When it comes to connecting with your audience in your small creative business it can feel like a HUGE task. I've no doubt that at one time or another, you've struggled to get noticed and trying to get attention on your work in the crowded online world feels almost impossible. But your brand story is one of the most useful ways to help yourself stand out in the crowded online business space.
I know that over the years, particularly when I've come to share more vulnerable parts of my story, I've asked myself questions like...
- Am I sharing too much?
- Am I being too transparent?
- Do they really need to know that?
- What if they think I’m weird?
And while the answer sometimes is - heck yes, it's too much to share right now! Most of the time, I come back to this one answer: your story matters - and people need to hear your story.
Where your Story fits into your Brand
Let's take a step back for a moment. I believe that what makes us all truly special is our story. It’s our unique reasons behind why we do what we do, and what brought us to this place of running our own business. And it’s also in sharing parts of your story that you’ll be able to find true and meaningful connection with your audience, and build your brand on a foundation of truth, vulnerability and authenticity.
Your brand story also helps to inform your brand messaging, which is a key part of your brand strategy and identity. Although there's a huge amount of strategy that goes into your brand messaging, the way that I love to do this for myself, and with my branding clients, is by using your story to help shape your message.
There’s huge power in the story that brought you from where you were, to where you are now. There’s a reason behind what you do and that reason is one of the things that powers you to move forward and to take aligned action.
But your story is also a unique way of connecting more deeply with your audience and building a stronger brand. Nobody - and I mean nobody, even if you're a twin! - has had the unique set of experiences, circumstances, and events that have led you to this place. So by figuring out the intricacies of what your brand story is, you have a unique advantage over those that don’t.
Brand Messaging vs Your Brand Story: Which matters most?
I don't buy into your brand messaging mattering more than your [brand] story, or vice versa - they both help inform different parts of your overarching brand strategy and matter equally if you want to create a brand that has deep roots and can grow stronger because of it.
But, for the sake of argument, here when we are talking about your story, or your brand story, we're also talking about your brand messaging and how the two interconnect. I personally believe that your brand messaging will only be stronger if it's informed by your story, as it's your unique perspective and experiences that will bring something forward that only you can bring.
All of that said, here’s a description of both to help you:
Your Brand Message
Your brand message is everything that connects your audience to your brand. It’s weaved through from the content on your website, how you speak + write on social media, through to the emotions and feelings that your brand visuals evoke. At its core, your brand message is the overarching message that you want to share through your brand.
Your story is the meaning behind your brand message. It’s the narrative that is the foundation of your brand message, and also your brand mission and vision. It’s the unique set of reasons, experiences & lessons that have shaped your journey.
At its core, your story is what helps connect the dots behind the ‘why’ of what you do.
My Story: A Tale of Twists and Turns and Enough-ness
To give you a more concrete example of this, I want to dive a little bit into my own story. My brand story began when I was a teenager, believe it or not! I was at college (in the UK our college is for ages 16-18) and about to turn 17, and I had had enough. I was doing terribly by all statistical standards - failing to get good grades in the majority of my classes and exams. This started a spiral of emotions around struggling to feel "good enough" at what I did for years, in and out of both college, studying for a HND in Interactive Media (the equivalent of the first two years of a University degree here in the UK), and in work.
It was only when I started studying for my HND that I realised there was somewhere for me in the world - somewhere that my creativity and weirdness and uniqueness mattered. I had never even realised that a "designer" was a real thing, a real job, and something that I could do in the "real world".
How my story continued...
My story continued and included everything from: working for design agencies and corporate-land for almost 3 years; being diagnosed with a chronic illness and disability at age 21; setting up my own business at age 22; landing in hospital with a suspected heart attack at age 25; burning out again at age 27; having new symptoms from age 28 through to 31, fighting for a new diagnosis while having my best year ever in business; leading us to now - late 2021, over 1.5 years into a worldwide P-word that rocked the world in so many ways.
And this is a LOT. There are many parts of this that might not seem relevant to my brand messaging at first, but when you look at the deeper meanings it can often signal a turning point or catalyst. For me, that was landing in hospital at age 25 - I realised how much I had
But EVERYBODY has a story. Yes, mine may seem dramatic at points – and maybe yours is more dramatic or less dramatic. It doesn't really matter! Because it is YOUR journey, and YOUR story - and that matters.
Every time I've considered sharing parts of my story, I've come back to the moments where I've had people thank me for sharing the parts that helped them, that encouraged them, that helped them stop and think. Those are the people that I want to help, and those are who I keep top of mind whenever I start to think of adding new parts to my brand story and share those experiences.
How to figure out what's relevant - and safe - to share in your brand story
One thing I haven't really touched upon yet is how to figure out what parts of your story are the most relevant, and that feel safest for you to share.
In doing this work, you can unearth old triggers, traumatic memories, and it can feel uncomfortable. Personally, I find it easier to share vulnerable moments than I do teaching design, but that can often mean I start to overshare. And so I have worked hard to find the parts of my story that are not ongoing, that are not experiences I am still in the very middle of. I wait until I have had chance to heal, reflect, and
That's not to say that I don't ever share whenever I'm in the middle of something I find difficult - like a debilitating chronic illness flare-up - but when I do, I make sure I do so in a way that doesn't add to my plate, and only in a way that feels comfortable enough for me to share.
Because, at the end of the day, what I tell you here doesn't have to become YOUR story, if it doesn't feel right. You don't need permission for this, but I hope that you know that your brand story can include whatever you want it to - and exclude whatever else you want it to, as well. Don't ever feel like you HAVE to include specific details or moments just because you think it "needs" to be in there, or other people tell you that it "should" be. Only YOU get to decide what feels safe enough for you to share, and whatever that is, is perfectly okay.
Your action steps:
If this article resonated with you, I want you to grab a pen and piece of paper (or a simple note taking app on your phone or computer will do), and map out the following:
- What brought you to where you are now?
- What have you achieved in your life?
- Where have you ‘failed’ in life or business?
- What are your biggest successes in life?
- What are some moments that stand out to you that brought you here, for whatever reason?
Once you’ve answered those questions, start to review your answers. Look for any patterns you can see, and see if you can start to weave together a timeline of your journey from where it began, to where you are now.
Look for the moments that were catalysts - the moments that signalled the beginning or end of something. Maybe you had an illness or period of burnout that helped you switch everything around (I landed myself in hospital due to burnout twice in 2 years - but that’s a story for another day!), or maybe simply having children motivated you to make your business a success.
Even if you’re in the messy middle, and don’t feel like you’ve got it all figured yet...that’s okay. So many of us are right there with you - or we have been before.
The thing you need to remember is: your story MATTERS. And the reason it matters is because someone out there needs to hear you and what you’ve got to say. Whether you want to impact a few, hundreds, thousands, or maybe even millions of people... your story matters to one person, at one point in time.