Building a StoryBrand


In the book “building a StoryBrand”, Donald Miller argues that Customers don’t generally care about your story; they care about their own.

In any marketing campaign, your customer should be the main focus; she’s the hero of the story, not your brand. Successful business understood that little nuance.

To help you grow your business, the author presents a seven-part framework that will change the way you talk about your business.

The key is to invite your customers into a heroic story.


Chapter 1: The key to being seen, heard, and understood

Most companies fail to sell their products because of poor marketing. The problem is not so much in the products but rather, in the way they talk about the product.

Truth of the matter is words sell things. The more you clarify your message, the more customers will listen.

Nobody will listen to you if the message isn’t clear, no matter how expensive the marketing material may be.

We miss opportunities because customers can’t figure out what our offer is within five seconds of visiting our website.


building a storybrand banner

Why so many businesses fail

According to Donald Miller, businesses fail because “their marketing is too complicated. The brain doesn’t know how to process the information.”

“The more simple and predictable the communication, the easier it is for the brain to digest.”

That’s why “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.”

Remember Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? The brain is a survival mechanism that focuses on satisfying those basic needs. “Without us knowing it, human beings are constantly scanning their environment (even advertising) for information that is going to help them meet their primitive need to survive.”

Customers will ignore us as the information we present them doesn’t help eat, drink find a mate, fall in love, build a tribe, experience a deeper sense of meaning.

There are two critical mistakes brands make when they talk about their products and services:

Mistake number one

The first mistake brands make is they fail to focus on the aspects of their offer that will help people survive and thrive. All great stories are about survival—either physical, emotional, relational, or spiritual.

If you spend an hour in a meeting room, your brain –as a survival mechanism- will check where the exits are. Never will it count how many chairs are in the room.

If you don’t clearly communicate your message, you position yourself as the chairs, not the exits.

Mistake number two

The brain despite its small size compared to the whole body consumes a lot of energy. The brain burns even more calories when it processes information.

“The second mistake brands make is they cause their customers to burn too many calories in an effort to understand their offer.”

“When having to process too much seemingly random information, people begin to ignore the source of that useless information in an effort to conserve calories.”

We then might ask ourselves, what’s the solution?

Story to the rescue

The most powerful tool we can use to organize information so people don’t have to burn very many calories is story. In Building a StoryBrand, the author uses the motto: “If you confuse, you’ll lose.”

“The key is clarity. In a story, audiences must always know who the hero is, what the hero wants, who the hero has to defeat to get what they want, what tragic thing will happen if the hero doesn’t win, and what wonderful thing will happen if they do.”

If an audience can’t answer these questions, you’ll lose their attention.

Donald Miller in building a StoryBrand presents a formula that organizes our thinking, reduces our marketing effort, obliterates confusion, terrifies the competition, and finally gets our businesses growing again.

Building a StoryBrand Chapter 2: The secret weapon that will grow your business

When it is well-crafted, a story can hold a human being’s attention for hours. “Story is the greatest weapon we have to combat noise, because it organizes information in such a way that people are compelled to listen.”

When storytellers bombard people with too much information, the audience burn too many calories and start to lose interest. Storytellers must cut out the noise to create a compelling story. A character or a scene needs to follow the plot.

The author recounts how Steve Jobs understood that story was everything. He did so after being surrounded by professional storytellers at Pixar. Before this, Steve Jobs used to write boring and long-page ads that interested nobody outside NASA.

When Jobs returned to the company after running Pixar, Apple became customer-centric, compelling, and clear in their communication.

How Apple changed their communication

They understood their customers were all living, breathing heroes, and they tapped into their stories. They did this by:

(1) Identifying what their customers wanted (to be seen and heard)

(2) Defining their customers’ challenge (that people didn’t recognize their hidden genius)

(3) Offering their customers a tool they could use to express themselves (computers and smartphones).

We should clarify our message and Apple understands it.

Story can grow your business

Donald Miller emphasizes that every good story follows this structure:

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.”

building a storybrand

It’s the simple framework that gives power to a narrative communication. The audience will be more engaged as long as we stay close to this structure.

The three crucial questions in building a storybrand

An audience is engaged as long as they know the answers to these three questions:

  1. What does the hero want?
  2. Who or what is opposing the hero getting what she wants?
  3. What will the hero’s life look like if she does (or does not) get what she wants?

In a similar manner, your marketing should engage the potential customers if they know the answers to the following questions:

  1. What do you offer?
  2. How will it make my life better?
  3. What do I need to do to buy it?


Building a StoryBrand Chapter 3: The simple SB7 framework

The StoryBrand framework is composed of seven clear steps:

A Character

StoryBrand principle one: the customer is the hero, not your brand. When giving a message, position yourself as Yoda and your audience as Luke Skywalker.

Has a Problem

StoryBrand principle two: companies tend to sell solutions to external problems, but customers buy solutions to internal problems. Just like a hero in any story wants to come back to her one peaceful life, customers want to solve a problem that has disrupted their peaceful life.

And Meets a Guide …

StoryBrand principle three: customers aren’t looking for another hero; they’re looking for a guide. The guide is another character that helps the hero win.

… Who Gives Them a Plan

StoryBrand principle four: customers trust a guide who has a plan.

And Calls Them to Action

StoryBrand principle five: customers do not take action unless they are challenged to take action.

That Helps Them Avoid Failure

StoryBrand principle six: every human being is trying to avoid a tragic ending. People are most motivated by loss aversion, the fear of losing something rather than the eagerness to gain something. Show people the cost, the loss if they don’t do business with you.

And Ends in a Success

StoryBrand principle seven: never assume people understand how your brand can change their lives. Tell them. We must tell our customers how great their life can look if they buy our products and services.

The question now is how can you create a clear and compelling message so that you easily organize your thoughts?



StoryBrand Principle One: The customer is the hero, not your brand.

A story starts with a hero who wants something. And then the question becomes: Will the hero get what she wants? Before knowing what the hero wants, the audience has little interest in her fate.

For this, we posit a story question in the mind of the customer: Can this brand really help me get what I want?

Open a story gap

You create a story gap when you identify a potential desire for your customer. The opening and closing of a story gap is a magnetic force that drives much of human behavior. Arousal is the opening of a story gap and sexual fulfillment brings its closing. Hunger is the opening of a story gap and a meal ushers its closing.

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. Defining something our customer wants and featuring it in our marketing materials will open a story gap.

Do not add too many conflicting story gaps, focus on a single one. Define something simple and relevant to the customers and become known for delivering on that promise.

Choose a desire relevant to their survival

Survival here means the primitive desire we all have to be safe, healthy, happy and strong.

In building a StoryBrand, Donald Miller identifies several survival means:

–          Conserving financial resources (a cheaper product) and conserving time (5 in 1 product)

–          Building social networks

–          Gaining status

–          Accumulating resources

–          The innate desire to be generous

–          The desire for meaning



StoryBrand Principle Two: Companies tend to sell solutions to external problems, but customers buy solutions to internal problems.

To increase your customer’s interest in your brand, you’ll need to talk about the problems they face in their lives.

The more we talk about the problems our customers experience, the more interest they will have in our brand.

The importance of a villain

Every story needs a villain because it gives conflict. The more evil the villain, the more we want the hero to win in the end. As a result, the audience will be more engaged.

We should position those products and services as weapons they can use to defeat a villain. And the villain should be dastardly. The villain doesn’t have to be a person, but without question it should have personified characteristics.

Advertisers personify the problems their customers face in order to capture their imagination and give their frustrations a focal point.

The three levels of conflict

To capture the audience’s attention, we’ll need to work on three levels of problems that the customers face: external problems, internal problems and philosophical problems.

“In a story, a villain initiates an external problem that causes the character to experience an internal frustration that is, quite simply, philosophically wrong.”


building a storybrand conflicts


External problems: an external problem is a physical, tangible problem the hero must overcome. Keanu Reeves for example faces a ticking bomb on a bus. Conversely, if we own a restaurant, we for example solve hunger.

Internal problems: In almost every story, the hero struggles with internal conflicts and he asks himself: “do I have what it takes?” What stories teach us is that people’s internal desire to resolve a frustration is a greater motivator than their desire to solve an external problem. Steve Jobs for example understood that people were intimidated by computers; they wanted a simpler interface. By solving this internal problem and by aligning their marketing as an offer to this problem, they started selling more computers. Similarly, Starbucks doesn’t just offer a cup of coffee but provides a comfortable, sophisticated environment in which to relax.

Philosophical problems: It involves ethics and personal values: what is good and what is bad; it’s also about the question “why?” Why does the story matter? With Tesla, this turns into: a car should pollute less.

For a 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.

So what challenges are you helping your customer overcome?


StoryBrand Principle Three: Customers aren’t looking for another hero; they’re looking for a guide.

Every hero is looking for a guide. Basically, we intuitively know that a hero cannot solve his own problems. If he did, he wouldn’t have gotten into trouble in the first place.

Storytellers use the guide character to encourage the hero and equip them to win the day.

Just like in stories, human beings wake up every morning self-identifying as a hero. They are troubled by internal, external, and philosophical conflicts, and they know they can’t solve these problems on their own.

The solution here is to position ourselves as their guide, not as the hero. “A brand that positions itself as the hero is destined to lose.”

“Always position your customer as the hero and your brand as the guide. Always. If you don’t, you will die.”

The story is not about us

It’s probably one of the key lessons in Building a StoryBrand by Donald Miller: we need to help the customers in their success, not solely focus on ours. We have to be their guide. People are looking for a guide to help them, not another hero.

In stories, the hero is never the strongest character, they are filled with self-doubt, and they don’t know what it takes. Some of the hero didn’t even want to be in the story in the first place. The guide however can act as a guide because she’s been there already. The guide is the one with the most authority.

The two characteristics of a guide

How can you change the way you talk about your business, even the way you do business? You turn your focus to the customer and offer them a heroic role in a meaningful story.

To be their guide, we’ll need to work on two things. To position ourselves as the guide, a brand must communicate empathy and authority.

Express empathy

When we empathize with our customers’ dilemma, we create a bond of trust. People trust those who understand them, and they trust brands that understand them too. As Oprah Winfrey explained, the three things every human being wants most are to be seen, heard, and understood.

Demonstrate authority

To add authority to your marketing, you can use:

  •         Testimonials from satisfied customers
  •         Statistics: how many satisfied customers have you helped?
  •         Awards
  •         And logos: you can place the logos of the businesses you worked with.

Once we express empathy and demonstrate authority, we can position our brand as the guide our customer has been looking for.


StoryBrand Principle Four: Customers trust a guide who has a plan.

“In nearly every movie you can think of, the guide gives the hero a plan. The plan is the bridge the hero must cross in order to arrive at the climactic scene.”

A potential customer who visits your website for example asks one central question: “What do you want me to do now?” The plan creates then clarity. We’ll need to show them the steps to alleviate confusion and for them to overcome their fear.

There are two types of plan as explained in Building a StoryBrand. Donald Miller identifies the process plan and the agreement plan.

The process plan

The process plan aims at alleviating confusion. A process plan can describe the steps a customer needs to take before a purchase, or the steps the customer needs to take once they bought it, or a mixture of both.

Ultimately, a process plan takes the confusion out of our customer’s journey and guides them in the next steps. What steps do your customers need to take so they do business with you?

The agreement plan

While process plans alleviate confusion, agreement plans do alleviate fear. An agreement plan help your customers overcome their fear and apprehension of doing business with you.

Give a title to your plan

“Once you create your process or agreement plan (or both), consider giving them a title that will increase the perceived value of your product or service. For instance, your process plan might be called the “easy installation plan.” Your agreement plan might be titled the “customer satisfaction agreement” or even “our quality guarantee.”

“Titling your plan will frame it in the customer’s mind and increases the perceived value of all that your brand offers.”


Building a StoryBrand Principle Five: Customers do not take action unless they are challenged to take action.

Humans by nature are lazy; our brain is hardwired to conserve energy. We don’t make major life decisions unless something challenges us to do so. In stories, characters never take action on their own. They have to be challenged to take action.

The power of the “buy now” button

“The fastest way to grow a company is to make the calls to action clear and then repeat them over and over.”

People cannot read our minds. Never assume that what’s obvious to us will be so to the customers; it isn’t.

“There should be a “Buy Now” button in the top right corner of your website, and it shouldn’t be cluttered with a bunch of other buttons. The same call to action should be repeated above the fold and in the center of your website, and again and again as people scroll down the page.”

Two kinds of calls to action

There are two kinds of calls to action: direct calls to action and transitional calls to action. “A transitional call to action is like saying, “Can I take you out on a date?” to your customer, and a direct call to action is like saying, “Will you marry me?””

Direct calls to action include requests like “buy now,” “schedule an appointment,” or “call today.” A direct call to action is something that leads to a sale, or at least is the first step down a path that leads to a sale.

Transitional calls to action, however, contain less risk and usually offer a customer something for free. Transitional calls to action can be used to “onramp” potential customers to an eventual purchase. Inviting people to watch a webinar or download a PDF are good examples of transitional calls to action. It can also be free information, testimonials, samples or free trials.

People need clarity, they avoid confusion. What transitional or direct call to action have you implemented in your business?


Building a StoryBrand Principle Six: Every human being is trying to avoid a tragic ending.

People are motivated by loss aversion. Daniel Kahneman won a Nobel Prize by showing that man is a very irrational beast. Kahneman later codified his research in the 2011 bestseller Thinking, Fast and Slow. According to him, “in certain situations, people are two to three times more motivated to make a change to avoid a loss than they are to achieve a gain”

Even in a tough negotiation as we’ve seen in “Never split the difference summary” By Chris Voss, “it’s not enough to show the other party that you can deliver the thing they want. To get real leverage, you have to persuade them that they have something concrete to lose if the deal falls through. People will take more risks to avoid a loss than to realize a gain. Make sure your counterpart sees that there is something to lose by inaction. “

You’ll need to emphasize what you are helping your customer avoid, what’s there to lose, what will the customer lose if they don’t buy your products?



Principle Seven: Never assume people understand how your brand can change their lives. Tell them.

The author once received an insightful piece of advice: “People always want to be taken somewhere”.

Ask yourself: “Where is your brand taking people? Are you taking them to financial security? To the day when they’ll move into their dream home? To a fun weekend with friends? Without knowing it, every potential customer we meet is asking us where we can take them.”

Presidential candidates understand the power of an aspirational vision. Bill Clinton during his campaign for example promised to build a bridge to the twenty-first century.

The customers want most a happy ending to their story. “We must tell our customers what their lives will look like after they buy our products, or they will have no motivation to do so.”

The three dominant ways storytellers end a story is by allowing the hero to

  1. Win some sort of power or position (you can offer a limited access to a status; offer a premium membership)
  2. Be unified with somebody or something that makes them whole.
  3. Experience some kind of self-realization that also makes them whole. (inspire the audience, help them accept themselves)

In summary, “human beings are looking for resolutions to their external, internal, and philosophical problems, and they can achieve this through, among other things, status, self-realization, self-acceptance, and transcendence.”


Every human being is characterized by one single powerful motivator: the desire to transform. Nobody enjoys crawling, everybody wants to change. Everybody wants to be somebody different, somebody better, or, perhaps, somebody who simply becomes more self-accepting.

Your brand should be helping people become better versions of themselves.

Who do your customers want to become?

To figure out what they really want, ask them “how they want to be seen and to be talked about by their friends”. Simply put, when others talk about you, what do you want them to say?

Now, as a brand, can you help them become that kind of person? Can you participate in their identity transformation?

Donald Miller talks about Dave Ramsey’s success. The author is convinced that Dave’s success can be explained by how he frames the customer’s journey. Dave doesn’t only provide good advice; he mostly participates in his customer’s transformation. He never positions himself as the hero.

To define a marketing strategy based on the “building a StoryBrand” principles, you can ask yourself: “Who does my customer want to become as they relate to our products and services?”

Brands that are truly successful don’t only sell products and commodities, they change people. So does Apple, Starbucks and Tom’s Shoes for example.



It’s vital to have a digital presence. People might get to know us through social media or word of mouth, but they definitely will go to our website to learn more. We need to prepare our website so that the customers’ hopes get confirmed. They need to be convinced that we have a solution to their problem.

Your website should be the equivalent of an elevator pitch. Keep it simple.

Donald Miller shares 5 things your website should include:

1- An offer above the fold

“On a website, the images and text above the fold are the things you see and read before you start scrolling down.” Above the fold, make sure the images and text you see meet one of the following criteria: first, they promise an aspirational identity; second, they promise to solve a problem; and finally, they state exactly what they do.

2- Obvious Calls to Action

3- Images of success

We need to communicate a sense of health, well-being and satisfaction with our brand.

4- A Bite-Sized breakdown of your revenue streams

5- Very few words

As people no longer read websites, they only scan them; the author suggests no more than ten sentences.


The book “Building a StoryBrand” concludes with five (almost free) things you can do to implement the StoryBrand Framework and grow your business

  1. Create a One-liner

A one-liner is a new and improved way to answer the question “What do you do?” The one-liner you will create for your company will work like a logline in a movie; it will intrigue qualified buyers and invite them to do business with you. A powerful one-liner includes: the character, the problem, the plan and the success. For example:

  • The Character: Moms
  • The Problem: Busy schedules
  • The Plan: Short, meaningful workouts
  • The Success: Health and renewed energy
  • “We provide busy moms with a short, meaningful workout they can use to stay healthy and have renewed energy.”
  1. Create a Lead Generator and Collect E-mail Addresses

You’ll need to provide enormous value for your customer and establish yourself as an authority in your field. There are several types of lead generators: downloadable guide, online course or webinar, software demos or a free trial, free samples, live events. You might ask yourself: how much value should we give away for free, and to Donald Miller, the answer is simple: be as generous as possible.

  1. Create an Automated E-Mail Drip Campaign

It’s one of the best ways to remind our customers we exist. “Our customers may not need our product today, and they might not need it tomorrow, but on the day they do need it, we want to make sure they remember who we are, what we have, and where they can reach us.” The author recommends MailChimp if you want to create the system yourself; or Infusionsoft if you have a robust and segmented list of subscribers.

  1. Collect and Tell Stories of Transformation

Collect testimonials from your satisfied customers.

  1. Create a System That Generates Referrals.

For example you can give your customers a reason to spread the word by offering a reward. “The easiest, fastest referral system can be automated using MailChimp, Infusionsoft, HubSpot, or any other e-mail marketing system.”

People also read: “Never split the difference summary” by Chris Voss