Don Draper pitches to Conrad Hilton in Season 3 of Mad Men. Photo: AMC Don Draper pitches to Conrad Hilton in Season 3 of Mad Men. Photo: AMC

Every business has a story. From the smallest one-man operation to the largest corporations in the world, each has an origin tale. That story, the history of the company, is the soul of the organization. It’s what makes a company unique. It’s what gives a business many of its values, and what drives the company to keep growing.

Many companies, however, underestimate the value of their origin story. They either choose not to use it in their marketing, or they don’t know the value of keeping that story at the forefront of their business.

The reality is: the story of your company can help you sell to prospective customers.

A very high percentage of the large brands in the world (and the most well known) have all found ways to leverage their story to their benefit. Consider a few:

  • Ford is not just a maker of cars. It is an American institution. It represents, in the minds of many, the genius of Henry Ford and American engineering.
  • Apple doesn’t make computers, it stands against the status quo by pushing the limits of design and performance pioneered by Steve Jobs.
  • Walmart wants to provide budget-friendly goods to as many people as it can, as exemplified by the story of its founder, Sam Walton.
  • Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas, and his daughter Wendy, are as well-known as the brand. The iconic image of Wendy is found on all of the company’s marketing materials.

For a very recent example, consider Elon Musk. His goal no less lofty than to change the world. He made his money founding the online payment platform PayPal and, afterward, decided he wanted to have the greatest effect on the greatest number of people that he could. To do that end, he set out to create SpaceX, Tesla Motors, Solar City and Hyperloop, all of which have begun changing the world in dramatic ways. From his goal, his story, sprung some of the most innovative companies the world has ever seen. The best part, however, is that people can relate to the reasons Musk felt compelled to create them. People want to be part of that story, and that is driving the success of those ventures.

In my own company, Carle Publishing, I, too, use my personal story. In my previous business (which concerned independent retail garden centres), we were looking for ways to differentiate ourselves to compete with larger brands that had more resources. I decided to create my own branded magazines, which I could use to bring value to my customers and position the company as a leading authority in the home and garden space. From that idea, Carle Publishing was born. Our goal is to help independent businesses compete with the big boys through  branded magazine programs.

The core businesses that we serve can all relate to our story, because we are also competing against larger players as an independent firm. From that relatability stems our client base.

In a TED talk titled How Great Leaders Inspire Action, Simon Sinek described how companies think, act, and communicate. He described this as the “Golden Circle.” This idea, he explained, describes how the best organization operate. Three circles are drawn, the outermost circle is labeled “What,” a middle circle labeled “How,” and an innermost circle which is labeled “Why.” Every company knows “What” they do. Most know “How” they do it. But very few know “Why” they do what they do. Few companies know their cause, or their story. The most inspired organizations think, act, and communicate from the innermost circle first, and then outward from there.

What is your story? What passion do you have for your business? What does your business stand for? You should be able to quickly summarize these questions in a short, one- or two-sentence logline or an elevator pitch. Your logline should not only explain what you are all about, but also provide some insight into the story of your company. Spend some time thinking about how your business came into existence and how you can leverage that to get potential customers emotionally invested in what you have to offer. Think about the ways you can work your story into your sales presentations and marketing, and get clients to see more than just the product you are offering.

People can see through marketing tricks. What people want is something authentic. Your story humanizes your company. Ultimately, your business is your story. Telling people about it will only drive growth.

Andy Buyting is the CEO of Carle Publishing. Carle Publishing helps independents differentiate by publishing and distributing their own customized print and digital magazines, positioning them as a leading authority in their marketplace.

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What’s your company’s story? Tell it to us in the comments section below.

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