Telling your backstory can have a profound impact on your relationship with your customers, readers, partners and staff. In the first two parts of this series, we discussed why a backstory is so important and the seven questions to ask to develop a backstory. Now you need to tell your story. Make it go viral or get press coverage.
Here are the 6 types of backstories that help you make the emotional connection that everyone loves.
- Who am I
- Why am I here
- The Vision
- Suspicious Minds
- Values in Real Life
- Teaching Stories
People who are new to you, your website, or your content first ask themselves two big questions: Who are you? And why are you here? Until these questions are answered they don’t openly trust the information you are presenting or promoting to them.
You backstory is the perfect way to help them see what you want them to see about you. Better yet, your story demonstrates who you are, rather than just telling them who you are.
Pull an engaging, informative, and possibly entertaining piece of your history. You want something interesting that tells how you got to where you are today and who were the people involved. The best backstories are personal. Personal stories let others see who you are better than any other form of communication.
For example, the first time I did fundraising for Team in Training, I didn’t simply send an email or write a post asking for money. I explained that I had never run more than 6 miles before… never, ever. Now I was attempting to run a full marathon (26.2 miles) with just 4 months training. That was a good start to demonstrating who I am and that what I was doing was pretty crazy.
Ultimately people trust your opinion and guidance based on subjective “feelings”. Objective data doesn’t go deep enough to engender trust. Personal stories allow you to reveal an aspect of yourself that is otherwise invisible. And there are many ways your backstory can reveal who you are to your audience.
2. Why Am I Here Stories
Your audience wants to know how you are benefiting before they fully believe your claims of what’s in it for them. It’s natural. If someone wants you to buy a product or take their advice, you’re curious about what they’ll get out of it, right? What’s their motive?
Your audience is thinking the same thing about you. Tip: Don’t hide your goals.
When you focus 100% of your communication on showing your audience what they might gain, your message can seem too good to be true, maybe insincere, or worse, deceitful. A “why I am here” story usually reveals enough for people to make a distinction between healthy ambition and dishonest exploitation.
Back to the backstory of my Team in Training fundraising. When I talk about the challenge of running my first marathon, I describe why I was running in the first place. It was much more than trying to be healthier. A friend from college just lost his mother to cancer. She is special to me and is a big part of who I am today. This was the best way I knew how to do something about it. Team in Training’s mission is to fund research aimed at finding a cure to blood cancers. That’s why I am running to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
Telling your backstory by tapping into the origins of why you started and where you came from can be incredibly powerful to building trust with your audience.
Once your audience is comfortable with who you are and why you are here, then they are truly ready to engage with your message of how they will benefit. Your backstory can help here too. It can describe your vision and how it relates to them.
But it’s not easy. You have to find a key element of your vision in a way that makes a connection – the part of your backstory that people can “see”. Paint a picture of your vision. If your audience doesn’t see the vision, it isn’t an actual vision. It’s just your opinion.
The secret of a powerful vision story is to tell it from a place of authenticity. Connect with your audience in a way that addresses their problems with the promise of a better tomorrow.
For me, I run marathons in memory of my friend’s mother. But I’ve also met many truly amazing survivors of various blood cancers. They won their fight against cancer because of their personal strength and courage and thanks to ever-advancing treatments. Many of these treatments didn’t even exist until recent years. I truly believe that by focusing our collective efforts, we’ll discover cures for most all cancers one day soon.
What was the root idea or spark that jumpstart your business? How did you feel when you had that “a-ha” moment? Capture that story and tell it.
4. Suspicious Minds Stories
If you have done your homework on your audience, you’ve probably uncovered several potential objections to you message. Use your backstory as an effective way of addressing objections and suspicions your audience may have.
Telling your audience about challenges you’ve faced that are similar to their issues works amazingly well for two reasons:
- You’re addressing the issue with an experience not a blah, blah, blah benefit statement. So there’s more meaning soaks in more.
- You are putting yourself into their shoes because you’ve actually been in their shoes. Sharing “I know what you’re thinking, and I’ve been there too,” builds your credibility in an engaging way.
For example, I was shocked to find that a big percentage of many charitable donations I made over the years went to administration of the charity itself. Very little was actually funding what I had intended – directly helping a cause. It’s not that way with Team in Training. I remind potential donors that up to my fundraising minimum goal, only 25% goes to the logistics of running endurance training programs and big race events. Then once I hit my minimum, 100% of the remaining donations go to cancer research and patient care.
People love it when you part of your backstory feels like their backstory. You are genuinely anticipating and addressing their concerns because you’ve been there too.
Values are easy to talk about, but hard to follow. Values like integrity, respect, and truth are in many corporate mission statements. Our desired brand image (or the one we promote for our companies) says we believe in these values. However, these statements can be meaningless without backing them up through your backstory.
Your backstory brings your values to life because it happened in “real life”. Better yet, if your backstory involves a personal story, it is the best way to engage our audience on a personal level.
One of the core values with Team in Training is teamwork. We constantly shout “Go Team!” as our cheer. When I was at mile 25 of my first marathon, I really, really wanted to stop… even though I could see the big finish line area ahead. Then I heard a “Go Bob! Go Team!” from the crowd. One of my teammates who had already finished hopped onto the course and started running with me. My spirit was instantly lifted as she ran most of the last mile with me. Now whenever I’m at a race and I see a fellow teammate in need of a boost, I do the same thing.
Your backstory can provide an influential example. This type of story lets you instill values in a way that keeps people thinking deeply about you or your business.
6. Teaching Stories
Often the content that marketing professionals create is trying to teach our audience something. You want to educate your customers or prospects something to help them improve and to reinforce their relationship with you.
To be effective at teaching, you need to deliver more than just instructions. Often the message you want to send is less about what you want them to do and more about how you want it done. Inserting a relevant part of your backstory is perfectly suited to combine both what and how.
Teaching stories help us make sense of new skills in meaningful ways. Most likely your readers will forget what step 3 is. But it is much less likely that they’ll forget your story which delivers the lesson in a memorable way.
Throughout this post, I’ve told you about my personal backstory with Team in Training and why do fundraising for them. But since this blog is fundamentally about marketing, I want to reinforce that I have used my marketing experience to be an effective fundraiser. Specifically, I tell everyone my story and then clearly ask for a donation. It makes all the difference. Compare two possible calls to action I could have used: “Donate to my run” or “Fund an epic run that helps cure blood cancer”. No contest which one is better, right? It’s all a result of presenting a compelling backstory.
And I am fundraising for Team in Training now. I’ll be running in the 2012 Marine Corps Marathon in Washington DC in October. Please donate and help me in the fight against cancer.
Make sure to thoroughly flesh out your backstory first by answering the 7 questions from the previous backstory post. Then you are ready to build out and tell any of the six types of stories I just discussed. Doing so helps you write a backstory that builds trust with your audience. That will create a powerful connection that most brands or businesses can only hope to achieve.
Please read all the how-to articles in this three-part series for all the details:
6 Types of Backstories Your Readers Will Love (Part 3)