Whenever I have joined a company I have made sure that I looked up its history. More than that, I search for peripheral data about the period, the people, the locality, the workforce and the technologies involved. I look for anything that helps build context, as only when you have a grasp of the context can you fully understand how the business has developed and what makes it “tick”.

Suddenly, the marketing world has grasped this concept of building a thorough knowledge of a business and termed it the “backstory”. By definition backstory is “the things that have happened to someone before you first see or read about that person in a film or story.”

Around the world companies are anxiously searching their archives, hoping that notes about their history still remain in adequate detail to create the backstory and allow them to talk about how the business began, how it evolved and more.

If you have a new business, such stories normally lie in the founder, the motivation to start the business and the manner in which it was done. Like Tesla and Airbnb, this is often compelling material and consumers devour it. This is why Seth Godin said “Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories that you tell.”

For older businesses in this modern digital world, the enthusiasm to achieve that longstanding ambition of a paperless office has often led to the ruthless disposal of old documents. This is particularly common when there is a change in management and the new team sees themselves and their achievements as the story, and do not want to spend time in the past.

We need to cherish the artefacts that are our history

So now companies are searching out their archives as fast as they can. In the leather industry we have one great source for older tanneries; trade magazines and journals. The leather industry as a whole has a poor record of supporting those conserving its history, be these documentation or artefacts. Bigger tannery groups around the world kept excellent libraries and more in the past. Think of Barrow Hepburn in England, Colomer in Spain and Friitala in Finland who all held outstanding libraries but I think these have now been lost.

Where we do still have archives and artefacts remaining, as with the National Leather Collection in Northampton (formerly the Museum of Leathercraft), we do need to pull together to give it maximum support. Elsewhere in Europe we have a Museum in Offenbach (Germany) and another in Igualada (Spain) although these do not hold print archives to the same extent as Northampton does.

These print archives hold precisely the material that allows companies, and the different segments and regions of the industry to build the backstories they now require.

Social media, such as Instagram, demands a great narrative about the history of a business, neatly broken up and illustrated. What were the events that framed the business, who were the individuals that pulled it through difficult times, what great items did you make in the past? 

Stories need to explain less what you make more but more who you are, it is all about the creation of an emotional bond.

Dale Carnegie said it. “When dealing with people, let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion”

Dr Mike Redwood

July 25, 2018


Follow Dr Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood

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