Donald Miller’s Building a StoryBrand teaches how to create effective marketing by using a story structure that portrays the customer as the hero and demonstrates how your brand can help them achieve their goals.
Miller’s formula helps create a clear and consistent marketing story that shows how your brand can help customers achieve their desired outcomes. This guide highlights common marketing mistakes and how storytelling can fix them, while also covering the seven-part story structure and implementing it in different marketing channels.
The Two Errors That Cause Marketing Material to Fail
Miller identifies two common errors that marketers tend to make while creating marketing material, primarily because they overlook how the human brain processes information.
Error #1: Brands Don’t Articulate How They Help People Stay Alive or Prosper
Miller asserts that a brand’s marketing must show how it supports human survival or prosperity, or it risks failure. The human brain prioritizes basic needs like food and shelter, and then focuses on self-esteem, purpose, and self-actualization. Therefore, customers engage only with marketing that demonstrates a brand’s ability to help them survive or prosper.
Error #2: Brands Force Customers to Waste Calories Parsing
Miller notes that a common mistake brand make is overwhelming customers with irrelevant information, leading to disengagement. This information lacks relevance to the customer’s basic needs of survival or prosperity, causing them to disregard it and focus on more critical activities.
How to Correct the Errors: Create a Story
To address the common errors brands make, Miller suggests using a story format to communicate brand information. This approach focuses on demonstrating the brand’s contribution to customers’ survival and prosperity while eliminating irrelevant information.
Create a Story Using a Marketing Outline
Miller suggests using his StoryBrand 7-Part Framework, also known as the marketing outline, to craft a compelling story. This outline is based on the traditional storytelling structure used in commercial films. By using this approach, you can develop a “BrandScript” or storyline that narrates the customer’s journey. Once you have a storyline, you can use it to create marketing content.
Three Benefits of Using the Marketing Outline
Miller argues that the marketing outline provides three key advantages: ease of use, cohesiveness, and repeatability.
- Firstly, you can effortlessly plug your company’s details into the outline to create a storyline.
- Secondly, the outline ensures a unified message that can be adjusted for various products, services, or departments, minimizing customer confusion and contradictions in marketing.
- Thirdly, having a consistent message allows for easy communication across marketing platforms and to employees.
The Seven Parts of the Marketing Outline
To better understand the marketing outline, let’s examine each of its parts.
Part 1: The Customer-Protagonist Wants Something
Miller suggests starting the story by highlighting what the customer wants and the gap between their current state and fulfilling that desire. This creates a sense of urgency in the customer to fill that gap, for example, by using your design services to transform their barren backyard into a lush landscape.
The Want Must Be Related to Staying Alive or Prospering
Miller emphasizes the importance of connecting your customer’s want to staying alive or prospering. Here are six wants that achieve this goal, according to Miller: saving or acquiring money, saving time, building community, acquiring status, creating opportunities to be generous, and finding meaning.
Customers require money, time, community, status, generosity, and meaning for survival and success.
Part 2: The Customer-Protagonist Encounters a Problem
Miller advises identifying a specific problem that your product or service solves and presenting it as a villain in the story to make it relatable to customers. For example, your online grocery delivery tool can defeat the villain of waiting in line at the grocery store.
Three Levels of Problems
Miller claims there are three levels of problems to include in your storyline:
- External problems, such as long grocery store lines, are tangible and straightforward for brands to solve.
- Internal problems, such as a lack of time, are unpleasant internal states that motivate customers to take action but are harder for brands to identify.
- Philosophical problems are universal questions of meaning and justice, often expressed using “should” statements.
The Best Stories Address All Three Levels of Problems
To craft a compelling story, Miller suggests showcasing how your brand solves the customer’s problem on all three levels: external, internal, and philosophical. For example, a grocery delivery service resolves the problem of wasting time waiting in line (external), relieves the frustration of not having enough time (internal), and restores balance to the customer’s life (philosophical).
Part 3: The Brand-Mentor Steps In to Help
Miller suggests that a brand needs to display competence and empathy to build trust with the customer-protagonist. Competence is demonstrated by providing solutions and showcasing expertise, while empathy is shown by understanding emotions and offering support. These qualities help the brand become a trusted mentor and guide for the customer’s journey towards their goals.
Miller advises that brands should demonstrate two key qualities to earn their customers’ trust as a mentor: compassion and competence.
Compassion means understanding and acknowledging the customer’s problem and showing a willingness to help.
Competence, on the other hand, involves demonstrating that the brand has successfully mentored others before. One way to establish competence is by showcasing customer testimonials in marketing materials.
Part #4: The Brand-Mentor Offers a Plan to The Customer-Protagonist
After establishing yourself as the customer’s mentor, provide a clear and concise plan to help them overcome their problem through the use of your product or service, advises Miller. Customers may hesitate to make a purchase due to confusion and fear, but a well-presented plan can eliminate these obstacles and encourage them to take the risk.
Miller suggests two plan types to alleviate customer confusion and fear: Instructional Plans and Promise Plans.
Instructional Plans provide clear, step-by-step instructions for purchasing and using your product, while Promise Plans list the promises you make to your customers about your business practices.
Part 5: The Brand-Mentor Urges the Customer-Protagonist to Take Action
To encourage customers to make a purchase, Miller advises explicitly and repeatedly calling them to action. Boldness and repetition show confidence in your product and help customers understand what you want them to do. Don’t be afraid to appear insistent in your marketing materials, as customers tend to choose the brand that is clear about its intentions.
For a successful call to action, be clear and direct with your customer about what you want them to do, whether it’s buying or engaging with your brand, advises Miller.
Call to Action #1: A Call to Buy
Employ calls that are clear and straightforward, such as “Purchase Now!” or “Apply Now!” to encourage customers to make a purchase. Place the call to buy button prominently on your website and marketing materials and use different colors, fonts, or sizes to draw attention to it.
Call to Action #2: A Call to Engage
Offer helpful information that positions you as a competent mentor to your customers, without necessarily funneling them towards a sale. Examples of calls to engage include educational PDFs or video series, samples of your product, or test runs. This will help customers think of you when they do need your product in the future.
Part 6: The Negative Stakes of Not Taking Action
After calling your customer to action, Miller suggests highlighting the negative consequences of not acting to create a sense of urgency.
For example, explaining how bad posture can lead to back problems and how chiropractic services can help prevent this. However, it’s important to strike a balance and avoid creating too much anxiety, as it can repulse customers, or too little, as it won’t create enough of an urge to buy.
Part 7: The Happy Ending of Following the Plan
Miller stresses the need to show customers a clear and positive outcome of purchasing your product, emphasizing simplicity and specificity. Customers want to know how your product will improve their lives, so avoid vague or complex statements. For example, use a specific tagline and show people enjoying life to advertise a bone-strengthening supplement.
The Transformation: How Do You Help Your Customer Change for the Better?
Miller emphasizes the importance of a customer’s transformation in marketing. By positioning your brand as an enabler of transformation, you become more than just a brand. Consider your customer’s aspirational identity and reward their progress once they achieve it.
Implement Your Storyline
Miller suggests transferring the storyline you created to your marketing materials. By implementing the storyline in your marketing, you can attract more customers to your brand.
Miller suggests implementing the storyline in six ways:
- Overhaul your website: Your website should have only essential information and everything should be inspired by your storyline.
- Write a brand logline: Create a short and memorable phrase that answers the question: “What does your company do?” Use elements from your storyline such as the customer-protagonist, the problem, the plan, and the happy ending.
- Start an automated email campaign: Create an automated campaign consisting of four pre-written emails to ensure your brand remains top of mind for customers. The goal is to make customers think of you first when they need a product or service.
- Showcase testimonials of transformation: Share customer testimonials that describe how your product transformed their life for the better. Ask questions that prompt the reader to describe a transformation.
- Create a referral program: Offer rewards to customers who refer new business to you.
- Advertise on social media: Use social media platforms to reach your target audience and share your storyline with them.