3 Keys to Creating an Authentic Personal Brand Using Storytelling

We all need a personal brand, especially if you are in the business of storytelling, i.e., marketing (social media), advertising, journalism. Humans connect with stories, and they can smell a fake from a mile away, so you MUST be authentic in the way you present yourself and communicate what your personal brand is all about. 

The purpose of building a personal brand is to build trust and authority with an audience in order to sell something at some point – even if that selling is just of an idea or concept – and in order to do that, you need to hold their attention with a compelling story. 

Human brains love a wonderful narrative. We want to know more about the characters. We have to find out what happens next. You know exactly what I mean: Ever stayed up all night reading a good book or binge-watched 10 hours of a new show on Netflix on the weekend? 

tanya goodall smith authentic personal brand

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In contrast, we hate to be told what to do. Commands from your parents, spouse or the government make us feel like pushing back. But weave what you want someone to think or do into a good story, and you’re more likely to persuade them to buy what you’re selling, especially if the listener identifies strongly with the characters in the story.

The trend toward personal branding is stronger than ever. Consumers are more likely to buy from a company who has a person they identify with as the face of the brand. Think about it. Oprah Winfrey, Glennon Doyle, Jennifer Garner and hundreds of celebrity-turned-entrepreneurs enthrall and enchant us into buying their stuff because we feel a connection to their character.

Advertisers Use Stories to Sell

In one commercial, we see scenes of a dad and his son spending time together, getting ice cream and vibing to a favorite song in the car. As the boy grows up, we see scenes of them rocking out to the same song. Then we see the boy, now a man, leave home and the dad grows old.

The scene shifts to Christmas morning, where Dad hears a present under the tree ring. Inside is a mobile phone and guess who’s on the other end? The son, with his new baby, playing the old song they used to groove to. They all have a dance party in their separate living spaces.

By the end, sentimentals watching the commercial have tears in their eyes and every adult child and grandparent on the planet is contemplating getting a new phone or upgrading to unlimited data.

That’s the power of a story to persuade.

I might mention, there aren’t many words spoken in that commercial. Just video clips, music and one line on the screen at the end. Storytelling doesn’t have to include words. It doesn’t have to include pictures. In whatever form, storytelling is proven to help humans connect with others, build trust and persuade. 

What are some secrets to making a big impact?

Being authentic is key

Being authentic online doesn’t mean you have to “air your dirty laundry.” You can be truthful, open and inspiring to others about your struggles without showing them the ugly parts of your life, unless that’s part of your brand strategy. Make sure what you’re sharing about yourself applies to your audience and the problem you solve for them. Share parts of your story that will help them connect with you.

Be yourself. Always.

Don’t ever copy another influencer. Even though you may offer a similar product or message, bring your own personal story, solution, voice and style to the table. You’ll attract the right people you need to serve and be more effective when you’re not trying to copy someone else. Remember: People can sense a fake, and they also recognize copycats. That’s not to say that using the same trending audio or using an idea as a baseline isn’t an effective strategy – just don’t steal or replicate another’s work without giving them proper credit and asking permission when applicable.

Have strong opinions

Don’t be afraid to speak your mind. If you’re worried about what everyone will think of you, and try to cater to them all, you’re weakening your message. The strongest leaders have a solid stance for a cause, even when many people oppose them. Why? Hopefully, because they really believe in what they’re fighting for, but also because they know that by repelling some people, they’re attracting the right people. Haters gonna hate, and that’s OK!

Don’t wait for the perfect timing

Have the courage to put yourself out there NOW, as you are at this very moment. Don’t wait until you feel ready, lose weight or get invited to share your message in a big way. Take action now. Playing small won’t help you build your brand and isn’t authentic to the real, best self Y-O-U. You have value to offer the world. Stop hiding it!

Look the part in pictures and video

We talked about fakes and copycats, but now let’s talk about amateurs. If you’ve got a killer-offering, are the best at what you do and are putting yourself out there, but your brand identity is a mess, that will be off-putting. When customers come looking for the Mercedes dealership but you look like a used car lot, they won’t even walk in (or inquire if you’re online).

First impressions are everything and it’s highly likely the first impression many are getting of you is how you present yourself online. You could lose business, speaking gigs or book deals if your personal style, photos, text, website, graphics, messaging or offering do not seem professional at first glance. 

Beyond branding – tell a story

In some studies, brain scans show the brainwaves of a storyteller and listener actually syncing up. Areas of the listener’s brain associated with understanding meaning light up, and so do the regions we use to predict the motivations, emotions and beliefs of other people.

Studies show we also focus more on the characters of a story, what they’re feeling, what’s happening to them and how we relate to them, rather than the sequence of events in a story.

Which explains our obsessions with celebrities, YouTubers, influencers and the endless drama of our “friends” on social media. We love to know what’s happening in a character’s life. We feel like we know them. 

Here are 3 key steps for incorporating storytelling into your personal brand to really make it shine:

Get vulnerable – What’s your story? Why do you do what you do? What motivates you? What do you have to offer? How do you help people?

Choose how you’ll tell your story – There are so many ways to get your story out there: Blogging, writing a book, videos, or photos, words on social media or other platforms. Which feels most doable to you? I recommend you pick one for now until you’ve mastered it, then you can add another. If storytelling in any form feels difficult, consider hiring someone to help you.

Keep telling the story – Many people feel they have to keep coming up with fresh stories all the time. Guess what? You can keep telling the same story over and over. Successful brands have one story or mission and keep telling it again and again in different ways.

Coca-Cola commercials, for example, are known for inspiring happiness and joy, by using (you guessed it) stories of humans enjoying life. They aren’t selling Coke in a bottle. They’re selling happiness and associating it with drinking their beverages. 

Storytelling is as old as time, but doing so effectively while conveying a brand’s tone is a game-changer. There are a million ways to communicate, but no two stories are identical when told with vivid detail and from an original perspective. Don’t be afraid to tap into the power of storytelling to create your authentic, personal brand! You are you and no one can duplicate or change that – So OWN IT! You have the power to convert followers to committed fans of your brand.

Tanya Goodall Smith

Tanya Goodall Smith is a branding expert, founder of WorkStory Creative, and a certified personal branding strategist for Brand Builder’s Group. She’s worked with hundreds of international brands and micro-businesses to develop and improve their brand assets. She served on the board of the National Association of Women Business Owners and was a finalist in the Maria Sharapova Women’s Entrepreneur program. She has a degree in Visual Communications from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising and her expertise has been featured in dozens of leading industry publications and podcasts around the globe. Learn more at ​​workstorycreative.com.

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