You hear it all the time – you have to tell your brand story! Bloggers, coaches, and social media gurus all go on and on about how important it is that everything you do tells a story.
What story is your logo telling? Do your graphics tell your story? Are your blog posts telling the right story?
And chances are good that you’re thinking to yourself,
What does that even mean? How in the world do I tell a story in a DIY post, for crying out loud? What does a story have to do with my Etsy shop? I just want to do my work!
We are tackling all of that today, and by the end, you’ll not only know what brand story means, you’ll have one. (HINT: That means there’s an awesome free download at the end – stick around!)
Your Ultimate Guide to Brand Story: How to craft it, how to tell it, and how to change the world
What do you think of when you think about “story”?
I think about the book of Russian Fairy Tales someone gave me when I was a child. Those tales defined my early memories in ways I’ll probably never truly know. To me, STORY is imagination, adventure, challenges, and happy endings (and all taking place in a wintery Russian forest).
We see STORY and we think, “Once upon a time, stuff happened, and they all lived happily ever after.”
So, why does the idea of BRAND STORY trip us up?
What does it even mean to tell your brand story?
If you’ve read any blogging or business articles, you’ve probably heard (more than once) that you need to be telling a story through all of your content.
But how in the world does “Once upon a time” fit into a blog about recipes or home improvement? If you talk about finances, chances are you’re not ending your blog posts with “and they all lived happily ever after.”
How do you turn your topic into a story?
Easy. You tell the story of your topic.
If you threw anything at your screen just now, here’s hoping it was a pillow. Let me explain…
Your brand story really is just a story. Actually, it’s two stories:
- The story of the problem you solve
- The story of someone’s time with you
There really is a beginning, some adventure and peril in the middle, and a nicely wrapped-up ending sure to give you sweet dreams.
But in case you’ve turned “brand story” into some tale of horror that you can’t figure out and is giving you nightmares, hang with me.
I want to show you my story. Then it’s your turn to write yours.
1. The story of the problem you solve
Ready for a tale of adventure, danger, big dreams and unstoppable courage? This is blockbuster stuff, I promise.
Here is my story:
Once upon a time…
There lived a girl who loved graphic design, and knew how powerful design could be.
But there was a problem…
So many bloggers and creative entrepreneurs needed to use design to share their amazing ideas, but they didn’t know how to do it. They were frustrated and upset. They were in distress!
So the girl thought of a plan…
She would show people that design didn’t have to be a dragon waiting to eat them. It could be a magical ally who would help them tell their own stories!
And they all lived happily ever after.
If you need a moment to get a tissue, I understand. This story always brings a tear to my eye, too.
Seriously, though. Your brand story is still just a story.
- What problem do you see?
- How can you solve it?
Or to put it another way:
- Who do you want to help?
- How can you make their life better/simpler/happier?
That’s your story – part 1.
2. The story of someone’s time with you
When a visitor finds your site, how does that story end?
When someone comes across your blog, store, social media, or product, what happens? Do they find exactly what they’re looking for and go away happy, ready to tell all their friends?
Or do they get frustrated because the type is difficult to read, or the shopping cart doesn’t work, or the blog posts are on 20 different topics?
Both of those experiences are stories.
You can be intentional about telling a good story, or you can accidentally tell a terrible story.
Let’s assume you want the story to be good. You want people to arrive on your site, be charmed with their experience, and leave with a warm fuzzy feeling that inspires them to share your site with everyone they have ever met.
SPOILER ALERT: That will never happen by accident.
You have to put yourself in the shoes (or glass slippers) of the person visiting your site, and imagine what they see, where they might go next, what they’re hoping to find.
But here’s the thing – in order to craft a good experience for someone, you first have to know who will be visiting.
Back in Part 1, we said that part of your brand story is finding the person you want to help. The other part is knowing how you’ll help her.
Your brand story is not about you.
And it’s not about all the people who might stumble onto your site.
The story of your brand is the story of one person who has the problem that your site exists to solve.
Who is she? (Or he – heaven knows, guys have problems, too!) What is her life like? What does she need? What does she want? What are her goals? What is keeping her from her goals?
You want to connect to THAT person. And your story is the connection.
The problem you solve makes her life better. So think through the easiest way to give that solution to her.
That’s your story – part 2.
Have you heard the blogging advice that you need to find your niche?
That’s exactly what we’re talking about here. Finding your niche means honing in on the one problem you solve and the one person who needs that solution.
Yes, she has more than one problem. And yes, you could probably help with more than one solution.
A common mistake, though, is trying to solve several problems at once. Think about it this way:
I want advice on earning an income from my blog. Now, I also happen to enjoy knitting, I love Doctor Who, and I’m a complete grammar nerd.
Even if I could find the one blog in all creation that specializes in giving blogging advice for avid knitters who want to talk about that episode cliffhanger in Shakespearean English…well, I’m not going to lie. That would be pretty awesome.
It would also be overwhelming. See, when I’m looking for blogging advice, I’m not thinking about knitting patterns.
If you are absolutely amazing at cake decorating, your one target person can find another source to tell her how to change the oil in her car. She’s on your site because of that awesome fondant tutorial. And she wants more content just like that.
Ok, quick review:
- Who do you want to serve?
- What problem do you want to solve?
Ready to craft your story? I’ve made a workbook to help you start writing your story TODAY!
Now that you know what your story is, let’s talk about how to tell it.
Create your story – Components
Your story is simple – (who do you help and how), and you have a chance to remind someone of your story in everything from your logo to your writing, to the colors on your site.
Just a note: For sanity’s sake, please don’t try to answer and implement every one of these today. Your big goal for today is to get your story in writing. Once you have that, start brainstorming ways you can inject your story into your brand, and work on them over time.
You have permission to go slowly and hone your niche while you tell your story!
Why do you want to solve this problem or help this person? Why do you care? Why does it matter to you if someone is able to get past this obstacle or reach this goal?
Why are you even interested in your topic?
I never intended to become a graphic designer. My degree is in history, for pete’s sake. My first job out of college was as a Western History / English as a Second Language teacher in China. Not exactly a recipe for instant graphic designer. But behind the scenes my passions were coming together:
- When I was a kid, my mom and I always made crafts.
- When I studied history, I became addicted to story.
- When I traveled to China, I loved finding creative ways to teach.
- When I came back to the States and started working in an office, I ended up on a computer with Photoshop.
Today, I love graphic design and I love the way I can reach people through design. It kills me to see so many creative people who are held back simply because their graphics don’t show off how amazing they are, and how much they can share.
My vision is to teach bloggers and creative entrepreneurs how to use design as a flashing neon light to draw attention to the fabulous and life-changing content they create.
Little long for a t-shirt, but that’s why I do this.
How about you?
The principles important to you that shape your decisions and direction.
Your values can break down into two areas:
- Personal values – You are inextricably linked to your business. What’s important to you personally will show in the decisions you make. Honesty, integrity, faith, family, and the like.
Not everything you value will bleed into your business, but be aware of the ones that do. If you blog about personal finances, are your views on family important? Oh, yes. Personal finances affect the family.
For me, my faith influences everything I do. I don’t want to make a decision in any area of my life (including my work life) that goes outside of my faith in God. Most of my content won’t talk about my faith directly, but nothing I do will go against it.
Which of your personal values will most influence your business?
- Business values – What do you want your business to be known for?
Do you want to be known for excellent customer service? Are you always uplifting and encouraging? Are you the go-to source for up-to-date reviews? Are you known for your clever and sarcastic wit?
What words best describe your business?
Fresh, trendy, friendly, knowledgeable, efficient, relatable, innovative, classic, stylish, international, adventurous, adaptable, discrete, political, safe, elegant, local, secure, easy to use – you get the idea.
List some values that apply to your business. You don’t have to list Every. Single. Thing. you can think of. What are the big ones that you want to be known for?
For example: It’s important to me that anyone who comes into contact with my blog, social media, writing, etc. goes away feeling empowered, like they can do this design thing.
Now, how are you going to live out your values?
Mission / Strategy
Your vision provides the direction.
Your values set up some guidelines about how you’ll act.
Your mission ties these two together. Think of it as your strategy to reach your vision while applying your values.
Will you write a blog? Build a shop? Offer coaching services? Write a book or course?
How will you accomplish your vision?
Keep in mind that your vision and values will pretty much stay the same. You might refine them, but unless you completely change business ideas, your vision and values are set.
Your strategy, however, will change constantly. That’s ok! You’re learning what works (and what doesn’t), and figuring out the best ways to help your target person.
Remember – you solve a problem for someone, and your goal is to make it easy and enjoyable to find that solution.
This is part of your story – one that you’re still writing.
Business Name & Tagline
Ideally, your business name is carefully created and thoughtfully crafted to tell your audience immediately everything you offer and stand for.
Don’t get me wrong – this is the ideal. But if you don’t have the “perfect” name for your business, don’t wait and stress and get stuck doing absolutely nothing to move forward!
You attach meaning to your business name, not the other way around.
Case in point:
- Nike is the Greek goddess of victory, which of course everyone who wears Nike shoes knows. That’s the reason they wear the shoes, right? NO! I had to look up who the heck Nike was. The folks behind Nike like the fact that victory is somehow distantly connected, but they assign meaning by the stories they tell about the brand. Fast, cool, trendy, powerful – that’s all done by masterful brand story.
- Businesses named after a person. My name doesn’t mean anything beyond me. But if I name my business after myself, I build up a story about what you can expect when you see my name.
So long as your business name doesn’t mislead (for example “Mike’s Pizzas” selling floral arrangements), and you like it, go with it! Move forward.
Your tag line is where you can begin to hone in on your story. It’s just a simple sentence or phrase that sums up your vision, and begins to tell people what they can expect during their time with you.
Logo / Colors / Style Guide
In case you’re wondering how the color pink tells a story, I’ll tell you. It doesn’t.
But having a logo and certain colors that you use all the time is hugely important.
Remember, your brand story isn’t about you – it’s about the person you’re trying to help. And people like to know the ending of stories that involve them.
When someone comes across your site and likes what they see, they come back. The more they come back, the more they see your logo, your colors, and the feel of your site. When you use consistent colors and graphics, you’re reminding people that they know your brand story, and it’s a good one.
When you walk into your favorite local café, you expect squishy chairs, yummy baked goods, and the atmosphere that comes with it.
This is your chance to set the atmosphere. Make your blog a familiar and comfortable place to come back to.
Your business doesn’t have to be all business.
If you’re nerdy, own that. If you’re sarcastic, I want to hear it. If you’re an eternal encourager, I expect that from you. If I learn that we have the same sense of humor, you’ve got a fan for life.
If you want to connect with someone on a personal level, let them get to know you as a person!
You don’t have to do an entire blog post about dogs (which wouldn’t fit on most sites) for me to know that you’re a dog person. A casual mention on Instagram, a quick story when you’re talking about how hectic life can get – things like that help your audience relate to you.
Carry your personality through to your writing, your titles, your graphics, the colors you’re drawn to, the layout of your products, the content you share on social media, EVERYTHING. If your vision resonates with someone, they want to be connected to you.
Let us get to know you.
This is bright-flashing-lights, resounding-alarm-bells important.
And the hardest one to carry out.
All of these components add up to your brand story. But if you talk about 12 different problems, and attach a different color and graphic style to each page, and try to sound like a professor today and a teenager tomorrow, and post every day and then disappear for three weeks, no one will be able to keep up!
You’ll be telling a story all right, but the theme will be confusion. At best, someone will lose interest. At worst, they’ll wonder if they can trust your products.
It’s ok to do less in order to be consistent. You don’t have to be on every social media outlet or post multiple times a week.
Set a schedule that you can maintain. And just tell your story.
Are you starting to get some ideas? Ready to start crafting your brand story? Download this free workbook and get going!
Tell Your Story – Application
You have a story just waiting to be told – and hopefully, you’re starting to put the pieces together.
Now that you know how to craft your story, let’s hit all the places you can tell it.
Remember the basics of brand story – Who do you help, and how do you help them?
Does each blog post you write tell a part of your brand story?
In other words…
If your target person reads your blog post, will it be what they expected? Is it why they came to your blog?
If not, think twice about whether you should post it. You don’t want to water down your brand with content that doesn’t advance your story.
Stick around to the end for specific examples of how to tell your story through posts like tutorials and journal entries.
Do you send a regular newsletter? Or do you just email your list whenever you happen to think about it?
A newsletter is one of the best ways to let people become familiar with your story. They don’t have to remember to visit your blog or site, because you’re right there in their inbox!
Share your latest blog post, mention some resources that will help your target person, show some behind the scenes details or previews, or just write a letter like you would to a friend.
Before anyone reads a word that you’ve written, she’ll see your graphics. Based on your graphics alone, will she click to read your blog post, or will she scroll right past?
So many people spend hours or even days crafting their content, and then just throw up a quick graphic and hope it works. HINT: It doesn’t.
Whether it’s a blog post, a product, or a social media feed, your graphics are the first impression anyone will have of you. If that first image is carelessly chosen, you won’t convince anyone that your content is any better.
Here’s the thing – you don’t have to be a graphic designer to have designer graphics. (See what I did there? Graphic designer, designer graphics? Ok, so puns aren’t part of my story!).
If you do nothing else, be consistent with your colors and your graphic style.
But if you’ve made it this far, I can tell you that you won’t be content with just that. Your graphics NEED to be every bit as awesome as the content you make, and you can learn to do that without a lot of time or frustration. Let me show you how to add design to your arsenal.
Products & Services
This is the meat of your story. Whatever products and services you offer should exist solely to solve the problem of your target person.
How will you solve her problem? What’s the easiest way to get that solution to her? This is true whatever your product or service:
- Etsy or other online shop
Take it a step further and make sure your products are branded with your logo, colors, and personality. You’re reinforcing your brand story by making everything familiar and expected.
She knows she’ll be pleased with her purchase because she knows you.
Social media is one of the best ways to get your personality across, and engage people. Again, be consistent with your graphics, your colors, your writing.
Even the content you choose to share from other people should fall in line with your brand story.
You can be so informal here! This is the time to share a funny pet story, yoga class fail, or your progress on a new product you’re developing. You’re a real person, and you’re living out your story.
Videos / Podcasts
Bare words on a page can only tell me so much about you. But a video lets me see your smile and hear your passion.
Tell your story, connect it to your target person, and start that relationship.
Bonus points if you don’t have makeup on – there’s a good chance your audience doesn’t, either!
Yes, you can tell a story in an ad! In fact, this is the perfect spot to do so.
So long as you tell your audience’s story! How do you solve HER problem, and make HER life easier?
Keep up your brand story consistency (colors, logo, writing style, etc.) so that when she clicks to find out more, she knows a little of what to expect from you.
The way you deliver a product, how you answer an email, how long it takes for someone to hear from you – all of these things are telling a story about you.
When you answer a comment on Facebook, or leave a comment for someone else on Instagram – this is a chance for you to bring your story to people who aren’t even on your blog.
When someone interacts with you, how will that experience end? What story will they walk away with?
People are nosy. They want to know who they’re interacting with.
Yes. Golden opportunity.
Turn your About page into the story of your brand. And incidentally, that story is all about how you have a passion to help your reader. Share your vision, show your personality, and link to posts that offer a solution.
And give them a chance to subscribe to your list for even more charming goodness.
Do you have your workbook yet? Start crafting your story!
How am I supposed to tell a story in a ___________ blog post?
Remember when I said that your brand story is ultimately not about you, but about the one person you want to help? You might be thinking…
I blog about my kids! How do I tell a story about someone else when it’s MY family?
I share recipes/DIY/craft tutorials! Where’s the story in that?
My blog is just about my life! I can’t make my story not be about me!
If your blog is truly personal and you don’t intend to earn an income from it, then do whatever you think is best. Although I’d argue that even then, your audience will tend to be a certain type of person, with certain problems, which you can address.
BUT – if you’ve read this far in this epic post, I’m going to assume that you do want an income from your blog / business, and you are trying to build your audience.
Sound about right?
Then I’ll repeat: Your brand story is ultimately not about you. It’s about your target person. Her problem, your solution.
So how do you make that switch?
Well, you wouldn’t have a solution for HER problem if you didn’t have a story about YOUR problem.
Tell your story, by all means – it’s what charms us about you.
But tell your story with your target person in mind.
Let’s see this kind of brand storytelling in action:
DIY / Recipe / Tutorial Post
When your post consists of Steps 1, 2, and 3, how in the world do you fit a story into that?
First, remember that your brand story isn’t just words. It’s your colors, your topic, your consistency, everything that sets the tone.
If your tutorial is providing a specific answer to a question your target person has, you are telling your brand story.
Now, it’s nice if your tutorial is also pleasant to read. Here’s how to make sure it is:
- Open with a story or a personal connection. Why this tutorial?
- Be specific about what solution your tutorial teaches. Keep it simple.
- Use clear instructions. If appropriate, provide well-lit photos.
- If you learned the hard way what NOT to do, share it! It’s great for a laugh, and can help someone else avoid the same fate.
- Invite your reader to share their story from following your tutorial, and give them a way to do so (email you, share on social media, etc.).
We’re probably not going to learn a ton about you as a person in a tutorial post – that’s ok. We’ve learned that you’re an expert, and now we want to find you on social media to get to know you better.
Let’s say you’re writing a purely personal post – perhaps sharing news of a recent life event, or just talking about something on your mind.
First, is it appropriate for your brand story? Would a more informal spot like your newsletter or social media be a better place to share this?
I actually like an occasional journal post, because it’s a nice break that lets me see another side of a blogger. If I’ve gotten lots of value from your blog, and I feel like I’ve gotten to know you, then I’m thrilled if you share news that you’re getting married, or having a baby and might take a brief break from blogging. And if the news is less than happy, I appreciate that you trust me enough to share that, and I’ll even let you know I’m praying for you.
But if I come to your blog for business advice, and every third post is about your outfit or your newest grocery store find, I’ll find another business blog to follow.
Before posting, run through this list:
- If people will see a break in your consistency, let them know.
- If what’s on your mind affects the way you run your business (you’re pondering a change in direction and want opinions on what people want to see), let them know.
- If you’re sharing a lesson you learned or opening up about a failure, and it applies to your topic, by all means share!
- If you’re just looking to vent, pause and wait at least 24 hours. If you still want to vent, that’s what personal social media accounts are for.
What if your blog is actually a journal?
If your blog is built on journal posts, and that’s all you blog about, there’s STILL a way to turn the story around to your target person.
Example: You started a blog because you love to share your outfits, your knitting, or your crazy makeup skills. You’re a great writer with an engaging personality (and some luck), and you’ve built a following. Now you’re trying to earn an income from your blog.
Without even realizing it, you’ve probably been solving problems all along. Tips for finding bargains. Best makeup to use for fair skin. How to fix the great knitting disaster of winter 2016 when your cats got into your project.
And, you’ve built a following by solving those problems.
So keep doing it! But – now that you’ve identified who your target person is, gear your writing more towards her.
You wouldn’t have a solution for HER problem if you didn’t have a story about YOUR problem.
This might mean that you leave out the stream-of-consciousness bit about how you think pork really does taste like chicken. It might mean you get to the point a little faster, and don’t ramble quite so much.
We want to hear the personal details that let us get to know you. Do you have some tips for packing your child’s lunch? Perfect! Your target person has a child about the same age! This is exactly what she wants! What she DOESN’T want is five paragraphs about how you need new Tupperware.
Everything you do tells a story.
Your story could be “Here’s this thing you might be interested in, I heard about it from a guy at a shop, I don’t know if you’d like it or not, by the way I’m thinking of buying a new car, have you seen this video of a kitten?”
Your story could be the person you taught to organize her home. The woman you helped to start her own business. The man you showed how to get control of his finances.
Your story could be a whole collection of people with their own stories of overcoming obstacles, despite the frustration and doubt, and winning the day. Now, that is an adventure worth following.
How do you craft your brand story?
- Who do you want to serve?
- What problem do you want to solve?
Create your story through:
- Name & Tagline
- Colors / logo / style guide
Tell your story through:
- Blog posts
- Products & Services
- Social Media
- Videos / Podcasts
- Customer Service
- About Me page
Once upon a time…
You realized you could help someone. You became serious about teaching what you’ve learned and you did it with excellence.
People noticed. They began to follow, engage, and share their own stories of how you helped them.
And they all lived happily ever after.
Could you use a personal guide to help you improve your blog graphics?
You make awesome content. Shouldn't your graphics match?