The Importance of Crafting a Compelling Narrative About Your Company
The journey from idea to IPO is a difficult one. In this series, we look at how founders scaled their startups and reached new milestones.
Brandon Moffatt has spent his career solving complex problems. As owner and vice president of London, Ont.-based StormFisher Hydrogen, Moffatt has led the development and construction of more than $1 billion in clean energy infrastructure and is currently developing a facility for creating hydrogen and other low-carbon fuels. He’s an entrepreneur, an engineer and an environmentalist, and he excels at all three. In short, he and his company have a good story to tell. His problem? Finding the right way to tell it.
“We know what we’re doing on setting up the companies and engaging with corporate buyers,” Moffatt says. “But we’ve always been a steak-and-potatoes business. We’ve always approached it as, we’ll just do our job, and people will learn about us. We haven’t necessarily been telling our story.”
This build-it-and-the-words-will-come approach is not uncommon among busy company founders, especially those who work in highly technical fields. But time spent on getting the corporate narrative straight can quickly pay dividends.
“In my experience, a lot of companies’ success is achieved once everybody is aligned and telling the same story on who the company is, what they do and why they do it,” says Kristina Cleary, a former chief marketing officer at global software company Ceridian who now advises ventures, including StormFisher, in MaRS’ Momentum program.
While smaller companies can often get by with the founder delivering a version of their elevator pitch to all comers, that approach quickly hits the buffers when a business starts to scale. If every member of staff is delivering their own take on what the company is and does, potential customers, partners and regulators will hear a cacophony of mixed messages. “It’s hard to even hire employees when you’re all telling a different story,” says Cleary.
What’s needed is a clear, concise plan that communicates the company’s vision, mission and impact. While that sounds simple, answering the question “Who are we?” can be surprisingly complex and thought-provoking. Here’s how StormFisher approached fine-tuning its messaging, and why that was an essential ingredient in its success.
Cut through the complexity
StormFisher’s business takes a minute to grasp. The company made its name in the biogas industry, building processing plants that create renewable natural gas from food waste. Last year, it sold those operations to Generate Capital. StormFisher has now pivoted into the fast-growing market for hydrogen, which it makes by splitting water using renewable electricity. It then combines this hydrogen with collected carbon dioxide to create synthetic methane, which can be refined into a fuel for heavy industry and marine applications. The company recently inked a deal with kiwi AG, a German company responsible for the world’s world’s largest industrial power-to-gas plant. The partnership will explore ways to develop facilities in North America and Europe to produce such clean fuels as methanol and hydrogen.
If you need a moment to catch up with all of that, you’re not alone. “If you had asked me what StormFisher does after my first few meetings, I honestly wouldn’t have been able to answer because I had so many different messages from so many different people,” Cleary says.
Effective communication can be as much about what you don’t say as what you do say. In StormFisher’s case, there was a clear need to simplify how it talked about itself and find a straightforward statement that would cut through to audiences. After interviewing key players within the company, Cleary emerged with a punchy, six-word phrase: Repurposing waste for a sustainable future.”
“In their interviews, it was clear that there needed to be alignment among stakeholders I talked to. So, it was great to get to a simple version that was high-level enough that all parts of their business aligned with,” she says.
That statement became the guiding star for creating a corporate communications handbook that codified how StormFisher wanted to talk about itself. “From that vision, we were able to craft a mission statement that also brought some clarity to the organization and its employees. Having this centralized messaging tool helped us in all of our further marketing and sales efforts,” she says. “The messaging handbook became the jumping off point for growth and expansion.”
Lean into the process
The handbook has helped create consistency between the company’s press releases, its social media strategy and even the language used in articles about StormFisher. This alignment made it easier for key players within the company to explain why its work was so impactful and innovative to customers, prospects, media and politicians.
But the act of thinking deeply about what his company is and does has also helped Moffatt better understand his business. Delving into questions with Cleary about how the company works and why things are done the way they are gave Moffatt a refreshed perspective.
“She got into the weeds of it,” he says. “No one had ever asked me about those things before. It was great to tweak and adjust the strategy, but it was also helpful to talk about something like what the market thinks of us. And I had never thought about it from that side before.”
Reap the rewards
StormFisher’s newly refined messaging has struck a chord. Since the company implemented the new corporate communications handbook, Moffatt has appeared on BNN Bloomberg, been the subject of several earned media articles and written two op-eds for the National Observer, one about the long-term positive benefits of switching to biogas and the other about the investments Canadian government needs to make in climate-focused companies in order to “avoid the worst effects of climate change.”
Introductions through MaRS’ Momentum program have also led to invitations for Moffatt to speak at local, federal and international events, including the World Hydrogen Leaders conference in Houston in May.
According to Cleary, StormFisher’s newly expanded, much more strategic online presence helped it amplify its messaging, purpose and impact.
“It helped the company make a splash in the market,” Cleary says. “Brandon would even have politicians and organizations reaching out to him—it really started the community talking about StormFisher.”
MaRS Momentum program works with high-growth Canadian companies to accelerate their path to hitting $100 million in revenue. Is your business Canada’s next anchor company? Find out more and apply to join the program.