The Backstory

24 Aug

In literature the backstory is a narrative used to help the main story unfold.

It might be the background used to fill in the character’s lives.

An author will sometimes create it for their own information never revealing the details in a novel or movie plot.

Backstories are used in journalism as a way to develop the background for a news or profile piece.

It’s often material that is not used in reporting the story, but might be heard in a podcast or internet piece later.

There are many uses for backstories and three ways to spell it, by the way.

Retailing is where you find some of the most well developed backstories created to support popular brands.

In our work consulting for major retail and fashion brands we see a wide range of approaches to branding.

Walk through the mall and you can quickly pick out the struggling brands. Their inconsistencies give them away.

And it’s always the little stuff.

Little stuff adds up over time.

The big winners are relentless about ‘staying on brand’.

They are highly focused, developing a backstory with depth, and making sure everyone in the company lives it.

Backstories can be as thick as a book and as detailed as a well written novel.

No detail is left to chance.

The house pictured in the painting on the wall in the store is part of the backstory. So is the wood chosen for the cabinets or the antique lighting fixtures.

The backstory evolves and grows over the years.

The central plot and themes remain.

Listening to someone responsible for a brand tell the backstory is like spending an afternoon with a novelist.

A great story aids the staff with their visualization of the brand.

It keeps a brand on track through the inevitable personnel changes.

We used a Marketing Model as way to outline the brand story for our radio stations.

It defined the target, product, position, and promotion for the next year.

Looking at that now, The Marketing Model was primitive compared to a well done backstory.

As companies develop more ‘lifestyle’ formats the backstory becomes very important.

‘Bob’, and ‘Jack’ probably have some sort of backstory about who they are and why they are here.

The backstory is as much about who they aren’t as who they are.

Morning shows are a place to apply the backstory concept.

This is where you define character roles, history, and some of the ‘make believe’ that goes into each person on the show.

A recent article explained how the Program Director job is disappearing and being replaced by Brand Managers.

This means the traditional PD job is evolving from management of one radio station to including websites and other media.

A radio ‘Brand Manager’ requires more skills than today’s Program Director. That person will need to understand how to program a radio station, and how branding works and flows among different media.

It will be important to study businesses like retailing to see how they communicate their brand both internally and to the consumer.

Retailers start with the story long before the logo is drawn.

They think long term.

Newer, lifestyle radio brands will have an advantage over traditional stations. They can create a deep backstory and attach themselves to a specific lifestyle much like major retailers like American Eagle, Victoria’s Secret, Abercrombie & Fitch, Hollister, Pac Sun and others.

Some stations have a person, we’ll call her ‘Suzie’ who they outline as the typical listener that shops in certain stores and watches Friends re-runs. That’s just the start of your station’s backstory.

It requires vivid detail and a clear understanding of what you want the station to be, and not to be.

I suggest you take time to think about your station brand. What is the story behind it?

Certain stations have tons of lore because of their history. WMMS Cleveland and WEBN Cincinnati are two that come to mind. There are others.

People love stories.

How can you use the backstory concept to set your station apart from the others?

Remember this. If you think a backstory can’t be used to set apart radio stations that are playing similar songs from one another think again.

Retailers have a tougher job.

They’re trying to be different, cool, exciting from the retailer across the mall selling the same kind of stuff like jeans, t-shirts and hoodies.

The retailer with the better story wins.

It should work the same in radio.

1 Comment

Posted by on August 24, 2008 in Radio programming, Uncategorized


Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

One response to “The Backstory

  1. Don Beno

    August 26, 2008 at 12:58 am

    Excellent comments about the “backstory.” This is an issue that many, many brands fall short of, not just radio. Your example, JACK-FM, was certainly one of the formats that quickly became flavor-of-the-month. Problem was that many programmers only thought of JACK as a music format with a large song playlist void of jocks. Where are these JACK formatted stations today? On to the next flavor.

    I won’t go on, but let me leave with some things to ponder.

    -Harley Davidson doesn’t just sell motorcycles.

    -Starbucks doesn’t just sell coffee.

    -Subway doesn’t just sell sandwiches.


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