The role of backstory in engagement.
Explaining why things are or how they came to be can be complicated – where to begin, what to include, and how to make it relevant? By shaping and telling its backstory artfully, a business can give its people more to identify and empathise with (never mind the effect it can have on a brand). When an organisation knows where it comes from, customers and employees can buy into where it’s going.
“I’m Vito Andolini from Corleone.”
In The Godfather Part II, Vito Corleone’s extraordinary story is told in parallel with that of his son, Michael. The similarities and differences between the two mob bosses at different periods in time are highlighted, without being forced. There’s so much colour, light and shade in The Godfather. And it’s that kind of rare perspective backstory can bring. We don’t need to be told how father influences son – we make the connections ourselves. It’s how our brains work. Understanding what has gone before shapes how we understand what’s happening now. We can’t help ourselves.
Backstory can be used for creative, impactful and distinctive business branding.
Football is a good example of this. At the King Power stadium, the Premier League home of Leicester City, every home match is preceded by an emotive video played out on giant screens. The triumphant moments of past seasons flash in front of thousands of eager fans, building excitement and expectation.
Remember those TV adverts for Hovis Bread, evoking golden memories of sunny mornings, delivery to the door, and milk on the step? In the space of twenty seconds, in a few comforting images, the essence and the promise of satisfaction is deftly conveyed in a backstory brand hug.
More than in the moment
So much of what businesses talk about is today’s news and tomorrow’s plans. To give that story firm foundations, to persuade an audience that it’s believable, make sure you’re using a solid backstory. A business is the sum total of everything it has done. History deepens a company’s narrative: the choices that have been made, the values that have evolved, the successes and failures experienced. Backstory is as much what makes a business distinctive from any other as its strategy and plans.
Where to start?
Answer some questions:
• Why was the business founded (not what, how or who… just why)?
• What have the big milestones been since then? Not just the successes – challenges and missteps are just as important.
• What impact did they have?
• How have changes in the industry and environment influenced the organisation’s evolution?
• Who are the big characters at the heart of this story?
Not everything is valid or helpful, of course (Nokia started as a pulp mill, for instance), and you can always choose what to highlight and reinforce. Backstory can’t be made up, but it can be shaped. But facts are facts, so understanding what lingers in the corporate memory is important, whether you want it to or not.
All of this is why backstory is the foundation stage of our story shaping process. Great engagement starts with a strong company narrative, and a strong story has origins.
Try summarising your organisation’s backstory. Can you do it?
At Write the Talk we’ve mastered the science and craft of long-running narratives that change how people feel and behave, for the long term. And it all starts with the backstory.
Want help engaging people over the long term? Get in touch.