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30 Most Reputable Companies of the Year 2021

An Interview with David Mills, Story Collaborative Co-Founder and MD: ‘We’re Growth Consultants that Empower your Team to Win and Keep More Customers’


“It is unfair for an agency to build websites based on assumptions alone, that function as glorified brochures, or that don’t deliver on the best of agile and SaaS technology.”

A large percentage of market research is either generic or shared across an entire industry. This kind of general information is helpful when positioning your product in the market. General trend reports also offer useful insights, but like market research, they fall short in their ability to offer strategies that increase your competitive position or create growth that can be tracked. The simplistic version of this so often promoted in marketing, called personas, only provides a surface view of these characteristics. To be successful, you need something that goes deeper.

The best types of market research are focused not on demographics or trends but on the actual process that buyers use to research, evaluate, and then purchase. The closer your marketing aligns with and supports that process, the greater the outcomes. By nature, that is not just informational, it is also emotional. Buyers move forward when they feel confident about you and your product. Market research can’t tell you about the emotional triggers that help people move forward, nor can it tell you about the anxieties that stop them from becoming customers. This information is developed in the right kind of strategy-building process.

Story Collaborative provides market research that is developed collaboratively and brings together marketing insights, brand story elements, and sales insights into an actionable plan that shapes your content, marketing approach, and competitive positioning. Websites and marketing campaigns that rely upon this approach develop into high performing assets that outperform those based on third party research alone or those that only focus on shallow audience characteristics like demographics.

Story Collaborative was founded in 2010 and is headquartered in Virginia.

David Mills, Story Collaborative Co-Founder and Managing Director, spoke exclusively to The Silicon Review. Below is an excerpt.

Q. Explain your services in brief.

Story Collaborative provides collaborative marketing and growth consulting to help position and promote businesses in reliable and cost-effective ways. When marketing is built from the brand story up, your website and your marketing plan can all work together to help your business stand out, deliver better prospects, reduce ad costs, and increase your competitive advantage. We build brand stories, high-performance websites and increase online domain authority using the same proven process used by winning businesses across the U.S.

Q. Do you feel that ads and assertive sales techniques are sustainable methods to reach the right audience and bring inbound leads?

It’s common for marketing agencies to offer growth marketing or advertising campaigns as a first effort to help companies grow. Highly assertive sales is sometimes a companion to this approach. We believe it is essentially unfair to encourage investment in growth marketing when the underlying foundation for marketing is weak or undeveloped. For Story Collaborative, that means looking with the client at their ad spend and how well their current ads and organic search traffic are working on their website. If they don’t have pages that are working as hard as the money they spend on ads, then investing in more low performing ads or sales efforts does not serve them well.

Both ads and aggressive sales outreach have the same thing in common. They are designed to interrupt the prospect, seize their attention, whether they have an interest or not. We don’t believe those strategies are a good fit today in either the B2C or B2B markets. Buyers of all kinds now expect to find what they are looking for online, answer their own questions, and learn about a company or their offerings at will through their website. The leads that result from this type of value-forward strategy are much more qualified because they prequalify themselves based upon search interest. Whether it is increasing sales or online traffic, the investment in a quality online experience will pay off in big ways, especially when compared to the expense of long-term investments in legacy or digital ads, which are both essentially a rental of someone else’s influence. We see big payoffs for our clients when they decide that they want to make information available in a manner that aligns with buyer preferences. Creating a positive buyer experience begins with their very first introduction. It’s important to ask, are you finding them, or are they finding you and becoming engaged as a result?

It’s not a question of outbound ads and sales vs. inbound content strategies. What has changed is the need to build trust and rapport before working a sale strategy.

Q. With all the talk about brand stories in business, is there anything practical that can add to growth beyond sales stories?

The human wiring for stories makes it a decisive element in marketing. Unfortunately, for most businesses, the power of storytelling has only been implemented through digital video ads, in annual reports, or by using stories in sales. The power of brand stories comes to life when it becomes the structural framework that websites and high-performing offers are built upon. In our experience, brand stories aren’t just a tool; they form the basis for understanding what really makes buyers tick and then weaving a competitive advantage into all of the marketing assets, including the website.

This approach is different from merely ‘telling a good story’; rather, it views the website and the company as ‘being part of a great story’ and weaving that into the copy, the offers, and visitors’ flow on a website. It is immensely practical and actionable when put to work.

We believe marketers’ failure to weave the underlying brand story into websites and other marketing is the misuse of a major business asset. This asset helps differentiate the company and increases the conversion rates on all of their marketing assets.

We call this an ‘activated brand story’ because it informs and provides direction to critical marketing content and in the way, a website is structured. In our view, if you can’t see the brand story in the menu of your website, then you are missing out on a primary tool.

Q. Website development is often a painful and slow process. How do you approach this critical part of your services?

Web properties serve as a critical hub for marketing and sales and should focus on improving customer acquisition. For many businesses, the website’s work to fuel business growth comes second to aesthetics. The key to improving the way that websites get developed is to shift this focus.

We’re convinced that traditional approaches to website development are broken and that they no longer serve the needs of organizations that want to address the market in a way that creates predictable and sustainable growth. It is unfair for an agency to build websites based on assumptions alone, that function as glorified brochures, or that don’t deliver on the best of agile and SaaS technology.

The average website is slow to launch, often over-budget, and does not have the onboard technology to continue improving after launch. The average website only gets minor improvements about once per year and isn’t rebuilt for a couple of years after launch. This long static performance period means that the website will never perform better than the day it is launched.

We use an agile approach to launching websites that builds them based upon a fast and effective methodology and always includes a planned data-based improvement cycle. That means that our clients’ websites are improving all the time, and they deliver a huge growth delta, growth that a static website cannot provide. Additionally, we use an all-in-one SaaS approach that puts all the smart technology into the website from day one so that it actually does real work. We used to attempt to cobble together a system that included open-source platforms plus lots of other add-ons. However, it proved to be less secure and required too much time to update. We believe it’s unfair to sell websites that don’t have the onboard tech that allows them to improve, automate, and sync to sales. Beyond that, with our advanced code base, internal staff can easily track performance, make improvements, and launch assets alongside the external team.

Modern website development should occur quickly and often iterate by using code and systems that are secure, easy to update, and power-filled by virtue of their ability to bring enterprise-level software to the mid-market.

The Leader at the Helm of Story Collaborative

David Mills is a Co-founder of the company and serves as a Managing Director and chief growth officer. He comes to marketing from a background in organizational growth and funding strategies and has spoken and trained with thousands of organizations across the United States. His emphasis is on bringing organizations up-to-date in their approach to reaching and winning new clients, and as a champion for the mission-driven business that is delivering high-value services to the market.

“Your marketing strategy should be built around your greatest asset, which is your brand story. No matter where you are in your development as an organization, how big you are, or whether you are a marketing and sales team of 10 or a team of one, your brand story is your most powerful asset.”

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