Blake Snyder may be the most famous person in Hollywood you've never heard of.
For years, he taught one of the most popular courses on screenwriting in the world, and his bestselling book on the topic called Save The Cat! has been an Amazon bestseller in its niche for years. One of his biggest, game-changing ideas was that every film ever made could be categorized into one of 10 movie genres.
It's a hard thing to believe because 10 seems like far too few genres—yet as he describes the "Monster in the House" genre (Jaws, Jurassic Park) or the "Buddy Love" genre (Thelma & Louise, The Hangover), you start to realize that maybe he's right. There might be a formula for great storytelling. That's what his books and workshops explained to screenwriters for years—and though he tragically passed away in 2009, his influence on films was so great that the 2010 hit animated film How To Train Your Dragon was dedicated to him.
His influence carried beyond filmmaking as well. When I first read his books, I was an avid student of screenwriting. Later, after giving up on those early aspirations, I read his books because I found the techniques used in Hollywood useful for writing marketing and advertising copy. A few years later, when I wrote my first book, Personality Not Included, all about why companies need to have a personality, I developed my own framework to describe the art of telling the backstory of a business.
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A backstory is a reason to believe in what your company does. It offers context that people can share. Like a great screenplay, a good business backstory has characters, a vision, a challenge and a triumph. It also follows a formula that you can duplicate for your own business. The key is to understand what type of story best describes your history, and then use it to effectively connect with your customers.
Here are five types of backstories, along with some tips on how to choose the right model for your business.
The Passionate Enthusiast
A driven individual takes a personal passion and builds it into a successful business.
Common Industries: Niche retail, social networks, family businesses
Use This Model If ... Your business could be described as a labor of love, your founders are experts in your industry and your business has grown mainly through word of mouth.
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The Inspired Inventor
A tireless inventor creates something new and different by not giving up on his or her vision.
Example: Dyson Vacuums
Common Industries: Technology/electronics, health care, fashion
Use This Model If ... Your business is based on a new invention different enough to be considered "inspired" (and it is most likely patented).
The Smart Listener
A new company is created as a result of listening to customers, partners or others.
Example: Stacy's Chips
Common Industries: Food and consumer packaged goods, travel, consulting
Use This Model If ... Your business was founded as the result of listening to customers, partners or others and continues to rely on customer opinions to evolve.
The Likeable Hero
A dedicated individual overcomes all odds to make his or her idea work.
Example: The Khan Academy
Common Industries: Nonprofits/advocacy, health care, green/environmental
Use This Model If ... You started your business with a big idea to do something to change the world and others have called you a "hero."
The Little Guy vs. The Big Guy
An underdog company takes on a seemingly unbeatable, established adversary.
Example: Under Armour
Common Industries: Food/dining, travel, retail, any industry with dominant players
Use This Model If ... Your business has a product or service that is designed to take on the dominant competitor in an industry and succeed in part based on your role as the "underdog."
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Rohit Bhargava is the founder of the Influential Marketing Group and an award-winning brand consultant. He trains companies on how to use more powerful storytelling principles for communications and has written two bestselling books about bringing more humanity back to business. His latest book, Personality Not Included, provides more tips on building your backstory. His own backstory includes being a playwright, launching a failed dotcom startup and eventually leading digital work for more than 35 large brands at three of the largest agencies in the world.
Photos from top: Getty Images