Building a Story Brand
By Donald Miller
In this book, best-selling author Donald Miller presents the seven elements of building a Storybrand that will help clarify the message of your business so that your customers will listen. His Storybrand process is a revolutionary method of connecting with your customers, making those customers the heroes, and thereby giving your business a competitive advantage. He reveals the secrets behind helping customers to understand your product, services, or ideas and the compelling benefits of buying into them. Using the seven proven story points he believes all humans respond to, the author teaches the reader how to dramatically improve marketing efforts by revealing the real reasons behind customer purchases; how to simplify a message to make it understandable; and which messages are most effective for brochures, websites, and social media.
My Top 3 Takes from the Summary
Building a Storybrand transforms the way you talk about who you are, what you do, and the unique value you bring to your customers.
The real heroes in the story are your customers, not your company.
All great brand stories are about transformation and survival.
Donald Miller believes that most marketing efforts made by companies result in a lot of money being spent but very little, if anything, coming back in terms of results. This can lead to questioning what has gone wrong, or even if the product or service you offer is as good as you believed it to be. However, the question he wants the reader to consider is, what if it’s not your product that’s the problem, what if it’s the way you talk about your product?
The point the author makes is those fancy websites don’t sell things, only words sell things, meaning that unless you’re sending out a clear message, your customers are unlikely to be listening. He states that all the best stories revolve around survival, whether that’s physical, emotional, relational, or spiritual, and therefore positioning your product or service as something that’s going to help people to survive will attract interest. Unless your message is about surviving, thriving, being accepted, finding love, achieving an aspirational identity, or bonding with a protective tribe, people simply don’t care.
The next consideration is making your product or service easily understood. If people find themselves wading through the information that’s seemingly random, confusing, or failing to get to the point, they’re going to tune out or switch off. The most effective way to keep information clear and organised is through your story. A story can be a “sense-making device” – identifying an ambition, defining a challenge that’s standing in the way of achieving that ambition, and providing a plan that’s going to help get through or around those challenges. In this way, your brand story can effectively be a map that guides your customers toward your products or services.
Customers have questions, and if the narrative coming out of a company isn’t answering those questions, those customers are going to look (and listen) elsewhere. You need to identify what your customers want; what problem you’re going to help them solve; and what life will look like for them once they have engaged with what you offer. To do this, the author details a formulated script that’s designed to clarify your message and attract customers to your business.
Your Story Script
Donald Miller’s StoryBrand Framework is based on the tried and tested formula used in nearly every popular story. He uses films such as Harry Potter, Hunger Games, and Star Wars as examples, pointing out that each one has:
A CHARACTER who wants something
A CHALLENGE to be faced before they can get it
A GUIDE that steps in (just when all seems lost) to give them a PLAN and a CALL TO ACTION
And the action they take saves the day, avoids FAILURE, and ends in SUCCESS
He believes that a good movie story should never leave the viewer unable to answer three crucial questions: What does the hero want: who or what is opposing the hero from getting what they want; and what will the hero’s life look like if they do (or don’t) get what they want? Using the same formulaic approach, he believes there are three questions potential customers must be able to answer within five seconds of viewing your marketing material. They are: What do you offer; how will it make my life better; and what do I need to do to buy it? If your story can do this, your customer can see themselves living the successful ending by engaging with your business.
The author uses each of the above elements of a good story as his seven principles to follow when creating your own Storybrand script:
Character – the hero is the customer, not your company, so what does the hero in your story want?
Some brands position themselves as the hero, but this is a mistake. The hero in a good story is not necessarily confident and capable from the outset, they’re often ill-equipped, full of doubt, and reluctant to take on the role. In life, as in stories, ordinary people wake up self-identifying as heroes. They have conflicts and problems to solve, and they know they can’t solve everything on their own.
Challenge – customers buy solutions to internal problems, so what problems are standing in the way of the hero getting what they want? Companies tend to sell solutions to external problems, but the only reason customers buy from a company is that the external problem is frustrating them in some way, making it an internal problem. Identifying that frustration, putting it into words, and offering to resolve it alongside the original external problem creates a deeper, more meaningful bond with customers.
Guide – customers don’t need another hero, they’re looking for a guide. Positioning your brand as the guide, rather than the hero, puts you where you need to be to equip the hero (customer) with what they need to save the day and succeed. As the guide, you’ve ‘been there and done that in that you’ve already conquered the hero’s challenge in your own backstory. This gives you empathy and authority, but the story is not about you; you’re the supporting role. Good movie scripts never leave the viewer confused over who the story is about.
Plan – a clear plan generates trust, and a trusted guide will be followed. The guide provides the hero with a clear path to follow, creating solid stepping stones that will lead them from where they are to where they want to be. Identifying these stones gives the hero’s confidence a boost, encouraging them to take the first step, and then keep going.
Call to action – unless the customer is prompted or challenged to act, they’re unlikely to take action.
Without a clear and definite call to action, the hero may hesitate and stall, rather than take that first step. In your story script, the call to action might be as direct as “Buy now” or “Call today,” or it could be more transitional such as an invite to download a PDF or watch a webinar.
Failure avoidance – the action taken helps to ensure failure and a ‘tragic ending’ is avoided. Good storywriters create suspense with a ‘will they succeed or will they fail?’ approach that keeps the hero teetering on the edge of both outcomes. The reader or viewer is given an indication of what life would be like depending on the hero’s success or failure, and an effective Brandstory script must do the same. If there’s nothing at stake, there’s no story, so the outcomes of buying into or not buying into your offering must be clear.
Success – the story ends with the customer's success, so make sure it answers the question of what their life will look like. It’s important to tell them how their life will be transformed, and not just assume they’ll join the dots between your brand and their success themselves.
Your Brand and Transformation
It’s the author’s belief that everyone wants to be someone different, someone better, or even just someone who is more accepting of themselves. Your brand can help them with this transformation, and in so doing, they become passionate about your product or service. At the beginning of a classic story, the hero is usually flawed, filled with doubt, and far from ready for the task they face. The guide is the helping hand alongside them on their journey, and that journey is full of conflict. Each challenge faced begins to change the hero, and through being forced into action they develop skills and gain the experience they need to defeat the foe they face. Still doubting themselves, they muster up the courage to take on and ultimately defeat the villain, demonstrating the transformation that has taken place. The hero has become a better version of him/herself, and they’re now ready to face new challenges.
This character arc features in just about every popular story you can think of, across all genres from Pinocchio to Pride and Prejudice, and the author believes the reason for this is that feelings of self-doubt are universal. Everyone has experienced wanting to feel more competent and more courageous, and this really matters in the process of branding products and services. If you take a moment to consider what you’d want others to say when they talk about you, you can then imagine it’s the same for your customers. In relation to your brand, how do your customers want to be perceived by friends and others? Your brand can help them become that version of themselves. For example, if you sell sports and fitness equipment, your customers will most likely want to be perceived as fit, healthy, active, and successful in their sporty pursuits, or if you offer executive coaching, your customers may want to be seen as competent, disciplined, and generous. When a brand inspires a customer’s aspirational identity, it not only sells, it transforms lives.
Your StoryBrand Brandscript needs to be clearly communicated on all your marketing material if it’s to attract and engage customers. The author gives five essential elements he believes need to be included on your website to ensure it communicates effectively.
An offer above the fold – the text and images that can be seen on the page before scrolling down (above the fold) must do one of the following: offer an aspirational identity; offer to solve a problem, or state clearly what the business does.
Obvious calls to action – make sure the “Buy Now” button isn’t hidden!
Images of success – images of happy, smiling people who have achieved a successful ending to their story through engaging with your product or service need to feature alongside text on your website.
A bite-sized breakdown of your revenue streams – no matter how diverse your business may be, an umbrella theme can always be found to bring it all together and communicate clearly what you do. Clarity is key. When people understand your offer, they can choose their own adventure without getting lost.
Very few words – websites are no longer read, they’re scanned. If the text above the fold is a solid paragraph, it’s going to be passed over. Keep your message brief, relevant, and punchy.
Donald Miller created his StoryBrand Framework to reduce stress and to help businesses be heard in the marketplace. He states that business is one of the world’s most powerful forces for good, and using his proven ideas will not only help your business to grow but also help you to transform your customers’ lives. Reminding readers that, “If you confuse, you’ll lose,” he comments that clarifying your message will encourage customers to listen, and, just as the good guy in all the good stories, you will always win in the end.
The author believes that clarifying your message as a business is the “secret weapon” that will allow your business to grow, and he argues the case for clear and simple storytelling clearly and simply! His message is that most companies waste enormous amounts of money on marketing to little effect, and his StoryBrand Framework has been designed to change this forever.
The step-by-step formula set out in the book is the author’s proven method of creating a Storybrand that will attract and engage customers. Using classic books and popular films as examples, he makes his point in an entertaining and easy-to-understand way that helps to make sense of the world of marketing and growing your business. In his words, the formula will “organise your thinking, reduce your marketing effort, obliterate confusion, terrify the competition, and finally get your business growing again.”
Bio of Author
As the CEO of StoryBrand, Donald Miller is dedicated to helping companies and individuals clarify and simplify their marketing messages. To date, he has helped over 3,000 businesses to grow by doing exactly that, and as co-host of the Building a StoryBrand Podcast and author of several books, he continues to help many more individuals to be heard in the marketplace.