I talk a lot about creating a story behind your brand and the best ways to incorporate that into your copy to build that know, like and trust factor with your audience, and it just hit me…
I’ve gotten it wrong.
But before I tell you how I got it wrong, let me give you some background.
Today, I dropped off my son at daycare and, like I always do, I turned on a podcast on my way to work. Lately my favorite has been the Mind Your Business Podcast with James Wedmore and Phoebe Mroczek.
I finally made it to episode 71, the one everyone talks about. It’s the episode where James and Phoebe share their stories and the questions you should be asking yourself in order to discover your story.
And two things stood out for me. The big question James asked was, “how did you survive?”
Meaning, as you grew up, what mechanisms did you use in order to survive childhood. What barriers did you put up to protect yourself?
And the second thing: why?
Why did you feel the need to put up those barriers and use those devices to protect yourself? What happened to you that made you feel the need to do that?
Naturally, I’m asking myself those same questions as they talk and I feel the lump in my throat beginning to form. I start connecting the dots, and it’s not easy to face, but suddenly it occurs to me. I’m broken. I thought I had it all together when, in reality, I’m still putting up these same barriers and defense mechanisms to deal with things that happened to me decades ago.
And I say “things that happened to me” because that’s what it feels like, but really life just happens. Nothing happened “to me”. Life happened around me, and the way I act, my preconceived notions are how I dealt with life.
So how did I get the story thing wrong?
I told the surface. When I talk to my clients and we begin digging into their own stories, the deeper things are obvious. But, again (and this seems to be a pattern with me) when it comes to me I’m blind to my own story.
The surface story:
I’m in the military. I’m a teacher. I have a husband and 4-year-old son. I’m a copywriter. I love to write. I love my family. I work hard to build my business.
Boring. And, in fact, not unique at all. There’s no story there. How many people can say the same thing. Or, on the opposite side, how many people don’t identify at all and, therefore, don’t care.
So let’s dig deeper.
When I began asking myself the harder questions, everything started pouring out.
Growing up, I never felt like I connected well with people. I never felt close to anyone, and I did some risky things in order to do (what I thought) was expected of me or to connect with people on a deeper level.
But it was all superficial.
In hindsight, this probably has a lot to do with how I grew up. At a very young age I accepted the fact that, as a military family, we moved a lot.
So I stopped making friends. Defense mechanism #1.
I’ve always been a bit of a tom-boy.
Then, we moved to small town Texas. I went to a rural school with (what ended up being) a graduating class of 72.
I could either be a start basketball player or really pretty.
I was neither. I didn’t wear make-up. I didn’t like competitive sports. And, to top it all off, I was the new girl (which I graduated as 10 years later).
So I became invisible. Defense mechanism #2.
I learned that I didn’t fit in at a young age. I had no ties, so when I turned 18 I too joined the military. I used to think it was bravery. No one else in my high school was taking this mighty leap.
Now, though, it’s obvious. I was doing the safest thing I knew. Leaving with the family business.
If you’ve stayed in one place for most of your life, I’ll let you in on a secret only us nomads know.
Every time you move, it’s a blank slate. That’s great some of the time. People won’t know mistakes you’ve made, you get to reinvent yourself, so-on.
But you’re also starting from scratch every time. You’re making new friends. You’re revealing vulnerabilities. You’re making all new mistakes that these people didn’t expect, but maybe old friends would have seen coming.
For an introvert, like myself, it’s a nightmare. Especially as a child trying to figure the world (and themselves) out.
So I became very good at mimicking other people. Loosing and picking up accents. Putting on the persona expected in different regions of the world as I understood them.
This is how I survived.
And every time I began to discover the real me, we’d move again, and I became a blank slate.
Now, at almost 30, I finally figuring out who I am and what I really enjoy.
I’m realizing that I don’t wear make-up because that interferes with my invisibility act.
I don’t make friends because I know I’m going to leave them.
And I’ve turned mimicking people into a profitable career as a copywriter, taking the thoughts of others and creating web copy that sounds eerily like them.
And as I discover myself, I found my brand story.
I realized I could pull a certain level of emotion into my writing that most found difficult. I began posting motivational stories on Instagram people seemed to respond deeply to.
But I didn’t understand why. Until now.
In asking myself these tough questions, I realize that because I didn’t make friends, I didn’t develop a way to deal with emotion socially.
Because of that, I have real difficulty experiencing emotion.
I cry in every Disney movie. I explained to my son this emotion is happy-sad. I’m so happy, I can’t help but cry.
I cannot watch scary movies. More specifically, I can’t experience fear that could be real.
Zombies – love ‘em.
Aliens – creepy but cool.
Movies that involve real scenarios of people dying in very plausible ways – nope. Don’t even ask.
And I refuse to watch sad movies. What’s the point of becoming an emotional wreck for an entire afternoon?
Especially if that sad movie involves pain for a child. Now I’m an emotional wreck with an itch to commit homicide and save that child.
I can’t deal with these things, so I avoid them.
But, for some reason, when I begin to write, these emotions come out.
They appear clearly and without a filter. They’re sharp and piercing, and suddenly I have a story to my brand.
Because of what I’ve been through, I can write emotion in a unique way. I can take your voice and become it.
The point I’d like you to take away from this is…
your story doesn’t have to be world-shattering. You don’t have to (as James put it) have lived under a bridge and been addicted to heroin before you started your business.
You just have to be honest. Honest with yourself first. Then with the rest of us. That’s how you’ll build your story. That’s how you’ll tap into the know, like and trust factor. That’s how your tribe will find you.