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Your customer should be the hero of the story, not your brand. This is the secret every phenomenally successful business understands.

Building a StoryBrand

Building a StoryBrand

by Donald Miller


4.08K reads

Being Seen, Heard and Understood

The more simple and predictable the communication, the easier it is for the brain to digest. A story helps because it is a sense-making mechanism.

Essentially, story formulas put everything in order so the brain doesn’t have to work to understand what’s going on.

  • The first mis...

The key is to make your company’s message about something that helps the customer survive and to do so in such a way that they can understand it without burning too many calories.

What we often call marketing is really just clutter and confusion sprayed all over our websites, e-mails, and c...

Here is nearly every story you see or hear in a nutshell: A CHARACTER who wants something encounters a PROBLEM before they can get it. At the peak of their despair, a GUIDE steps into their lives, gives them a PLAN and CALLS THEM TO ACTION. That action helps them avoid FAILURE and ends in a SUCCE...

Remember, the greatest enemy our business faces is the same enemy that good stories face: noise. At no point should we be able to pause a movie and be unable to answer three questions:        

  • What does the hero want?        
  • Who or what is opposing the...

Customers should be able to answer these questions within five seconds of looking at our website or marketing material:

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

Once we identify who our customer is, we have to ask ourselves what they want as it relates to our brand. The catalyst for any story is that the hero wants something. The rest of the story is a journey about discovering whether the hero will get what they want.

If we sell lawn-care products, they’re coming to us because they’re embarrassed about their lawn or they simply don’t have time to do the work. If we sell financial advice, they’re coming to us because they’re worried about their retirement plan. It may not be dramatic like in the movies, but the...

Brands that position themselves as heroes unknowingly compete with their potential customers.

Their subconscious thought pattern goes like this: Oh, this is another hero, like me. I wish I had more time to hear their story, but right now I’m busy looking for a guide.

Making a purchase is a huge step, especially if our products or services are expensive. What customers are looking for, then, is a clear path we’ve laid out that takes away any confusion they might have about how to do business with us. The StoryBrand tool we will use to create this path is calle...

A call to action involves communicating a clear and direct step our customer can take to overcome their challenge and return to a peaceful life. Without clear calls to action, people will not engage our brand.

Brands that help customers avoid some kind of negativity in life (and let their customers know what that negativity is) engage customers for the same reason good stories captivate an audience: they define what’s at stake.

Everybody wants to be taken somewhere. If we don’t tell people where ...

  • Financial Advisor: “A Plan for Your Retirement”         
  • College Alumni Association: “Leave a Meaningful Legacy”         
  • Fine-Dining Restaurant: “A Meal Everybody Will Remember”         
  • Real Estate Agent: “The Home You’ve Dreamed About”         
  • Bookstore: “...

Place a gap between a character and what they want. Moviegoers pay attention when there’s a story gap because they wonder if and how that gap is going to be closed.

When we fail to define something our customer wants, we fail to open a story gap. When we don’t open a story ...

The problem is the “hook” of a story, and if we don’t identify our customers’ problems, the story we are telling will fall flat. As soon as the conflict in a story is resolved, audiences stop paying attention.

The villain is the number one device storytellers use to give conflict a ...

  • The villain should be a root source. Frustration, for example, is not a villain; frustration is what a villain makes us feel. High taxes, rather, are a good example of a villain.        
  • The villain should be relatable. When people hear us talk about...

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.

The three levels of problems heroes (and customers) face are: 

  • External Pro...

Most of us are in the business of solving external problems. We provide insurance or clothes or soccer balls. If we own a restaurant, the external problem we solve is hunger. The external problem a plumber fixes might be a leaky pipe, just like a pest-control guy might solve the external problem ...

By limiting our marketing messages to only external problems, we neglect a principle that is costing us thousands and potentially millions of dollars. That principle is this: Companies tend to sell solutions to external problems, but people buy solutions to internal problems.


Starbucks was delivering more value than just coffee; they were delivering a sense of sophistication and enthusiasm about life. They were also offering a place for people to meet in which they could experience affiliation and belonging. Starbucks changed American culture from hanging out in diner...

If we really want our business to grow, we should position our products as the resolution to an external, internal, and philosophical problem and frame the “Buy Now” button as the action a customer must take to create closure in their story.

How Tesla Does ...

A large problem most of our clients face is they want to include three villains and seven external problems and four internal problems, and so on.

  • Stories are best when they are simple and clear.
  • We are going to have to make choices.

  • Either alone or with a team, brainstorm all of the literal and metaphorical villains your brand takes a stand against.        
  • Brainstorm the external problems your brand resolves. Is there one that seems to represent the widest swath of products?        
  • Brainstorm the inter...

The fatal mistake some brands make, especially young brands who believe they need to prove themselves, is they position themselves as the hero in the story instead of the guide. A brand that positions itself as the hero is destined to lose.

Once we’ve identified our customers’ internal prob...

There are four easy ways to add just the right amount of authority to our marketing:

  • Testimonials
  • Statistics
  • Awards
  • Logos.

The whole point of creating a plan is to alleviate customers’ confusion. Having more than four steps may actually add to, rather than reduce, confusion. The key is to simplify their journey so they are more likely to do business with you.

An agreement plan is best understood as a list of ag...

Your customers are bombarded with more than three thousand commercial messages per day, and unless we are bold in our calls to action, we will be ignored. If our calls to action are soft, they will not be noticed.

The reality is when we try to sell passively, we communicate a lack of belief...

Direct Calls to Action

  • Order now        
  • Call today        
  • Schedule an appointment        
  • Register today        
  • Buy now

Transitional Calls to Action

  • Free information
  • Create a white paper...

Brands that don’t warn their customers about what could happen if they don’t buy their products fail to answer the “so what” question every customer is secretly asking.

What will the customer lose if they don’t buy our products?

What negative consequences are you helping ...

Successful brands, like successful leaders, make it clear what life will look like if somebody engages in their products or services.

  • Nike promised to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete.
  • Starbucks offered to inspire and nurture their customers, one cup at a time...

  • Offer access: My wife loves using her Starbucks membership card because it gains her points, which gains her status and the occasional free latte.
  • Create scarcity: Offering a limited number of a specific item creates scarcity, and owning something th...

  • Reduced anxiety: For years, brands that sell basic items like dish detergent and glass cleaner have almost comically positioned their products as anti-anxiety medication.
  • Reduced workload: Customers who don’t have the right tools must work harder bec...

  • Inspiration: If an aspect of your brand can offer or be associated with an inspirational feat, open the floodgates. Brands like Red Bull, Harvard Business Review, Under Armour,
  • Acceptance: Helping people accept themselves as they are isn’t just a tho...

Your brand is helping people become better versions of themselves, which is a beautiful thing. You are helping them become wiser, more equipped, more physically fit, more accepted, and more at peace. Like it or not (and we hope you like it), we are all participating in our customers’ transformati...

A one-liner is a new and improved way to answer the question “What do you do?” It’s more than a slogan or tagline; it’s a single statement that helps people realize why they need your products or services.

If you use the following four components, you’ll craft a powerful one-liner:        

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