In a world where people have a lot of choices, the story may be the deciding factor.
— Nick Morgan, How to Tell Great Business Stories
When getting to know potential friends and romantic partners, we share our stories with each other—where we’re from, who our families are, how we got where we are, and so on. This exchange gives us a glimpse into the person, a spark of a connection, and an indication if this is someone we want to invest our time and emotional energy in. If how we connect is through our origin stories, it’s not strange to think we could connect to businesses in a similar way.
Let’s see why and how origin stories can be a powerful tool for brands that want to forge connections and relationships with customers.
The origin of the story
The notion of an “origin story,” which traces back to the comic book era, refers to the way a character’s backstory underlies his or her motivations and actions.
Batman’s origin story is iconic. As a child, Bruce Wayne witnessed his parents being murdered. From that day forward, he vowed to rid his city of evil and to strike fear into the hearts of criminals. We’re sympathetic to his motive, and we’re on his side, pulling for him to succeed.
Why it sticks
Every individual and company has an origin story. And getting our arms around our own brand story is the challenging part.
At Jute Creative, we’re in the business of telling stories for brands and organizations. After looking at many stories of companies and individuals over the years, we’re noting a pattern. The best origin stories are authentic and memorable, and they include five key elements:
- An enduring hook – An easy and memorable anecdote.
- A sign of struggle – It got hard, but the company or individual persevered.
- A novel, breakthrough idea – Evidence of dogged focus. The founder(s) saw something that others didn’t.
- A bold, risky move – Where they (usually the founders) put themselves out there and laid it all on the line.
- The payoff – The “we’ve got this” moment. How they came out at the end a winner
Choosing your origin
When you’re talking about a brand, it’s pretty clear what “origin” means. It’s how a company, or the company’s founder, got started. For a personal story, however, it can be a bit more complicated. Are we talking about your origin from day one—as in your childhood? Your origin as a professional? As a skydiver, gardener or chef?
It’s totally fine, even a good idea, to have different origin stories for different social and professional scenarios. The imperative in all of them, however, is to maintain a level of focus and authenticity that sparks a connection with those who hear your story.
People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.
—Simon Sinek, Start with Why
That’s the goal for a brand as well, because those people who connect to a brand’s story on a personal level are well on their way to becoming lifelong customers—or even raving fans.
A company brand story case study: Spanx
One of my favorite business brand stories is about Sara Blakely. Founder of Spanx and the youngest self-made billionaire, Sara is a college acquaintance of mine. Much has been written about Sara Blakely, and she (and her brand) has one of my favorite origin stories. It works because it’s memorable and truly original. I call it her “white pants” story.
Early in her career, Sara discovered the discomforts of pantyhose. They had seams at the toes that seemed perfectly placed to cause pain. And they had a grabby band that made for a lumpy waistline. So Sara came up with an idea for undergarments that shaped and contoured the wearer without creating seams and bulges.
Sign of struggle
The problem was that none of the big hosiery brands had even a stitch of interest in Sara’s idea. They said she had no market. Not to be deterred, she figured out where those companies sourced their products, and she had her own prototype made.
Novel, breakthrough idea
What drove Sara to continue despite rejection was her conviction that undergarments could—and should—be made with women’s needs in mind. She could see an underserved market and, frankly, a gap, even if the big brands couldn’t.
Bold, risky move
Sara and a few friends did all the testing, trademarking, sales, and marketing of Spanx out of Sara’s apartment. They certainly weren’t experts at all of it, but that didn’t stop them. They were driven by their belief that the product was necessary and could be a hit.
Legend has it that Sara Blakely’s first “we’ve done it!” moment was in a Neiman Marcus dressing room. She’d arranged a meeting with the hosiery buyer, who wasn’t so interested in Sara’s product. Prepared for dismissal, Sara asked the buyer, “May I just slip into a dressing room and show you the difference in how these white pants look with Spanx underneath?” And the rest is history.
Want to uncover and craft your own origin story?
You might not think you have a good origin story, or any story at all. But I promise you do. Whether it’s for yourself or your business, you can uncover it by thoughtfully answering five easy questions.