My summary of: Building a StoryBrand – written by Donald Miller

My summary of: Building a StoryBrand – written by Donald Miller

The past couple of weeks I have been reading Building a StoryBrand. It’s been an enormously interesting and super applicable book. A friend of mine suggested this book, and it couldn’t have come by at any better moment then now. During the development of our company these tips and strategies came in very handy. I have learned a lot and can’t wait to apply all the tools of this model to our company. This is a must-read book! If you can’t wait or only want to know the golden nuggets, here’s my summary:


Your customers should be the hero of the story, not your brand. Businesses that invite their customers into a heroic story grow. Businesses that don’t are forgotten. May we all be richly rewarded for putting our customers’ stories above our own.

Section 1: Why most marketing is a money pit

1 The key to being seen, heard, and understood 

Pretty websites don’t sell things. Words sell things. And if we haven’t clarified our message, our customers won’t listen.

First you need to get your message straight. Therefore, you can use a “communication framework” that is based on story telling. We are in a race to communicate why our customers need our products in their lives.

  • What’s your message?
  • Can you say it easily?
  • Is it simple, relevant, and repeatable?
  • Can your entire team repeat your company’s message in such a way that it is compelling?
  • Have new hires been given talking points they can use to describe what the company offers and why every potential customer should buy it?
  • How many sales are we missing out on because customers can’t figure out what our offer is within five seconds of visiting our website?

The simpler and more predictable the communication, the easier for the brain to digest. Story helps because it’s a sense-making mechanism.

Maslov’s pyramid of needs teaches us that customers don’t care about “why we have the biggest factory in Europe”, because that information isn’t helping them to eat, drink, find a mate, fall in love, build a tribe, experience a deeper sense of meaning, or stockpile weapons in case barbarians come and attack.

Brands make 2 critical mistakes when they talk about their products and services:

  1. If we position our products and services as anything but an aid in helping people survive, thrive, be accepted, find love, etc., good luck selling anything to anybody. These are the only things people care about.
  2. The second mistake brands make is they cause their customers to burn too many calories in an effort to understand their offer. When we start our elevator pitch, or when somebody visits our website, they’re burning calories to process the information we’re sharing. And if we don’t say something real quickly they can use to survive, they will tune us out.

The key is to make your company’s message about something that helps the customer survive and to do so in such a way that they can understand it without burning too many calories.

Story formulas reveal a well-worn path in the human brain, and if we want to stay in business, we need to position our products along this path.

The narrative coming out of a company must be clear. If we haven’t identified what our customer wants, what problem we are helping them to solve, and what life will look like after they engage our products and services, we can forget about thriving in the marketplace.

The biggest enemy is noise. We need to make our messages way simpler and get rid of the extra noise. What we think we are saying to our customers and what our customers actually hear are two different things. And customers make buying decisions not based on what we say, but on what they hear.

2 The secret weapon that will grow your business 

Story is the one thing that 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.

Therefore, we need a filter. The essence of branding is to create simple, relevant messages we can repeat over and over so that we “brand” ourselves into the public consciousness.

Steve Jobs/ Apple example:

  1. Identifying what their customers wanted (to be seen and heard).
  2. Defining their customers’ challenges (that people didn’t recognize their hidden genius).
  3. Offering their customers a tool they could use to express themselves (computers and smartphones).

You need to be Q where the customer is James Bond. You need to be the guy where the hero goes for their tools to win the day.

The 6 steps of every story:

  1. A character
  2. Has a problem
  3. And meets a guide
  4. Who gives them a plan
  5. And calls them to action
  6. That helps them avoid failure
  7. That ends in a success

The three crucial 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 is she does (or does not) get what she wants?

If these three questions can’t be answered within the first fifteen to twenty minutes of a film, the story has already descended into noise and will almost certainly fail.

Anything that doesn’t serve the plot, has to go.

A customer needs to be able to answer these three questions within 5 seconds of looking at your content:

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

A good messaging filter will remove all the stuff that bores our customers and will bear down on the aspects of our brand that will help them survive and thrive.

3 The simple SB7 framework 

  1. A character. The customer is the hero, not the brand.
  2. Has a problem. Companies tend to sell solutions to external problems, but customers buy solutions to internal problems.
  3. And meets a guide. Customers aren’t looking for another hero. They’re looking for a guide.
  4. Who gives them a plan. Customers trust a guide who has a plan.
  5. And calls them to action. Customers do not take action unless they are challenged to take action.
  6. That helps them avoid failure. Every human being is trying to avoid a tragic ending.
  7. And ends in a success. Never assume people will understand how your brand can change their lives. Tell them.

You put together this framework by using the StoryBrand BrandScript at Step by step follow the 7 parts.

Section 2: Building your StoryBrand

4 A character 

As a brand it’s important to define something your customer wants, because as soon as we define something our customer wants, we posit a story question in the mind of the customer: Can this brand really help me get what I want?

When you define something your customer wants, the customer is invited to alter their story in your direction. If they see your brand as a trustworthy and reliable guide, they will likely engage.

Identifying a potential desire for your customer opens a story gap. The opening and closing of a story gap are a magnetic force that drives much of human behavior (hunger – eat a meal). When we don’t open a story gap in our customers’ mind, they have no motivation to engage with us, because there’s no question that demands resolution. Defining something our customer wants and featuring it in our marketing material will open a story gap.

As you create a BrandScript for your overall brand, focus on one simple desire first. At the highest level, the most important challenge for business leaders is to define something simple and relevant their customers want and to become known for delivering on that promise.

Don’t make the mistake of being too vague. What you define needs to be related to the customer’s sense of survival. It needs to be clear why they need it in the first place.

There are a couple examples of these desires:

  • Conserving financial resources
  • Conserving time
  • Building social networks
  • Gaining status
  • Accumulating resources
  • The innate desire to be generous
  • The desire for meaning

We must define a desire our customers have, or we will have failed to open a story gab and our audience will ignore us. The goal for our branding should be that every potential customer knows exactly where we want to take them.

5 Has a problem 

The problem is the hook of a story, and if we don’t identify our customers’ problems, the story we are telling will fall flat. We need to identify our customers’ problems so they will recognize us as a brand that understands them.

Every story needs a villain. If we want our customers’ ears to perk up when we talk about our products and services, we should position those products and services as weapons then can use to defeat a villain. Therefore, you need to vilify your customers’ challenges into a villain.

The four characteristics of a villain:

  1. The villain should be a root source.
  2. The villain should be relatable.
  3. The villain should be singular
  4. The villain should be real.

There are three levels of conflict the villain causes: A villain initiates an external problem that causes the character to experience an internal frustration that is philosophical wrong. 

Brainstorming about the external problem is pretty obvious. Solving the external problem is not the only problem a customer needs to get solved.

Companies tend to sell solutions to external problems, but people buy solutions to internal problems.

In almost every story the hero struggles with the same question: Do I have what it takes? People’s internal desire to resolve a frustration is a greater motivator than their desire to solve an external problem.

The philosophical problem in a story is about something larger than the story itself. It’s about the Why. A philosophical problem can best be talked about using terms like ‘ought’ and ‘shouldn’t’.

People want to be involved in a story that it larger than themselves. Brands that give customers a voice in a larger narrative add value to their products by giving their customers a deeper sense of meaning.

If we really want our company to grow, we should position our product 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 to their story.

6 And meets a guide 

Every life has chapters. The events that define our chapters are often instigated or interpreted by mystical characters that help us along the way, guides.

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.

Heroes are often ill-equipped and don’t know if they have what it takes. The guide has already been there and done that. The guide, not the hero is the one with the most authority. The guide nevertheless plays only a role. The story must always be about the hero.

The two things a brand must communicate to position themselves as the guide are:

  • Empathy
  • Authority

When we emphasize with our customers’ dilemma, we create a bond of trust. People trust those who understand them, and they trust brands that understand them too. People want to be seen, heard, and understood. This is the essence of empathy.

When I talk about authority, I mean competence. A hero trusts someone who knows what they’re doing. The guide needs to have serious experience helping other heroes win the day.

Add authority to your marketing by showing:

  1. Testimonials
  2. Statistics
  3. Awards
  4. Logos

You make a great first impression by answering two questions.

  • Can I trust this person? – – > Empathy
  • Can I respect this person? – – > Authority

7 Who gives them a plan

Commitments are risky for our customers because as soon as they make a commitment, they can lose something. Most. Customers are not going to take this risk yet.

You need to give them some steppingstones and tell them it’s safe to cross the river and buy from you. Those stones, we call a plan.

All effective plans do one or two things: they either clarify how somebody can do business with us, or they remove the sense of risk somebody might have if they’re considering investing in our products or services.

Even though these steps may seem obvious, they aren’t obvious to our customers. Placing stones in the creek greatly increases the chance they will cross the creek.

There are two types of plans:

  1. A process plan can described as the steps a customer needs to take to buy our product, or the steps the customer needs to take to use our product after they’ve bought it, or a mixture of both. Use between 3-6 steps. The key to success of any process plan is to alleviate confusion for our customers. What steps do they need to take to do business with you?
  2. Agreement plans are about alleviating fear. It’s a list of agreements you make with your customer to help them overcome their fear of doing business with you. An agreement plan can also work to increase the perceived value of promise you promise to provide. Another benefit of an agreement plan is that it can work to clarify shared values between our customers and us.


Once you’ve created a plan. Give your plan a title that will increase the perceived value of your product or service.

8 And calls them to action 

Your customers are bombarded with more than three thousand commercial messages per day, and unless we are bold in our calls to action, we will be ignored. If our calls to action are soft, they will not be noticed.

We think customers can read our minds and that it’s obvious we want them to place an order. It’s not. 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. We have to clearly invite customers to take a journey with us, or they won’t. Most people think they’re overselling when, in truth, their calls to action fall softer than a whisper.

Customers are not looking for brands that are filled with doubt and want affirmations, they are looking for brands that have solutions to their problems. Be bold about inviting them to do business with us.

There are two calls to actions. Direct and Transitional. Transitional can be like a free sample or invite them for a webinar.

There should be one big direct call to action button on your site. Make it big and bold and stand out. Examples: Order now, Call today, Schedule an appointment, Register today, Buy now.

End every communication with a direct call to action.

A good transitional call to action can do three powerful things for your brand.

  1. Stake a claim to your territory
  2. Create reciprocity
  3. Position yourself as the guide

Examples: free information, testimonials, samples, free trial.

Having clear calls to action means customers aren’t confused about the actions they need to take to do business with you.

9 That helps them avoid failure 

Our desire to avoid pain motivates us to seek a resolution to our problems. Brands that don’t warn their customers about what could happen if they don’t buy their products fail to answer the “so what” question every customer is secretly asking. What will the customer lose if they don’t buy our products?

Loss aversion is a greater motivator of buying decisions than potential gains. You can use messages from the fear category in your marketing using a four-step process called a “fear appeal”.

  1. Make the reader know that they are vulnerable to a threat.
  2. Let the reader know that since they’re vulnerable, they should take action to reduce their vulnerability.
  3. Let them know about a specific call to action that protects them from the risk.
  4. Challenge them to take that specific action.

Use this fear like a pinch of salt in the recipe.

10 And ends in a success 

Always remember, people want to be taken somewhere. Without a vision, the people perish. And so do brands. Being specific matters. Nobody gets excited about a muddled vision.

Before and after:

Once you know how your customers’ live will change after they’ve engaged with you, you’ll have plenty of content. Next step is to say it clearly. Whatever it is you sell, show us people happily engaging with the product.

When we resolve our customers’ internal, external, and philosophical problems, we’ve truly created a resolution that will satisfy their story.

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

1 Win some sort of power or position. (The need for status)

If our brand can participate in making our customers more esteemed, respected, and appealing in a social context, we’re offering something they want. This is done in many ways:

  • Offer access
  • Create scarcity
  • Offer a premium
  • Offer identity association

2 Be unified with somebody or something that makes them whole. (The need for something external to create completeness)

There are some ways brands can offer external help for customers looking to be complete or whole:

  • Reduced anxiety
  • Reduced workload
  • More time

3 Experience some kind of self-realization that also makes them whole. (The need to reach our potential)

Here are a few ways brands can offer a sense of ultimate self-realization or self-acceptance:

  • Inspiration
  • Acceptance
  • Transcendence

If our product can help achieve all of these above, we should make this a core aspect of our brand promise. What problems are you resolving in your customer’s life and what does that resolution look like? We need to show repeatedly how our product or service can make somebody’s life better. If we don’t tell people where we’re taking them, they won’t follow.

11 People want your brand to participate in their transformation

There’s one single motivator that is the driving force behind nearly every decision we make as a human being. That is the human desire to transform. Everybody wants to change. Everybody wants to be somebody different, somebody better, somebody who simply becomes more self-accepting. Your brand is helping people become a better version of themselves. We need to ask:

  • Who does our customer want to become?
  • What kind of person do they want to be?
  • What is their aspirational identity?

As a brand you need to deliver more than a product. You need to make the customer feel more than what they are.

The best way to identify an aspirational identity that our customers might by attracted to is to consider how they want their friends to talk about them. Once we know who our customers want to be, we will have language to use in our marketing material.

After the climatic heroic scene, the guide comes back to affirm the transformation of the hero. A hero needs somebody else in the story to tell them they are different, they are better. That somebody is you.

Brand that realize their customers are human, filled with emotion, driven to transform, and in need of help, truly do more than sell products, they change people.

Section 3: Implementing your StoryBrand BrandScript

12 Building a better website 

A great digital presence starts with a clear and effective website. When customers get to our website their hopes need to be confirmed.

Keep it simple. Today your website should be the equivalent of an elevator pitch. The customer simply needs to know that you have something they want, and you can be trusted to deliver whatever that is.

There are 5 things your website should include:

1 An offer above the fold.

The stuff above the fold should be short, enticing and exclusively customer centric. One short sentence should explain what you offer and give words to help your business spread: “We will make you a pro in the kitchen”. The idea here is that customers need to know what’s in it for them right when they read the text.

Make sure your images and texts above the fold meet the following criteria:

  • They promise an aspirational identity
  • They promise to solve a problem
  • They state exactly what they do

You need to get straight to the point.

2 Obvious calls to action

We’ll be out of business soon if people don’t click that buy now button. So, don’t hide it.

There are two main places where we want to place a button. The first one is at the top right corner and the second one is in the center, above the fold. Give the buttons a different, lighter color and make it stand out.

3 Images of success

We believe images of smiling, happy people who have had a pleasurable experience by engaging your brand should be featured on your website. Many of us need to display a product, but if we can feature those products in the hands of smiling people, our images might have more power.

4 A bite-sized breakdown of your revenue streams

We may think our business is too diverse to communicate clearly, but it probably isn’t. In most cases we can find an umbrella theme that can unite it all.

5 Very few words

People only scan websites. So, write your texts in Morse code like short punchy and relevant to the customer. The fewer words you use, the more likely people will read them.

13 How StoryBrand can transform a large organization

Every company needs to watch out for a Narrative Void. That is the vacant space that occurs inside an organization when there’s no story to keep everyone aligned. All the white noise is causing people to get less engaged.

Companies who calibrate their activities around a common story don’t just state their mission, they operate on mission.

Without a unifying narrative at the center, there is nothing to inspire your new personnel beyond the status quo. The company doesn’t do anything wrong. But they don’t do anything special either.

Better is when the organization loves their customers and is obsessed with seeing them win the day. The secret is that the people are here to serve the customer they love.

(Reread pages 162 – 165 for the most amazing onboarding ever.)

A thoughtmosphere is an invisible mixture of beliefs and ideas that drives employee behavior and performance. A thoughtmosphere improves when a a StoryBrand inspired narrative is created, talking points are devised, and a plan of execution is put in place to reinforce those talking points, so every stakeholder understands their important role.

The number one job of an executive is to remind the stakeholders what the mission is, over and over. When a company gets on mission, everybody wins.

A true mission isn’t a statement. It’s a way of living and being. A mission is more than token rituals that make momentary reference to the thing that your employees should care about. A mission is a story you reinforce through every department strategy, every operational detail, and every customer experience. That’s what it means to be a company on-mission.

  • An on-mission company turns their team into a sales force
  • An on-mission brand understands the story of their team members a

In a company it’s the same StoryBrand structure. Managers are not the hero, they are the guide, helping the employees win the day.

The StoryBrand marketing roadmap

This is a hassle free getting started guide to implement your BrandScript.

The following five marketing and messaging efforts get the best results:

  1. Create a one-liner
  2. Create a lead generator and collect e-mail addresses
  3. Create an automated e-mail drip campaign
  4. Collect and tell stories of transformation
  5. Create a system that generates referrals

Create a one-liner for your company 

Most business leaders lose the sale the moment they start talking about what they do. Instead, imagine memorizing a single statement you can repeat the moment someone asks what you do. It needs to be relevant to the needs of the customer. It needs to be so powerful it causes people the ask for your business card.

A one-liner is a new and improved way to answer the question “what do you do” it’s more than a slogan or tagline, it’s a single statement that helps people realize why they need your product or service. It needs two things: it will intrigue qualified buyers and incite them to do business with you.

If you use the following four components, you’ll craft a powerful one-liner:

  • The character
  • The problem
  • The plan
  • The success

A one-liner is simply a clear, repeatable statement that allows potential customers to find themselves in the story a company is telling. Keep editing your one-liner until it works.

  1. Memorize your one-liner and repeat it over and over
  2. Have your team memorize the one-liner
  3. Include it on your website
  4. Repeat your one-liner in every piece of marketing collateral possible
  5. Print your one-liner in your business cards
  6. Put your one-liner in your social media bios
  7. Print it on your packaging
  8. Include it in your email signature
  9. Repeat it over and over so that customers will read it and memorize it themselves and start repeating it to their friends.

Create a lead-generator and collect e-mail addresses

E-mail is the most valuable and effective way you can spread the word about your business. No one wants to sign up for your newsletter “to stay in the loop” though. People only want to be in our e-mail list if we give them something more valuable. This something is the lead generator.

Your lead generator must do two things:

  • Provide enormous value for your customer
  • Establish you as an authority in your field

Five types of lead generators for all types of businesses:

  1. Downloadable guides
  2. Online course or webinar
  3. Software demos or a free trial
  4. Free samples
  5. Live events

Create an automated e-mail drip campaign 

There is great power in simply reminding the customer that we exist. Our customers might not need our product today, and 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 how they can reach us.

An automated e-mail campaign is a prewritten sequence of e-mail messages that trigger once a person is added to your list.

Recommended is a nurturing campaign:

E-mail 1: Nurturing e-mail

E-mail 2: Nurturing e-mail

E-mail 3: Nurturing e-mail

E-mail 4: Sales e-mail with a call to action

  1. Talk about a problem
  2. Explain a plan to solve the problem
  3. Describe how life can look for the reader once the problem is solved
  4. Call the customer to a direct action leading to a sale

Collect and tell stories of transformation

People love businesses that help them transform and one of the best ways we can illustrate how we help our customers transform is through customer testimonials.

Here are the five questions most likely to generate the best response for a customer testimonial:

  1. What was the problem you were having before you discovered our product?
  2. What did the frustration feel like as you tried to solve that problem?
  3. What was different about our product?
  4. Take us to the moment when you realized our product was actually working to solve your problem?
  5. Tell us what life looks like now that your problem is solved or being solved?

The more we feature the transformation journey our customers have experienced, the faster our business will grow.

Create a system that generates referrals

The final step is to invite happy customers to become evangelist for your brand. Now it’s time to implement a system that gets people repeating your message to their friends and family.

  • Identify your existing, ideal customers
  • Give your customers a reason to spread the word
  • Offer a reward