Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen (Book Summary)

Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen by Donald Miller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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One of the best branding and messaging books I've read. Miller shows how to use storytelling to make your messaging and branding simpler and more effective. I like the straightforward, common sense approach.

Here's the basic story framework you can customize to write your "brand script": A character who wants something encounters a problem before they can get it. At the peak of despair, a guide steps into their lives, gives them a plan, and calls them to action. That action helps them avoid failure and end in success.

To the customer you must present yourself as a guide who has a plan to solve their problem. You can create your brand script for free at

I read this because I'm always looking to refine the marketing of OptimWise. Of course, I'm also interested in learning ways to improve the websites and web marketing we provide for clients. This book was recommended by another business owner.


Businesses that invite their customers into a story are remembered. Others are forgotten.

The Key to Being Seen, Heard, and Understood

Most marketing doesn't work because it's too complicated. Using stories in marketing makes communication simpler and more predictable.

Focus on aspects of your offer that will help customers survive and thrive. All great stories are about survival (physical, emotional, spiritual). Position products and services as aid to helping people survive, thrive, be accepted, find love, achieve aspirational identity, bond with tribe that will defend them physically and socially.

Must identify what customer wants, what problems you're helping solve, and what life will look like after they engage your products/services.

The Secret Weapon That Will Grow Your Business

Basic story framework: A character who wants something encounters a problem before they can get it. At peak of despair, a guide steps into their lives, gives them a plan, and calls them to action. That action helps them avoid failure and end in success.

Questions your marketing materials must answer within 5 seconds

  • What do you offer?
  • How will it make my life better?
  • What do I need to do to buy it?

The Simple SB7 Framework

Customer is hero, not your brand.

When you give a speech/presentation, position yourself as Yoda and your audience as Luke Skywalker.

Customers want a simple, clear path to do business with you.

If there's nothing at stake in a story, there's no story. If there's nothing at stake in whether a customer buys your product, there's no reason to buy. Must show cost of not doing business with you. Brands that help customers avoid something negative engage customers because they define what's at stake. Use negativity sparingly.

A Character

When you fail to define something customer wants, you fail to open a "story gap," and they have no motivation to engage you; there's no question that demands resolution.

Pare down customer's ambition/desire to a single focus and aim overall brand marketing at that. Marketing of individual products/services can aim at subplots of that focus.

Focus must be relevant to customer's sense of survival: save money, save time, build community, gain status, accumulate resources (make money, increase productivity, decrease waste), find meaning (be generous, be part of a cause).

Has a Problem

Position products/services as weapons customers can use to defeat a dastardly villain. Villain should be personified. E.g. time management software stops distractions in its tracks, because distractions dilute potential, wreck family, steal sanity, cost time and money.

Villain should be

  1. A root source, not a symptom
  2. Relatable, recognizable
  3. Singular
  4. Real (don't fear-monger)

Desire to resolve frustration is greater motivator than desire to solve external problem. E.g., Apple sold resolution to problem of users being intimidated by computers.

Give customers a sense of meaning; they want to be involved in a story that's deeper than themselves. Position products/services as tools customers can use to fight back against something that shouldn't be.

Frame buying your product/service as resolution to external, internal, and philosophical problem. E.g., Edward Jones: Villain: financial firms that don't listen to customers. External: I need investment help. Internal: I'm confused about how to do this. Philosophical: If I'm going to invest, I need an advisor who will thoughtfully explain things in person.

4 questions to answer in Problem section

  1. Who's the villain?
  2. What external problem is villain causing?
  3. How is that problem making your customers feel?
  4. Why is it unjust for them to suffer at hands of villain?

And Meets a Guide

Customers aren't looking for another hero. They're looking for a guide.

Guide must have empathy and authority.

Need empathy because everyone wants to be seen, heard, understood. Say, "We understand how it feels …" "Nobody should have to experience …" "Like you, we're frustrated by …" "We care …"

Express empathy by highlighting common interests.

Authority means competence and experience.

How to show authority through marketing

  1. Testimonials. Use a few (~3), not too many, and keep brief.
  2. Stats. E.g., number of customers, how much money they've saved, percentage their businesses have grown.
  3. Awards. Include award logos or other indications.
  4. Logos of recognizable businesses.

Who Gives Them a Plan

Customers trust a guide who has a plan.

2 types of plan

  1. Process plan. Pre-purchase (steps customer takes to buy), or post-purchase (steps to use product), or both. Key is to alleviate confusion. Include 3-6 steps.
  2. Agreement plan. Describe guarantee, values. Alleviate fears customers have about working with you.

And Calls Them to Action

You must believe in your product. If you don't clearly ask for sale, prospect senses weakness; they think you're asking for charity rather than to change their lives.

Transitional CTAs (lead generators)

  • Free info (white papers, PDFs, podcasts, webinars, etc.)
  • Testimonials
  • Free samples
  • Free trial

That Helps Them Avoid Failure

People are 2-3x more motivated to avoid loss than achieve gain.

Fear appeal

  1. Make prospect realize they're vulnerable to threat.
  2. Let prospect know they should take action to reduce vulnerability.
  3. Let people know about a specific action/offer that protects them from risk.
  4. Challenge people to take this specific action.

Use moderate levels of fear; people don't act on low levels, and block out high levels. Treat fear as salt in recipe; use sparingly.

Describe cost of not doing business with you: lose money, health risks, opportunity costs (make or save money), declining quality of life. E.g., for financial advisor: confusion about how money is invested, not being ready for retirement, lack of transparency from advisor, lack of 1-on-1 interaction, hidden fees. "Don't postpone your retirement. You've worked too hard for too long to not enjoy time with your grandchildren."

And Ends in a Success

Never assume people understand how you can change their lives. Tell them.

Vision you paint for prospects should be specific and clear.

How to write end to story: figure out how customer's life will look externally after their problem is solved, then how that resolution will make them feel, then how that resolution will make world more just place to live.

Promise that hero/customer will do one of following

  1. Win a power or position.
  2. Be unified with someone or something that makes them whole.
  3. Experience some self-realization that makes them whole.

To make customer feel complete/whole: reduce anxiety, reduce workload, more time, self-realization, reach potential.

How to offer self-realization: offer inspiration, acceptance, transcendence.

People Want Your Brand to Participate in Their Transformation

Single greatest motivator: desire to transform into better version of self.

Companies that assist in identity transformation create passionate evangelists.

Ask yourself, "how does customer want to be described by others?"

E.g., Dave Ramsey. External problems: consumer debt and financial illiteracy. Internal problems: confusion and hopelessness. Philosophical problem: moral question of accruing debt over things we don't need. Identity transformation: personal strength through strategy and commitment.

Building a Better Website

5 things website should include

  1. Offer, above the fold. Short, enticing, exclusively customer-centric. Tell customers what's in it for them. Promise an aspirational identity. Promise to solve a problem. State exactly what you do.
  2. Obvious CTAs. Put direct CTA ("buy now", "call now") in top right of site and center of homepage, above fold. Put transitional CTA (lead generator) next to direct CTA in less bright color.
  3. Images of success. Show compelling images of happy people who've had pleasurable experience engaging your brand.
  4. Bite-size breakdown of revenue streams. Put overarching message that unifies various streams on homepage. Put separate divisions on separate pages.
  5. Very few words. People scan, they don't read. Use brief, punchy, relevant copy.

Using StoryBrand to Transform Company Culture

Your StoryBrand can engage employees as well as customers.

The StoryBrand Marketing Roadmap

5 almost-free ways to grow business

  1. 1-liner
  2. Lead generator
  3. Automated email drip campaign
  4. Collect and tell stories of transformation
  5. Referral system

Create 1-liner that answers: Who is customer? What's their problem? What's your plan to help them? What will their life look like after you help them? E.g., "Most business owners don't know how to talk about their company, so we created a framework that helps them simplify their message, create great marketing material, connect with customers, and grow their business."

Lead generator must provide enormous value for customer and establish you as authority in field.

5 types of lead generators

  1. Downloadable guide (~3 pages); give away the "why" and much of the "how"
  2. Brief online course, webinar, training
  3. Software demo or free trial
  4. Free samples
  5. Live events

Even if customers don't read your email newsletter, simply seeing it keeps your brand top-of-mind.

What to include in marketing emails

  1. Talk about a problem
  2. Explain plan to solve problem
  3. Describe how life will look for reader once problem is solved
  4. P.S.

Testimonials should showcase your value, results you get for customers, experience people had working for you.

Ask customers these questions to build case studies or testimonials

  1. What was the problem you were having before you discovered our product?
  2. What did the frustration feel like as you tried to solve the problem?
  3. What was different about our product?
  4. Take us to the moment you realized our product was solving your problem.
  5. Tell us what life looks like now that your problem is solved or is being solved.

Referrals and peer recommendations are up to 2.5x more responsive than any other marketing channel.

Create a small educational PDF or video for customers to share with others. Tell customers, "We created this to help people solve X problem. If you have friends with X problem, please send this to them. We'd love to help them too."

Offer rewards for referrals (10% commission or something else).

You can buy the Building a StoryBrand ebook, book, or audiobook on Amazon.

This book starts you down the right path to using effective messaging on your website and in your online marketing. Although there's a lot you can do on your own, you'll see the best results from working with professionals. Contact us to talk about sharing your story online, and becoming a guide for your clients.

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2 comments on “Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen (Book Summary)”

    1. Paul, any theme that displays content well and allows for marketing features such as calls to action and lead generators would work fine for implementing StoryBrand. We're long-time fans of StudioPress' Genesis Framework and themes (affiliate link), which are great at supporting content, include marketing features, and are also well-coded, secure, and mobile-friendly.

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