In Building a StoryBrand, marketing expert Donald Miller explains how to create effective marketing messages and materials. He covers:
The only thing customers care about is how your brand can solve their problems. As a result, marketing that’s unclear or confusing, doesn’t explain how your product solves problems, or that is self-centered and obsesses about the company's image, is doomed to fail.
For example, a beautiful website with pictures of your office building that doesn’t explain that you sell life-saving medicine isn’t going to win you any business. Even if your competitor’s medicines aren’t as good as yours, if their communication is better, they’ll win the customers.
Many marketing messages are unclear or confusing because they don’t accommodate the way the human brain works. Subconsciously and by nature, the human brain is interested in things that will help us survive. This results in two behaviors:
Behavior #1: The brain focuses on things that will help it meet survival needs. According to Abraham Maslow, the brain prioritizes needs in this order, most important first: nourishment, security, relationships (a tribe of people who will help keep us safe), and meaning (spiritual, physiological, and psychological needs.)
Behavior #2: The brain ignores anything that’s complicated because parsing complexity uses up energy and calories. Those calories could be better spent on something that will help with survival, such as finding food or a mate.
To catch the brain’s attention, your marketing needs to cater to how it works. First, your marketing needs to frame the message as survival-related. Show your customers that your product or service will help them:
The second thing your marketing needs to do is tell a story. Story is one of the most simple and digestible ways to transmit information because it organizes information into a predictable, formulaic format that takes little energy to understand and holds an audience’s attention.
The author, who founded a company called StoryBrand, has streamlined storytelling into a process called the StoryBrand 7-Part Framework (SB7). Using this framework, you’ll follow a step-by-step process to create a BrandScript, which is a document similar to the grids or storyboards that storytellers use to create movies or books. Once you’ve created your BrandScript, you’ll be able to draw on its ideas to write copy and create content you can use in your marketing materials.
There are seven elements to the SB7 formula: The hero (customer) wants something (1) and encounters a problem (2) that stops her from getting it. She needs the help of a guide (your brand) (3) who has a plan (4) to help her solve the problem. The guide (brand) must call on her to act (5). The stakes must be clear—what does she stand to lose if she doesn’t act (6) and what she might gain if she does act (7)?
Here’s an example of how the formula looks for a brand: (Shortform example: A college student wants study snacks (1) but doesn’t have any free time in which to cook (2). SnackCrate (3) is a company that mails crates of snacks to subscribers once a month (4). The “Subscribe” button on the SnackCrate website calls the student to sign up (5). If the student doesn’t order the snacks, she’ll be hungry (6). If she does, she’ll feel full and she’ll have more free brainpower to put towards studying (7).)
This seven-part story arc is common and popular because it captures the human condition so well. Everyone doubts themselves and wants to save the day and be a hero.
Now, we’ll look at each element or the story arc in more detail and discuss why each element is important.
The human brain craves resolution. Therefore, the distance between the customer and what she wants—known as a story gap—is inherently interesting. The customer will only be able to close the gap by learning more about your product.
It’s important to establish what a customer wants early, before her brain has a chance to wander from your story. What the customer wants should be obvious after five seconds on your website.
A problem is something that frustrates a customer that your product or service can fix. **Problems are important...
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In Building a StoryBrand, marketing expert Donald Miller explains how to create effective marketing messages and materials:
If you find that your brand is stagnant, it probably isn’t because your product is flawed. It probably is because there’s a problem with the message you’re sending out in your marketing. The only thing customers care about is how your brand can solve their problems. As a result, marketing that’s unclear or confusing, that doesn’t explain how your product solves problems, or that is self-centered and obsesses about the company's image, is doomed to fail.
Noise is the massive amount of distracting, confusing information that permeates the...
In Part 1, we learned that the best way to transmit a message is via story. There are many different ways to write stories—just think about how many books and movies there are out there—but there’s one tried-and-true formula that’s been tested throughout thousands of years of human history.
The author, who founded a company called StoryBrand, has streamlined this formula into a process called the StoryBrand 7-Part Framework (SB7). Using this framework, you’ll follow a step-by-step process to create a BrandScript, which is a document similar to the grids or storyboards that storytellers use to create movies or books. Once you’ve created your BrandScript, you’ll be able to draw on its ideas to write copy and create content you can use in your marketing materials.
The BrandScript is universal and will work for any size of company anywhere in the world. For example, after implementing the framework, in just four years, the author’s company doubled its revenue.
You can create multiple BrandScripts for your company at the overall, divisional, and product levels, and/or for different customer segments.
There are seven elements to the SB7 formula:
The second of the seven story elements is the problem. In narrative, a problem is something that stands in the way of the hero getting what she wants. Problems engage the audience, maintain interest in the story, and make the audience more likely to trust the storyteller because they feel understood. (Shortform example: In the book The Paper Bag Princess, the dragon is the problem—the dragon burns all the princess’s possessions and kidnaps the prince she wants to marry.)
In branding, a problem is something the customer is frustrated by that your product or service can fix. (Shortform example: If you sell hand soap, the customer’s problem is that her hands are dirty, which creates a feeling of disgust.)
Problems are important to maintaining interest—without conflict, stories are boring. No one would keep watching. (Shortform example: Imagine that in the movie The Wizard of Oz, the wicked witch offered to give Dorothy a ride home after the first half-hour.)
First, we'll explore how to create a villain strong enough to mobilize customers. Then, we'll discuss the three problems your product or service should address, and how to write these problems (and their...
The third of the seven story elements is the guide. In a narrative, the guide is a character who helps the hero solve her problem. (Shortform example: In The Karate Kid, the guide is Mr. Miyagi, a karate master who teaches hero Daniel how to fight.)
In branding, the guide is your brand, which will help the customer solve her problems and get what she wants. (Shortform example: if you sell hand soap, your brand offers customers the tools to get their hands clean.)
First, we'll discuss the dynamic between the hero and guide. Then, we'll discuss the two characteristics you should demonstrate as a guide, and how to write evidence of these characteristics into your BrandScript.
You might be wondering why the brand is the guide rather than the hero—after all, heroes get things done and the story revolves around them. However, in stories, the hero is never the most capable character—heroes are self-doubting, reluctant, and inexperienced. Additionally, heroes are never capable of solving their own problems. If they could fix their own problems, there wouldn’t be a story. (Shortform example: At the beginning of the Disney movie Hercules,...
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The fourth of the seven story elements is the plan. In a narrative, the plan is a method the guide gives the hero to alleviate her fears, help her get what she wants, and solve her problems. For example, in Moneyball, guide Peter Brand tells hero Billy Beane (general manager of a baseball team) to use algorithms instead of anecdotes to choose his players.
(Shortform note: To see the seven story elements of Moneyball in action, read our summary of the book.)
In branding, the plan is step-by-step instructions that the brand gives the customer. The instructions explain how to buy or use the product or service, or alleviate fears about spending money on the product or service. (Shortform example: If you sell hand soap, you might assure customers that your salespeople don’t work on commission—no one will pressure them to buy a scent they’re not sure about.)
The first three steps of the SB7 Framework were primarily about establishing characters and setting the scene. Step four is the first in which **the customer has to start doing something. She’s unlikely to do so unless you tell her exactly what to do next and how...
The fifth of the seven story elements is to act. In a narrative, the guide pushes the hero to act. (Shortform example: In Lord of the Rings, Gandalf tells Frodo to take the ring to Mordor to destroy it.)
In branding, the brand calls the customer to action by providing a button on their website that allows the customer to buy or get more information about the brand’s products or services. (Shortform example: if you sell hand soap, you might create a button linking to a document called “How to Wash Your Hands Properly” that customers can download from your website for free.)
First, we'll discuss the importance of using calls to action and learn about the two different types. Then, we'll discuss how to employ them, and how to add them to your BrandScript.
Calls to action are critical because people don’t act unless something forces them to. For example, in Legally Blonde, Elle Woods decides to follow her boyfriend to law school only after he dumps her because he thinks she’s not “serious” enough to be his partner. **If you want a customer to buy something, you need to take the initiative and push them to do...
There are only two motivations in life: 1) get something good or 2) avoid something bad, and the last two elements of the SB7 Framework address these motivations.
The sixth of the seven story elements is the negative stakes—what happens if the character fails to act, fails to solve the problem, and fails to get what she wants? In narrative, the possibility of loss—and the terrible consequences loss comes with—creates suspense and motivates the audience to stay engaged with the story. (Shortform example: In Harry Potter, if hero Harry doesn’t defeat villain Voldemort, Voldemort will take over the wizarding world and torture or murder people.)
In branding, the possibility of loss—the bad things that will happen to your customer if she doesn’t buy your product—motivates your customer to continue looking for a solution to the problem and a happy ending to her story. (Shortform example: if you sell hand soap and your customer doesn’t buy it, her hands will be filthy and could infect her with diseases.)
Stakes are important because every moviegoer and customer, when confronted with a story, is always subconsciously asking, “Why should I care?” and “Where can...
The last of the seven story elements is positive stakes—what happens if the character successfully acts, solves the problem, and gets what she wants? In narrative, the possibility of gain—and the happy ending it comes with—motivates the audience to stay invested in the story. (Shortform example: In Harry Potter, if hero Harry does defeat villain Voldemort, the wizarding world will be safe, and Harry can have a normal life and start a family, something he’s wanted since Voldemort killed his parents.)
In branding, the possibility of gain—and the positive stakes it comes with—motivates the customer to buy your product. (Shortform example: if you sell hand soap, and people buy it and use it, they’ll be clean and healthy.)
The goal of this element is to close the gap between the hero/customer and what she wants. First, we'll discuss the requirements of happy endings and three popular story endings that we can draw inspiration from. Then, we'll discuss how to share the happy endings with customers, and how to add them to your BrandScript.
**The most successful brands show customers exactly how a product will change their...
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The previous chapters in Part 2 have each addressed one of the seven elements of the SB7 story arc. Chapter 9 will address one more facet of story: a hero’s longing to transform. While people are motivated by the possibility of success and failure, the number one thing that motivates humans is the desire to change—to become more self-accepting, different, or better.
In narrative, transformation refers to the new skills the hero learns from the guide and facing the conflict. By the end of the book, after she defeats the villain, she’s a different person than she was at the beginning. (Shortform example: In the Disney movie Mulan, at the beginning of the movie, Mulan doesn’t know how to hold a sword. By the end, she’s saved China from an invading army.)
In branding, transformation refers to the potential to take on a new, aspirational identity. The best brands think hard about what kind of people their customers want to be and then show that ownership of their products is a distinguishing characteristic of that identity. (Shortform example: if you sell hand soap, you can show potential customers that your existing customers are clean, healthy people.) Brands that...
An aspirational identity is the type of person you would become if you owned a certain product.
How would you want your friends to describe you? Why?
In Part 2, you created a BrandScript. Now, it’s time to transfer the ideas and content in that script to your marketing materials. The more you can implement your BrandScript into your marketing materials, the more customers will sign up to star in your story. Chapter 10 covers how to use your BrandScript on your website, and subsequent chapters cover how to use it elsewhere.
You don’t need a million-dollar advertising budget to implement your BrandScript. Shoring up your digital presence, particularly your website, can substantially increase your customer engagement. No matter how someone hears about your brand, they’re going to end up on your website at some point to discover more.
The number-one mistake brands make with their websites is including too much noise. In earlier times, it was okay to give a lot of detail about a company on a website. These days, a website should be brief. The only two pieces of information a customer needs to get from your website are:
There are many ways to cut down on noise...
There are five effective ways to improve your website.
Picture (or navigate to) your current website. What’s currently above the fold? How could you bolster the content in that area?
Fixing up your website was the first step to implementing your BrandScript. Now, it’s time to look at five further steps. These five steps are appropriate for any size or type of business and are almost free.
It may take up to a year to implement all five steps, but you’ll start seeing growth right after implementing the first one. You can hire a StoryBrand guide to help you with these steps if you like. (StoryBrand doesn’t take a percentage from guides or any other certified agents.)
A logline is a short, often one-sentence description of a movie that summarizes the story and hooks in a potential viewer. (Shortform example: The logline for The Hunger Games could be: “To save her sister, a girl enters a life-or-death competition in her place.”) A brand logline does the same thing—it summarizes your brand’s story and invites customers to star as the hero.
Loglines are important because most people who work at a company, even the senior leaders, can’t succinctly explain what the brand does, and they lose people’s interest the moment they try. If everyone memorizes the logline, there’s a...
There are five ways to implement your story into your marketing materials.
Brainstorm some possible loglines for your company. Remember that loglines should include the hero (customer), problem, plan, and positive stakes.
As you’ve seen in previous chapters, you can use stories to clearly communicate with and engage your customers. You can also use stories to communicate and engage with your employees.
First, we’ll look at storyless workplaces with weak culture. Then, we’ll look at storied workplaces with strong culture.
The “narrative void” describes a plotless, empty expanse within an organization. When there’s no story, people don’t know what roles they play, what they’re supposed to do, or why they should care.
If your company has a narrative void, all the different divisions and departments are disconnected. Only people within a department understand what that department does, and everyone’s making decisions from their own point of view. No matter how much people think their decisions affect only their departments, they do affect the rest of the organization. As a result, corporate communication becomes internal noise, social media shares confusing messaging, and local marketing descends into frantic discounting.
If a company is plagued by a narrative void, disengagement often starts straight from onboarding. At a plotless...