Five ways to build your personal brand story
Which comes first – your professional biz persona, or the personality of your brand?
On our most recent episode of We Rebranded! Michelle Bowditch explained her brand journey, which involved investing in her own brand ID first. Once she was confident expressing her new bold, colourful, powerful personal look and voice, Michelle built on this to shape a new brand identity for Door 20a.
Your business backstory is important – but your current and future clients also want to get to know you, the business founder, too. This can often feel daunting or overwhelming. Where do you start? What do you put in and leave out? And what if the things you worked on before you started your business don’t seem aligned to what you’re doing now?
Storytelling techniques can help you craft a unique personal brand story that captures your essence, captivates people’s attention and conveys a sense of the infinite possibilities that can be realised by working with you.
1. Bring yourself to the story.
I’m not talking about the current fad for ‘authenticity’ in business. Today, ‘authenticity’ seems to have translated into using social media to tell your audience every personal element of your life, whether it’s a mental health breakdown, relationship challenge or political opinion. You don’t owe your audience everything; in fact, you have a right to protect your most personal experiences and share them only with the people you love and trust. Unless you’re a personal coach, baring your soul and your secrets can make you appear inward-looking, spark sympathy (which is all about you!) and do very little to advance your professional interests.
Storytellers are in service to others. That means you need to tell your story in a way that has value to other people. To do this, spotlight the way you experienced a moment in time/event/milestone that could be relevant to others. Find that point of recognition and universality and use it to connect with your audience. Also make sure you don’t let yourself get lost in other people’s stories or be overshadowed by events that happened around you.
Recently, I hosted an event where guests shared their professional stories. We met in advance to talk through the stories and help me prep some questions. One guest shared their journey, from traditional corporate world to dynamic start-up. I learned about the founder’s challenges, the incredible work the company was doing, and the adrenalin-pumping chaos of a company rapidly expanding.
It was an interesting story that told me everything except anything about the person in front of me. Not once as they were speaking did I find them in the story: their feelings, stumbling blocks or growth. As humans, we are sometimes far too humble. After discussing how to bring yourself to the story, we started again, and they identified their own narrative within that bigger picture.
2. Connect the dots with your values.
If you’ve had a diverse, even rollercoaster of a professional journey so far, you may be worried that it all looks unrelated and makes you seem less credible. There’s a little trick I like to use with values to overcome this! I call it ‘connecting the dots’.
Firstly, pinpoint what you stand for or want to be known for. Then, sit down with and map out your past employment history, volunteer work, projects you worked on or led, and hobbies. Now, find five values that were there in every encounter. Was it compassion? Rage? Hope? What made you come alive? These values are the thread connecting everything you’ve done up ‘til this point. Reference them in your story.
3. Add a little drama.
Think about the flow of a story – whether it’s a book, film or tv show. It usually has a beginning, middle and end. Every teen Hollywood romance movie from the 80s and 90s roughly follows this structure: boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl again (on behalf of all the studios, I’d like to apologise for the lack of inclusion for LGBTQI+ people). That middle bit is where the drama lies.
If we want to get a little more complex, we can shape our story around Donald Miller’s definition from his epic book, Storybrand:
‘A character who wants something encounters a problem before they can get it. At the peak of their despair, a guide steps into their lives, gives them a plan, and calls them to action. That action them helps them avoid failure and end in success’ Donald Miller, Storybrand.
What challenges have you faced? Who was there holding your hand (or saving your sanity) through them? What steps did you take? What was the positive outcome? All these ingredients can be sprinkled into your personal brand story!
4. Capture the moment of transformation
Stories always include a ‘threshold’ moment – a crossroads in our lives; or a turning point. Story does not exist when a character simply flatlines through the plot with no emotional twists and turns. A story is only a story when there’s change and growth.
I recently had the pleasure of hosting an event with a talented young professional who has just launched a solo consultancy. She was on track to rise through the ranks of a prominent Melbourne institution. She’d just won an award for her environmental campaigns. As she accepted it, she was asked why she was so proud to win it. She was tongue-tied. In that moment, she knew this wasn’t where she was meant to be. She walked away from it all, invested in some training, and is now helping drive awareness of the emerging world of sex tech. That moment when she was asked the question was her ‘threshold’ moment.
Your own change does not have to be this epic to matter. That moment of transformation could be a simple trigger – a word, an article, a feeling – that suddenly clarifies your understanding of the world, and makes you see everything through a different lens.
5. Play to the crowd! (AKA know your audience)
There’s no story without an audience to experience it. In fact, the earliest stories captivated listeners around ancient fires and forums, and were intended to pass on values, memories and histories.
As you’re framing your story around the four points I’ve outlined here, remember to keep in mind your ideal audience. What are their challenges and desires? What do they need to hear from you to be inspired into action? Select the details you share in your story, and interpret their meaning, in a way that shows you see them, understand them – and might even be their solution!