StoryBrand Framework 101
Every day, businesses waste time and money on failed marketing campaigns, bending over backwards to find clever ways to talk about how great their product or service is. One of the biggest reasons their prospective customers fail to convert is that they're having to sift through a lot of noise to figure out if the presented product/service will actually help them solve their problem. When internet users spend an average of 54 seconds on a brand’s website, it’s crucial to intrigue them in less than a minute of reading.
So, how can you communicate your brand’s value in a way that compels readers to stay? A strategy that has worked for many businesses is to harness the age-old power of storytelling. In marketing, storytelling can be used effectively within The StoryBrand Framework.
The StoryBrand Framework is a 7-step framework designed to help brands clarify their messaging in a way that gets customers’ attention and guides them through to conversion. Created by former screenwriter Donald Miller in his book “Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen,” it follows the storytelling framework of the Hero’s Journey. Here are the steps:
- A character (your target customer)
- Has a problem
- And meets a guide (your business)
- Who gives them a plan
- And calls them to action
- That ends in success
- And helps them avoid failure.
In this article, we’ll explore the 7 steps of The StoryBrand Framework and how you can apply them directly to your marketing strategy to attract more qualified leads and convert them into sales.
Simplifying Your Message
Because many businesses feel the need to outshine their competition at every corner, the result is that their message often gets bloated with self-promotional information and becomes noisy and irrelevant to consumers. They tend to make themselves the hero of the story, when they should be the guide that's there to help their customers (the actual heroes of the story).
But the businesses that do it best know how to simplify their message with one purpose in mind: to serve their customers. Think of it this way: like all humans, your customer wakes up each day as the main character of their own story — and they’re hardwired to focus their attention on what information is going to help them survive and thrive.
If you don’t make it clear that your business can help them do either, customers just won’t have the resources to pay attention. With every line of copy you write, you’re either engaging the customer or descending into noise.
So, how can you tell if your brand’s offer is clear and compelling? One way to test this is to see if your website’s copy passes the “grunt test.” The grunt test just means that — in theory — a caveman should be able to “grunt” a response to each of these three questions within seconds of visiting your site. Otherwise, your message risks becoming noise:
- What do you offer?
- How will it make my life better?
- What do I need to do to buy it?
While it sounds simple enough, you might be surprised by how many brands fail to clearly communicate this information upfront. So, how do you organize these points in a compelling way?
Well, people are also hardwired to pay attention to a good story. For thousands of years, meaningful stories have proven to be one of the most powerful ways to captivate the human mind and heart.
Why? Because if they can put themselves in the hero's shoes, they can learn from that person's experience to help them survive and thrive (without having to experience any risk themselves). A modern-day example of this is when we look at reviews for a product before buying it — it's a chance for us to see what someone else dealt with first.
Here are the 7 steps that will help you clarify and define your brand’s story:
Diving Into The StoryBrand Framework
1. A Character
The most important thing to remember is that the hero of your brand’s story is the customer, not your business. Many businesses make the mistake of positioning themselves as the hero, but going on about your company’s history doesn’t create a point of connection between you and the customer. You need to invite customers into your story by articulating what it is they want as it relates to your brand.
When you can clearly communicate what your customer wants or needs, your message and story starts with definition and direction. For example, if you own a business that offers on-demand sleep classes for babies, you can't assume that people will immediately know to look for the solution. It's likely people are only aware they have a problem (sleepless baby) and are in the discovery phase of finding what solutions are out there.
As a result, instead of talking about how many years you've been in business and the history of sleep classes for babies, it's better to speak to the pain points your potential customers are experiencing and showing how your classes can help their babies sleep through the night.
For the sake of clarity, it’s recommended to focus on addressing only one of your customer’s wants or needs. And for your story to have stakes, it should appeal to the customer’s universal human needs. In relation to your brand, some of these universal desires could include:
- Conserving financial resources
- Conserving time
- Building social networks
- Gaining status
- Accumulating resources
- The innate desire to be generous
- The innate desire for meaning
When relating what your customer wants or needs, tapping into one of these desires gives stakes to your brand’s story, making it more meaningful.
2. Has a Problem
Donald Miller writes, “Companies tend to sell solutions to external problems, while customers buy solutions to internal problems.” This is where we introduce the sources of conflict that may be keeping our customer from getting what they want.
To start with, you need to identify a villain for your hero. This villain should be a personification of your customer’s problems; for example, the villain for customers of a time-management software brand might be “distractions.” The purpose of creating a villain is to give your customer’s problem a focal point and position your business as the tool to defeat it.
According to the StoryBrand Framework, there are four characteristics that make a good villain:
- The villain should be a root source, not a feeling.
- The villain should be relatable to the customer; something they immediately recognize and hate.
- The villain should be singular for the sake of clarity.
- The villain should exist in reality.
This villain, or source of your customer’s conflict, initiates three levels of problems that you will need to identify:
- External problems: The most obvious, tangible problem that your business or product addresses.
- Internal problems: A feeling or dilemma created by the external problem that your customer faces personally. For example, it could be self-doubt or worry that they won’t get a project done on time.
- Philosophical problems: In relation to your customer’s external and internal problems, this is best thought about in terms of “should” and “ought.” This gives the feeling that the customer is involved in an issue larger than themselves.
Try listing out the villain, external problem, internal problem and philosophical problem that your brand addresses. The “perfect brand promise” will position your product as the solution to all of these problems at once. It will carry the punch of the real, personal and universal.
3. And Meets a Guide
This is where your business comes in to usher the customer toward a solution. In terms of StoryBrand, your customer is Luke Skywalker (hero), which means you should position your business as Yoda (guide). The key is to focus on the success of your customers, not on the success of your brand.
There are two qualities that make a trustworthy guide: empathy and authority.
Expressing empathy as a brand means showing that you understand your customer and can not only relate to their problem, but help them solve it. This isn’t done through pity, but by letting them know that you care about their problem and are here to help them find a solution.
Meanwhile, authority is about building trust. The emphasis should be on demonstrating how they would be in competent hands by choosing your business. It's important to build a relationship of trust with your potential customers by helping them solve their problem, even if it means just providing information without a sale.There are multiple ways to show authority as a brand:
- Testimonials: Show that you’ve successfully helped customers down the same path before. A few testimonials on your website with concrete examples will do the trick.
- Statistics: Use numbers to prove how many customers you’ve helped, or by what percentage businesses you’ve worked with have grown on average.
- Awards: A few small logos or indications of awards on your website can go a long way.
- Logos: If you’re a B2B brand, include the logos of well-known businesses you’ve worked with on your website and marketing materials.
If done right, this will establish a great foundation for building a relationship with your customer.
4. Who Gives Them a Plan
While you might be off to a great start with your customer, you don’t want them to be wondering how exactly to engage with your brand. Having a plan listed on your marketing materials creates clarity and encourages the commitment necessary for customers to make a conversion. There are two types of plans your brand can offer — a process plan and an agreement plan.
The process plan outlines the steps your customer needs to take in order to do business with you. It might sound simple, but think of it as building a bridge over a creek; if it’s there, more people are likely to cross it. For example, a process plan could look like:
- Test-drive a car.
- Purchase the car.
- Enjoy free maintenance for life.
An agreement plan lists what the customer can be guaranteed to receive after making a purchase. To make an agreement plan, jot down concerns that your customer might have after buying your product or service and then counter those concerns with a list of promises. Examples might be “customer satisfaction agreement” or “our quality guarantee.”
5. And Calls Them to Action
In stories, characters never start their journey unprovoked — Frodo might never have left the Shire if Gandalf didn’t show up at his doorstep. The same is true about your customers. The calls to action in your marketing collateral need to be clear and bold, cutting through the noise to let your customers know exactly what you want them to do.
Your call to action can take two forms: direct calls to action and transitional calls to action.
Direct Calls to Action
Direct calls to action include the classic “Buy Now” button, “Schedule an Appointment,” or “Call Today.” These can be included at the end of every email blast, three-fourths of the way down a blog post, on signage and even at the end of your employee’s email signatures.
Transitional Calls to Action
Transitional calls to action can be used when a customer isn’t quite ready to make that final step. These calls often ask the customer to exchange contact information in order to view educational content like PDF downloads, quizzes or calculator tools. This helps build trust in your brand and starts the grooming process of turning your prospects into leads that might soon be ready to answer to your direct calls to action in the near future.
6. That Helps Them Avoid Failure
To keep audiences interested, every story needs to have stakes. And how do you create stakes in a story? By making it clear what good things will happen if the hero succeeds and what bad things will happen if they don’t. Similarly, you need to make the customer aware of what they could lose if they don’t engage with your product.
This isn’t meant to fearmonger, but rather initiate a sense of motivation for buying the product. The approach should be subtle, letting the customer know how you’re helping them avoid an undesirable outcome.
You might start by identifying a possible threat your customer may be vulnerable to. For example, include a statistic like “nearly 30 percent of all homes have evidence of a termite infestation.”
Then, you should encourage the customer to take action to combat that possibility: “To protect the structural integrity of your home, it's up to you to get rid of them — and quickly.”
Finally, make them aware of a specific call to action that protects them from the threat, “We offer a complete home treatment that will ensure your house is free of termites within 24 hours. Call us today and schedule your home treatment.”
7. And Ends in Success
In the final step of the StoryBrand Framework, you want to paint a clear picture of how your customer’s life might change for the better if they interact with your brand. Ask yourself where you’re taking them: to financial security? A fun weekend with family? A safer, more secure home? This achievable vision for your customer should be made specific and clear.
Make a list of before and afters for your customer. Brainstorm what their life might look like if the external, internal and philosophical problems we identified earlier were solved. Think about how this outcome would make their lives easier physically, but also how it would make them feel and make the world a better place to live in.
There are 3 main ways that storytellers illustrate this “good ending” for characters:
- Winning power or status: This appeals to our “survive and thrive” instincts to have position within our group or tribe.
- Achieving a union that makes them whole: This taps into our need for relationships and interpersonal connection. It might look like a reduced workload or quality time with family.
- Self-actualization or acceptance: This can come in the form of inspiration to achieve one’s potential, acceptance of who the customer is, or a sense of transcendence that connects the customer to something greater than themselves. An example of this might be your brand giving a charitable donation with every purchase.
Using the StoryBrand Framework in Your Marketing
When you’re done filtering your message each step of the StoryBrand Framework, you will be able to condense your brand message onto a single sheet of paper — the StoryBrand BrandScript. This evergreen brand statement can be used in all marketing material to definitively position your business against competitors.
Now that we’ve outlined your customer’s journey with your brand, here’s a quick roadmap for how you can tangibly implement StoryBrand into your marketing strategy:
- Create a one-liner. This is a single statement that can be featured on your website, business cards, email signatures or other similar area, which uses three steps:
- Identifying the problem or pain point that most of your customers face.
- Outline your plan to help them.
- Describe a successful ending to their story.
- Create a lead generator and collect email addresses. This step takes a page from inbound marketing. The key here is to create a piece of educational content (a webinar, video series or e-book) that demonstrates how you can solve your leads’ problems. This attracts qualified leads you can nurture through drip emails down the line.
- Create an automated email drip campaign. First, start with a lead-nurturing campaign that generates call-to-action emails for customers who engage.
- Collect and tell stories of transformation. Use customer testimonials on your website while consistently gathering information from satisfied customers.
- Create a system that generates referrals. This is about delighting past customers so that they will refer their friends to your brand. Include free offers or content to share in your referral emails.
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