Does Your Brand Need An Origin Story?
Updated: May 19, 2020
“In entertainment, an origin story is an account or backstory revealing how a character or group of people become a protagonist, and it adds to the overall interest and complexity of a narrative, often giving reasons for their intentions.”
I thought this definition would be useful if you're not a superhero fangirl/boy, especially important since comics have seen the most occurrences of origin stories in recent years. I am not a huge geek on this front either, but I am a cinephile and don’t necessarily agree with Scorsese’s assessment of the soul-less nature of comic-book movies. My teenage daughters, who are casual fans of the Marvel Universe, have pulled me along. And they're now giving DC a shot with Wonder Woman—daughter of Zeus—on the scene. More on her—and him—later.
I think the point of “giving reasons for their intentions” is key to why origin stories matter for your heroic brand too. Laying your intentions bare, in honest yet aspirational terms, will garner more interest for you because it will engage your audience more deeply. Depth and purpose matter in marketing and in life. All that said, I do believe in right-side up thinking (a term I did not coin but I do love) where the needs of others, not oneself, are your primary focus—personally and professionally. So, your origin story must be about your mission to change—and even save—the world in some way. In aerospace, that's been easy. I have been fortunate to work with brands who literally provide GPS, rocket-launch services, and critical communications to the world. That is grand and heroic. This mission-focused mindset is important for superheroes and, of course, real-life heroes like nurses, military personnel, and public servants too. And, yes, brands who powerfully meet the needs of others are the ones who truly connect and succeed in the short and long term. Don’t be like Han Solo and shun the role of hero. Embrace it humbly and early on in your story.
Let’s return to the primary question: Does your brand need an origin story? In most cases, I think the answer is a resounding yes. There are certain cases where your origins may not align—and may even be in direct opposition—to who you are now. But that is rare. I’ve been a big fan of the Volkswagen brand—I have owned an exotic Kharman Gia, a sensible Jetta, and a turbo-charged CC—but their origin story is something their brand should rightly shy away from. Now that said, their clean-diesel-engine fraud, from recent history, has been far more damaging. Millions who actually thought their clean-diesel engines were part of the solution were, in fact, adding the problem in a big way. To state the obvious, deceit and irresponsible mass polluting are not good for any brand story. But, I digress, I'm here to accentuate the positive—and there's a lot of that going on—so let’s continue.
One strong and richly unfolding origin story comes from the great outdoor clothing brand Patagonia. They tap into the stories of their founder—rock climber, environmentalist, and billionaire businessman—Yvon Chouinard to amplify their mission of connecting with and revering the great outdoors. Their “why” is quite deep. Folks who climb, hike, and kayak—and often those who fish and hunt too—are quite passionate about preserving nature for its own sake but also for themselves, their children, and generations to come. So, when Yvon—who is an American with a French sounding name—discusses environmental and even policy matters, it resonates deeply with his brand’s customers (and fans) who share the same passions. Yes, Patagonia has even gotten political in recent years, taking on organizations and politicians, who have opposed protecting pristine federal lands. This stance, manifested by ads, organic content, and artist-made documentaries may alienate some, but it deepens bonds with their fans—aka their base—they are not afraid to go there.
Tales from his early life, his ideas on environmental subjects, and powerful videos about him (and others like him) create true-blue fans who are often more passionate than those of a sports team. In this case, Patagonia fans are “in the game" and not merely spectators. And, since most Millennials are predisposed to this point of view, it will surely result in a net gain for the premium Patagonia brand. There is no Patagonia without its origin story. Go deep and speak to the passions of your customers. You might just create fans, which is a very good thing.
You may have heard the folksy founders of Bombas Socks tell their brand story. They are on a mission to build high-quality and exceptionally comfortable socks for the world, while also sharing a pair with the homeless with every purchase. They are saving the world, two feet at a time, just like Patagonia aims to save the natural world. This commitment to creating quality socks while helping the homeless has been central to their success. Their brand story is entirely an origin story—it is their “why”—and at every level of their marketing. Can you even name another sock brand? Show your heart, and how you make a difference without exploiting it, and it can work for you too.
Harry’s Shave Club is on a mission to provide high-quality, affordable shaves for men. They see the simple process of what men need to accomplish daily, and having it conveniently shipped to their door, as an important mission too. Shopping for razors can be harrowing and expensive, but shaving is somewhat of a pleasure and they are focused on preserving that joy. Their story, to simplify this process for men, is an origin story. Their reason for being is powerful and has converted millions.
Your brand probably saves the world in many ways too, and has stories that will resonate with prospects and transform them into customers and fans. You just need to know how to excavate the raw material and then shape and polish it, so it connects. And, this works for B2B too, which is filled with the same individuals as marketing directly to consumers (B2C). We are all persuaded by a mix of heart and mind, but the former is more powerful for most. It is important to know that.
When you have a conversation about your origin story, be sure to seek out your truth. It is your story, your form, and your tone to define, shape, and share. This is where the fun—and the hard work—begin. Did your company start in a garage or on the beach? What was your first mission? Who was your first customer? Why did you break through? Can your origin story be brought into the foreground or is it just a campaign to test the waters? And the story must be compelling, authentic, and always unfolding—and simple too. Nike’s “Just Do It” has guided their marketing for decades now, but it is always enriched with new stories like Eliud Kipchoge’s marathon successes, which Nike is proud and smart to tell and link to its latest tech. These true stories resonate deeply and that is why their brand keeps winning.
Your origin story can start as a written piece but it should probably be told in video, arguably the most powerful medium known to humankind. Feel free to watch the origin video, The SureFire Story, that I wrote, produced, and directed for SureFire years ago on a shoe-string budget. (The first version of the SureFire Story had over 100,000 views. I produced/directed over 100 videos for this strong brand along with the great Eugene Nagata.) SureFire’s origins included the weapon-mounted laser featured in the original “Terminator” and their support of L.A. SWAT during the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. All true and extremely cool. Unearth your origin story. It will guide everything you do thereafter.
And if you happen to be interested in the origin story of the world’s first superhero Zeus—the king of the Greek Gods & Wonder Woman’s father—pick up a copy of my first novel “Zeus Rising” at www.zeusrising.com. His story, at least my retelling of it, starts with The Big Bang. That's going back to the origins of the Universe but, of course, your brand doesn't need to go back that far. That said, be sure to let the world know why—and how—you intend to save the world. That's where it all starts.