Want to know a secret about building a brand story?
The best brand stories come from a place of vulnerability. Great brand stories come from overcoming obstacles and failures. After all, we want to see ourselves in a brand. As human beings, we crave connection. And connections come from shared experiences.
For too long, we’ve put the focus of a brand’s story on its creation story; it’s WHY. While this is inspiring, we tend to step over some of the more messy parts of the story.
A brand story with no “mess” makes its promise seem unattainable. What we crave today is real life, real people, real experiences and a real possibility to transform our own lives.
Tim Ferris’ Embraces the Imperfect Brand Story
Remember The 4-Hour Work Week?
When I originally read the book, the one thing that jumped out at me and that few people talked about, was the many set-backs that were pivotal in his building a brand story. When you look closely, you’ll see that there he experienced a lot of failure:
There is something so raw, so human and so inspiring about this timeline. No matter how you feel about his philosophy, there is no doubt that this very human story behind the Tim Ferris brand is what makes it so popular
Your Mess is Your Message
In building a brand story, your mess is your message. When I say “your mess”, I mean those defining moments in your entrepreneurial journey that have made you and your brand who you are.
Think about those life experiences that have taught you the most. Be vulnerable enough to recognize that your target audience is choosing you because of who you are and not just what you do.
Building an Authentic Brand Story Means as Much to Your Team as Your Customers
We often talk about building brand stories to attract more of your ideal customers. But an authentic brand story will also help you attract ideal employees. Another benefit is that it will help your existing employees engage more authentically with customers and a broader audience.
Popular Culture Doesn’t Make Vulnerability Easy, But Social Media Makes it Mandatory
The business world is still going through a massive transformation. Our institutions are struggling with embracing technology that has wiped out any sense of privacy.
Before mobile devices and social media, large brands could control their marketing message. Top down marketing messages are over.
Embrace Your Weakness in Your Brand Story
What you might think is a weakness in your brand story can actually be perceived as a strength by your ideal customer. Here are a few examples.
Wouldn’t you want your financial services company to be detail oriented and process focused?
A financial services company does a customer survey and discovers that customers see them as not being very personable and being a little too rigid and detailed in their information requirements.
This can be perceived as a weakness. But when you shift the context to what matters to the customers of a financial services company, then detail orientation and being rigid with processes is a positive attribute when you think about managing money.
What do you want from your doctor? A great “bedside manner” or a successful outcome?
Let’s say that you’ve got a serious health problem. You can choose between a doctor with a sweet bedside manner and a 50/50 success rate or a doctor with a stern bedside manner with a 99% success rate?
How to Build a Brand Story That Embraces Your Ugly
I’m thinking that you’re freaking out right about now. It’s a frightening thought to think that your failures, weaknesses and personality traits are actually a critical component of your brand story.
Embrace the ugly! If you think that past failures or existing weaknesses are keeping you from achieving your branding goals, then flip those failures into benefits.
Here is a simple process you can go through to identify your vulnerabilities and how they play into your brand uniqueness.
Create a list of defining moments in your entrepreneur journey
You can take a page out of Tim Ferris’ notebook and go through your life timeline and jot down those 10-20 defining moments. A recent book by personal branding expert, Leonard Kim has a wonderful process to do just that.
One simple way to take that trip back in time is to go through your photos or your past resumes to jog your memory.
Then for each defining moment, make a list of emotions; how you felt at the time and what had you feeling that way. Jot down what you learned from that experience. Then outline how this experience and learning is actually working in your benefit.
Also, what decisions did you make about how things worked based on that experience.
Interview friends, family, clients and associates
Having made your own notes, reach out to your friends, family and professional network and interview them. Here are a few questions you can ask.
- What do you remember about me during that time?
- In what ways did I overcome this disappointment that surprised you?
- Are there any stories that come to mind that you feel represented who I am as a brand.
How to reflect on your timelines and interviews
The most critical step in building your brand story is to take some time to reflect on the results. Don’t try to write anything. There’s also the possibility that you’re going to wallow in your failures. Don’t do that.
Instead, look for opportunities to shift the contest of the story. Remember, what happened and what you made it mean isn’t necessarily a good thing or a bad thing. It’s just a story that you told yourself.
Start building your brand story
With these timelines and stories in hand, it’s time to start crafting your first draft. You’ll probably become frustrated as you go through this. Just remember, it’s going to take several tries before you get it right where you want it.
Where to Use Your Brand Story
Once you’ve crafted a story that you’re happy with, use the information to update your bios and about pages.
If you’ve identified some ironies in your brand story, you can feature them in your social media profiles and posts. Just make sure that you use judgement. For your LinkedIn profile, focus on professional qualities. On Facebook, you can be more casual. Share your personal stories on video and shares.
One good example of exactly this type of branding is Small Business Influencer and Publisher of SmartHustle.com.
In this video, he’s actually sharing a new passion project. Because he is so open about his successes and failures, he has a hyper-engaged audience who simply LOVES everything that he does.
If You Don’t Tell Your Brand Story, Someone Else Will
In today’s marketplace, your brand story is what YOU say, it’s what your customers and employees say about you. You can no longer control your marketing message. Simply saying that you care about the environment isn’t going to work for you if someone films you or an employee littering.
As the crisis management people like to say, get in front of the story. Embrace all of your experiences and show your customers and the world that your mistakes and failures have made you better and stronger.
Simply put — YOU tell your brand story, or someone else will.