How do you discover your brand story? Why do stories matter?
The reality is: mission statements and value propositions don’t stay with people.
Stories create a deeper connection with your audience. They have a longer shelf life than statistics or facts. With a brand story, you're seen as a real-life human with real-life struggles. You're remembered.
In this post, we’ll walk through 6 questions to ask yourself to uncover your own brand story.
What is brand storytelling?
A brand story tells who you are, how you started, and how you got here. It plays into your mission and highlights what you bring to the table.
Without stories, your mission falls flat. It becomes a few lines pulled out of a hat instead of something meaningful and lasting.
“Your mission matters. When you express it well in your brand story, your audience is more likely to see you as genuine and human.” —Michael Brenner, CEO of Marketing Insider group
Why does your story matter?
“Just like your favorite books and movies’ characters, if you can craft a compelling brand story, your audience will remember who you are, develop empathy for you, and, ultimately, care about you,” shared content marketing manager Clifford Chi.
So what makes a great story? Conflict and adversity.
Fairy tales would be pretty short if we only focused on the happily-ever-afters. Stories of impact go BEYOND a list of accomplishments and resolutions. They get to the grit and grime of what got you here today.
Instead of hiding your conflict and adversity, make sure you include the bumps, twists, and pivots it took you to get here.
Why did you start your own business?
What led you here?
What are some of the wrong turns along the way?
Anecdotes and real-life examples go a long way—whether you’re writing an Instagram post or having a conversation with a client. “The more honest you are about your shortcomings, the more people will respect you and relate to your brand,” says Clifford Chi.
Real stories are more powerful than highlight reels.
How to find your brand story
Highlight reels don’t move your business forward. But by understanding your own story, you'll build trust and connect with your audience. Ask yourself these 6 questions to help you tell your story:
1. What did you want to be when you grew up?
Take it back to the early days. And no, I don’t mean the early days of business. We’re talking more like kindergarten. What did you say when grown-ups asked what you wanted to be?
Even if what you do now has nothing to do with your original answer, you can turn that into a story. Let’s say you’re a designer. How did you learn what you didn’t want to do?
I wanted to be a doctor, then I realized I’d much rather draw people than have to touch them.
I wanted to be a musician, but I spent more time looking at album art than singing along.
I wanted to be an astronaut, then I realized I like my two feet on the ground (and I’d rather paint the sky than float in it).
Your story is unique to YOU
Your turn: share one (or a few!) answers to the “What do you want to do when you grow up?” question. How did they impact your mission or how you approach working with your audience today?
2. What was your first job ever?
“You crushed my heart,” Mr. Churchill told me, after I very slowly (and probably too loudly) asked if he wanted crushed pineapples for dessert. I still remember his bright blue eyes, how happy he was to make me laugh. When dinner downstairs is your biggest outing of the day, I couldn’t blame him.
I have dozens of stories I could tell about my first job at a nursing home. Like the time a well-meaning woman smacked my hand for clearing a banana off the table. Mrs. Jameson and her stories about “This morning at the bus stop,” even though she hadn’t left the home in years.
Or how Mr. Wolfe always had something quick and sarcastic to say when I came to the table, like “You, again?” Or my personal favorite: “They haven’t taken you away yet?”
So what does your first job have to do with your brand story?
It has everything to do with the narrative you build:
What’s something funny that happened on the job?
What did you learn on the job?
When did you feel scared, nervous, awkward, out of place?
How did this job impact your approach to work now?
Moments don’t mean anything on their own. You could say “It was just a job.” Or, you could think about the lessons you learned and how they make you a better entrepreneur today.
Help your audience feel something—from comedic relief to surprise. Take them on a ride and share insights you’ve learned along the way.
3. What was the hardest job you’ve ever had?
“I can’t deal with your incompetence right now. Do you know who you’re talking to?!”
Ah, yes, another Tuesday morning at the call center. The man proceeds to tell me all about his degree and the money he makes as a doctor; and how I wouldn’t get it because I’m chained to a desk chair.
I used to spend eight hours a day on the edge of my seat. Waiting for the next crisis, holding my breath for another escalated call. I wasn’t saving lives (or holding any decision power), but every customer thought I was. Their circumstances were my fault. Their fate was in my hands.
I listened as customers yelled, cried, laughed, and yelled some more. Whether our system was down, or a flight was delayed, the amount of frustration, panic, and distrust was the same.
Lesson learned? Anything less than a clear and quick message, and you might end up hearing another tirade of curses. Your audience needs clarity, compassion, and clear solutions.
The hardest experiences often teach us the most
What did your hardest job teach you about serving clients or running a business?
How did your hardest job make you a stronger consultant, writer, podcaster, designer?
Did you learn to be resilient? How has that shown up in your business?
5. What are you most proud of?
Almost five years ago, I walked away from a marriage proposal.
Did I not tell you that yet? Yikes. It was an awkward, life-changing, humbling, complete mess of an experience.
I had to pack my things up and return to my parents. To live—not in my childhood bedroom—but my little sisters'. Sleeping on the bottom bunk of my sisters’ bed.
My life was in shambles. (My best friend and I called it Shamble Summer for that very reason). If you don’t believe the shamble part, here’s the disaster of a room after I rushed to move my entire life back home (my mom is going to hate me for this):
Moving back home and ending a long-term relationship pushed me to upend my life again (after all, I already did the scariest thing). I moved to a brand new city by the fall and took the first job I was offered (see "worst job ever" section of this post).
That jump to a new city and a new job in a new field was what fueled my dream to become a full-time freelance writer one day. It was the scariest, most valuable experience of my life.
I’m sure I’ll tell this whole “no-prosal” story someday, but for now, let’s talk about you. It doesn’t have to be as wild or shamble-filled as mine, I promise:
What’s one of the hardest but best choices you’ve had to make?
What’s something you’re proud of?
What was the “aha” moment that led you to start a business?
6. Where are you right now?
Here’s an easy one. Don’t worry about sounding smart or put together. Let’s just get some things in order.
What kind of services do you provide?
Who are the clients you work with?
Why do you love what you do?
Then, try to tie everything back to why you decided to go into business:
My experience running my own Etsy shop taught me about the ins and outs of online retail. That’s why I focus on working with eCommerce brands.
After helping college students write their resumes, I realized how hard it is to write about yourself. That’s why I started writing web copy and About Pages for entrepreneurs
As you look back on your career so far, what are some of the common threads? How can you share those stories with your audience so they can get to know you, trust you, and like you?
Turn your stories into content
Your audience craves real stories—the good, bad, ugly, and everything in between. Use these questions as a starting point to find inspiration for telling your story.
And remember: people connect with real people—not highlight reels.