The Creation Myth – Branding Your Business

March 1, 2009

When you hear the Hewlett-Packard Story, the image that often comes to mind is that of a Palo Alto garage. When people think of the eBay Story, they think of the founder’s fiancée trading pez over the Internet (even though eBay acknowledged years later that that story was fictionalized).

Most well-branded companies have a creation myth, says Terry Gault, VP and managing partner of communications consulting firm The Henderson Group, based in San Francisco.

The Creation Myth was the title of a highly interactive workshop Gault led yesterday at Presentation Camp at Stanford University. He defined the Creation Myth as a unique quality of a company or person.

To illustrate this, Gault told two stories, or “myths” of the creation of two separate companies. One was how David Henderson decided to leave a lucrative law practice and take a chance on launching a communications consulting business, which eventually landed Oracle as a client.

The other story was about the launch of Cirque du Soleil, the wildly successful circus show. After a successful launch in Canada, bankrolled by the Quebec government, the founders took the show to L.A., with only enough money to fly the crew there. If it had failed, they were stuck. However, it not only succeeded, Cirque du Soleil has launched an unprecedented 15 spin-off shows without a single failure.

While the story behind corporate Creation Myths may be at least partially true to some extent, if not completely fabricated, they all have several elements in common.
1. Memorable characters: Characters need names, because audiences have a hard time rooting for a nameless protagonist.
2. Vulnerability: the protagonist must show a vulnerable side, because it makes your character human, and your audience can relate to that.
3. High stakes: for a story to be truly compelling, stakes have to be very high. For example, if Cirque du Soleil failed in L.A., then what?
4. Details: Providing details that make it easier for your audience to visualize the story is key. In fact, details are far more powerful than adjectives.
5. Be Selective in Details: How do you know what details to put in and what details to leave out? The answer: If the details don’t enhance the scene or contribute to the myth, they should be left out.
6. Dialogue: In describing a scene, give the characters first-person dialogue. Instead of saying, he was panicking, demonstrate it with visual details. His hand shook as he held the phone. Sweat poured down his face.

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