What is the best marketing campaign of all time? More than likely, your answer isn’t going to reference a pop-up ad or an email offering a discount code. That’s because memorable and effective marketing tells a story—it’s a method companies like Nike, Apple, Disney, and Coca-Cola all use to resonate with their customers’ emotions. Donald Miller’s best-selling book, Building a StoryBrand, provides the exact formula brands use for creating a powerful message.
Lani Peterson for Harvard Business Publishing explains that storytelling is important because it releases “chemicals like cortisol, dopamine, and oxytocin . . . cortisol assists with our formulating memories. Dopamine, which helps regulate our emotional responses, keeps us engaged. When it comes to creating deeper connections with others, oxytocin is associated with empathy, an important element in building, deepening, or maintaining good relationships.” Scientifically speaking, when a customer’s brain connects with the story a brand tells, they’re more positively influenced to make a purchase.
Miller makes this process simple with his seven-step framework that any business owner, despite their industry can use. With that being said, learn how to communicate with purpose and increase your message’s clarity, power, and impact using the information below.
What StoryBrand Marketing?
StoryBrand marketing centers a brand message—how a business communicates verbally and non-verbally with their audience—using the story arc of the hero’s journey. Referencing movies like Star Wars and The Hunger Games, Miller says all great stories follow a seven-step formula. Like Luke Skywalker, customers are battling a problem that they’ll either succeed or fail at solving. It’s up to marketers to deliver their business as a guide who can lead them to victory.
Benefits of Using The StoryBrand Technique
Miller’s approach to marketing is unique. “STORYBRAND PRINCIPLE ONE: THE CUSTOMER IS THE HERO, NOT YOUR BRAND. When we position our customer as the hero and ourselves as the guide, we will be recognized as a trusted resource to help them overcome their challenges. Positioning the customer as the hero in the story is more than just good manners; it’s also good business.” When customers become the hero of their story, it makes them feel empowered, proud, and inspired to succeed with the business’s help.
Think about listening to a story told by a self-centered speaker. Because the person isn’t relating the story to the listener, it quickly takes on a boastful tone. It’s not engaging or motivating—there’s no reason to listen. Companies acting with humility tell a story in which their customers are the main character in the narrative. After all, they’re who your product or service is meant to benefit.
The StoryBrand Framework Increases a Message’s Clarity
Operating with this marketing strategy also makes the message much more clear. Rather than rambling on about features, benefits, and value, the story is grounded in providing the resources customers need to solve their very distinct problems. Miller writes in the book, “As a brand, it’s important to define something your customer wants because as soon as we define something our customer wants, we posit a story question in the mind of the customer: Can this brand really help me get what I want?”
StoryBrand marketing is designed to identify a customer’s problem, introduce your product or service as a way to help, offer them a plan for solving their issue, and call them to act and resolve their problem. It’s a clear-cut strategy that prevents the key message from getting lost in translation.
Better Messaging Leads to More Business Growth
Ultimately, leaders interested in a more productive marketing strategy have one goal: making more sales and a greater impact. As discussed above, StoryBrand marketing is action-oriented, purposeful, and engaging. It defines a customer’s problem and offers a viable solution to that problem. This type of marketing makes a product or service attractive because it shows how it can help turn a goal into a reality. As a result, increased growth and sales become natural outcomes.
How to Work Through StoryBrand’s BrandScript
Miller outlines the process of storytelling in what he calls a BrandScript. This is a seven-part brainstorming session that helps businesses consider the story they want to present to their audience. Use the information in each section below to work through your own StoryBrand BrandScript.
1. Create the Main Character
Defining the story’s main character is the first step in telling a story. This person is a representation of your target audience. Dig deep into your demographics and find out exactly who you want to pitch the story to. Miller says the larger question is: “What do they want?” This needs to be apparent almost as soon as the story begins. “When you define something your customer wants, you invite them into a very specific story,” he explains in an article on his website.
The point is, the person receiving the message needs to know it is intended for them. This message needs to be simple: offer one thing that will help your customer achieve what they want. Stick to only one solution, as too many will reduce clarity, confuse customers, and, ultimately, interfere with purchasing decisions.
2. Define the Hero’s Problem
Next, the problem needs to be defined so that the hero can ultimately resolve it. Miller says customers experience three types of problems: external, internal, and philosophical. The external problem is the surface-level issue that the person experiences. For instance, say you own a cleaning company, and your hero is a busy, working mom in her mid-30s. Her external problem is that her home is always in a state of disarray. The internal problem is how the external problem makes her feel. It’s why the problem matters. In this case, the problem matters because it makes her feel guilty and anxious. The philosophical problem is typically a limiting belief that prevents a person from solving their issue in the first place. For this example, it might be: “It’s wrong to spend money on something I should be doing myself.”
After the hero’s problem is clearly illustrated, it’s time to extend a helping hand.
3. Offer Your Assistance as a Guide
Once the problem is defined, prove you’re the authority that can help your hero handle it and obtain the object of their desire. Miller says this is what most brands get wrong. Instead of playing a supporting role in the hero’s journey, they try to take the lead. Yet, this isn’t what customers are looking for. They’re looking for someone who understands what they’re going through and is there to connect with them. “Oprah Winfrey, an undeniably successful guide to millions, once explained the three things every human being wants most are to be seen, heard, and understood. This is the essence of empathy.” Aside from credibility, empathy is another way guides connect to their heroes. With a trusted advisor, they can successfully complete their journey with the resources the guide provides (your product or service).
4. Provide a Simple Plan
After this, give the hero a plan for reaching their goal. This plan needs to be as simple and direct as possible. For instance, if you own a dental practice, this might look like:
- 1. Schedule an appointment.
- 2. Receive a confirmation email.
- 3. Meet with the dentist.
Plans should be around three to five steps and written in straightforward, plain language. In short, prove just how easy using the product or service is.
Another important thing to note is that the plan given by the guide always comes before a company asks for a purchase. You want to build a rapport and nurture the customer before asking them to buy from you. Miller compares marketing to dating for this reason. People don’t propose on a first date—they build a relationship first, which is what the guide does in the steps above.
5. Call the Hero to Action
Once the foundation for a trusting relationship is there, challenge the hero. It’s time for them to act on the tactical planning you’ve done for them. The call to action (CTA) should be big, bold, and extremely clear. Make it obvious which move the customer needs to take next in order to get closer to their objective. A great example of a direct CTA is the “BUY NOW” button. In addition to providing it after the plan, Miller advises putting this at the top right corner of a webpage to increase sales. It should stand out. Make it a different color and larger than other buttons and text on the page.
Sometimes customers being nurtured aren’t ready to purchase yet. Miller says one way to keep leads warm is to add a transitional CTA. Typically, this appears as a “Learn More” button. Your business might offer a value-packed free resource in exchange for staying in touch with the customer at the top of the funnel. This strategy is effective for marketers with high-ticket offers requiring more trust before a purchase is made.
6 and 7. Describe the Results of Success and Failure
When the customer gets called to action, they need to know what is at stake. In every well-told story, the hero knows the consequences, should they fail. Brand messengers must also communicate this to their audience. While not focusing too much on the negatives, let customers know what could happen if they fail to solve their problems.
After touching briefly on potential problems created by not resolving the issue, turn the conversation’s focus back to success. Let the customer know it’s entirely possible to obtain what they want—they just need to follow the plan you’ve given them. Think back to why they began the hero’s journey in the first place. What transformation were they seeking? Speak to this by painting a portrait of what life is like now that they’ve succeeded in their mission. Do this with visuals, text, design, and sounds.
Remember, the more you tap into multi-sensory elements, the more customers immerse themselves into the story.
Putting a BrandScript into Action
After working through the BrandScript, your story is ready for implementation. Make a list of all the places you interact with your target audience. This includes email series, social media posts, website pages, mailers, packaging, videos, blogs, and lead magnets. Use elements of your story at every single brand touchpoint. Even product descriptions or an “About” page are great places for storytelling.
Here’s a few tips for what to include on a website:
- Immediately let potential customers know you’re there to help them solve their problems.
- Introduce them to a guide—this is a personification of the brand.
- Be empathic toward the way the problem makes the hero feel.
- Prove you’re a credible resource to help them solve the issue preventing them from getting what they want. This includes adding testimonials and reviews from previous clients. Data and statistics also increase trust and belief.
- Provide a simple plan (3-5 steps) that shows customers how uncomplicated it is to obtain their goal.
- Create a distinct CTA button that makes clear the next steps potential customers should take. Add a transitional CTA, if what you’re selling is a high-ticket offer that requires more nurturing before making a purchase.
- Describe what life looks like when the customer resolves their problem with the help of your business.
- Develop a clear visualization of success and failure for customers.
Additional Resources for Learning StoryBrand Marketing
This article covers the basics of StoryBrand marketing and working through a BrandScript. Yet, Donald Miller has numerous in-depth resources to help companies learn how to more effectively market their products and services with a clear and distinct story. A great starting point is to read Building a StoryBrand, which can be a game changer for business leaders looking to create a powerful impact through messaging.
For more information on becoming effective using the StoryBrand method, check out:
- Building a StoryBrand with Donald Miller (podcast)