What’s the difference between a personal story and a brand story?

By Brittany Taylor

What's the difference between your personal history and your brand story?

Aug. 8, 2016

Your brand story might be personal, but it’s not your personal story. Let me show you what I mean by that.

My personal story is 28 years long. It takes place across five states, two countries, and 19 homes. It involves heartbreak and silliness and teenage angst and recent-grad worries.

My brand story is more concise, less all-inclusive. Its plot pulls in threads from my personal story—my three years as a magazine editor, my foray into freelance journalism, my evolution into a question-asker—but it’s very selective. Every moment my brand story references might seem disconnected, but they build to my brand’s present-day personality, values, and mission.

But me quitting ballet? Me leading the homecoming hallway committee? Me despising broccoli? Those personal tidbits didn’t make the brand story cut.

What’s the difference between a personal story and a brand story?

A brand story is a curated collection of smaller, shorter, less significant stories that, when taken together, communicate a united feeling or message to a target audience.

When your brand is personal in nature—think: Oprah, not GE—those smaller, shorter, less significant stories are pulled from your personal plotline.

Those personal moments are the ones that make you you. They inform your own personality, your own values, and your own mission in life. Even if you’re convinced that you are your business, I guarantee you that your personal story is not going to be exactly the same as your brand story.

Why is that? Think about it this way: You created your business for a reason. Even if you’re running a lifestyle blog that’s a window into your daily doings, there’s still an underlying mission. There’s still a choice you’re making in terms of what you’re blogging about and what you’re keeping to yourself.

That’s the difference between personal stories and brand stories.

Personal stories are the whole enchilada. They’re all the things, period—the good, the bad, and the really ugly.

Brand stories are cherry-picked. Maybe they’re all sunshine and daisies. Maybe they’re super hard lessons. Maybe they’re a mix of the two. Regardless, they’re all there for a reason.

That reason, bosses, is to create a brand story that will electrify, inspire, and touch your audience. And, you know, make you money.

How to audition personal moments to build a brand story

Let’s get down to business, then: How exactly do you go about picking personal moments that will work for your brand story? First things first. We’ve got to start at the beginning.

Step 1: Settle on the gist of your brand story

This first step is about developing a loose idea of what narrative you want your brand story to tell. Most stories focus on some sort of transformation—how you went from doing or thinking or feeling one way to doing or thinking or feeling another, better way.

Consider these questions as you work on Step 1:

  • What feelings do you want your brand story to evoke?
  • How would you describe yourself five years ago? How would you describe yourself now? Think about what’s changed.
  • What do you never want to go back to doing or thinking or feeling?
  • Why did you start your business? Go beyond “I needed to make rent” and dig in to the emotional reasons behind it your decision to become your own boss.

Step 2: Plot out the types of personal moments that could communicate your brand story

Think in broad, sweeping terms, like, “a moment in which my beliefs radically changed,” or, “a time when I did something that people told me not to do.”

Step 3: Brainstorm personal moments that fit into the types of stories you want to include

For 10 minutes—set a timer if you like; I always do—I want you to write down every single personal moment you can think of that could possible represent the types of moments you wrote down in Step 2. Capture the moment quickly in just a few words, like “broccoli still sucks.”

Step 4: Pick the best personal moments for your brand story

It’s time to shorten that long list of moments, boss!

Here are a few audition questions to help you pick and choose:

  • Am I comfortable sharing this moment with my target audience?
  • Is this moment one that my audience will react to positively?
  • Is there a different moment that could tell this part of the story more effectively?
  • Will I need to include a lot of explanation or back story to describe the importance of this moment?
  • If I took this moment out, would my brand story lose anything?

Ask yourself these questions (and any others you can think of) for each of the personal moments you brainstormed in Step 3. Keep narrowing down the list until you have a concise and cohesive plot for your brand story.

The next step

How do you take this tidy brainstorm and turn it into a brand story? You have two options:

  1. You could DIY it.
  2. You could work with a brand writer.

If you have the time, I recommend you give the first—DIYing it—a try, even if it’s just for an afternoon. It doesn’t matter how good or bad of a writer you are. Writing a rough draft of your brand story yourself will give you a much better handle on what your brand is and what it isn’t, which means that you’ll be able to talk about it, develop it, and sell it more confidently and effectively.

When you’re ready to take your brand story to the next level, a professional brand writer will be able to work with you to develop a narrative that nails your brand’s personality, values, and mission.

That’s what I do every day. My one-on-one services for online bosses—The Brainstorm and The Workshop—allow me to help online bosses like you turn their businesses into brands that rings true.

Curious? Get the nitty-gritty details right here.

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