Book Review: Building a StoryBrand

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”
― Philip Pullman

Most business owners spend so much time on the details of their operation that they don’t know how to have effective marketing conversations with their customers.

Donald Miller, author of Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen, says that the most compelling way to engage and convert potential customers is by framing your marketing as a story, just like a book or a movie.

By using Miller’s StoryBrand BrandScript, businesses can plug their unique circumstances into a framework for creating a story that will capture clients’ attention — and their business.

The StoryBrand BrandScript Framework

1) A Character…

Almost immediately, StoryBrand calls for refocusing the story you’re telling through your marketing. The main character of your story isn’t you, the book argues, it’s your customer.

If you’re the “hero” of your own marketing message, your audience won’t identify with your story; if you already know the answers to the questions they’re asking, there’s nothing for the story to resolve. In contrast, making your customer the hero is more engaging because your audience can see themselves in the scenario you’re presenting.

2) With a Problem…

To paraphrase Mr. Miller, if your main character is perfectly content with her life and circumstances, you don’t have much of a story.

To move the plot (and your audience) forward, you need an obstacle to overcome. In the context of marketing your business, this obstacle should be the problem that you solve for your customers.

3) Meets a Guide…

This is where you — or, more accurately, your business — enters the picture. As the guide, you must express empathy (“I’ve been where you are”) and authority (“I know what to do”) to earn your hero’s trust.

By positioning yourself as the guide, you can show your customer the way to success without sounding pushy.

4) With a Plan…

The guide gets the hero where she needs to go by providing a directive or information that will help her overcome an obstacle.Building a StoryBrand says that these plans fall into two categories:

  1. The Process plan (“these three steps will solve your problem!”)
  2. The Agreement plan (“this is what you’ll get if you work with us.”)

The Wizard of Oz offers a perfect example of the Process plan. Glinda the Good Witch gives Dorothy a three-step process to get home:

  1. Put on the ruby slippers
  2. Follow the yellow brick road
  3. See the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz

Even though the outcome is uncertain at this point, Dorothy’s path is clearly set by the plan her guide provides. But for the plan to work, the hero must choose to act.

5) That Calls Them to Action…

To paraphrase Mr. Miller again, the reason late-night infomercials shout like they’re trying to raise the dead is, basically, because they are. Potential customers only become real customers if you can convince them to take action.

StoryBrand separates calls to action into two types. The first is a softer, transitional action (“Download this brochure to learn more”). The second is more direct (“Call us today and schedule an appointment.”)

These calls to action belong all over your website, your marketing materials, and any other client-facing channels.

6) Resulting in Failure…

For any good story to work, there have to be stakes.

In The Wizard of Oz, failure for Dorothy means not seeing her family again. (Though one could argue that staying in Oz would have been more fun than 1930s Kansas, but that’s another story altogether.) For your customers, failure means continuing to live with the problem that brought them to you in the first place.

StoryBrand says that “failure” in a story is like salt in a recipe. Use just enough to make a difference, but don’t overdo it or you’ll overwhelm the other ingredients.

7) …Or Success.

Helping your customers envision successfully overcoming their problem is one of the most important (and fun!) parts of the Building a StoryBrand process.

By highlighting the benefits they’ll receive (time or cost savings, streamlined operations, seeing Auntie Em again) your audience will be able to see themselves thriving with your product or service’s help.

Applying Building a StoryBrand

Reading Building a StoryBrand helped us refine and reimagine our own marketing message, and the book was a key reference for our own website redesign. We’ve shared the principles of StoryBrand with some of our long-standing clients and were thrilled by the response.

We highly recommend Building a StoryBrand for any business looking for a fresh way to reach their customers.

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