I was watching the Hulu documentary about Victoria's Secret founder Les Wexner, and aside from the nefarious subtext, I was struck by his ingenious creation of the myth of Victoria. When I worked on Victoria's Secret PINK earlier in my career, job number one was to build meaning for that pink spotted dog. It was that depth of character and attention to detail that helped explode an entire category. And with billions in sales every year, even after a mammoth restructuring, Victoria's Secret still dominates when it comes to brand name recognition.

Even with the many decidedly more feminist and modern underwear brands that have come onto the scene, none have come close to the name brand recognition of VS, for better or worse. ThirdLove, the closest upstart competitor is estimated at millions, not billions, in comparison.

Whether it's the London sophisticate embracing her sensuality, Ralph Lauren's old money gents enjoying the fruits of multi-generation blue blood wealth, or any of the iconic outdoor or hip hop brands, there's a lot for start-up marketers to learn from, and a lot to avoid, in examining the myth-making of legendary lifestyle brands.

For a start, the old branding road map is dead. It used to be all about aspiration. The unattainable. Showing off and even giving the cold shoulder to customers. But aloof superiority is decidedly unfashionable in a changing society focused on inclusivity, self-acceptance, and breaking down social hierarchies all while saving the earth. Instead of brand characters signaling excess, indulgence, and exclusion of non-conforming swaths of society, create them to signal human connection, authenticity, and value that benefits the world--not just two-dimensional fancy rich people.

The days when brands could singularly steal our attention by papering our houses' entryways with catalogs and magazines and capture us at brick-and-mortar retail are over. Customers are Queen and brands have to keep up with us, not the other way around. We tell stories faster, in bite-size chunks, and they are dynamic, evolving moment by moment.

On the other hand, today's startup-and-run culture can learn a lot from the mega success of lifestyle brands like Victoria's Secret, Red Bull, and Ralph Lauren even if they don't have mega omnichannel dollars to spend. Namely, the value of a finely etched story universe. 

Where the old lifestyle brands were more static, Tik Tok and Instagram lifestyle branding conventions lose a crucial element: back story. Many of the old iconic brands had a fully baked backstory. Different from an origin story, the backstory will never fully show up in the narrative but instead informs it. Fiction writers often do exercises to understand what makes their characters the way they are. They outline early experiences that formed their character's worldview and behavior. These details might never show up on the page but instead, make the character more believable and more whole. 

Here are a few lessons for building a story universe for your brand:

1. Delve into where your product meets audience desire.

Go a step further into your persona to understand the emotional world of your customer. Most founders start businesses when they see an unfulfilled need, but to succeed long-term, it's imperative that you stop and listen to the customers who will be living with your product. It's in that discovery where the real story and the real value proposition lie. Embrace the nuance and capture the emotion of the customer, then build the story with these details in mind.

2. Don't aim for flawlessness or manufacture insecurity. 

Remind your customers that you know they're already great. The old way of doing things is rooted in a scarcity mindset and nobody's going for that anymore. 

3. Create a 'movie' worthy of cinema. 

Even if you're a b2b company selling a utility -- like ZenDesk which has done an amazing job capturing human characterization in its ads -- create a relatable story arc. Make it complete with rising action and plot points along the way that gives your character a journey. One where the brand is a hero that helps customers save the day for themselves or somebody else. 

4. Welcome and Include. 

Think of your brand like a cozy welcome mat and an open door to an alluring dwelling where like-minded people feel invited. It's really no longer the red velvet rope and stern publicist with a clipboard it used to be. Brand leadership is an opportunity to build people up and transform the world for good. So go ahead and do that. And do it through a narrative that hooks people and keeps them wanting more.