In his book Building a Story Brand, Donald Miller explains how to harness the power of narrative to clarify your marketing messages and sell anything. Here's what I learned from this great book.  

Most marketing approaches seem to consist of simply singing the praises of whatever you're selling to convince your potential customer that they want it. But you marketing strategy will improve so much if you start using the power of narrative with the Storybrand technique.

So, what is this technique, and how does it work?

Donald Miller, the writer of The Storybrand, has analyzed what the common components of any great story are, so that you can use it as a framework to craft your own narratives for marketing messages.

The basic components of any good story:

  1. A character/hero on a mission
  2. Encounters a problem that he can't seem to solve
  3. At the depth of his despair, he meets a guide
  4. The guide gives him a plan to solve his problem
  5. The plan calls the hero to action
  6. The action helps the hero avoid failure
  7. And achieve success

And to prove that you don't even have to be selling anything lofty, like a book, an education, an investment or some cool technology for this to work, I want to illustrate the Storybrand technique throughout this article by using a relatively mundane item as an example, namely this fold-away power rack by Rogue fitness:

Rogue RML-3WC Fold Back Wall Mount Rack

Now if you were trying to sell this rack and you had never heard of The Storybrand, you would probably mention in your marketing copy that this rack is:

  • Convenient since you can stow it away and save space
  • Reliable because of the American-made construction
  • Durable because of the high quality steel
  • Easy installation
  • Etc.

But you could be so much more convincing to so many more people if you just harnessed the power of storytelling with the Storybrand. Let's see how:

1: The hero (not you!)

The very first and arguably most important step in this whole process is to recognize that you should not be the hero of the story you tell.

Many businesses like to talk about themselves,  how they came into existence, what problems they're trying to solve and what adventures they've encountered along the way.

But people are not looking to hear about you and your problems. They are the heroes of their own stories. They have their own problems they're trying to solve; and the only thing they're really interested in is how you can help them solve their problems.

I mean, they may be interested in hearing about your story as well, but all they will ever be in that story is a spectator. It will just be like two heroes meeting, exchanging stories and then going their separate ways to fight their own separate battles.

This is not what you want. You want to contribute to your customer's heroic journey, and that is how you should position yourself. So if you remember only one thing, let it be this:

Your customer needs to be the hero in your story.

A hero has a mission. He has goals. He wants something. Make sure that you know exactly what it is your customer wants as it relates to your product, and mention it in your marketing copy.

For our power rack for example, our customer probably wants to get fit, strong and healthy; and look the part as well.

2: Has a problem

The hero has a problem though. There is something that stands between him and his goals. What is it that you can help the hero with?

It is incredibly important that you don't just think about the superficial here. The Storybrand identifies three levels of problems: the external, the internal and the philosophical.

The external problem is the problem as it manifests at surface level. The internal problem is how the external problem affects the hero, particularly in his or her emotional state. And finally, the philosophical problem, the holy grail of problem identification, is why it's fundamental wrong for your hero to be dealing with this problem.

For our power rack, the problem set could look something like this:

  • External: you can't find the time to go to the gym between work and family.
  • Internal: you feel inadequate and you're missing out on being the fittest version of yourself.
  • Philosophical: it's fundamentally not right that you should be unable to get fit just because you're working hard to provide for your family

3. Meets a guide

Now that you have identified the problem on a fundamental level, it's time to present yourself as the guide that's going to help the hero solve his own problem.

Everything you're selling is medicine. If it's not medicine, you're not selling.
- Donald Miller (the Storybrand)

Just like with real medicine, if the doctor is going to convince you to take this medicine he will first have to (1) diagnose your problem correctly; and (2) convince you that this medicine will help you solve it.

This works very similarly in the Storybrand.

To position yourself as a guide, you have to show empathy and authority. You show empathy by showing the hero that you understand exactly what he's dealing with and that you feel their pain. This should just be a summary of the problem you identified under 2. Demonstrating authority means that you are competent to solve the problem, because you've dealt with a matter like that before.

You're basically presenting yourself as the Yoda to Luke Skywalker in Star Wars; or like Haymitch to Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games.

Yoda Star Wars

For the power rack, presenting yourself as the guide could look like this:

  • Empathy: we know how it sucks to be unable to go to the gym because you just can't find the time. But you really shouldn't have to miss out on being the fittest version of yourself, just because you're working so hard to provide for your family.
  • Authority: we have heard this problem a million times and for 9 out of 10 people, having a home gym turned out to make all the difference. Here are a few testimonials of people we helped before.

Read on about how to implement the Storybrand techniques in part 2.