Before there were brands, before there were cities, before there were any nations or even written languages there were stories. The telling of stories has kept families, tribes and cultures together, and given meaning to their present actions and their future aspirations. The back story is where your brand's story begins.
Even the people who have never seen Star Wars are familiar with the intro credits floating off into the distance. In just 20 seconds the audience was up to speed. And as soon as the action started, we were rooting for Princess Leia and the Rebels in their struggle against the Empire. That is the power of the back story.
In brand storytelling, your back story quickly helps people understand where you've come from and how it is that you are where you are today. In a world where there are fewer and fewer real differences between the products and services people offer, understanding and articulating your brand's story can help you carve out an emotional connection in the hearts and minds of the people you seek to do business with.
Writing your brand’s back story has three benefits:
Like any good story, a good back story will include not just the milestones of success or progress, but perhaps more importantly, the trials and tribulations that could have ended the story prematurely. These twists and turns demonstrate the authenticity of your commitment, building credibility, affinity and trust. The story can start long before anyone even started the company. It might start with a story about when one of the founders was young. It can go even further back to their forebears or historical events that had significance to them.
Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard understood the importance of looking backwards to make sense of the present and the future. To paraphrase Soren, life is lived forwards, but understood backwards. It's only when we look back that we can see the true motivations behind our actions.
As a foundational piece of your brand's architecture, the aim of the back story is to reveal the motivation behind your brand's existence. By looking at the full story and editing it down to its salient moments you will discover something unique, true and compelling. And once you have that you can crystallise your brand's purpose, mission and vision - each of which is a distinct component of your brand as outlined in the 10 Steps To Create A Brand People Can Believe In.
Understanding how your brand got to where it is today is a gift for marketers because it offers a continual source of inspiration to tell the story behind your current line-up of products and services. If your vision, mission and purpose are clear and the products and services you offer are aligned with them, creating content becomes much easier. More than that, it ensures that the content you create fits together to continue to tell the story of your brand as it moves into the future.
When researching your back story, do so with a journalistic zeal to uncover the truth, rather than with a marketer's knack for inventing an angle. The truth is the angle. To find it, sit down with the leaders in the business. If they are the founders, all the better. Ask them how they came to start the business. If the founders are no longer in the business, can you track them down and interview them? If that's not possible speak to some of the longest serving members of the team to find out about the company's early days. Speak to the current leadership team too, and ask them how they came to join the business.
To help you capture the story, here are some useful questions to ask. You don't have to ask them all, and you may have others. Feel free to use them how you will:
“If you do not know where you come from, then you don't know where you are, and if you don't know where you are, then you don't know where you're going.”
With the background information documented, the truth of the brand might be staring you in the face. If not, try writing it up as a short story. Cast the founders or current leadership as the hero in a quest. Who or what are they up against? Why does it matter to them that they overcome the challenge? What was it that kept them going? How did they beat the odds? As you write, weave in the key events in chronological order, both good and bad. Does a theme emerge? If you can't see it, it may be time to call in someone who can offer the perspective of an outsider who is an expert in brand storytelling.