Welcome to the Telling of Story podcast, I’m your host Storyteller Jewels and along with my guests it’s my endeavor to explore the art and science of storytelling to attract, engage and retain a business audience and to unpack why it works for some and not for the many that try. Listen in as Christia reminds us to not forget what fulfils us.
Christia: When you own a startup or you’re an entrepreneur, a lot of the work that you do is outwardly focused. It’s about creating something, creating some solution for other people. And when I look at the considerations of the inner artists, And talking with other innovators and founders, entrepreneurs, many times they’re so focused on creating this outward facing solution that they forget to focus on personal and what’s fulfilling on a personal level.
Jewels: In this episode, I have the pleasure of talking with Christia Madacsi Hoffman. Christia is a brand storyteller and consultant with expertise developing concepts and crafting messaging across media channels from print to web to video. She helps her clients tell the story of their business and brand through verbal identity development, full service copywriting, and done with you copy coaching that communicates their unique value and niche in the marketplace.
As a creativity coach, Christia works with leaders, innovators, and founders who are ready to connect with their inner artist. As a lifelong creative professional, she draws on her experience as a brand writer, publications designer, published poet, and working actor to help her clients establish structures that support creative practices, so they can experience greater meaning, fulfillment, and prosperity in their business and life.
Based in Austin, Texas, Chrystia maintains a regular poetry practice, and she is the author of two full length collections of poetry and everyday courage.
Christia, welcome to the show.
Christia: Thank you, Jewels. Thanks for having me.
Jewels: Christia, tell me about the journey as a creative professional. How did you move from graphic design into brand writing?
And in fact, I believe we can throw in antique furniture restoration and leading treks in the Himalayas if you want to take us there as well.
Christia: Yeah, you’re right. It’s been an interesting path. So when it comes to the creative end of the spectrum, I guess it starts farther back in the arts and then antique furniture restoration and acting.
But when it comes to the applied career aspect of things, I started my creative career as a graphic designer and then a great love of print, and I focused my work on print publication, design, magazine layout, book design, and. Along the way, I found myself writing for all [00:03:00] of my clients and I was editing and over time, I came to have positions where I was doing both positions equally doing graphic design and writing.
And then I eventually shifted my focus over to brand writing specifically. And that’s what I really enjoy about that is I love turning over a phrase and working with words. So I have this poetry practice on the side and the acting work factors into that, but I feel the background in graphic design really helps me think about how words and images play together on the page, be it print or digital.
And, uh, I’ve also been a startup owner. And because I live in Austin, Texas, at some point you have to have a startup. Everybody has one. And through creating that brand also really focusing on looking at target audience and crafting that brand from out of nothing. I came to really love that process of that piece, that [00:04:00] writing piece and brand storytelling.
Jewels: me a little bit about the trekking and in the Himalayas. I’m curious.
Christia: Yeah, so my first degree is actually in women’s studies. And I have used that really primarily as a, as a writing, for all intents and purposes, it was a writing degree. And when I moved here to Austin, I was actually working in a bookstore for a while, trying to, transitioning out of antique furniture restoration.
And I worked with someone who was starting a trekking and expedition company in Nepal. And she knew that I had this background in multicultural women’s studies and that I could sort of write to the experience of travel. I had a lot of travel in my background, uh, and I started working with her in, um, marketing copywriting for developing as they were developing treks and, and trying to convey that experience, that story.
To potential clients, what is it like to go out and hike in the high Himalayas for for 10 [00:05:00] days? And so I started working with them and then they asked me if I would be interested in actually working guiding tracks and with my background. Traveling and, and some degree of hiking, I just, I took the leap and ended up working in Nepal and Tibet.
How was that experience? Like, did you do that for a while or was it just a passing thing you did for a season or two?
Christia: So I worked with them for about a year and a half and I did that work for two, I’d say two and a half seasons. And decided to come back and, uh, focus my work. That’s when I came back to the States and started really pursuing graphic design in earnest.
Jewels: And how high was your highest peak?
Christia: Uh, let’s see. That would probably be Gokyo. Gokyo Peak, and that’s, Gokyo overlooks these amazing glacial lakes, um, if you, if you’re hiking that area, and you can go the Gokyo route to get to Everest Base Camp. A lot of people don’t do it because [00:06:00] it’s, it’s about a three week trek from, if you start in, in uh, uh, Lukla.
I think it’s over 18, 000. I couldn’t quote the exact, the exact footage, and I don’t know in meters.
Jewels: Tell, um, explain to me a little bit about the studies you’ve done in women’s studies. What is, what does that entail?
Christia: Uh, so that was, I was actually, I started women’s study, the women’s studies major with someone when I was going to college.
In Vermont, at Bennington College, um, that it, we actually called it the gender studies major. I’m really looking at the social construction of gender. So looking at social psychology, biology, literature, bringing all these elements together and assessing how women’s experiences are both created and influenced by, through these, through.
Social experiences and through the broader environment and through biology and all of the different ways in [00:07:00] which gender becomes in which we come to understand gender. So these women’s studies, gender studies has evolved significantly since I was, I was in the field and we have a whole new set of. Um, we have a new language, I think, uh, for discussing women’s studies and, and, uh, concerns around gender.
Um, but I, uh, after transitioning out of Bennington, I went to the Simone de Beauvoir Institute for Women’s Studies in Montreal, uh, which was the oldest women’s studies institute, um, in North America. And, uh, uh, maybe. Maybe across the world. I’m not sure it was a fairly new field at the time. Um, so really focused on on women’s experiences in, in, in all ways, um, and and differentiating those from what had been, um, what was sort of assumed standard at the time, you know, [00:08:00] um.
I think a great example was, uh, understanding that most medical, um, studies, uh, research studies at the time used men as the standard, um, and the assumption being that this, this translated to women. And, and that was true. It’s true in multiple fields, but, um, men’s experiences and women’s experiences. are different.
And now we can also talk about people with different gender identities beyond binary. So those areas continue to fascinate me.
Jewels: I imagine that’s evolving at a rapid rate in the last 20, 30 years.
Christia: Indeed. Yeah. And I feel very much as much as I am interested in it, I feel we’re speaking about language today, but I feel very much sometimes at a disadvantage of not being in the academic.
Realm really fully being able to understand what some of that language is and how to speak knowledgeably [00:09:00] about. In an informed way about, about, uh, gender and, and gender identity.
Jewels: Christia, you work with leaders, innovators, founders, et cetera. And you talk about, you know, connecting with their inner artists.
What does that mean?
Christia: So I think. In my everyday work, in the work that I do from a branding and brand storytelling standpoint, a lot of this work that we do is outwardly focused. When you own a startup or you’re an entrepreneur, a lot of the work that you do is outwardly focused. It’s about creating something, creating some solution for other people.
And when I look at the considerations of the inner artists, And talking with other innovators and founders, entrepreneurs, many times they’re so focused on creating this outward facing solution that they forget to focus on personal and what’s fulfilling on a personal level. And I’ve heard again and again, people [00:10:00] who, especially for me as a practicing creative in many realms as a poet.
As a writer and as an actor, I see that I hear again and again that people are, are, you know, Oh, I wish I had time for that. Um, I wish I could do that. Or I have this book that I’ve been working on, or I read this thing and I’m reminded that I, I really wish I, I could make the time to do. Insert creative practice here.
I feel like in working part of what I do is a creativity coaches help people look find the time to do that and and remember what it is to connect with that creative side of themselves to turn that. What is usually an outward focus inward and have that sense of fulfillment that comes from personal creation, not for some outward purpose, um, but simply for that, that personal to fulfill that personal need, which then so often translates into greater [00:11:00] energy.
Back into the business when we serve, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s in many ways related to our discussions around self care, you know, you take care of yourself and you can then bring more back to the other people in your lives. You can bring more back to your business and to create a pursuit. Is it does that and it can also be very productive and I use my work in poetry as an example of that.
In my own work as a poet, I spend a lot of time turning over individual words and looking at how, even how lines rag on the page or don’t rag, centering text or not centering text. But in spending a lot of time with individual words, I know how they have an impact and what it can mean to use one word in place of another.
And… I bring that focus and that experience back into my work as a brand writer. I’m spending all that time, [00:12:00] I’m doing that work for myself, but I also have that experience of, it’s very fulfilling. I always say that writing poetry makes me feel more like myself when I do it. But having that experience and all those hours of writing for that.
I’m able to bring that back into the work that I do every day, not only that sense of fulfillment, but also that experience with with those words with assessing the meaning of something with looking up new ideas and concepts that that come to mind that are not intimately familiar with, but then. Might shift the angle of a, of a poem and discovering that, that these new ways of approaching something can then be brought into the brand writing process as well.
Jewels: I spent a little bit of time on your poetry website and read a few poems that are sitting there and they’re beautiful. And one stood out, one stood out for me, um, Need, Love, Want. Uh huh. Yeah. [00:13:00] And it says that at the age of 48 that you were just learning to use your words. And not just that, but you also learned to laugh out aloud.
Yeah. Tell me about that.
Christia: So I think there’s, it’s, it’s interesting to be talking about women’s studies. Here also, I think as a woman, I learned to stay quiet, you know, to be more ladylike, maybe it’s influences of an earlier age and, and in fact, I even, it struck me one day going through the grocery store that women are quite literally told to lose.
If you walk through a grocery store, their magazine covers that say, you know, lose. 10 pounds. Lose! And there’s a picture of a woman next to the word, with the word lose on top of her. And with men, it’s about gain. And so, you know, women are often, prior generations have been taught to get smaller, to keep their [00:14:00] voices quieter.
We know a lot about this, we, we hear about this, and there’s the concerns around women who raise their voices and how they’re characterized. And in my experience of. Growing up where I did my, my familial influences, really being able to fully laugh out loud and use my words, take up space. It took time to get to that, to get to a point where I felt comfortable fully expressing myself and I still edit myself when I’m speaking.
I’m, it’s, it’s one of the things that I’m constantly aware of word use. And I’m regularly self editing, but I remember that there was a point in time where I finally let myself just laugh and take up the aural space that laughter takes up, irrespective of what someone next to me might I think about it or feel
Jewels: it’s interesting because I still don’t [00:15:00] laugh out loud.
I’m a little bit the same. I don’t like taking up space in that regard, which is kind of interesting, but how much I think for me in particular, that was a cultural thing. I grew up in an Italian migrant family. And we were kind of told to be, hold your space if you like. Yeah. Not be too gregarious. How much of it do you think is gender-based versus perhaps a little bit cultural as well?
Christia: I absolutely think it’s both. And you know, I come from, I grew up in New England where my working theory is that, you know, the, the cold makes people keep to themselves. They, you know, physically turn, uh. Hold themselves closer and they don’t necessarily have time to open up and I’ve lived in, having lived in Austin for 25 years, I always say that I really learned to engage in conversation here and I learned to be how to, you know, I think some people think of the [00:16:00] South in the U.
S. and they think about, you know, maybe a false politeness and that’s not what you find here in Austin. But I think, and I, without a doubt, have been affected by the environment here and the southern approach, because that was not what I arrived with. I tell the story of when I got here, I remember sitting next to someone, and I was in my early 20s, I didn’t have a, I moved across the country without, left my car in New England.
So I was sitting on a bus stop and someone next to me started up a conversation and, and I was like, why are you talking to me? We don’t do that where I come from. And also I worked in a shop and we were told to engage with people who came through the door. Hello. You know, let me know if I can help you.
And we don’t do that in New England, you walk through the door and you know, they’ll find me if they need me. They know I’m here to help if they have a question. So really different ways of engaging. So absolutely that, that greater environment has a significant impact and [00:17:00] influence on how much space we allow ourselves.
Interestingly, I was at an event recently where I was asked to read my poetry and I was a featured reader and afterward there were people selling things from booths and this one booth had these flower crowns that they sold and headbands with large flowers on top and their tagline for their company is take up space.
And so I bought myself a flower crown and some days I sit at my computer with that crown on
Jewels: my head. Oh, I wish you had have worn it for me today.
Christia: I can recommend it. So I think you’d look great in it.
Jewels: Thank you. I’ve heard so many great things about. Austin, Texas. It feels like my city, my kind of city. It feels like there’s, there’s just so much, I don’t know, openness, joy, innovation, music, food, like everything that I love seems to be [00:18:00] in Austin is.
Christia: yeah, it is all of those things. Um, it’s a, one of the things that I found having lived, I’ve lived in different parts of the world and in some really beautiful cities. And it took me a while to get used to Austin because from an architectural standpoint, it’s not what I would call beautiful, although it has the hike a bike trail and the river running through the middle of it.
The thing that I found I found I was always looking for some sort of sense of this sacred, but the thing that I found was really, truly beautiful about Austin was the people. And I continue to believe in that. There’s something about this place. It’s, it got its start with that, with music. It became known for music and then as innovative, you know, innovative.
Companies tech companies came in and along with those companies and that focus on innovation and collaboration. I think actually that ladder pieces has been is 1 of the biggest factors [00:19:00] I’m involved with some with Tech Ranch. Here, which is headed up by Kevin Coyham, that’s been, it’s something like an accelerator, um, slightly different sort of program for innovators, founders, entrepreneurs.
And we’ve had that conversation about how one of the differentiating factors, unlike Silicon Valley is that there’s a really a spirit of collaboration here. And even as an actor, I found that to be true too, in back before COVID, when we would still go into. You have to drive across town to go in for an audition.
I see other actors and we always wish one another, I wouldn’t say good luck. You know, we wish the other break a leg going into an audition and genuinely feel happy for someone else who’s, you know, who’s gotten a great role. So I think there is something here about that spirit of collaboration that is different.
Yes. It’s the innovation and the excitement of. You know, what the dynamism that music brings [00:20:00] and that the tech realm brings, but that spirit of collaboration is significant.
Jewels: It’s definitely on my list of places to see if I come to the, well, next time I come to the U. S. It’s been a long while since I’ve been there.
And by the way, you have a beautiful laugh and a beautiful smile. So please keep doing both of the above. As loud as you possibly can.
Christia: Thank you. I will. I will. I appreciate the encouragement.
Jewels: Christia, coming back to your bio, you mentioned a couple of things. One is you work with, on brand, but also something called verbal identity.
Can you explain to me what verbal identity is? And is it different to brand? Or what’s the difference?
Christia: So I think about it as part of brand. Um, so I do a great deal of work with a really wonderful branding firm here in Austin called Design Good, headed up by Kristen Moses. And I’ve been, I am independent, but I’m, I’m one of the primary writers on her team.
And so I’ve worked with her over the past [00:21:00] five or six years and helped define their. The agency’s approach and how we talk about brand and and one of the things that we talk about there is that, you know, a brand is really made up of three things. It’s what something looks like. That’s the visual identity.
It’s what it sounds like. That’s what I call the verbal identity. And it’s how it makes people feel. And one of the best definitions of brand I’ve seen is a brand is the collection of associations people have about a product or business. And so in thinking in those terms, it’s what it looks like, what it sounds like, and it’s how it makes people feel.
So when it comes to verbal identity, Well, visual identity is kind of the easiest for people to understand. We typically think about a logo, and that can often be also the easiest for people to achieve, as it were, to go out and hire someone to create a logo. A lot of people know what they like and don’t like when it comes to graphics.
And then, [00:22:00] of course, there’s the logo, but then there are all the other supporting Graphic elements and photography that go along with a complete visual identity from the standpoint of language. The verbal identity is a combination of, we look at four primary things that design good. Well, after the brand name, it’s the brand clarifier.
A lot of people. don’t necessarily think about that piece, but that’s simply the component that says exactly what you are, for example, dentist. And then there’s the brand statement that you might also call a tagline. And then there’s the brand positioning statement. So that is the brand positioning piece is what we call is what really Articulates the unique value proposition and the differentiators.
So when we put these together, design good, we talk about that as the foundational brand language. I separately usually use the term verbal identity because it’s a little easier to wrap your mouth around. And I think it [00:23:00] also prompts that question. Well, what is. That, I know what visual identity is, verbal identity, tell me about that.
The other piece of that also is the brand personality and tone that really starts to give body, I think, to the brand positioning and to the, all of the marketing communications that may be used in a branding effort from the website copy through to advertising or, or video.
Jewels: Christie, you’ve worked with a lot of startups and through that process, I imagine you’ve learned a lot about getting the message out there, right?
So I think one of the most important things for a lot of startups is just getting known. So they’ve, they need to go from this unknown state and get their message out, you know, wide and far as quickly as they can. What have you learned through that process about communication and what’s important?
Important, perhaps, and help out somebody, perhaps, who is not necessarily a startup, but is struggling to get their message out there. What [00:24:00] advice would you give for somebody who’s looking to extend their audience?
Christia: I think the best answer I could give to that is consistency. So brand consistency is probably the key.
Um, it is really worthwhile to take the time to hone that language. I do believe, you know, so many, a lot of entrepreneurs are ready to, they just want to get something out there, you know, because that’s part of what we do is entrepreneurs. We want to iterate until we get to that final solution, you know, so fast, quickly get through multiple iterations as we’re, you know, the MVP is part and parcel of being an entrepreneur.
But when it comes to attracting an audience and connecting with your audience, I think one of your prior guests spoke about having different stories for different audiences and for different target markets. I agree with that idea. At the same time, it has to be based in that in a core message. So, and in fact, that’s where that foundational [00:25:00] brown language comes in.
That’s where that verbal identity comes in, taking the time to identify that verbal identity. allows you to ensure that no matter who you’re talking to, you’re always consistent in your messaging. And I did, I do like this idea of having a sort of, if you’ve got a brand, a visual identity guide, that you also have a brand storybook.
I thought that that was a really interesting idea. In my work, the work that I do, we do provide our clients with that foundational brand language so that they can go back to that and bring. All of their stakeholders into that conversation. This is who we are. This is what we do. This is who we do it for.
And this is what makes us so great. That’s what that brand positioning piece identifies once everybody on your team understands that and can speak fluently to that. Proposition, they can then use that to talk to their different audiences, or if you’re a [00:26:00] solopreneur, you can use that. You’ll always know you’re modifying your message with those key components in mind.
So I think consistency is really the, one of the most important things that you can practice as, as an entrepreneur. You’re
Jewels: a poet, a designer, a writer, an actor, a trekker, and amongst other things, they’ve quite different disciplines. I mean, they’re all in communication at different levels, but the skill sets behind those different arenas is quite different.
You know, speaking is different to writing and it’s different to Creating imagery. What have you learned or which does one influence the other? Are you stronger in one sense and still working on some of those other things? What, how do you express yourself and what’s important when you’re telling your story?
Christia: I think the thing that I’ve come to, I’ll tell you one background story. When I was first. Studying graphic design, I got to the point [00:27:00] where I had a physical portfolio and, uh, I dropped it off at a, one of Austin’s biggest design or advertising agencies. They’re well known, they were well known across the U.S. at the time, and the idea in dropping this off was to get feedback on the portfolio and potentially get a foot in the door for an internship or a junior level position. And I got a note back in my portfolio that said, you should decide if you want to be a designer, a copywriter, an illustrator, choose one and go with that.
And I got that note and I went, no, no, it’s just not an option for me. I just, I understood the idea of. Selecting one area in which to be master, but I knew that that wasn’t going to be fulfilling for me and that all of these different pursuits could come together. Now, I, as a, [00:28:00] having been a startup founder, I absolutely made use of all of them, um, acting was not insignificant in that regard when you’re trying to fake it until you make it as it were.
and making presentations and pitches and all of the rest. But the, I see the work that I do now in considering when I was coming to creativity coaching, understanding, looking at the, this diversity of experiences, realized this actually provides a really wonderful background to be able to talk with people about many different potential pursuits and to be able to bring actual lived experience to those conversations and, and potentially provide not just coaching is a great part about listening, but it can also be about providing some guidance.
And sometimes it’s about sharing a specific expertise in something or being able to point someone in the right direction. So I see that all [00:29:00] these different pursuits. Come together really nicely in that regard. And I did come across a term once that I, that I really like for people who pursue many different things, and that is multi potential light.
And in the entrepreneurial world, I think we meet a lot of those people. And even when they, they may seem like they focused on one thing, if they’re most entrepreneurs. Have so many different things that, that, that they excel in, but they just, and they’re focusing in on one thing at a time, one primary business endeavor and practicing them all at once.
Jewels: definitely with you on that one. What was that word again? Multi, multi potential, multi potential. I love it. I’m definitely on the same page as you on that one. I couldn’t be pinned down to one particular skill set. I do enjoy doing multiple things, sometimes in a day, which is not always a good way to be productive, but keeps me entertained.
Christia, I’ve so enjoyed our conversation. Just as a parting, [00:30:00] perhaps, piece of advice, what would you give to an entrepreneur who maybe is perhaps at early stages, maybe not, maybe they’ve been around for a long time, but they’re a little bit afraid to get their message out or tell their story in a particular way.
What advice would you give? Where would you start? And what are the first few, perhaps, steps somebody could take to really get their message out there better?
Christia: I think that when we are looking at telling our business stories, you know, a big part of what we do, if you’re a founder who has to raise money, you know, a huge part of what you do involves getting your pitch right and identifying your unique value proposition.
So I think that those. That work that’s done, you know, whether that’s part of your entrepreneurial journey or not, really that piece of branding work, thinking about your, if you’re able to think about your brand holistically, any messaging that you do, any conversations that you have. Um, if you take the time to [00:31:00] identify that, that brand positioning piece, your unique value proposition, whether or not you’re raising money, the things that you do, why you do them so well.
And really. Get super clear about who you serve and why you’re serving that those target audiences that will make your journey. It can cut time off of your path to success. You know, a lot of people are afraid of niching and it can seem like you’re cutting off possibility or potential and niching is not about that.
And that really is. It’s about being focused in, in how you articulate what you do and who you do it. And that’s usually going to serve you better when you have that highly defined audience. So I do think that that consistency of expression about your brand is, is key.
Jewels: Christia, thank you for being so generous.
That was great advice. Where can the audience find out a little bit more about
Christia: you? So I am, you can see samples of [00:32:00] my work at christiahoffman. com and my poetry work is at themorningpoet. com. The agency that I mentioned that I do a great deal of work with here in Austin is DesignGood and they are designgood.
com. So, and I’m on LinkedIn at christiahmadassi or christiahmadassihoffman.
Jewels: Christia, thank you so much. I really appreciate
Christia: it. Thank you, Jewels. Likewise, I really enjoyed the conversation.
Jewels: I loved hearing about the evolution of Christia and all the experiences that shaped who she is. Christia’s work is inspiring.
I especially love the idea that in order to be productive and creative, you mustn’t neglect what motivates you, your inner self will ultimately translate into value for your clients. And oh, don’t forget to laugh out loud any chance you get. Much love, chat soon.