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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 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 commercials. And it’s costing us millions.
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 SUCCESS.
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:
If these three questions can’t be answered within the first fifteen to twenty minutes, the story has already descended into noise and will almost certainly fail at the box office.
Customers should be able to answer these questions within five seconds of looking at our website or marketing material:
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 premise is the same: our customers are in trouble and they need help.
Almost all companies try to sell solutions to external problems, but as we unfold the StoryBrand Framework, you’ll see why customers are much more motivated to resolve their inner frustrations.
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 called the plan.
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 we’re taking them, they’ll engage another brand.
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.
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 gap in our customers’ mind, they have no motivation to engage us, because there is no question that demands resolution.
Once a brand defines what their customer wants, they are often guilty of making the second mistake—what they’ve defined isn’t related to the customer’s sense of survival.
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 clear point of focus.
The villain doesn’t have to be a person, but without question, it should have personified characteristics.
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:
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 of termites in the attic.
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.
The purpose of an external problem in a story is to manifest an internal problem.
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 diners and bars to hanging out in a local, Italian-style coffee shop.
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 It:
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.
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 problems, we simply need to let them know we understand and would like to help them find a resolution. Scan your marketing material and make sure you’ve told your customers that you care. Customers won’t know you care until you tell them.
There are four easy ways to add just the right amount of authority to our marketing:
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 agreements you make with your customers to help them overcome their fear of doing business with you.
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 in our product. When we don’t ask clearly for the sale, the customer senses weakness. They sense we’re asking for charity rather than to change their lives.
Customers aren’t looking for brands that are filled with doubt and want affirmation; they’re looking for brands that have solutions to their problems.
Direct Calls to Action
Transitional Calls to Action
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 customers avoid?
Could customers lose money?
Are there health risks if they avoid your services?
What about opportunity costs?
Successful brands, like successful leaders, make it clear what life will look like if somebody engages in their products or services.
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’ transformation, which is exactly what they want us to do.
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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