Nicole Osborne: using storytelling to build your personal brand

Listen to Nicole Osborne talk about how she used her background to develop her personal brand and how your client stories enable you to sell without feeling awkward.

In this episode of The Story Cave, we talk about:

  • Nicole’s Cupcake Exercise and how it helps her clients think about their stories
  • How you don’t have to share everything about yourself
  • How Nicole used her own story to build her brand
  • Why it’s good to use behind the scenes content in your marketing
  • How telling stories about your clients means selling stops feeling ‘icky’

We had a sweet conversation about telling personal stories, authenticity, and how storytelling makes us approachable and memorable.

Nicole shared so much value in this interview so grab your headphones and have a listen.

If you prefer to read what Nicole had to say, here are some highlights from our conversation.

Cherry picking stories: Nicole’s Cupcake Exercise

We kicked off our conversation by talking about how Nicole drew on her background when she was creating her personal brand.

She said: “I feel personal branding is very much about embracing your flaws, owning your differences and really thinking about what makes you unique. So I had a long hard look at myself and thought about what I could use to be different than everyone else because, let’s face it, there are so many social media managers out there.

“I genuinely think there’s enough cake to go around for everyone because we all have a different way of approaching things, we all tell our stories differently because we are unique messengers. 

One of the things I always use with my Wunderstars clients is an exercise which I nowadays call the Cupcake Exercise because clearly I like all things sweets including lollipops – and cupcakes. I encourage people to think about all the things which make up their story, and to picture them as individual cupcakes because if you think about it, there are so many cupcakes out there, so many different flavours, so many different toppings, and they’re all really delicious.”

A photo of a counter full of cupcakes by Meghan Rodgers

Choosing which stories to tell

“So with this exercise I encourage people to think about the cupcakes they just want to have for themselves, the elements of their story they would never want to share because it’s too private. This isn’t about encouraging people to air their dirty washing in public, but it’s about thinking about what makes up your story. Why do you do what you do? Have you ever made a mistake in your life? Who do you like working with? What’s your background? What’s your why?

“And then sit back and think about okay so if these are all the elements of my story, all the different cupcakes I can think of, which ones do I want to keep to myself? And which ones am I happy to share with my audience? Now usually by that time in our personal branding journey we already know who our audience is, what they care about, and what keeps them awake at night, so we can pick the bits of our stories which fascinate them.”

How Nicole used her background to build her brand

“I knew that one thing I could really go on about is being German because it wasn’t anything really private. A lot of Germans have a lot of similar traits, I mean obviously we are all unique individuals, but living over here in the UK, I could really build on it. So one of my brand values is actually being surprisingly funny for a German because we have so many stereotypes about Germans, I mean, obviously being professional, very great at structural things, engineering, we’re very precise. But they can also be a little bit serious, and that really isn’t me.

“I make this very much part of my story now. When I was preparing events and talks, I thought: yeah this makes me memorable, people will remember me talking about social media, personal branding and being from former Eastern Germany. I’ve been on stages talking about my love for David Hasselhoff or what it’s been like growing up in Eastern Germany because, yes, everyone has a story to tell, but that was my unique story that I’m happy to share with my audience.”

Look back at your life and decide which bits you’re happy to share

“This is what I encourage people to do: look back at their life, their why, and decide which bits they are happy to share, where could it really boost their marketing, how can they become remarkable?

“It’s all about people gaining your trust, getting to know you and your customers have to know the person behind the service they are buying to really do that.”

Telling authentic stories

One of the stories Nicole tells on stage is about her love of David Hasselhoff and the impact he had on her growing up in Eastern Germany. It was a story she really believed in. Is authenticity key to telling stories?

Nicole said: “I feel you have to be yourself when you’re telling a story. You can’t make things up. I’m not saying don’t exaggerate. Of course you’ve got to exaggerate a little where it’s appropriate. But if it’s not authentically you, how are you going to really bring it across in a way that people believe you?

“I do remember standing on stage and saying how as a child I craved fancy cars and Barbie dolls. And I really did! And when it’s a real thing it shows I think in your facial expression, how you tell the story, and you can really then savour the moment. I think it’s really important that it is authentic.

“One thing I’ve really learned in my content is that people don’t want perfection. They love someone to share about their journey, the story about how they might have felt when they tackled a similar challenge. So I didn’t want to be the most polished person on stage. I wanted to be the person who was going to be remembered for the right reasons where the audience felt: ‘Oh my god, she’s overcome all of this, I can do it too’.”

If you are the founder, you are the brand

Nicole didn’t find creating a stand-out brand an easy process to go through herself, so she understands it can take her clients out of their comfort zone.

She said: “I came out of this corporate environment where I had worked in marketing for big companies for nearly 20 years and the last thing I wanted to do was to stand out and share my story. But when you run your own business, you are the brand of your business. And even when it’s an agency and you’ve got a team behind you, if you are the founder, you are the brand.

“So you’ve got to find a way to let people know what it’s like to work with you, what you are about, what you care about, and storytelling and personal branding are such powerful tools. Why would you not want to use them?”

We want to know who is behind a corporate brand

Nicole said: “When you work on new brand identity you talk about what you want people to feel when they see your communications and when they see your logo so even in the corporate world nowadays it is accepted that people want to know the people behind the service.

“You just have to switch on the telly to see the many ads where staff members are featured. These are the most successful kind of ads. So we have a hunger for really getting to know who the people are behind these big corporate brands, and the brands who have cottoned on to this are really successful. So surely if we’re running our businesses for ourselves or we have a small team, this is the time to really sort of step out and say look this is what we are about, this is what we care about, let’s embrace this and let’s add personality.”

When you tell client success stories, selling doesn’t feel icky

One of the benefits of telling stories about your work is that they sell your services for you. People can see what you did for other people and the benefits they gained from it.

Nicole said: “I think the best way of increasing your sales confidence is to actually really build up a range of client success stories. Make your clients, your past experiences, the heroes of your stories. And once you have that, selling doesn’t feel icky because if you’ve done your branding right and your social media, you’re talking to the right people because they’re in your audience, you know you can really help them – and then if you use those stories, selling is less like selling it’s more like: ‘hey, and this is how I helped a person and that situation’.

“On social media, I’m a great believer in sharing behind the scenes content which is basically content where you show how you make things happen. Right now when we are based at home,  show people what your office looks like, or what you’re doing when you’re preparing for a presentation or a project. Or perhaps if you do something more practical, such as embroidery or you’re a seamstress, share the materials you’re using. Behind the scenes content is very powerful for storytelling.

“You can also use your why. Why are you doing what you’re doing? Because if you have been really strategic about figuring out who your audience is, who you like to work with, who can afford your services, who you would enjoy working with most importantly as well, you can really share your story in a way which they will appreciate.”

Nicole Osborne

Nicole Osborne

Originally from Eastern Germany, Nicole Osborne is a personal branding and social media coach helping small business owners get sweeter marketing results with her 1:1 coaching programme Wunderstars. You can find her on Instagram and watch her videos on Youtube.

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