Originally published on June 20, 2019. Updated on May 22, 2020.
In your personal or professional development, have you ever discovered something so innovative and earthshattering that you’re not quite sure how to incorporate it with your M.O.? Like, you’re frozen in your tracks, wondering if this new world will ever be compatible with the one you have always known?
We’ve been there. In fact, we’ve been there for the past several months thanks to a little thing called “StoryBrand marketing.” The marketing world is changing again. We knew it would. It’s nothing new. However, this time the marketing world is not just making a baby step. It’s making a quantum leap.
If the change required a change of technology, we would be on it in a heartbeat. But it does not. No, no, this change requires something much more difficult: a change of mind.
Let’s talk about StoryBrand and how it is radically altering the way we think about marketing.
Just want to talk it through? Schedule a free consultation.
What is StoryBrand marketing?
In 2017, Author and CEO Donald Miller wrote a book called Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen. He wrote it based on a proven process he developed at his Nashville agency, StoryBrand. The book quickly made the Wall Street Journal’s Bestsellers list and it is estimated that over 500k copies have been sold. Today, he shares the process in his Building a StoryBrand podcast and many classes, events, and free resources on the StoryBrand website.
So what is the StoryBrand marketing process? Well, before we dive deep into what StoryBrand marketing is, you need to know what the StoryBrand mentality is all about.
The driving thought behind StoryBrand marketing is this: Your customers don’t really care about you or your business (sorry, we know that’s a little harsh!). What they do care about is themselves, their life – their story – and how you and your business solve their problems to make it better.
On the first day of marketing school, you are taught the difference between “features” and “benefits.” Features are factual statements about what a product or service is, but benefits are statements about what a product or service does. Benefits tell customers how the product or service provides value to them, answering the question, “What’s in it for me?”
Benefits sell; features do not. For example, “low calorie” is a feature of Diet Coke, but “look good” (because you aren’t putting on weight) is a benefit.
For a long time, marketers have been unwittingly closing in on the StoryBrand mentality–they understood the importance of putting the customer first, but they didn’t quite hit the mark. The simple, “features vs. benefits” narrative was not the full picture.
StoryBrand marketing takes “benefits” a step further into something far more powerful: empathy.
How to develop a brand story
From what we can see, humans have been telling each other stories since we first learned to communicate. Storytelling is hardwired into our DNA. Something that Miller recognized (and many before him, as he discusses in his book), is that all our stories follow the same format. Here is that format (the StoryBrand marketing process!):
- A Character (Hero)…
- Has a Problem (Villain)…
- And Meets a Guide…
- Who Gives Them a Plan…
- And Calls Them to Action…
- That Ends in Success…
- And Helps Them Avoid Failure.
Isn’t it beautiful? This is the storytelling format that we have been using to communicate with one another from the beginning of time. Can you think of any books or movies that follow this format? How about The Matrix?
- Neo (the chosen one)…
- Is confronted with the reality of his world (artificial intelligence is controlling everything)…
- And meets Morpheus…
- Who shows him what life is like when you are “awake”…
- And calls him to fulfill his prophecy…
- Leading to an agreement with the artificial intelligence…
- That prevents the destruction of all mankind.
The classics are easy examples. Star Wars… The Lord of the Rings… Harry Potter… each of these audience favorites follow the format outlined above.
Now here’s the fun part: When we, as business owners, enter our customer’s story, we do so as the guide! StoryBrand marketing is:
- Showing our customers that we also believe they are the most important character in the story (the hero)
- Validating their problems and empathizing with their pain
- Letting them know that we are their advocate and we can help (a guide)
- Giving them a clear, easy way to succeed using our products and services
- Outlining the victories they will have and the pitfalls they will avoid with our help
To summarize, StoryBrand marketing is both acknowledging and acting on our customer’s perception of our brand’s role in their story, to earn their business.
“StoryBrand marketing is both acknowledging and acting on our customer’s perception of our brand’s role in their story, to earn their business.”
Read more: 5 content marketing tips to improve your SEO
How does StoryBrand marketing benefit my business?
What makes StoryBrand marketing so hard?
Most people think of marketing as promotion–painting the business as the hero–when in reality we should be doing just the opposite!
How many times have you seen something like this on an advertisement?
“We are experts in our field because we have been working in this industry for over X years. Our staff receive the highest level of training and they are all certified professionals. We guarantee the highest quality in all our products because they undergo vigorous testing. Our customer service is second to none. We receive many awards. Give us a call.”
All the time, right? Now, how about something like this?
“What if you had control of your life? What if you felt like a child again? You deserve freedom. Let’s help you get there. By choosing the option that is right for you and joining our community, you can lift yourself up and find your way.”
These kinds of advertisements are a bit rarer, but wouldn’t you rather work with the second company than the first?
A medical doctor could point to the wall and show you his PhD, he could talk about his rigorous training and explain complex concepts to you using big words, but you won’t feel at ease until he tells you simply, “You are going to be okay. We are going to figure this out.”
Unfortunately, many businesses are stuck in the old way of marketing, talking about themselves and boasting about their successes, not their customer’s.
Building credibility through stories
It can be really challenging to make the mental shift–to put yourself in your customer’s shoes–especially if your business has been self-focused for a long time.
It can also be difficult to accept the “risk” of taking the focus off of your business. “But don’t our customers need to know that we are the experts? Otherwise, they shouldn’t trust us!” Yes, establishing the credibility of the guide is a part of StoryBrand marketing, but it is just a small piece of the process. More frequently, we find that it is difficult for us as self-centered human beings (we all want to be the heroes of our own stories) to lean into focusing on the customer.
When businesses lean into StoryBrand marketing, something amazing happens:
- The traction they couldn’t get on social media begins to materialize
- The subscribers they couldn’t get on to their blog and email lists begin to appear
- The leads they couldn’t get on their website begin to come in.
In short, they succeed in their marketing.
StoryBrand has created a free, interactive tool for businesses who are looking to use storytelling in their marketing. It is called a “brandscript.” By visiting mystorybrand.com, you can work through the tool to develop a brandscript for your business! The tool includes video descriptions of each section as well as an outline for you to follow, to make the process as simple as possible.
Meanwhile, we at Beacon Media + Marketing are currently rolling all our clients over to storytelling. On every website we design, social media account we manage, and video we produce, we are changing the voice to focus on the customer rather than the company. We firmly believe that this is the next step forward for our clients, and we can’t wait to experience the results.
Want to learn how storytelling can help sales? Schedule a free consultation.