If the directions require a booklet or a phone call to IKEA, I guarantee I am going to toss them. When the front-page story asks me to continue onto page 9A, I most likely won’t finish it. Like most of us, I crave simplicity and brevity as my means to the end. Once complicated or unclear, I’m tempted to bow out. Could this explain a few failed long-distance relationships? Absolutely. But I know it’s not just me. We all want it. Short and sweet. Nice and easy. Straight and to the point. Enter StoryBrand.
Donald Miller’s bestselling book “Building A StoryBrand” outlines a marketing approach that taps into just this – our shared human desire for clarity. With a clear and simple mission statement, Miller claims most any business has the potential for success. In his book, he identifies seven universal story points that everyone responds to. Miller establishes these points as the framework for successfully selling any product.
This magic framework is known by the cool kids as “The SB 7 Framework.” Essentially, it’s the seven-step formula for all storytelling. And here’s the kicker – you probably already know the formula. Donald Miller didn’t make it up and his team at StoryBrand didn’t make it up. This ingenious “formula” is simply the transcript behind almost every narrative. It’s the natural rhythm almost all of the great stories follow. Star Wars. Hunger Games. Lord of the Rings. Miller has simply exposed this age-old recipe for us. And it cooks up a hit story. every. single. time. Apply this same StoryBrand formula to how you communicate your product to the customer and Miller is confident you will see success.
So, what’s the big deal? Well, it works. And if there is a formula for your company’s success that actually works – that’s a pretty big deal. Miller’s book walks through a myriad of examples, but for longevity’s sake, we will walk through the framework using one focus. One we are hopefully all familiar with – toothpaste. Trust me, you (and hopefully your teeth) won’t regret it.
Step One – A character
The Customer is the Hero, not your Brand.
This was new for me. My initial approach to marketing a product is to put the spotlight on the product. How can I make it sexier, cooler, brighter, shinier— the hero. But StoryBrand challenges businesses to shift their focus and to turn the spotlight outward. You are not meant to be the star of the show, your customer is. I know, asking Beyoncé to sing back-up feels wrong. Stay with me.
Example: Kicking off with our toothpaste sale, the hero here is the guy or gal with the teeth, not the toothpaste. Sure, we’ll get to how wonderful our toothpaste is soon. But our leading lady for now is the one with the chompers.
Step Two – Has a problem
Companies tend to see solutions to external problems, but customers buy solutions to internal problems.
We must establish the problem to establish the customer’s why – why do they need our product anyway? StoryBrand charges us to bring resolve to the consumer’s three levels of conflict: external, internal and philosophical. How conflicted can one be to buy toothpaste? Let me explain.
External problem – The obvious problem, you have yellow teeth and inevitably, bad breath.
Internal problem – No one wants to kiss that mouth. Self-image is crushed, self-esteem is at an all-time low and self-respect is non-existent.
Philosophical – You deserve to feel comfortable in your skin and a smile you can be proud of!
Step Three – And meets a guide!
Customers aren’t looking for another hero, they’re looking for a guide!
Enter you. This is where you shine. This is where your company shines. In most every great story, the hero takes on the problem with the help of a guide. Think Yoda, think Gandalf & Haymitch. Think that creepy voice from the clouds in Field of Dreams. The wise old sage and the voice of reason. These are the guides. The ones who help our heroes to greatness.
Example: Believe it or not, there are lots of possible toothpaste guides, but we’ll go with the trusty old dentist. He sports his white coat, a charming grandpa look, and he for sure went to the Harvard of dental schools. In the commercial or website video, he recommends this toothpaste above any other toothpaste in the country.
Step Four – Who gives them a plan
Customers trust a guide who has a plan.
No matter how obvious the plan might seem, we must map it out for the customer. Miller brilliantly illustrates the need for clear, stated directions when he writes “placing stones in a creek greatly increases chance that someone will actually cross the creek.” Does it just take these five steps to cross the creek? Is it easy as 1, 2, 3? A, B, C? Then tell the consumer that.
1. Brush twice a day
2. Get whiter smile
Step Five – And calls them to action
Customers do not take action unless they are called to action.
StoryBrand recognizes that in all the great stories, characters don’t take action unless they’re challenged to do so. Bruce Willis boards the spaceship in Armageddon because the world is going to end. Jerry Maguire fought tirelessly for Cuba Gooding Jr. because well… he had to “show (him) the money!” What’s the battle cry? What’s going to get your customers off the couch and in the store? What is going to make them click that ‘buy now’ button? Again, it seems too obvious to say out loud, but YOU are. You simply have to tell them.
Example: Buy our toothpaste today! Pick it up at any grocery retailer or pharmacy near you.
Scene – guy picking out toothpaste from an aisle in Walgreens. He high fives the checker after he makes his purchase.
(Okay, the high five could be overkill. But he finally got the toothpaste of his dreams. Let him have this moment.)
Step Six – What will happen if not followed
Every human being is trying to avoid a tragic ending.
Honestly, my first thoughts here were hell-fire and brimstone. Buy our product or you will die miserable and alone. Effective? Possibly. But StoryBrand’s sixth step hopes to achieve more than just a fear triggered purchase. Illustrating the consequences of living without your product can appropriately shape the consumer’s perspective. Bottom line, you believe your product will in some way improve your customer’s life, yes? Well, show them what happens when you’re not in the picture. I think it was the great poets from All American Rejects who said, “When you see my face, hope it gives you hell, hope it gives you hell.” You get the idea.
Example: He’s at a five-star restaurant, jacket and tie and laughing across from a beautiful woman and then he smiles. The background music screeches and any Frank Sinatra vibe that might’ve been happening is long gone. His yellowing teeth and bad breath have killed any shot he had at romance. Or she’s holding her diploma, arm and arm with her grandparents, confetti falling from the sky, but she smiles with a closed mouth. Mom and dad try desperately to get picture but she’s clearly uncomfortable. When she laughs with her fellow graduates, she covers her mouth. She’s embarrassed and self-conscious.
Step Seven – Vision for future
Never assume people understand how your brand can change their lives. Tell them.
And now for the happy ending! Successful brands make it clear the benefits of doing business with them. Paint the picture of your customer’s happily ever after. So they buy your toothpaste, how will their life change for the better? What does minty, fresh eternal bliss look like?
Example: He’s at a five-star restaurant, jacket and tie and laughing across from a beautiful woman – and he’s smiling so big you can see almost see his wisdom teeth! Maybe a kiss before appetizers? A table side proposal? With a smile like his, this gal’s heart is his for the taking. Or she’s holding her diploma, arm and arm with her grandparents, confetti falling from the sky and she’s grinning, quite literally, from ear to ear. She hugs her fellow graduates and throws her head back in laughter. Her bright, white teeth literally sparkle in the sunshine. Genuine happiness, success, confidence. All because they made the switch to our toothpaste.
Now, it’s your turn.
From bedtime stories to teenage rom coms to Netflix and Hulu, we’ve grown up captivated by stories. We are a natural audience, eager to see and hear a great story unfold. Why not write a story to sell your product? The StoryBrand formula will no doubt help you communicate your company’s message with clarity and charisma. Try it for yourself. It really is easy as one, two, three – or in this case, one through seven. And if you want to know even more about the SB process, check out our StoryBrand newsletter.