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Building a StoryBrand by Donald Miller

High-Level Summary

Anyone can use this framework to clarify their brand's message through razor-sharp storytelling to sell more stuff and help more people.


"If you confuse, you lose."

Most (terrible) brands are mindless noise machines, spewing out random information that no one cares about.

Instead, embrace a filter mentality. You want to create simple, relevant messages to repeat over and over until it soaks into the public consciousness.

"People don't buy the best products; they buy the products they can understand the fastest."

Pretty websites don't sell things. Words sell things.

Nobody will listen to you if your message isn't clear.

Evaluate Your Message's Clarity

  • Can you say it easily?
  • Is it simple, relevant and repeatable?
  • Can anyone on your team repeat your company's message convincingly?

"The more simple and predictable the communication, the easier it is for the brain to digest. Story helps because it is a sense-making mechanism."

Mistakes Brands Make: Ignoring Survival & Too Many Mental Calories

  1. Failing to focus on the aspects of your offering that help people survive & thrive
  2. Forcing customers to burn too many "mental calories" just to understand your offer

The Storybrand Framework

"A character who wants something encounters a problem before they can get it. At the peak of their despair, a guide steps into their lives, gives them a plan, and calls them to action. That action helps them avoid failure and ends in a success."

The StoryBrand Framework

  1. A Character. Make the customer the hero, not your company.
  2. Has a Problem. Customers buy solutions to internal problems, but most companies try to sell solutions to external problems.
  3. And Meets a Guide. Don't try to steal the spotlight by making your brand the star — help your customer become the hero instead.
  4. Who Gives Them a Plan. Effective plans make it clear how to do business with you or remove feelings of risk.
  5. And Calls Them to Action. Customers won't act unless you challenge them: Be a positive force for their transformation.
  6. That Helps Them Avoid Failure. Establish the painful cost of failure so the fear is real. This should support your call to action.
  7. And Ends in a Success. Show them what their life will look like when they win: Status, completeness, or reaching their potential.

"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. "

It's easier than you think to use the timeless elements of a great story as the vehicle to help customers understand the before/after difference your company's solution will make in their lives. Just remember the timeless elements of storytelling.

Pass the "Pause" Test

At no points should we be able to pause a movie and not be able to answer three questions:

  1. What does the hero want?
  2. Who or what is opposing the hero getting what she wants?
  3. What will the hero's life look like if she does (or does not) get what she wants?

Passing the "Grunt Test"

At no point should someone engaging with your business be unable to answer these questions within 5 seconds:

  1. What do you offer?
  2. How will it make my life better?
  3. What do I need to do to buy it?

Spark Curiosity in Your Future Customers with Story Gaps

Use story gaps to awaken your audience's curiosity. You can do this by placing a gap between a character and what they want.

If you don't define what your customer wants, they have nothing in their path to fix and no reason to engage with you.

Remember: People naturally gravitate to things that help them survive & thrive.

Create a Problem by Positioning Yourself Against a Believable Villain

The most compelling villains to position yourself against to clarify your value for customers lean on these 4 characteristics:

  1. The villain should be a root source. For example, don't say "Marketing feels overwhelming." Instead, point to something specific "No traffic to your website."
  2. The villain should be relatable. People should be able to immediately recognize the villain when you mention it and feel a strong reaction.
  3. The villain should be singular. Don't create a whole horde of problems — it's too unclear.
  4. The villain should be real. Avoid coming off as a fearmonger, conjuring up villains that aren't really there.

3 Levels of Customer Problems

  • External problems — What physical, tangible problem must your customer overcome?
  • Internal problems — What deeply personal fears do they experience?
  • Philosophical problems — What wrong can you help them make right in the world?

Position Yourself as a Trusted Guide

When giving a pitch, position yourself as a helpful guide for your audience. You're Yoda. They're Luke Skywalker.

Two key principles make a guide effective.

  1. Empathy: Brands must understand their customers and build trust to earn the right to help them.
  2. Authority: Great guides bring experience to the table and know how to solve problems. You'll need a track record to support this.

4 Easy Ways to Add Authority to Any Marketing

  1. Testimonials
  2. Statistics
  3. Awards
  4. Logos

Lay Out a Plan to Eliminate Confusion & Objections

People are looking for a philosophy they can embody or series of steps to solve their problems.

Two common types of plans:

  1. A Process Plan: A clear series of steps to guide a customer's next steps to do business with you and eliminate confusion.
  2. An Agreement Plan: Proactively diffuse your customer's biggest objections, fears, and success stoppers with relevant answers before come up.

Challenge Them to Wake Up & Take Decisive Action

The one critical next step for a customer to work with your business must always be clear. This is another area where confusion can creep in.

Don't expect your customers to summon up motivation themselves; They need you to act as a convincing, positive force to set them in motion.

Great Call-to-Actions often hit on 3 things:

  1. Stake a claim to your territory.
  2. Create reciprocity.
  3. Position yourself as the guide.

Create Real Stakes with a "Fear Appeal"

Don't make the mistake of leaving out the risks and dangerous your customers face when they take the wrong next step (or do nothing).

If you only set out a happy path for your customers, they won't understand the cost of failure. The question of "So what?" will always loom over the conversation.

The solution? Be up-front about what failure will cost your customer. A simple 4-step framework for making this pitch is a fear appeal.

  1. Alert them to the danger at hand — and why it's impactful.
  2. Lead them to think about ways to reduce their risk.
  3. Introduce your solution to alleviate their fear.
  4. Challenge them to take a clear next step with your call to action.

5 Quick Marketing Wins

So, how should you start applying these storytelling concepts to help customers and boost sales quickly? Here are a handful of practical recommendations.

  1. Create a one-liner for your business.
  2. Make a simple lead generation offer to collect emails.
  3. Set up a drip email sequence.
  4. Collect stories of customers whose lives you've transformed.
  5. Create a referral system.

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