When marketing your personal brand, your startup, or the business you’re working for, capture your customer’s attention by answering four basic story questions.
“In a story, audiences must always know who the hero is, what the hero wants, who the hero has to defeat to get what they want, what tragic thing will happen if the hero doesn’t win, and what wonderful thing will happen if they do. If an audience can’t answer these basic questions, they’ll check out and the movie will lose millions at the box office.” – Donald Miller
Table of Contents
Run your marketing message through Donald Miller’s framework to create a superstar narrative. His approach casts your brand in the fundamentally human language of a story. He offers a sharp, clear process for finding a story to tell about your product or service that centers on your customer as the hero – not on your offering. Miller’s advice can be somewhat self-promotional, but he provides marketers and entrepreneurs with solid advice and valuable ideas for implementing an engaging tale. His applicable, practical guidance teaches you how to view your message from your customer’s perspective.
- Revitalize your marketing plan by creating a story with the “StoryBrand 7-Part Framework.”
- Make your customer the hero of your story.
- Customers will find you if you solve an “external problem”; they will buy from you if you solve an “internal problem.”
- Help your customers recognize that you are the “guide” they seek.
- Advise your customers to follow a simple plan.
- Challenge your “hero customer” to take action.
- Help your customers avoid tragedy.
- Show your customers how your brand will transform their lives.
- Your script is your blueprint for transforming your marketing materials and corporate culture.
Who is the hero?
“Your customer should be the hero of the story, not your brand. This is the secret every phenomenally successful business understands.” – Donald Miller
Your role as a marketer is to act as a guide in your customer’s story (you’re Yoda, and your customer is Luke Skywalker). Talk more about the customer and less about yourself. If you talk about your backstory, your goals, and your achievements, your customer won’t feel like a hero.
What does the hero want?
You should be able to pause a great film after the first ten minutes and know exactly what the hero wants.
- At the beginning of Star Wars, Luke wants to avenge the death of his aunt and uncle.
- At the beginning of The Bourne Identity, Jason Bourne wants to know his true identity.
“If The Bourne Identity were a movie about a spy named Jason Bourne searching for his true identity, but it also included scenes of Bourne trying to lose weight, marry a girl, pass the bar exam, win on Jeopardy, and adopt a cat…The audience would lose interest.” – Donald Miller
Craft your marketing messages around ONE THING your customer wants from your brand. What one result can you guide your customer toward? Here are a few examples from the book:
- Landscaping business: “We help make your yard look better than your neighbors.”
- College alumni association: “We’ll help you leave a meaningful legacy.”
When you clarify your marketing around one desire, you invite your customer into a story by getting them to think, “How will they get me what I want?”
Who does the hero have to defeat?
How exciting would Harry Potter be without Voldemort? How entertaining would Star Wars be without Darth Vader? How engaging would Rocky IV be without the big, bad Russian?
“If we want our customers’ ears to perk up when we talk about our products and services, we should position those products and services as weapons they can use to defeat a villain. And the villain should be dastardly.” – Donald Miller
If you offer time management software, make distractions the villain ‐ personify distractions as evil bank robbers with masks, robbing your customers’ time and killing their entrepreneurial dreams.
By personifying and clarifying a villain and positioning your business as a tool to defeat that villain, your customer will feel like a hero who’s ready to rise to the challenge.
What tragic thing will happen if the hero doesn’t win?
If Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, and Frodo don’t defeat their villain, an evil force will enslave the world (or galaxy) …there’s a lot at stake.
To make your marketing stories engaging, talk about the stakes – what is the cost of NOT doing business with you? Wendy’s did this with their, “Where’s the beef?” marketing campaign. Wendy’s wanted you to know that if you didn’t choose Wendy’s to satisfy your hamburger craving, you’d be stuck with an unsatisfying hamburger from another fast food restaurant.
Clarifying what will happen if your hero doesn’t act is a powerful story tactic, but use it carefully. Adding fear to your message is like adding salt to your meal. Without it, your message is bland, but too much of it and your message is off‐putting. Including just a dash of fear makes your message a compelling story your customer wants to be a part of.
“Never assume people understand how your brand can change their lives. Tell them.” – Donald Miller
Revitalize your marketing plan by creating a story with the “StoryBrand 7-Part Framework.”
The human brain is hardwired for stories, which is why storytelling conveys marketing messages so well. A good story gives your customers a “map” that makes intuitive sense and helps them engage with your brand. A story guides them through the noise, including the noise you may inadvertently mix in with your current marketing. However, if your story doesn’t engage people within their hierarchy of needs, they won’t care about your message.
“Story is atomic. It is perpetual energy and can power a city. Story is the one thing that can hold a human being’s attention for hours.”
For your story to reach your customers, it has to pass the “Grunt Test.” That is, if a caveman read your story, would he grunt yes that he knows what you’re selling, sees how it could improve his life and knows where to buy it? If so, it passes the grunt test.
The most important thing in telling your story is what your customers hear – not what you’re trying to say. The ideal communication framework breaks down into seven messages in seven categories that constitute the StoryBrand 7-Part Framework (SB7). Its structure follows the seven crucial moments central to every story:
- The hero (your customer) wants to reach a goal.
- The hero hits a dilemma that precludes achieving the goal.
- When the hero begins to lose hope, a “guide” arrives.
- The guide offers a plan.
- The guide issues a “call to action.”
- The hero takes action and avoids failure.
- The story ends with the hero achieving “success.”
“People will always choose a story that helps them survive and thrive.” ”
The SB7 method enables you to distill your brand message to one page and filter out the parts of your corporate information that essentially only bore your customers. To begin, identify a core message for your overall brand. Then you can write a BrandScript for each corporate division, or each market segment, or each product. Your story can fulfill many possibilities, but keep the following basics in mind.
Make your customer the hero of your story.
In the SB7 framework, the hero of your story is the customer, not your business or product. A story isn’t compelling to your audience until you define what the hero – that is, your customer – wants to achieve. This opens a “story gap” which the human mind seeks to close by finding the answer. Will the hero triumph? The suspense draws people into your story.
“Every human being is already speaking the language of story, so when you begin using the SB7 framework, you’ll finally be speaking their language.”
Focus on defining and fulfilling a pivotal customer need. “Everything else is a subplot.” Make sure the desire that your brand fulfills connects to your customer’s sense of survival and desire for safety, health or happiness – for example, saving time or money, being part of a community, improving social status or increasing profits.
Customers will find you if you solve an “external problem”; they will buy from you if you solve an “internal problem.”
Draw your customers further into your story by identifying their problems. As long as the conflict stays unresolved, you’ll have your customers’ attention. Ultimately, the source of conflict in every riveting tale is the villain. The best sort of villain gives your audience members a place to focus negative feelings, to root for the hero and to engage. Depict a dastardly villain, and position your product or service as the right weapon to vanquish the foe. Your villain doesn’t have to be a person; it can be the problem your product solves, but the audience should be able to recognize it instantly as a threat.
“Simply turning our focus to the customer and offering them a heroic role in a meaningful story is enough to radically change the way we talk about, and even do, business.” ”
Villains thwart heroes on three successive levels: through an “external problem” that becomes an “internal problem,” which in turn is ultimately a “philosophical problem.” Villains set up obstacles between the hero and the quest to solve the problem in order to achieve stability. In movies, external problems are often physical, like a countdown to an explosion. In real life, they are more mundane. Restaurants solve the problem of hunger. Plumbers solve leaky pipes. Identify the external problem you can solve.
“Leaders desire to be seen as heroes when, in actuality, everything they think they want from playing the hero only comes by playing the guide. Guides are respected, loved, listened to, understood and followed loyally.” ”
But, remember, people buy because you solve their internal problem. In movies, the “backstory” fills in all the reasons why the hero may not be able to overcome the obstacle. Maybe it’s past failure or fear of not measuring up. The drive to resolve that inner frustration is greater than the drive to overcome an external problem.
“People don’t buy the best products; they buy the products they can understand the fastest.”
When your brand identifies an internal frustration and solves it – while also solving the external problem – you’ve put yourself deep inside your customer’s narrative. CarMax, for example, positioned itself to sell used cars without hiring what many customers stereotyped as annoying salespeople. By addressing the external and internal obstacles to buying a used car, CarMax succeeded in a difficult market.
“Story is a sense-making device. It identifies a necessary ambition, defines challenges that are battling to keep us from achieving that ambition and provides a plan to help us conquer those challenges.” ”
Solving philosophical problems will gain customers. It gives your hero a sense of belonging to an epic theme such as good versus evil or love conquers all. The perfect brand position is a promise to resolve all three problems – external, internal and philosophical. Automaker Tesla solves the external problem of buying a car, the internal desire to adopt cutting-edge technology and the philosophical desire to be environmentally conscious.
“As a brand, it’s our job to pursue our customers. We want to get to know them and for them to get to know us, but we…need to take the initiative.”
The best stories are simple. Resist the urge to have several villains and multiple problems. Choose the external problem that calls for the largest application of your brand’s solutions, solves your customer’s internal problem and fits a larger philosophical framework.
Help your customers recognize that you are the “guide” they seek.
Engage customers by offering a solution to their problem in which you are the guide. Stories usually thrust heroes into high-stakes situations for which they feel unprepared. The wise, experienced guide – think of Yoda advising Luke Skywalker in Star Wars – offers them a plan or path forward. Successful guides exhibit empathy and authority. Show your customers that you understand their pain points and that you care. Having the authority to be a good guide means you are competent and have applicable experience. Convey authority in your marketing materials by including statistics, awards and logos of prominent customers.
Advise your customers to follow a simple plan.
You still need to convince your customer to make a commitment and buy from you. At this point in your story, customers aren’t yet ready to take the plunge. They worry that buying won’t solve their problem. Remove all sense of risk by having a plan. When you send out a marketing message, customers want to know what to do next. If they’re confused, their next step won’t be buying from you. They need to feel sure about you, so give them the exact steps they need to take. Clarify the way forward to get them to buy – and now.
“We create lead generators for each revenue stream our company offers. This allows us to segment our customers by their interests and offer different products to solve their various problems.” ”
You can offer “process plans” or “agreement plans.” For process plans, give customers three to six steps that include buying your offer and continue to include something that will happen after their purchase. This clarifies the solution to their problem and makes it easy for them to give you their business. Alternatively, design an agreement plan to reduce customer fear.
“When we empathize with our customers’ dilemma, we create a bond of trust. People trust those who understand them, and they trust brands that understand them, too.”
For example, CarMax’s four-point agreement promises customers they won’t have to haggle over the price of a car, and it offers its certification program to alleviate fears. CarMax solves its customers’ external problem of buying a car, while solving their internal problem – fear of a used-car salesman pushing them or deceiving them. Devise your plan by brainstorming about your customer’s potential concerns. Give your plan a title to improve its “perceived value.”
Challenge your “hero customer” to take action.
Heroes won’t act until they’re challenged. Challenge your customer to place an order. If you don’t ask for the sale, you won’t get it. Put a “buy now” button at your website’s top right corner and in the middle of the page. Repeat your call to action. Show that you stand behind your offer. When a blunt call to action doesn’t work, try a transitional call to action, which starts with deepening your relationship with your customer. Free, educational information is a type of transitional call. A free sample or a free trial can remove any risk your customer might feel. Be gently, entertainingly, informatively persistent. Make the process of doing business with you easy.
Help your customers avoid tragedy.
Riveting stories can end in success or tragedy. The uncertainty is what engages people. The hero’s potential downside raises the stakes. Fear sells. Website copy or articles that spell out what failure could look like for your customers bring a sense of urgency to the decision to buy. Let your customers know what they might lose without your guidance or solution. Then explain your plan, and deliver your call to action. Be careful, since a little bit of fear goes a long way. Too much will turn customers away.
Show your customers how your brand will transform their lives.
Describe success to your potential customer by defining the customer’s goal. Make a simple three-column chart to map out the “before” showing what your customers have, how they feel, their average day and their current status before they use your brand. Then repeat the exercise to map the “after” – how your brand will solve their dilemma and improve their lives. The after column captures your “end vision.” List the ways you solve your customer’s external, internal and philosophical problems. Determine what transformation your customers seek, and find their happy ending. To create an “aspirational identity” for your customers, consider how they’d like their friends and peers to view them.
“The whole point of your website is to create a place where the direct call-to-action button makes sense and is enticing.” ”
Position your brand to offer status by providing “access.” Starbucks does this by giving customers a card to track points for purchases and earn a free cup of coffee. Offer your best customers a premium, or build their perception of your product as a luxury brand, like Mercedes and Rolex. Fulfill your customer’s need for self-knowledge or self-acceptance by associating your brand with behaviors, people or events that inspire them, emphasize the inherent beauty in things or invite them to be part of a transcendent mission. In the “success module” of the SB7 framework, close all the “story loops” that you opened. Your resolutions are the happy people now using your goods or services.
Your script is your blueprint for transforming your marketing materials and corporate culture.
Implement your storytelling message throughout your marketing materials. Begin with your website. Keep your message succinct and simple. Include five elements :
- On your website, state your offer up front and at the top, before your visitor scrolls down the page.
- Place your call-to-action buttons where customers can see them right away, at the top right and in the middle of the page, also before customers scroll down.
- Present images of happy, satisfied customers.
- Consolidate multiple or complex business products or services to one unified, overall message.
- Be brief. Reduce information to bullet points.
“How many sales are we missing out on because customers can’t figure out what our offer is within five seconds of visiting our website?”
The StoryBrand approach will help transform your corporate culture. Having a “narrative void” in your organization will keep employees from pulling together. The explosion in information fuels this disengagement. Many people are subjected to 3,000-plus advertising messages daily. Replace this distracting overload with unifying, clear, concise story messages.
Crafting your narrative begins with bringing new employees onboard as heroes and inviting them into your story so that they see their jobs as transformational opportunities. During orientation, teach them about their part in representing the organization as guides for your customers. Use the StoryBrand approach to make sure that everyone paddles in the same direction.
Use the first four modules of the SB7 Framework – “character, problem, plan and success” – to distill your main marketing message into one powerful statement. Collect website visitors’ email addresses by creating a lead generating offer, such as a free PDF document. Automate an email “drip campaign” to nurture customers toward a future purchase. Present the stories of people you’ve helped to minimize potential customers’ sense of risk. Develop a system with incentives to encourage customers to promote your business and your story.
StoryBrand CEO Donald Miller hosts the Building a StoryBrand podcast. His other books include the bestseller Blue Like Jazz, Scary Close and A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. He offers a story brand template at MyStoryBrand.com.
Building a StoryBrand by Donald Miller is an insightful guide that offers practical advice and strategies on how to effectively communicate your brand’s message to captivate and engage your target audience. By drawing upon the power of storytelling, Miller outlines a framework that enables businesses to clarify their message and create a compelling narrative that resonates with customers.
The book begins by highlighting the challenges that many businesses face when it comes to effectively communicating their value proposition. Miller emphasizes that customers are bombarded with countless marketing messages every day, and unless a brand can clearly articulate how it solves their problems, it will fail to capture their attention.
Miller introduces the concept of the StoryBrand Framework, which serves as the backbone of the book. This framework is built upon the idea that every story, including a brand’s message, should have a clear protagonist, a problem that needs to be solved, a guide (the brand) that provides a solution, a plan of action, and a successful resolution. By applying this framework, businesses can position themselves as the guide that helps customers overcome their challenges, making their message more relatable and compelling.
Throughout the book, Miller provides numerous real-world examples and case studies to illustrate the effectiveness of the StoryBrand Framework. These examples span various industries and highlight how businesses have successfully implemented the principles outlined in the book to transform their marketing strategies and boost their brand’s visibility.
One of the book’s strengths is its practicality. Miller doesn’t just discuss theory; he provides actionable steps and exercises to guide readers through the process of clarifying their brand’s message. He breaks down the elements of the StoryBrand Framework and explains how each component contributes to creating a persuasive and engaging narrative. The book also includes downloadable resources and templates to assist readers in implementing the concepts effectively.
Moreover, Miller delves into the psychology behind effective storytelling and the importance of connecting with customers on an emotional level. He emphasizes the significance of understanding customers’ desires, fears, and aspirations and tailoring the brand’s message to address these elements effectively. By doing so, businesses can establish a genuine connection with their audience, fostering trust and loyalty.
While the book primarily focuses on marketing and messaging, it also touches on other areas such as website design, customer engagement, and sales funnels. Miller provides valuable insights into optimizing these aspects to create a seamless and coherent brand experience at every touchpoint.
However, one potential limitation of the book is that it may not provide groundbreaking insights for readers already familiar with the principles of storytelling and branding. Some concepts and strategies discussed in the book might be familiar to those who have extensively studied marketing or have experience in the field. Nevertheless, the author’s approach and the way he presents the information make it highly accessible and applicable to both beginners and seasoned marketers.
In conclusion, Building a StoryBrand by Donald Miller is an exceptional resource for anyone seeking to enhance their brand’s messaging and marketing strategies. The book offers a clear roadmap for crafting a compelling narrative that cuts through the noise and captivates customers. Miller’s emphasis on storytelling and the practical nature of the guidance provided make it a valuable read for business owners, marketers, and entrepreneurs looking to differentiate themselves in today’s crowded marketplace.