While there’s no substitute for strong financial performance, there’s also no avoiding the need for a powerful and compelling company story for your investor relations (IR) program. Many investor relation officers (IROs) and executives make the critical mistake of confusing brand narrative for company story. Although they may have some overlap, a brand narrative is meant to sell a business’ product or service, while a company story is used to convey its purpose and economic value to investors.
It takes tangible skills to draft an investor story that effectively communicates the value in your company while also drawing in the right investors at an opportune time. Not only do you need to know what information to lead with, you also must be able to eloquently tell the company story while establishing the long-term vision. You should have enough detail to frame the business as a compelling investment opportunity, but not so much detail that you obfuscate the details that matter to potential shareholders.
So how can you best craft your company story in order to differentiate yourself and appeal to the right investors? Keep on reading to get tangible examples of strong company stories, and learn how to apply those narrative principles in your own IR program.
Before diving into the technical aspects of a good company story, we want to clarify that data is only one part of the picture. While it would seem logical that the best financial profile always wins, the truth is that investors are also interested in the human elements of your company. Humans are hardwired to respond to storytelling. This isn’t to say numbers or data are irrelevant—your company story must be backed by financial performance, however it shouldn’t necessarily be what guides your strategic narrative.
A good story without a compelling reason to invest is just a story. Your corporate story should be a succinct introduction into what the business does, why, how, and for whom. This introduction is meant to capture interest and create opportunities where you can deliver a real pitch to investors. Use only as much data as you need to in order to entice investors, but keep your focus on the narrative.
Your company’s investor story should focus on what specifically makes the business unique. This is especially true if you have a high number of peers and competitors in your industry, so it’s imperative to showcase what makes the company unique in order to have a competitive edge. There are a few factors to consider that can help elevate the qualities that make your company unique:
Everyone loves a story born of humble beginnings. People often cite Jeff Bezos building Amazon out of his garage, or childhood friends Ben and Jerry starting their ice cream business by converting an old gas station into an ice cream parlor. Countless companies from Disney to Spanx got their start in a garage, dorm, or living room.
Other companies rely on the relationships and values angle to convey their story. One example of this is Mattel’s famous Barbie doll being named after the founder's’ daughter, Barbara. While the brand could have been successful by simply naming the doll using any popular name from the time, this unique and wholesome origin story helps to make the iconic brand trustworthy and timeless.
If your company is a family business or has a good bootstrapping story, investors will want to hear about it. Perhaps your founder or CEO was working in the industry for years before being inspired to launch their own business to address industry shortcomings. Maybe they built the enterprise up from nothing with their college roommate. Corporate narratives are always more compelling when led by personal stories because audiences are naturally drawn to human-led narratives.
For example, before founding Irwin, CEO David Whyte spent a decade working in investment banking, sales, and trading at Credit Suisse. During his time there, Whyte recognized that regulatory and industry changes in capital markets were outpacing the technology available to issuers. The day he left Credit Suisse was the day Irwin was incorporated.
IIt’s possible that where your company is headquartered or operating gives you an edge. Perhaps it's uniquely positioned to serve an underserved market, or maybe unique relationships allow for untapped resources to be accessed. Whether you’re pioneering a new business landscape or nestled in the heart of the action for your industry, location can give investors insight into how your business might perform. This is especially true for resource extraction companies where location can be an important factor in a company’s success.
The way you frame your business setting is hugely important. Ask yourself which is more compelling:
An umbrella stand on a busy street.
An umbrella stand outside the busiest transit hub in Seattle.
A savvy investor in the umbrella industry will know that Seattle is one of the rainiest cities in the United States, and is therefore a lucrative spot for umbrella retailers. When your investors have an easy time picturing how your company fits into the business landscape, it’s easier for them to trust your company. By including this information in your story, you make it easier for investors to understand your business by saving them valuable time in their due diligence.
Irwin might frame its own geographic advantage like this: Irwin is headquartered in Toronto, just steps away from the TSX and Canada’s largest Financial District. Toronto’s fintech ecosystem is thriving, and its international recognition as an innovation hub helps us access top talent and opportunities.
If innovation is where your company shines, this should be apparent in the accompanying story. Whether you’re developing or using–state-of-the-art technology, investors will be interested if you can dominate in your vertical thus offering better returns than your peers.
Tesla has done an exemplary job in differentiating itself as an innovative company, which in turn has been a significant factor in its success. Although fully electric vehicles (EVs) date back to the late 19th century and Toyota introduced the hybrid Prius in 1997, Tesla Motors differentiated itself in 2006 with the goal of producing fully electric vehicles. Since the first Tesla vehicle was sold in mid-2010, other manufacturers jumped on the EV bandwagon. None were considered innovators nor garnered the same investor interest as Tesla. By positioning the innovative company as a hero in the clean-energy industry, Tesla is able to differentiate themselves from legacy auto manufacturers.
As an IRO, your job is to find what makes your business unique and innovative, and put a spotlight on it in the company story. Differentiators such as “first”, “best”, “largest”, and “only” will help your story stand out.
For example, Irwin prides itself on streamlining the investor relations experience with easy to use software and it also has the most accurate and comprehensive shareholder monitoring capabilities on the market.
Is your team composed of the best and brightest in your industry? If your management team is stacked with high-achievers or you employ skilled and respected researchers it’s worth sharing in your company story. Especially in tight-knit industries where investors are likely familiar with top-performers or serial entrepreneurs, it’s a strong selling feature to showcase a brilliant team.
The option to namedrop doesn’t stop at team members; any other partners or references you can provide can help elevate your company story and build repute with investors. It’s also extremely valuable to be able to get good references from your customers, distributors, or other investors. Glowing testimonials and high customer satisfaction scores signal longevity in your company and can be quite appealing to investors.
For Irwin, we’re proud of both our direct and indirect customer feedback. Our positive track record in the industry has allowed us to become the top rated Investor Relations Software on G2 Crowd.
If your company has won awards or been recognized for prestigious achievements, you should be including them in your company story. Industry recognition and other accolades helps boost a company’s profile among investors and helps industry outsiders better understand its competitive edge. Awards for workplace and culture are important, but industry specific awards and accolades are the top forms of recognition that should be highlighted in your story.
Filmmakers frequently use awards and accolades to promote interest in their films. Nominations and awards for talent, directors, and even audio production go a long way for producers considering which films to support. While your industry’s awards and achievements may not be as iconic as an Oscar, they can still attract credible investors.
As a fairly young company, Irwin is incredibly honored to be listed as a top 100 company on the Globe and Mail’s annual list of fastest growing companies in Canada two years in a row.
Sometimes a company happens to be in the right place at the right time, and that alone can also be a powerful storytelling tool. Regulations, technology, and even attitudes are constantly changing, so a first mover advantage can go a long way with investors.
One shining example of a first-mover advantage in business was Netflix’s decision to offer streaming in 2007—years ahead of its competition. Some say the timing of their market entry was perfect, as laptops were becoming smaller, less-expensive, and more widely popular around this time. YouTube had just launched and there was instant demand for streaming, but no high-quality competitors. People with TVs and computers had more options than ever before to access on-demand content at an affordable price, and Netflix has cemented itself as the leader in streaming—even against competition from media giants such as Disney or HBO.
When Irwin’s company story is told, a major discussion point is how during our 2017 launch, the company was able to help a market coping with the major regulatory changes in Mifid II.This timing helped to establish Irwin’s reputation as modern IR providers and has kickstarted incredible growth in a short period of time.
These storytelling fundamentals can help pinpoint which areas your company shines so IROs can craft strategic business narratives accordingly. It’s okay if your story doesn’t include every aspect we mentioned, but these should help you highlight what differentiates your company. That said, in order to use a company story effectively, be sure to tailor different iterations of your story to specific investors.
It goes without saying that every iteration of your story should still be entirely truthful. Don’t be afraid to discuss areas of weakness in the business. Every company has downfalls, but highlighting them demonstrates awareness and facilitates trust with your investors. You can also use any weaknesses to monitor and demonstrate improvements made over time, or even lean into an underdog narrative a la David and Goliath.
One of the biggest mistakes IROs and CEOs could make is telling just one generic version of their company story to every investor. No two investors have the same investment criteria, as most will weigh various factors differently. Apart from investors who restrict themselves to certain industries or geographies, many investors have different preferences and processes. Doing your research before reaching out will help you tailor the company's story to investors and avoid wasting time with those that may be a poor fit.
You can discover what individual investors care about by using investor targeting software. When searching for investors, you can see which companies they currently hold positions with, and get insights into what drives them. Additionally, you can also filter potential investors by various factors, including:
For the best results, combine investor targeting with your IRM to seamlessly get in front of investors so you can tell your story.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to get creative in your corporate storytelling. While it’s important to be truthful, you can elevate your story by adding visuals or multimedia resources. Having a variety of resources for different mediums can be helpful in capturing investor interest and adding depth to your strategic narrative without compromising factual information. For example, your IR website might benefit from a short video while a slide deck could be leveled-up with pictures or charts.
Make sure that you package your story for multiple audiences and channels, including retail investors who may be more apt to viewing your story through social media. By adding another level of depth with creative mediums and channels, you can increase the impact of your company story.
With corporate storytelling, it’s important to iterate on your business narrative as new details or information become available. Everyone in the company—from entry level contributors to top executives—should be able to articulate a basic version of the story, and your IR team must be able to dynamically adjust the story in order to capture investor interest.