Storytelling has been an intrinsic part of the basic social construct of humanity. Since time immemorial, stories have been at the very crux of communication. They have been used for the purpose of entertainment, imparting cultural values and most importantly they were used to share information.
Since our childhood, stories shape our minds and therefore shape the people we become. Whether is the much loved Disney movies such as Cinderella or reading books of Sherlock Holmes, Roald Dahl, and Agatha Christie, right down to today’s web series that we all love to binge-watch and podcasts we love to hear, stories have the power to influence our thinking and thus the decisions we make in life.
Stories are everywhere, in poems, ballads, and even in the 30-second adverts that we watch on TV. Storytelling has been an integral part of marketing and brand building, however, the challenge most people face is to use storytelling effectively.
Building a StoryBrand (2017) by Donald Miller is a guiding seven-part framework of storytelling that companies can effectively use in their branding and marketing strategies. He emphasizes the word ‘StoryBrand’, a concept of appealing to customers by telling them a story about the brand or product, that they can connect with and create a meaningful relationship with them.
He focuses on the importance of sending out a clear message to customers. While creating a StoryBrand, it is essential to communicate four important messages to customers –
- Who you are?
- What are you here for?
- Why should a customer choose your brand or product over any other?
- How will your product help them flourish and survive?
Without clearly communicating the answers to these questions, a brand or product will never hit home. Customers should be able to see how your brand or product will help them satisfy their needs, via the communication of your StoryBrand.
The Seven-Part StoryBrand Framework
A good story is one that manages to catch the listener’s attention in fleeting seconds. That is the reason why a StoryBrand has to be catchy, especially considering the fact that often, in advertising, a brand or a product gets only seconds to convey the message. Therefore if the consumer gets bombarded with a hodgepodge of news feeds, ads, video clips, and tweets in addition to the regular adverts, they are going to get confused and lose interest. A Story Brand should provide organized information to make it memorable for the consumer.
The seven-part StoryBrand framework helps making a branding or advertising campaign organised and thus making it a memorable one. The framework includes the following seven parts.
- Call to action
Loosely put, these seven modules translate into the following summary.
The character desires something that is difficult to obtain. This difficulty becomes the problem. As the character tries and wants to give up, a guide enters his life. The guide gives the character a plan to follow and requires a call to action from the character. The character follows the guide’s plan to avoid failure and finally finds success. Any StoryBrand that follows this story format has a BrandScript in place. Let us look at each of these modules individually.
Every story told has a hero in it. Only, in a StoryBrand, the hero or the character isn’t the brand, it is the customer. The story focuses on the needs of the customer, and thus the customer will be able to recall your product and brand when they feel that need.
Why should one make the customer the character and not the product? This example explains why. A luxury resort chose to focus their story on the hotel rather than the customer. Their website included a long write-up about the hotel’s story. In addition, it included photos of the reception and the restaurant. What failed to focus on was how does the hotel provides luxury service to guests. Therefore, it didn’t tell their customers how their service would fulfill their needs and wants.
Then again, simply listing all the services is futile, as it can confuse the customers about what they want. Instead, a great Story Brand should be able to understand that one desire that customers need fulfilling.
The luxury hotel, for example, realized its error when they were able to understand what was the one thing that their customers wanted. They wanted a place to relax. With this knowledge, they redesigned their website to focus on what about their luxury hotel fulfills the customer’s desire to relax in luxury. They shortened the long text on the website and changed the photographs to show a relaxing massage and spa service, an inviting bath, and tasteful and luxurious linen.
The next module, the problem, deals with how your product or service is able to solve the customers’ problems. People want to feel understood. In fact, when they look to buy products or choose a service, and they find a product that becomes a solution to their problem, they will immediately choose it. Additionally, even if the StoryBrand mentions the problem itself, customers feel that your service or product attempts to understand them.
In the StoryBrand, the problem should be the villain of the story. Just as in every story, the hero vanquishes the villain, so will your hero, the product of the story vanquish the villain, the problem that the customers seek a solution to.
Problems can be internal or external. An internal problem, for example, a customer not finding time, can be a pressing enough problem, just as an external problem is important. Often, marketing strategies tend to focus on external problems only. Therefore, it is essential that companies, while claiming to solve external problems, appeal to customers by giving solutions, telling them that internal problems can be solved as well.
For example, a company selling a service of house painting addresses an external problem, that of painting the house. But how will solely focus on the external problem help in the customer choosing the company’s services over their competitors?
To achieve this, the company can then focus on internal problems of giving the customer information that tells them that their painting services are easy on the budget, or that they specialize in the speed of the job with no mess at all, etc. Once the company is able to appeal to the customers’ internal issues that will be able to stand ahead of the competition.
Next in the StoryBrand, is the role of the guide.
Every hero in practically every story gets in trouble (the problem). Frodo of the Lord Of The Rings had to bear the weight of the One Ring and was tasked with taking it to Mordor. His guide in the story was Gandalf the Grey Wizard who guided him through perils on his path.
Similarly, in the brand story, the guide is the company, the friend-philosopher-guide who shows the hero (the customer) the right path to success. However, unlike movies and storybooks, where the guide simply appears at the right time; the guide in the StoryBrand has to present himself to the hero at the right time. Additionally, the guide has to be able to effectively and convincingly present for the character.
As a guide, there are two values that are of utmost importance – empathy and authority. Showing empathy tells the customer that you, the company, and guide understands the pain of the problem that the customer experiences. Empathy is at the basis of building a foundation of trust. Most importantly, empathy will make customers take your word and advice seriously.
Authority doesn’t mean being overpowering and condescending. For a guide to have authority, it means that the guide shows competence in guiding the character in the right direction towards success. Moreover, the guide (your company) should be able to prove itself competent time and again for the character (the customer) to put in their trust.
For example, the company Infusionsoft, includes statistics such as, ‘125,000 customers are satisfied with their service.’ It also mentions the number of awards its marketing software has won. Such statistical and testimonial information enables their customers to see their competence, thereby allowing them to be the authority on the field.
The next component of the StoryBrand framework is the plan. There are two types of plans that a company can employ to win over customers.
- The Process Plan: The process plan is the process by which a company shows the customer what to do. the information that the customer receives helps them in eliminating any risk while purchasing. It reduces confusion and helps in retaining the customer.
An online storage-selling venture needs to give instructions to the customer visiting their website, about how to gauge and identify what storage to buy. For example, they can mention, ‘measure your space, choose the right equipment needed as per your space choice, and build/assemble the storage unit with minimum efforts.’
Such clear process information clears the confusion of the customer without needing them to dig to deep for the information.
- The Agreement Plan: The agreement plan includes an offering of an agreement to the customer. It is this agreement that will help the customers make their purchase decision.
For example, a used car dealer CarMax wanted to be able to help customers avoid haggling with difficult salesmen. The company simplified the solution by ensuring that there would be no haggling needed at all and that no buyer would end up with a product that doesn’t meet their expectations.
We get bombarded with at least 3000 advertisements on a daily basis. Moreover with online marketing and customer experience becoming more personal, standing out of the crowd is ever more important. The age of sending out your adverts into the world and waiting for customers to pour in is long gone.
Companies and brands need to seek their customers’ attentions. They have to be able to draw their customers’ attention towards themselves from the hoard of other adverts. How does a product or a brand ensure this?
This is where the module of call-to-action comes in use. To make the StoryBrand successful, the customers need to challenges into action. There are two types of call-to-actions –
- Direct Call-to-action – A direct call-to-action is a bold and clear message to customers to come and purchase their products. Advertisements, especially those online and on websites that read, “Purchase Now!” or, “Register Now!” are examples. Such direct call-to-actions are extremely effective and should be used well on websites, so that the customers are kept interested and keep exploring more about the company, brand, product, or service.
- Transitional Call-to-action: Transitional call-to-actions are the opposite of a direct call-to-action. Such action calls aim at maintaining a friendly relationship with the customer when they choose not to make a purchase. Often, transitional action calls offer a memorable free product or service, for example, a free invitation to attend a webinar on cooking, etc. These action calls aim at creating brand recognition and brand recall when the next the customer needs your product, company or brand to solve their problem again.
Failure (Or The Fear Of Failure)
In a framework that is looking towards a positive end for the hero, where and how does failure feature?
So far we have understood the characters in our story – the hero, the villain, the guide, additionally, we have also seen how the plan and call to action work in the StoryBrand. We have also read earlier, that failure is an inevitable part of the story that will push the hero to succeed.
In fact, without the fear of the hero failing in his endeavors, a story doesn’t feel complete. This fear of failure is what makes a story exciting, nail-biting, suspenseful, feel-good, climax, etc. Essentially, without seeing the hero in peril, and waiting for the hero to triumph, a story will never be exciting or enticing.
Similarly, in the StoryBrand framework, it helps to motivate customers by showing them what they going to lose if they do not buy the product. It is therefore important to list-out the disadvantages (the failure) of not making the purchase.
When it comes to parting with money, the dissatisfaction of losing money is more than the satisfaction of gaining it. This was an important statement that was proved by behavioral economist, Daniel Kahneman, in his 1979 paper on what drives purchasing behavior.
Therefore for example, what is the point of a life insurance company that does not list down the losses one faces if they do not buy their insurance? Their advertising often focuses on the negative impact (failure) not buying their services will have, thus playing on the purchase behavior of customers – showing them the failure in order to succeed.
The finale. The “The End!” of the movie, the “…and they happily lived ever after!” of the story. The last module of the StoryBrand framework is a success.
After dangling the climax of failure over the heads of customers, it is time to use the leveraged feeling of failure to drive the customer towards success. Success is the happy ending that a customer sees when they will make the purchase. Nike, for example, shows its customers a lifestyle of glory, inspiration, and drive to perform – all while selling shoes and athletic gear.
Showing customers their successful ending requires three strategies towards creating the vision for them –
- The Strategy of Status – This strategy works on showing customers how their status will increase with the purchase of the product. For example, the nerdy college boy who transforms into the coolest dude in town after drinking cola.
Most narratives that show customers how they can up their status, or be a part of a higher status group work towards tantalizing the customer to purchase.
- The strategy of Completeness – The strategy of completeness focuses on finding fulfillment or, completeness in the end. Every love story where the hero and the heroine triumph and live ‘happily ever after’, works on the strategy of completeness.
Therefore, for example, as a company that sells skincare products, the focus should be on showing the customer how their lives will be complete by using their skincare products on daily basis.
- The Strategy of Self-Acceptance and Reaching Potential – The clothing company, American Eagle used normal people, instead of using models wearing their brand all photo-shopped and airbrushed. This move was a step towards self-acceptance. Using this strategy encourages people to use products that help them in understanding what their potential truly is by moving towards self-acceptance.
The StoryBrand Framework uses the components of narrative storytelling to create a strategic framework for making their marketing and branding strategies a success time and again. It helps in keeping the customers engaged, creating a feeling of trust with the brand, and maintaining customer loyalty.