A couple of months ago, in the course of one week, about three people asked, “Have you heard of Story Brand?” I’m not a fast reader so a book has got to be pretty great to keep my attention.

After reading the first sentence, I laughed out loud and knew this was going to be a winner. “Customers don’t generally care about your story; they care about their own.”

When I say that this book has shifted my paradigms about marketing forever, I’m not exaggerating. If you own a business, manage a business, if you’re in the marketing, web design, advertising, or creative field, you must take time to read this book. If you’re not, read it anyway and give it to your boss or send it to the CEO, CMO, or your entire team as a gift.

Entire companies around the United States are shifting because of the simple truths laid out in Building a Story Brand. If you care about your company at all, do what countless other business owners out there are doing and read it.

I’ve been in marketing for decades, and what’s strange is, I knew all of these things but never heard anyone describe it the way Donald Miller has.

Don won my heart in 2004 while I was on a road trip around the US with Australian and South African friends. We bought a van with no AC and hit the road for a month. I will never forget lying down in the back seat of that old navy blue Ford Aerostar with the wind whipping through my hair somewhere in maybe Texas or Arizona, reading the first book I had ever enjoyed: Blue Like Jazz.

He writes in an easy-to-understand format but the words are also dense with meaning. I found myself having to take breaks very often to chew on the teaching.

If you love reading, great! Buy it here. I’ve been told by another marketing professional that the audiobook was not a good decision for her because there was too much information to absorb audibly and she wanted to be able to highlight, underline, and make notes in her book.

Some of you, like me, don’t have a ton of time to read. So I’m sharing the excerpts that jumped out to me in the form of a free PDF for you to download and share, as well as right here in this blog series.

Now, the purpose of these excerpts is to give you an idea of what the book is or give you a refresher course if you’ve already read it. It is not meant to substitute Don’s book or his program. My intention is to show you just enough so you’ll buy his book or sign up for their amazing programs and conferences.

Enjoy!

Oh and P.S., here’s a free 5-minute video series from him that’s super helpful as well!

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Customers don’t generally care about your story; they care about their own. Your customer should be the hero of the story, not your brand. This is the secret every phenomenally successful business understands.

The human brain, no matter what region of the world comes from, is drawn toward clarity and away from confusion. The reality is we aren’t just in a race to get our products to market; we are also in a race to communicate why our customers need those products in their lives. Even if we had the best product in the marketplace, we will lose to an inferior product if the competitor’s offer is communicated more clearly.

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?

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

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

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.

It was as though he was answering 100 questions his customers have never asked.

What if the Bourne Identity was a movie about a spy named Jason Bourne searching for his true identity but it also included scenes of Borne trying to lose weight, marry a girl, pass the Bar exam, and adopt a cat? The audience would lose interest. When storytellers bombard people with too much information, the audience is forced to burn too many calories organizing the data. As a result, they daydream, walk out of the theater, or in case of digital marketing, click to another site and place an order.

People don’t buy the best products; they buy the products they can understand the fastest.

Customer should be able to answer these questions within five seconds of looking at our website or marketing material: 1: What do you offer? 2: How will it make my life better? 3: What do I need to do to buy? We call this passing the grunt test. The critical question is this: Could a caveman look at your website and immediately grunt what you offer? Imagine a guy wearing a bearskin T-shirt, sitting in a cave by a fire, with a laptop across his lap. He’s looking at your website. Would he be able to grant an answer to the three questions posed? If you were an Aspirin company, would he be able to grunt, “You sell headache medicine, me feel better fast, me get it at Walgreens.” If not, you’re likely losing sales.

Customers are attracted to us for the same reason heroes are pulled into stories: they want to solve the problem that has, in some big or small ways, disrupted their peaceful life. Companies tend to sell solutions to external problems, but customers buy solutions to internal problems. By talking about the problems our customers face, we deepen their interest in everything we offer. If we sell lawn care products, they’re coming to us because they’re embarrassed about their lawn or they simply don’t have time to do the work. If we sell financial advice, they’re coming to us because they’re worried about the retirement plan.

At this point we’ve identified what the customer wants, the problems they’re encountering, and positioned ourselves as their guide. And our customers love us for the effort, but they still aren’t going to make a purchase. Why? Because we haven’t laid out a simple plan of action they can take. Making a purchase is a huge step, especially if our products or services are expensive. What customers are looking for, then, is a clear path we’ve laid out that takes away any confusion they might have about how to do business with us.

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

Every human being is trying to avoid a tragic ending. If nothing can be gained or lost, nobody cares. If there’s nothing at stake in a story, there is no story. Likewise, if there’s nothing at stake at whether or not I buy your product, I’m not going to buy the product. Simply put, we must show people the cost of not doing business with us.

Brands that help customers avoid some kind of negativity in life, and let their customers know what that negativity is, engage customers for the same reason good stories captivate an audience: define what’s at stake.

Never assume people understand how your brand can change their lives. Tell them. Offer a vision for how great the customers life could be if they engage your products or services.

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

We need to find something your customer wants. The customers are invited to alter their story in your direction. If they see your brand is trustworthy and reliable, they will likely engage.

Identifying potential desire for your customer opens what is sometimes called a story gap. The idea is that you place a gap between a character and what they want. Moviegoers pay attention when there’s a story gap because they wonder if and how that gap is going to be closed. Hunger is the opening of the story gap and a meal ushers its closing. There is little action in life that can’t be explained by the opening and closing of various story gaps. When we fail to define something our customer wants, we failed to open a story gap. When we don’t open the story gap in our customer’s mind, they have no motivation to engage with us. Defining something your customer wants and featuring it in your marketing materials will open a story gap.

Once a brand defines what the customer wants, they are often guilty of making the second mistake: what they’ve defined isn’t related to the customer’s sense of survival. In their desire to cast a wide net, they define a blob of a desire that is so vague, potential customers can’t figure out why they need it in the first place. When I say survival, I’m talking about the primitive desire we all have to be safe, healthy, happy, and strong.

For business to business companies, offering increased productivity, increased revenue, or decreased waste are powerful associations with the need for a business or an individual to survive and thrive.

Imagine your customer is a hitchhiker. You pull over to give them a ride, and the one burning question on his mind is simply, “Where are you going?” But as he approaches, you roll down the window and start talking about your mission statement, or how your grandfather built this car with his bare hands, or how your road trip playlist is all 1980s alternative. This person doesn’t care. All he wants to do is get to San Francisco.

The goal for our branding should be that every potential customer knows exactly where we want to take them. A luxury resort where they can get some rest, to become the leader everybody loves, or to save money and live better.

If you randomly asked a potential customer where your brand wants to take them, would they be able to answer? Would they be able to repeat back to you exactly what your brand offers? If not, your brand is suffering the cost of confusion.

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 they can use to defeat the villain. And the villain should be dastardly. The villain doesn’t have to be a person, but without question it should have personified characteristics. If we are selling time management software, for instance, we might vilify the idea of distractions. Could we offer a product as a weapon that customers could use to stop distractions in their tracks? Sounds kind of dramatic right? And yet distractions are what is diluting our customers’ potential, wrecking their families, stealing their sanity, and costing them in enormous amounts of time and money. Distractions then, make for great little villains.

Frustration, for example is not a villain. Frustration is how a villain makes us feel. High taxes, rather, are a good example of a villain.

The villain should be relatable. When people hear us talk about the villain, they should immediately recognize it as something they disdain. The villain should be singular. One villain is enough. A story with too many villains falls apart for lack of clarity. The villain should be real. Never go down the path of being a fear monger.

By limiting our marketing messages to only external problems, we neglect principle that is costing us thousands and potentially millions of dollars. That principle is this: companies tend to sell solutions to external problems, but people buy solutions to internal problems. The purpose of an external problem in the story is to manifest an internal problem.

In almost every story the hero struggles with the same question: do I have what it takes? This question can make them feel frustrated, incompetent, and confused. What stories teach us is that peoples’ internal desire to resolve the frustration is a greater motivator than their desire to solve an external problem. By assuming our customer only wants to resolve external problems, we fail to engage the deeper story they are actually living. After they were near collapse, Apple didn’t find their footing until Steve Jobs understood that people felt intimidated (internal problem) by computers and wanted a simpler interface with technology.

Go to Part 2

*Notes in this document are quotes that have been compiled from Donald Miller’s book and may have inaccuracies as compared to the original text. They in no way reflect the thoughts or opinions of GrowFly, LLC, but solely from Donald Miller and his book, Building a Story Brand. This document’s only intent is to share excerpts from Donald Miller’s book to those who want a quick, overall understanding of the book, or need a refresher for themselves.

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