pitch into acts. Use these story acts to build interest and pique curiosity. End each act on a strong note, and a question, that keeps the audience curious and engaged.

When you have thought of every detail of a brand or advertising campaign leading up to the pitch, it’s easy to get bogged down in showing your work. While you want to show your value,  not just in quality and thoroughness, but also in revenue or conversion increases, remember: not everyone wants to know how the sausage gets made, they just want to know if it tastes good.

What We Can Learn from Each of Them

Structure your presentation like a story and identify the destination.

Craft the beginning: start by describing life as the audience knows it. People should be nodding their heads in recognition because you’re articulating what they already understand. This creates a bond between you and them, and opens them up to hear your ideas.

Make the ending powerful: make it inspiring so people will want to act. Describe what I call “the new biss” – how much better their world will be when they adopt your ideas.

Ruthless execution: if it doesn’t add to your argument and doesn’t help get the team what they want then cut it out. Everything must contribute to your key story If you don’t have the time to refine the pitch to only what info is essential to telling your story, you don’t have time to pitch.

As with anything else in life you want to be good at, the key is practice. If you can bring in co-workers that aren’t on the project, great. If you can get feedback at home from family and friends, great. If you need to rehearse over and over with a laptop in your bedroom, that’s fine too. Don’t go in cold.

Don’t just tell them you’re different, show them that you are.