Think about the last movie that you saw. What was the storyline? What happened in the end?
According to Donald Miller of Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen, all stories (including that movie you last saw) more or less follow the same plotline: “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.”
Okay, you might be thinking, that’s great and all…but what does this have to do with marketing?
The answer? Everything.
Miller says that if we really want to engage our audience and get people excited about our brand (translation: make some sales), we should be creating a story for our customers, following the above framework.
So that you don’t have to go back and read the entire book, I’m going to save you some time and share with you just what that framework is (You’re welcome).
But before we dive into the StoryBrand Framework, I’d like to go over a few key points that Miller makes in his book…
Your Customers Are in Constant Survival Mode
As human beings, we are wired to constantly think about our survival. More specifically, we think in terms of a hierarchy of needs.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs states that people are first concerned with biological and physiological needs, like shelter and sleep. Once those needs are fulfilled, people are concerned with protecting their safety and establishing stability. Thirdly, people need love, to be loved and cared for. Fourthly, people need to feel esteem for themselves (self-esteem) and from others (status). Finally, self-actualization needs are about realizing one’s full potential.
As Miller argues, people are constantly looking around for ways to meet those needs, so if your brand isn’t serving one of those needs, then it might as well not exist.
Simplicity is Key
If your audience has to “burn calories” to understand what your brand is all about, then your messaging is ineffective.
Your brand message should be so simple and easy to understand that it should pass the “grunt test” as Miller refers to it. If a cavewoman were to look at your website or marketing material, would she be able to grunt out what you are offering, how it will improve her life and what she needs to do to buy it? Within five seconds, your audience should be able to grunt out an answer to these three things.
Why? Because as Miller mentions, people don’t buy the best products…they buy the products that they can understand the fastest. Why do you think Apple products are so popular?
I love this example that the author gives. He talks about one customer he had, named Kyle Schultz, who created an online photography course and made $25,000 in sales within the first launch. But he wanted to sell more.
So before the next launch, he removed 90% of the copy he’d had on his sales page and replaced the photography jargon (like “f-stop” and “depth of field”) with simple and easy-to-understand phrases like “take those great pictures where the background is blurry.” He then sent another round of emails to the same list as the first round, but this time, got a whopping $103,000 worth of registrations.
And that’s the power of simple messaging.
So…get rid of all that extra copy on your website. Otherwise, if you don’t end up confusing your website visitors, you’ll just end up overwhelming them.
If you want to include a larger chunk of text on your homepage, Miller recommends putting a “Read More” link at the end of the first or second sentence.
So now that we’ve gotten those two key points out of the way, let’s dive into the StoryBrand Framework…
The SB7 Framework
First things first, your customer must always be positioned as the hero of your story—not your brand. Your brand is simply the guide to bring your customer to their final destination.
You want to start your story by opening a “story gap” or identifying something that your customer wants. If you open the gap, then they will want to close it. This is part of human nature. It’s why, for instance, people are eager to satisfy their hunger by eating a meal or anxious to finish a song once it starts.
When creating your BrandScript, start by addressing just one simple desire that your customers have—and then you can dig deeper from there.
Start by: Brainstorming what potential desire(s) your customers might have that you can fulfill.
2. Has a Problem
So you know what the character of your brand story is after.
But what types of problems are they dealing with? And who is the villain of the story causing those problems?
Every story has a villain. And your brand story is no different. Miller says that you should position your products or services as “weapons” your customers can use to defeat a villain.
Whether your villain is a person or an inhumane object really doesn’t matter…but either way, it should have personified characteristics. And only create one villain. If you create too many villains, you’ll just end up confusing your audience.
Just like in any story, villains are what cause the problems that your characters (or customers) face. Your customer is faced with three different types of problems: internal problems, external problems and philosophical problems. Miller says that “companies tend to sell solutions to external problems, but customers buy solutions to internal problems.”
External problems are those more tangible, obvious problems that your hero must overcome. Internal problems are, exactly as they sound, the internal issues that your customers are dealing with (the backstory or less obvious problems), which are generally caused by external problems. Internal problems are the reason why customers are coming to you. Philosophical problems ask the question: why does this matter at the end of the day? They are often referred to using the words “should” and “shouldn’t.”
For instance, if your company sells all natural face lotions, the villain in your story might be dry weather or lotions loaded with chemicals. Your character’s external problem might be dry or bad skin. Their internal problem might be a feeling of embarrassment or frustration at not having the skin they want. The philosophical problem might be that great skin is a human right that everyone should have, and it’s not fair for people to have to suffer with bad skin.
The philosophical problem to your brand story is often the least obvious one. When defining your philosophical problems, Miller suggests asking yourself if your products or services can be used “to fight back against something that ought not be? Is there a deeper story your brand contributes to?”
Miller gives the example of CarMax, whose brilliant marketing strategy speaks almost entirely to customers’ internal problems (fear of getting ripped off by a sleazy salesman). To address those concerns, Carmax makes it clear that all of their cars go through an intense inspection and certification process to ensure that they are high quality. They also have an agreement plan in place that ensures salespeople aren’t compensated on commission.
Start by: Asking yourself what villain your brand is fighting against, what external problem that villain is causing, how that external problem makes your characters feel and why it’s “unjust for people to have to suffer at the hands of this villain.”
3. Meets a Guide
Every story has a guide and your brand is the guide (not the hero) that helps your characters find what they’re looking for.
Miller states that in order to position itself as a guide, a brand must be both empathetic and authoritative. Showing empathy helps to establish trust and commonality and showing authority helps to demonstrate competence and experience, which are crucial for garnering the respect of your audience.
Testimonials are one way that you can show authority…But avoid having too many or you might come off as the hero. Miller recommends starting with only three. And keep them brief.
Showing stats is another way to demonstrate your brand’s authority. How many customers have been happy with your product or service? How many email subscribers do you currently have?
Finally, showing awards your company has won or logos of other businesses you’ve worked with or clients you’ve served are also powerful ways of proving your brand’s authority in an area.
Start by: Thinking of some ways that you can show your customers that you care about their internal problems and can relate to what they’re going through. Then, whether it’s through testimonials, statistics or whatever else, think of how you can prove your expertise—but without going overboard.
4. Who Gives Them a Plan
Just like the hero of your favorite movie or book, your customers need a guide who provides them with a plan. Otherwise, without a plan, they are like lost puppies.
Miller differentiates between a process plan and an agreement plan. Just like it sounds, a process plan is a plan that lays out the steps of doing business with you (the author says that this plan should have at least three, but no more than six, steps).
An agreement plan is what you promise your customers if they do business with you. An easy way to look at it is “process plans alleviate confusion and agreement plans alleviate fears.” Unlike a process plan, an agreement plan doesn’t have to be advertised on the homepage of your website; this is something that customers might get later on in the getting-to-know-you process.
Start by: When creating your process plan, think about the questions that a customer might have when purchasing from you and where they might be confused. Then write out the steps so that the process is as simple and clear as possible. For instance, if your company sells custom stationary online, your process plan might be as simple as:
1. Pick the design you want
2. Write the text
3. Place your order!
When creating your agreement plan, think of the hesitations that your customers might have when it comes to buying from you—and then address those hesitations. For example, if you sell financial consulting services, your potential customers might be unsure if you can provide them with the advice they really need. So your agreement plan might be: “If you aren’t satisfied with our services, we’ll offer you your money back—guaranteed!”
5. Calls Them to Action
In any story, characters only take action when they are driven to do so. Otherwise, it probably wouldn’t make for a very interesting story!
But here’s the thing: Your customers are bombarded with 5,000 ads per day, so if you don’t have a clear call-to-action, your brand is going to get lost in the noise.
There are two different types of CTAs that you should be using. A direct CTA, like “Schedule a Consultation” or “Buy Now” is one that leads to a sale. A transitional CTA is a lead generation tool that offers customers something free, normally in exchange for their email address.
In other words, transitional CTAs are used to gain the trust of your leads and direct CTAs are used to turn them into actual customers. The direct CTA should always be the most obvious CTA on your website (in larger, bolder font and repeated throughout the page).
The author gives a good example of the importance of CTAs. One client he had was a health clinic that was having difficulty getting new customers. Everyone just came in for drug tests and nothing else; their other services were unused.
He found that the customers were missing a CTA. They weren’t buying anything else from the clinic because they weren’t being led in that direction.
So they had patients fill out a survey and then entered that information into their system. From there, they sent personalized, automated email campaigns based on the results of that survey (for instance, if it seemed like someone was in need of some vitamin B, they would be sent a series of emails spelling out the advantages of a monthly vitamin B shot). Most importantly, the emails all had clear CTAs directing the patients to make another appointment.
Start by: Making sure that the CTAs on your homepage are clear and stand out. Use transitional CTAs to establish trust with your audience and direct CTAs to lead them to sales. Don’t be afraid to call your characters to action. Because if you don’t, then they likely won’t take action at all.
6. That Helps Them Avoid Failure
The behavioral economic theory, Prospect Theory (or loss-aversion theory) says that people are “more likely to be dissatisfied with a loss than they are satisfied with a gain….people hate losing $100 more than they like winning $100.”
It’s for this very reason that you need to be telling your customers not only what they can gain from your products and services, but what they will lose if they don’t buy them. For example, if your business sells deodorant, then by buying your products, your customers are avoiding smelling really bad.
Start by: What will happen to your customers if they don’t buy from you? What negative outcome do your products or services prevent from happening? Lost money? Wasted time? Health risks? Only choose a few warnings, otherwise you will just end up confusing your customers.
7. And Ends in Success
Everyone likes a happy ending. And your brand story is no different.
How will your products or services make the lives of your customers better? How will you help them resolve the external, internal and philosophical problems that they are grappling with?
Miller says that there are three main ways that storytellers end their stories. They can let their heroes…
1. Achieve some sort of power, which can be done by offering exclusive access to something or creating scarcity (which appeals to their need for status)
2. Be united with something or someone external that makes them feel complete, which can be done by reducing anxiety, distractions or workload (which appeals to their need for completeness)
3. Experience a self-realization that makes them feel complete, which can be done through acceptance or inspiration (which appeals to their need to reach their full potential)
Start by: Thinking about how your brand can ultimately bring about a resolution for your customers. But as Miller advises, don’t overthink it. The answer is probably a lot simpler than you think.
Once you’ve created your StoryBrand Framework, you’ll want to do the following…
Transform Your Customers
We all aspire to be someone…some better version of ourselves. Some of us aspire to be more athletic…better writers…better cooks…
Why do you think that people buy Louis Vuitton purses and Rolex watches? Most of the time, it’s because they are aspiring to fit the image of the brand.
The Louis Vuitton brand image is fashionable, wealthy and elegant. And when someone buys a Louis Vuitton product, they automatically feel more fashionable…wealthier…and more elegant.
Who do your customers want to become? And how can your brand help your customers become that better version of themselves? How can your brand transform your customers into the people that they want to become?
Remember: People don’t buy products or services—they buy brands. As Miller states, realize that your company is not just selling products or services. Most importantly, you are selling your customers an identity transformation.
Create a One-Liner for Your Company
You should create a one-liner for your company, which should touch on the main points in your story: your characters, their problems, your plan and their success.
For instance, if your company sells sports drinks to athletes, then you can create your one-liner like so:
Problem: Lack of endurance
Plan: Hydrating and energizing drinks
Success: Start and end your workouts feeling good
We provide tired athletes with hydrating and energizing beverages so that they can start—and end—their workouts feeling good.
Then use that one-liner everywhere you go. It’s your new best friend.
I’ve just thrown a lot of information at you…I know.
Here’s the main idea:
Create a story around your brand, defining who your characters are and who they want to become; the external, internal and philosophical problems that they are dealing with; how you can help guide them; the process and agreement plans that you will put in place to address their questions and assuage their fears; the calls-to-action that you will put in your marketing material; and how your plan will help them to avoid failure and end in success.
Just like your brand message will be…
Still need help clarifying your brand message and creating a story around your brand? Get in touch. We’d love to help.