The Power of the Founding Story

July 13, 2016

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Ever wondered where you came from? I recently joined over 50 family members for a heritage tour throughout NW Oklahoma to see where my great-great grandfather and other ancestors homesteaded in the late 1880s. We visited gravesites, old homes, museums, churches and more. We shared stories passed down through the generations and common themes emerged such as a pioneering spirit and commitment to public service.

Just as family history defines my personal brand, the same is true for organizations. Looking back into a brand’s history often best explains its mission, culture and values. Here are four reasons organizations should share their founding story.

It Humanizes a Brand 
Throughout the heritage tour, I heard stories about my great-great grandpa, who brought my family to Oklahoma and was the first elected sheriff in Kingfisher County. The stories truly came alive when I saw his picture, held his old handcuffs and heard a tape recording describing his arrest of famous bank robbers. Sharing a brand’s past makes it more personable. For example, use pictures from when a company’s founder still had to get their hands dirty to get the job done. Reflecting on an organization’s roots with photos or video will help the audience to form a more personal connection with your brand.

It Provides Context, Which Helps Paint a More Complete Picture of Your Organization
Our heritage tour focused on where our ancestors homesteaded in Oklahoma. While my great-great grandparents’ home is no longer standing, the local museum had paintings of them! This painting shows the dugout where they lived during the first four winters in Oklahoma and describes the hauling of the wood and brick to build the larger home, which finally had concrete added in 1910. The painting helped me picture what life was like back in the early 1890s and the challenges my ancestors faced. When sharing an organization’s founding story, be sure to explain the time period to provide context. Did your company create opportunities during the Great Depression or the oil boom? How has your organization adapted through the years? Understanding where an organization came from provides an indication of where it is headed and what consumers can expect.

Founding Stories Establish Values 
Culture and values are critical to building a business, hiring and retaining employees and reaching target audiences.

My great grandfather, Lloyd Long, always shared a poem which still hangs in every family member’s home. I was raised reading and hearing what we dubbed “The Long Philosophy.” It describes my ancestors’ optimism and servant-oriented hearts. The Long Philosophy became part of my core value system and after gaining context from my family’s founding story, these words took on new meaning.

How do you communicate about your organization’s values? While posting a list of values around a workplace or on a website can be a good reminder, a Booz Allen Hamilton/Aspen Institute survey on corporate values found 77 percent of respondents said explicit CEO support is one of the “most effective” practices for reinforcing the company’s values. Ask leadership to explain the story behind the organization’s values to provide context. Reinforce the values during hiring, training and performance reviews. Ensuring these values are ingrained into an organization’s culture helps differentiate its brand.

Sharing Your Founding Story Creates Loyalty 
Recent research from Harvard Business Review shows brand loyalty is built on shared values. Now over 50 of my family members know the story of our ancestors who homesteaded in Oklahoma… and we’re passing it along! I live tweeted the heritage tour and other family members posted pictures and memories on Facebook. You could say we’ve become brand advocates.  Help your audience understand your value system in a new way that will make them feel a part of your brand and build a lasting connection by sharing your founding story.

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