How to Create an Epic Brand Story Like Elon Musk's and Henry Ford's
Have you ever noticed when you ask someone to tell their personal story, he immediately launches into where he works or what he does? The most successful entrepreneurs have answers to that question which transcend the companies they founded and products they invented. Their answer typically reveals a far deeper purpose in their lives, and oftentimes, it's a story that you want to be a part of.
Ford aspired to transform the market for automobiles, which at the time were expensive toys for the wealthiest few, into a mass marketed vehicle for the many. Musk shared the same desire for his Tesla electric car in a 2013 TED Talk: "Our goal when we created Tesla a decade ago was the same as it is today: to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport by bringing compelling mass market electric cars to market as soon as possible."
Both of these well-known entrepreneurs have stories which are far bigger than the cars they manufactured and the brands they created. They have remarkable personal brand stories.
Ford was an industrialist and the father of the modern assembly line mode of production famous for saying that the customer could have "any color car, so long as it is black". Musk is best known as an explorer, inventor and engineer. A multimillionaire before his 30th< birthday, Musk got his start as the engineering brains behind the development of PayPal. Like Ford and Musk, those entrepreneurs who build a personal brand story worthy of remark -- a story with purpose and passion -- increase their chances of long-term success in life.
Of course, all of us have a personal brand story, whether you've consciously created one or not. It's absolutely essential to recognize this fact and be intentional about crafting your own story. A personal brand story is more than what you do for a living. It speaks to who you are and what you represent -- it speaks to the core of why you do what you do.
To help you get started, here are three steps to creating your personal brand story:
Step 1: Discover simplicity in your purpose (your "why").
Finding your "why" is not a straightforward task. You must evaluate your own values and beliefs to reveal your personal motivations -- that which drives your behaviors. If your "why" centers on making a lot of money or just making enough to cover your bills, you have to dig deeper.
Ford believed that civilization would only thrive and grow if people had reliable and affordable transportation. Musk has taken a stand for a future with transportation for the masses based on clean, sustainable sources of energy.
You won't be able to build a business that can last if it doesn't mean more than money to you. Describe your passion -- the "why" that motivates you to jump out of bed every morning to take on the world.
Step 2: Bring clarity to action (your "what").
The next step is describing what you do. This doesn't necessarily mean you describe your industry or the type of business in which you currently work. If you only think about what you do in the context of your current situation, you will likely miss opportunities for breakthrough invention and innovation. You need a transformational "what" -- the things that you do to enact the changes required to fulfill your "why."
If Ford had limited the scope of his "what" to the manufacturing processes and technologies of his day, the Model T would never have been possible. He's alleged to have said, "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses," (although that's subject to debate). Likewise, if Musk had limited his scope to electric vehicle production standards and accepted the current state of battery technology, the Tesla would have never come to be.
The most remarkable personal stories are generally about a transformational journey. Describe the treacherous obstacles that must be overcome and the pitfalls that must be avoided. Put words to the overwhelming odds that must be beat. Touch on the "villains" that must be conquered and the "dragons" that must be slayed along the way. By bringing this level of clarity to action you can create a more compelling and emotive story for yourself and the journey you want your audience to accompany you on.
Step 3: Make your audience the hero (your "how").
Keep in mind that you are not the hero of your own story. After all, you don't want to come across as a braggart!
This is not to suggest that successful entrepreneurs like Musk, Richard Branson and Mark Cuban don't project a certain level of arrogance in how they intend to achieve their purpose. Quite the contrary, they most certainly do. However, with their personal stories, successful entrepreneurs describe not only how they plan to achieve their "what" but they also invite and engage their audience to become part of the story. If you doubt this, just ask a new Tesla owner sometime about their personal role in reducing carbon emissions on the planet.
Compelling personal stories resonate when your audience can put themselves at center stage. Your audience is the hero and you are simply the guide on the journey. Your story is not really about you. It is about the difference you make in other people's lives and how you guide them to a destination they could not otherwise reach on their own. You must clearly state the outcomes and how you generate impact. Most people have neither the time nor the inclination to try to figure this out on their own. If they are forced to figure this out for themselves, you have likely already lost them.
Remember that your personal brand story is not about "closing the deal." It's about providing a few simple and clear sentences to open a doorway for your audience to walk through and engage with you. It should make them pause and consider what they have just seen or heard. In the few seconds that you have, they will not fully grasp the depth of your story. If you have given them a reason to care, a reason to listen and a reason to engage, they just might well consider making your story a part of their own.
In his commencement speech to the Stanford class of 2005, Steve Jobs gave some simple but compelling advice to the graduates: "You've got to find what you love. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle."
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