We left off the last blog post with a small introduction to the StoryBrand framework. In today’s post, we’re diving into the foundation of Donald Miller’s Building a StoryBrand and what makes the SB7 framework so successful. This section is the meat and potatoes of the book, so you’re not going to want to skip this!
Let’s break it down.
Topics of Discussion
- Principle One: You’re not the hero, your customer is.
- Principle Two: Companies sell solutions to external problems, but customers buy solutions to internal problems.
- Principle Three: Your customers aren’t looking for a hero; they’re looking for a guide.
- Principle Four: Customers trust a guide with a plan.
- Principle Five: Customers don’t take action unless they’re called to action – like a hero.
- Principle Six: We’re all trying to avoid a tragic ending.
- Principle Seven: Never assume your customers understand how your brand can change their lives; you have to tell them.
Principle One: You’re not the hero, your customer is.
Every good story has a hero. Who is the hero in your brand’s story? Your company? If so, you could be turning away potential customers.
Most stories begin with a hero who wants something. Without knowing what the hero wants, the audience cares little about the hero’s fate. Screenwriters have to define the hero’s ambition quickly in order to keep the audience engaged. Similarly, brands have to define what their customers want to keep their audience engaged.
Ask yourself the following questions: First, can you define what your customers want? Second, do your customers know how you can help them? Defining the what and how for your customers makes it easy for them to determine whether or not you can help them.
“When you define something your customer wants, the customer is invited to alter their story in your direction. If they see your brand as a trustworthy and reliable guide, they will likely engage.” Page 47
A key point made in the book is to pare down what your customers want to a single focus. Even though you can help your customers in more ways than one, cluttering a story dilutes the hero’s desire. Focus on one major desire your customers have and weave that desire throughout your story. As you create campaigns for each division of your company, you can then identify other ways you can help your customers.
Customer desires might include anything from saving time or money to gaining status. Whatever it is for your customers, pin it down and build your story around it.
Remember, your customer is the hero. Define what your customers want, and lay the groundwork for how you’re going to help them achieve what they want. The third principle of the StoryBrand framework discusses the role your brand plays in your story.
Principle Two: Companies sell solutions to external problems, but customers buy solutions to internal problems.
Being able to identify your customers’ problems deepens their interest in the story you’re telling. Think of the main problem you want to identify as the “hook” of your story. Without a hook, stories fall flat.
“The more we talk about the problems our customers experience, the more interest they will have in our brand.” Page 58
Continually talking about the problems your customers face doesn’t seem nice, but it’s what ultimately leads them to take action. Just like when a hero is repeatedly confronted with a problem that must be solved, they always end up doing something about it.
There are different problems we all face – external, internal, and even philosophical. It’s important to look at what initiates these problems in the first place. This chapter of the book mentions that “every good story needs a villain.” In order to get your customers’ ears to perk up, you should position your products and services as weapons that can be used to defeat the villain, which in turn helps solve their problems.
“What is the chief source of conflict that your products and services defeat? Talk about this villain. The more you talk about the villain, the more people will want a tool to help them defeat the villain.” Page 60
The villain your customers face should be a root source, relatable, singular, and real. Miller stresses that you should never make something up to scare your customers. Be real. Be relatable.
As previously stated, you might be selling a solution to an external problem, but your customers are buying a solution to an internal problem. After all, external problems manifest internal problems, and that internal frustration is what motivates your customers to call you.
In order to satisfy your customers, offer them more that just products and services; offer them a solution to their problems. Remind them that their frustration will not go away without action. They must take action, like a hero, to achieve what they want.
Miller gives the following example on page 70:
Edward Jones Financial Planning:
Villain: Financial firms that don’t listen to their customers.
External: I need investment help.
Internal: I’m confused about how to do this (especially with all the tech-driven resources out there).
Philosophical: If I’m going to invest my money, I deserve an advisor who will thoughtfully explain things in person.
Remember, your story is built around your customers; your brand is an instrument in helping your customers overcome not only external problems but internal problems as well.
Principle Three: Your customers aren’t looking for a hero; they’re looking for a guide.
In every story with a hero, the hero has a guide. If a hero solves his own problem, the audience will lose interest. And a hero who can solve his own problem wouldn’t be in trouble in the first place.
The third principle in the StoryBrand framework is designed around making your customer the hero and your brand the guide. Miller notes that it’s tempting to position your own brand as the hero, especially since heroes are “strong and capable and the center of attention.” However, guides are the ones with the most authority; this is why heroes get connected with them in the first place.
In order for a brand to position themselves as the guide, they must communicate two things: empathy and authority.
“When we empathize with our customers’ dilemma, we create a bond of trust. People trust those who understand them, and they trust brands that understand them too.” Page 79
As the guide, you position yourself as the one with authority. Miller stresses the importance of not coming off as a know-it-all. Your customers don’t want to be preached at – they want guidance. Brands that “lord their expertise over the masses” tend to turn people away.
As customers view your marketing material, they just want to know that you have authority in your field and that you can help them.
Some items that add just the right amount of authority include:
Show your customers the right amount of authority to build their confidence in you without turning them off, and you’ll quickly become the guide they’ve been looking for.
Principle Four: Customers trust a guide with a plan.
Even with marketing material that clearly expresses authority and empathizes with your customers, without a plan – you’ll lose. Having a plan creates clarity. An effective plan clarifies how people can do business with you, or at the very least, removes the sense of risk they might have about investing in your products or services.
Remember – if you confuse, you lose. Not having a plan is a surefire way to confuse your customers and ultimately lose them.
Clearly define the steps a customer needs to take to buy your products or services. Then, define what they can expect post-purchase. Make sure you’ve also established an agreement plan; a list of agreements that will alleviate any fears your customers might have. This way, your customers will sense that you’ve thought of everything, right down to their smallest concern. Forming this type of relationship with your customers helps to build and maintain trust.
Principle Five: Customers don’t take action unless they’re called to action – like a hero.
The power of the “buy now” button should not be underestimated. An obvious button, whether telling customers to buy, schedule, or call now, is an invitation to take a journey with you.
“The reality is when we try to sell passively, we communicate a lack of belief in our product.” Page 98
The StoryBrand framework recommends two types of calls to action: direct calls to action and transitional calls to action. A direct call to action will be your “buy now” or “schedule an appointment” requests. Transitional calls to action include anything you’re offering your customers for free. For example, inviting people to download a PDF or watch a webinar video are both types of transitional calls to action.
As a brand, it’s your responsibility to pursue your customers. You have to invite them to do business with you – you can’t sit back and expect them to pursue you.
Principle Six: We’re all trying to avoid a tragic ending.
When it comes to the concept of story, it’s important to recognize that a story without stakes usually isn’t interesting. You have to remind people why they need your help. What are the costs of not doing business with you?
There are several ways to feature the potential pitfalls of not working with you – blog subjects, bullet points on your website, email content, etc. The goal isn’t to scare your customers into doing business with you, but to create a sense of urgency when it comes to your products and services. Remember, we’re all trying to avoid a ‘tragic ending’ – be it losing money, time, making a mistake, you name it.
Miller features a list of questions that can help brands get an idea of what they’re helping their customers avoid (Page 113):
- What negative consequences are you helping customers avoid?
- Could customers lose money?
- Are there health risks if they avoid your services?
- What about opportunity costs?
- Could they make or save more money with you than they can with a competitor?
- Could their quality of life decline if they pass you by?
- What’s the cost of not doing business with you?
Once you’ve defined the stakes, your customers will be that much more motivated to work with you.
Principle Seven: Never assume your customers understand how your brand can change their lives; you have to tell them.
“Successful brands, like successful leaders, make it clear what life will look like if somebody engages their products or services.” Page 118
Your customers won’t know where you’re taking them unless you tell them. And unfortunately, brands without a clearly defined vision are more likely to perish. Miller reminds his readers that stories aren’t supposed to be vague; they should be “about specific things happening to specific people.” People don’t find themselves in stories that lack direction and clarity.
The book features a great tool created by Ryan Deiss at DigitalMarketer. This tool is formatted like a grid in the book and asks brands to define what life looks like for customers before and after engaging their brand. The following questions are listed:
- What do they have?
- What are they feeling?
- What’s an average day like?
- What is their status?
Part of what makes the StoryBrand framework so successful is the emphasis on keeping things simple. Stick to basic answers – the moment you veer off course is the moment you confuse and lose. If you keep it simple, honest, and clear, your customers will believe in the story you’re telling and want to be a part of it. In section 3, we’re going to talk about how brands can implement the StoryBrand framework into their marketing material. Stay tuned!