What is StoryBrand Framework? The Key to Small Businesses Success!

Last Updated: November 24, 2023 | by Paul Harstrom

If you are an entrepreneur, you might have heard the term “StoryBrand Framework.” What is it exactly, and how does it work? And can it help increase the profitability of your business?

This article explains all key aspects of the StoryBrand Framework and provides a comprehensive guide for businesses.

What is the StoryBrand Framework? 

StoryBrand Framework is an effective marketing strategy that increases sales and creates an emotional attachment between the customer and the brand.

When a business employs powerful storytelling techniques (learned in the Donald Miller StoryBrand Framework book) that show customers they are heroes of the story in the buyer journey, customer loyalty naturally follows.

Cover of the StoryBrand Book by Donald Miller

From building a StoryBrand website and creating a better description for the business to making an effective marketing campaign, StoryBrand Framework becomes relevant. 

Entrepreneur Summary Point: For practical website examples of how the StoryBrand Framework can produce fast results for your small business, read a great article written by my friend Jake Lang.

An overarching theme of the StoryBrand Framework is that customers are not simply buyers. Customers are heroes in the marketing story, and your company brand’s products/services are not a form of consumerism but the solution to their needs.

Importantly, StoryBrand Framework articulates a to-the-point, clear, and direct message to customers that is proven to be more beneficial than traditional marketing methods.

Small business owners need a results-driven marketing strategy in today’s competitive environment. Gone are the days when a few corporations or companies would monopolize the market, and no new businesses could enter the market and compete.

The world has become a single market where thousands of established and new companies compete with each other without city, state, or country boundary lines. 

A European company can sell products/services in the United States, while Canadian products can find their place in India. In such a business environment, it is inevitable for an entrepreneur to employ a fine-tuned marketing strategy.  

Here at LEAD Diligently, we believe the StoryBrand Framework is the best solution for small businesses that want quick but sustaining results focused on thier customers buying journey.

Where did the StoryBrand Framework originate? 

The term “StoryBrand Framework” is derived from Donald Miller’s book Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen.” The book explains how to create a StoryBrand messaging framework so customers will listen using the power of story.

Donald Miller argues that most businesses struggle to make a compelling and intriguing message because they start by talking about themselves (their features and benefits).

According to the author, thousands of other brands are competing and offering similar products at similar rates. Therefore, to differentiate, entrepreneurs need to make the message compelling and about the buyer to stand out from the competition.

Donald Miller, the author of the StoryBrand Framework
Donald Miller

Donald Miller wants entrepreneurs to create a powerful story where customers are the heroes, similar to Achilles in Homer’s Iliad, Odysseus in Odyssey, and Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars. The author says, “The customer is the hero, not your brand.”

Entrepreneur Summary Point: All marketing starts with a focus on the customer rather than the product or services your company is selling. 

StoryBranding is a way to engage customers emotionally and make them care about what you have to say. When you tell your story in a relevant way to your customers, they will be more likely to listen to your message and take action.

Donald Miller defines a story as “a series of connected events with a beginning, a middle, and an end.” He argues that all good stories have the following elements:

  • A hero
  • A challenge
  • A journey
  • A destination
  • There is a call to action plan, and the customer buys the product.

Donald Miller believes that businesses should tell relevant stories to their customers. For example, a company that sells cars should tell stories about people who have used their vehicles to achieve or experience something extraordinary.

Instead of praising your product, describe how the car will add value to the buyer’s personal and business life. Show them examples of satisfied customers rather than comparing them with other vehicles in the market. 

Donald Miller argues that businesses should avoid discussing their products or services from the perspective of how great they are. Instead, they should focus on the solutions that their products or services solve for the customer.

Miller provides several tips for telling compelling stories. He recommends that businesses use the following writing formula:

  • State the problem
  • Describe the solution
  • Explain the result
StoryBrand Framework
StoryBrand Framework

Elements of StoryBrand Framework:

The brand story encompasses everything from the company’s mission to its visual representation on logos, websites, and social media interactions. To effectively utilize storytelling in branding, these five key elements are crucial:

  • Genuine Brand Story: Be authentic about your brand’s purpose and uniqueness, openly sharing challenges.
  • Insights into Target Audience: Understand your audience’s demographics, interests, and challenges by engaging directly and analyzing data.
  • Solving Real-Life Challenges: Clearly communicate how your products or services address real problems faced by your audience.
  • Crafting Your Brand Persona: Create a character for your brand that resonates with your target audience, adapting tone and language accordingly.
  • Engaging with Your Community: Actively use social media to respond to feedback, showcase customer interactions, and build meaningful connections.

You can also read the full article about the elements of the StoryBrand Framework to learn more.

How Does StoryBrand Framework Work?

The StoryBrand Framework is a seven-part formula for creating clear, compelling messaging that resonates with customers. In the book, Donald Miller explains that people are naturally drawn to stories and that businesses can use this to their advantage by telling stories that resonate with their target audience. He also stresses the importance of keeping messaging simple and concise so customers can easily understand a business’s value.

Entrepreneur Summary Tip:  Clarity is vital in results-driven marketing.

The following are the Principles of the StoryBrand Framework:

1. A Character: The customer is the hero, not your product/brand

For a story to captivate the reader, a character must face a challenge, and then that character must try to solve it. In an old English poem, Beowulf, the hero fights against a monster, Grendel. Similarly, every epic has a hero who has to do exceptional work.

In StoryBrand Framework, a business should also have a story where the buyer is the hero, and he is looking for a product or service that fulfills their need.

The single most crucial StoryBrand principle is that the customer is the hero of the story rather than the product or brand. According to Donald Miller, the most prominent mistake entrepreneurs make is to build a brand-centric marketing campaign rather than making it customer-centric. It means you cannot explain your product without considering the customer’s needs.  

Most business websites have “long text about themselves” rather than customers. Their marketing is flawed because they have made themselves a hero, focusing attention on their greatness instead of the customer’s needs. Due to this, most marketing campaigns and strategies fail. 

Entrepreneur Summary Point:  Don’t fall into the trap of prioritizing your company (like the rest of the competition); focus on the customer you are serving, and you will easily outperform the competition.

Another crucial thing is to understand what the hero wants. According to Miller, the hero always has a question in mind, “Can this brand help me get what I want?” It means they have a need, and you need to satisfy the customers. The focus should be on understanding the customer’s desire and offering a product that meets their need. 

The best way to show your product is to display images and provide a brief description. Don’t fall into the trap of writing a large block of text describing each of your products. The customers generally have no time or interest in reading large blocks of text.  

StoryBrand Framework examples: hotel pool setting

For instance, don’t write long explanations if you have a hotel website. Instead, show them pictures of people in the swimming pool, eating at a restaurant, or getting a massage in the spa with comfortable robes.

Visuals can play a vital role in building a relationship between the brand and the hero/customer. Instead of explaining things, show a picture of “a looping clip of a back-porch rocking chair against the backdrop of trees blowing in the wind along a golf course.”

In StoryBrand Framework, businesses take into consideration the mindset of the hero/customer, and a top priority is given to focusing on the clarity of the message.

Notably, the hero does not want to feel bored as they read your marketing literature. Sometimes adding humor to your marketing works to keep customers engaged in your story.

StoryBrand Framework Example: Restaurant

Donald Miller gives an example of a restaurant whose income increased manifold after they used the StoryBrand Framework. The author superseded the old long text with the line “A yard that looks better than your neighbor’s.” This simple change in tagline changed the fortune of the business, which shows the importance of building a customer-centric marketing strategy. 

Another important aspect is helping the hero understand what they want. Sometimes, the customers are not entirely sure about their ambitions and needs. They tend to rely on expert advice and have vague ideas.

For instance, if a person is searching for a five-star hotel in a city, you need to show the luxuries of a five-star hotel and create a need. In other words, it strengthens the belief in the customers’ minds that they need a five-star hotel. 

Sometimes businesses have a vague message which creates confusion. It means the customer should be able to know about the benefits of taking your service or product. 

Donald Miller shows an example of a leadership corporation whose tagline was “Inhale knowledge, exhale success.” Although the tagline looks catchy, it is vague. When the author updated the tagline “Helping you become everyone’s favorite leader,” the sale of the business increased exponentially.

Why? It was because the tagline removed ambiguity and gave a simple yet intriguing message. It also framed the customer’s innermost desire to be everyone’s favorite leader.

The StoryBrand Framework focuses on the importance of creating a clear brand promise. A brand promise is a statement that defines what a customer can expect from a company and should be simple, memorable, and easily understood.

Based on this, the StoryBrand Framework suggests clearly stating the benefit of the given product or service. It means you should provide a clear message to the hero rather than writing generic lines.

LEAD Diligently utilizes the StoryBrand Framework when communicating with our clients, and helping our clients communicate more effectively with their customers. We have seen tremendous results with this communication structure, especially when facilitating Culture Shifting, Leadership Development and Accountability, and Key Performance Impact.

If you are a financial advisor, tell them how you will save customers’ money and make them more as a return on their investment. If you have a writing agency, describe how your service will add value to a customer’s life, professional career, or business. If you run a hotel, show the luxurious lifestyle of the people.

If the message is vague, people will not read with attention. Therefore, give a brief, engaging, and clear message to the customer, the hero of the story.

Entrepreneur Summary Tip: “Never assume people understand how your brand can change their lives. Tell them.”

Donald Miller also stresses the importance of communicating the brand promise to customers. A brand promise should be woven into all aspects of a company’s marketing, from the website and advertisements to customer interactions and packaging.

The brand promise should also be a guiding principle for all employees, as it sets the tone for the company culture and helps to maintain consistency in the customer experience.

Donald Miller Storybrand Framework

2. Has a Problem: Customers don’t Buy Products or services; but Solutions to their Problems

Having entered the customer’s story, the second step is to get further involved. For this, you talk to the hero/customer and discuss their problem. It will increase the interest of the hero and will develop a deep connection between the customer and the brand.

According to Donald Miller, identifying the problem of the hero/customer is the hook, the most crucial part of the story. If the story’s hook is unappealing, no one will take an interest in the story. 

Entrepreneur Summary Tip: “Companies tend to sell solutions to external problems, but customers buy solutions to internal problems.”

He emphasizes that customers don’t buy products or services; they buy solutions to their problems. Therefore, a brand promise needs to focus on the company’s solutions. For instance, if you run a writing agency, you cannot keep talking about your achievements but figure out the customer’s issue and explain how your writing agency will help them.

While addressing the customer’s problem, the role of a villain is vital. People love Batman because of the villain of the story, the Joker. Superman would look like an ordinary person if there were no Kryptonite. In other words, all great stories need a bad guy. 

But is it relevant in business? Yes! The StoryBrand Framework needs a villain.  

A villain can or cannot be a human. It doesn’t have to be a human, but things that create trouble or hurt business can also be a villain. For instance, if you have a human resource management company, you can provide a solution to perennial challenges such as distractions or procrastination. 

Illustration depicting workplace distraction within the context of the StoryBrand Framework, showing a busy office environment with employees engaged in various activities, symbolizing the challenge of workplace distractions

It might sound dramatic, but the reality is a distraction is a potential villain of most businesses. A recent study of 2,775 offices and 483 firms in the United States shows that the average loss of revenue due to distractions is more than $6 billion a year. 93% of all annual productivity loss is due to distractions. 

Another study shows that less than 60% of the time at the workplace is productive. Nearly 27% of people beat deadlines because of distractions. An employee spends more than an hour on the phone at the workplace, which is also a distraction. Therefore, you can portray distractions as a villain and tell the hero a workable solution to fight the villain. 

A crucial point is the identification of external as well as internal problems.  External problems are surface problems. For instance, a plumber solves the problem of leakage, a writing agency provides quality content, a paint company nicely paints houses, or a pest-control company solves the problem of termites in wooden furniture.

Although it is essential to identify and solve the external problem, a business should also understand the internal problem and offer a solution. 

For instance, in 1996, Apple Inc. was facing a severe crisis. Its sales dropped significantly, and many experts believed the problem was affordability. Steve Jobs dug deep into the situation and understood the problem was not affordability but people’s intimidation of novel technology.

Apple Think Different StoryBrand
Apple Computer Think Different Marketing Campaign

To overcome the issue, he ran one of the finest marketing campaigns, which introduced the new technology to a large segment of society and encouraged them to use it. 

Similarly, if you have a paint company, the internal problem can be the fear of the house looking ugly. Therefore, it is pertinent to employ StoryBrand Framework, identify internal and external issues, and provide solutions.

3. And Meets the Guide: A Customer/Hero is Looking for a Comprehensive Guide and not a Hero

A fatal mistake that most businesses make is to consider themselves heroes rather than customers. According to the StoryBrand Framework, you are a guide for the customer/hero.

“Customers aren’t looking for another hero; they’re looking for a guide.”

The guide should play its role in the story rather than outshining the hero.

Practically, it is the stage where you introduce your product to the hero/customer. It is time to explain things to customers when needed. It is because your customer is fully involved in the story and they will listen to you. According to Donald Miller, a business needs to show two things in explanation: empathy and authority.

If a person realizes that the business is only interested in increasing sales, they will never use your product or service. Many companies lack empathy as they take customers as an opportunity for money-making. Therefore, using words like “We understand how it feels to…..” or “Nobody should have to experience….” and other such statements is advisable. 

After showing empathy, you need to show your authority in the field. It means you should assure the hero that you are the best mind in the given area. Aristotle also taught a similar thing when he talked about ethos, pathos, and logos. 

According to him, it is crucial to establish yourself as an authority before discussing the logical points, which Aristotle termed ethos. You can also show the satisfied customers who consolidate your authority. If you have received any awards, you may also show them. Another way is to include catchy statistics and strengthen your position in the market.

For instance, if you are a writing agency that trains freelance writers, you may say, “We have trained 10,000 freelancers who earn $2,000 to $5,000 per month on average. If you are a business marketing company, you can say, “We have helped over 1,000 companies multiply income”.

In short, a business needs to show empathy and authority when becoming a guide to the hero/customer. 

4. Who Gives Them a Plan: Workable and Affordable Solution

Before moving forward, it is pertinent to recap the previous three steps. You have a story where the customer is a hero. You identify and describe the problem. Then you offer your service and establish its authority. Next, you must find the common denominator among their solutions and give a workable and affordable plan

Many businesses make a mistake by ignoring this step and asking people to click the “Buy Now” button, which is counterproductive. The customers have specific fears and questions, such as “Will it work for me?” or “Is it the right product?” or “Is it too early to commit to buying this product or service?” and others. Therefore, they bail out and don’t buy the product or service. 

Entrepreneur Summary Tip:  “Customers trust a guide with a plan.”

Instead of hurrying to get a sale, be patient. Try to remove the doubts in the minds of the customers, and it happens when they are given a plan. A good plan not only tightens the customer’s focus but also establishes a strong relationship between the customer and the brand.

For instance, if you are a human resource management company, you might develop an application or program that helps avoid distractions and increases productivity and profitability. 

Besides, you don’t sell an item that gives more profit but the one that fulfills the need of the customers. It means the business needs to show integrity which builds a long-term relationship. If required, give a customized plan, which always gives customers confidence in your brand. 

5. And Calls them to Action: Challenge Customers to Buy Products or Service

The fifth principle of the Donald Miller StoryBrand Framework is to challenge the customer and call them to action. The ultimate objective of the StoryBrand Framework or any other marketing strategy is to increase sales. Therefore, you need to give a clear call to action.

According to Miller, “If you confuse them, you lose them.” It means the hero needs an impetus. Even in real stories, heroes need some person or event to take action.

Thousands of businesses offer a nearly similar product at similar rates. Therefore, if someone comes so close to buying a product, but there is no call to action, they are less likely to return. Always leave an option like “Buy Now” or “Call Now,” otherwise you will lose the customer.

“Customers do not take action unless they are challenged to take action.”

Donald Miller gives a fascinating example of when to give a call to action. If you meet a person for the first time, you don’t say, “Will you marry me” even if you like the person. And even if you say, most likely, the answer will be no. It is because the person doesn’t know you, and there is a lack of confidence in each other.

NOW StoryBrand Framework

Only if you spend some time with each other can you develop a bond, come closer, and then be in a position to decide on marriage. But what if you spend months, if not years, with someone without proposing to them? Most likely, it will weaken confidence in each other, and the relationship will fail. 

6. That Helps them Avoid Failure

The sixth stage of the StoryBrand Framework is to help customers avoid failure. A customer has an intense fear of failure, and you need to remove it.  There is always something at stake for the hero. For instance, a blogger trying to hire a writing agency wants to save his blog and increase its income. 

“Every human being is trying to avoid a tragic ending.”

Donald Miller

7. And Ends in a Success

The seventh is to ensure that the product or service is the solution to the customer’s problems. An effective way is to show them success stories. Booking, a travel site, is different from its competitors, such as Priceline, Travelocity, Hotwire, and others, because it keeps showing positive reviews.

It helps the customers conclude rather than making them confused. It also keeps saying, “You’re going to like your trip…” and other things, making visitors buy its service. 

Donald Miller StoryBrand Framework

StoryBrand Framework Example:

Imagine a leader facing tough challenges at work, unsure how to deal with them. This leader is like the main character in a story. Now, think of a leadership advisory service as a helpful guide. This service has the knowledge and tools to assist leaders in overcoming their challenges and becoming more effective leaders.

The advisory service creates a plan that includes personalized coaching, team-building activities, and strategic planning. It’s like a roadmap for the leader to improve their skills and lead their team successfully. To get started, the leader is encouraged to have an assessment or consultation with the advisory service.

As discussed earlier in using the StoryBrand Marketing Framework, the advisory service makes the leader the main character, positions itself as the guide, and offers a clear plan for success. This approach helps leaders understand how the service can support them in a way that is engaging and memorable.

Why Is The StoryBrand Framework Beneficial For Small Businesses:

The StoryBrand Framework is an invaluable communication tool for businesses, offering a structured approach to marketing messages that resonates universally.

Its effectiveness spans diverse business scales and industries because it taps into a fundamental aspect of human psychology—our preference for clarity over confusion.

In a world where attention spans are short and competition is fierce, the StoryBrand Framework stands out as a means to make a business’s message clear and compelling.

Donald Miller, the architect of the StoryBrand Framework, underscores the critical race not only to bring a product to market but also to effectively communicate why customers need those products in their lives.

The simplicity and predictability embedded in the StoryBrand 7 Part Framework (SB7) address a common pitfall in marketing—overly complicated messaging.

The human brain appreciates simplicity and order. The SB7 Framework acts as a sense-making mechanism, organizing information in a way that minimizes cognitive load for the audience.

On the contrary, when businesses utilize the StoryBrand Framework to clarify their message with the right phrases, they create an environment where customers can easily grasp the benefits offered.

Final Thoughts on using the StoryBrand Framework:

The StoryBrand Framework provides a step-by-step process for creating a brand promise. First, a company must identify the problems that its customers face and then determine how its products or services can solve those problems. After giving a plan, challenge the customer and call them to action.

By focusing on the solutions to customer problems, a company can create a compelling brand promise that sets them apart from its competitors and positions them as the go-to solution for its customers’ needs. 

How LEAD Diligently Can Help You

Lead Diligently offers expert-led leadership development programs to help you build business executive skills & advance profitable enterprises.

We are on a mission to help our clients gain the clarity they need to wholly pursue their God-given purpose and grow profitable enterprises.

FAQ’s:

Where did the StoryBrand Framework Originate?

The term “StoryBrand Framework” is derived from Donald Miller’s book Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen.”

The book explains how to create a StoryBrand messaging framework so customers will listen using the power of story.

How does the StoryBrand Framework work in marketing?

The framework positions the customer as the hero, and the brand as the guide, and follows a structured narrative to simplify and enhance the communication of a brand’s message.

Can the StoryBrand Framework be applied to any business size?

Yes, the StoryBrand Framework is versatile and effective for businesses of all sizes, from small local enterprises to large corporations, as it focuses on fundamental human communication principles.

How does the StoryBrand Framework improve customer engagement?

By making the customer the hero and providing a clear plan of action, the framework creates a compelling narrative that resonates with customers, leading to increased engagement.

What is the StoryBrand 7 Part Framework (SB7)?

Donald Miller The Man Behind StoryBrand

The SB7 is a sense-making mechanism within the StoryBrand Framework, offering a structured approach with seven key components to simplify and optimize marketing messages. These include:
 
i. Character (Hero)
ii. Problem
iii. Guide
iv. Plan
v. Call to Action
vi. Success and Failure
vii. Resolution

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