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.
Knowing their customers don’t want to haggle over prices or risk buying a lemon, Carmax’s business strategies aim at you not having to feel lied to, cheated, or worked over in your car buying experiences. The extra problem Carmax resolves is the need for car, of course, but they hardly advertise about cars at all. They focus on their customers internal problems and in doing so, entered one of the least trusted industries in America and created a $15 billion franchise.
Customers felt good about themselves when they walked into a Starbucks. Starbucks was delivering more value than just coffee, they were delivering a sense of sophistication and enthusiasm about life. Starbucks changed American culture from hanging out and diners and bars to hanging out in a local, Italian style coffee shop.
Philosophical problems in the story is about something even larger than the story itself. It’s about the question, “Why.” Why does the story matter in the overall epic of humanity? A philosophical problem can best be talked about using terms like ought and shouldn’t. For example, bad people shouldn’t be allowed to win or people ought to be treated fairly.
In the movie the King’s Speech, the external problem is King George’s stutter. This external problem manifests the internal frustration and self-doubt the king struggles with. He simply doesn’t believe he has what it takes to lead the country. Philosophically though, the stakes are much greater. Because the king must unify his people against the Nazis, the story takes on the philosophical problem of good versus evil.
Is there a deeper story your brand contributes to? Can your products be positioned as tools your customers can use to fight back against something that ought not to be? If so, let’s include some philosophical stakes in our messaging.
Stories are best when they are simple and clear. We are going to have to make choices.
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 fatal mistake some brands make, especially young brands that believe they need to prove themselves, is they position themselves as the hero in the story instead of the guide. As I’ve already mentioned, a brand that positions itself is a hero is destined to lose.
The crucial mistake Jay Z failed to answer with his music company, Tidal, was the one question lingering in the subconscious of every hero customer: how are you helping me win the day? Tidal existed to help artists when the day, not the customers. And so it failed. Always position your customer as the hero and your brand as the guide. Always. If you don’t, you will die.
The day we stop losing sleep over the success of our business and start losing sleep over the success of our customers is the day our business will start growing again.
If we are tempted to position our brand as the hero, because heroes are strong and capable and the center of attention, we should take a step back. In stories, the hero is never the strongest character. Heroes are often ill-equipped and filled with self-doubt. They don’t know if they have what it takes. They’re often reluctant, being thrown into the story rather than willingly engaging the plot. The guide, however, has already been there and done that. They have conquered the heroes’ challenge in their own backstory. A guide, not the hero, is the one with the most authority. Still, the story is rarely about the guide. The guide simply plays a role. The story must always be focused on the hero, and if a storyteller or business leader forgets this, the audience will get confused about who the story is really about and they will lose interest. People are looking for a guide to help them, not another hero.
Your marketing is facing the wrong direction.
When we empathize with our customers’ dilemma, we will create a bond of trust. People trust those who understand them, and they trust brands to understand them too.
Empathetic statements start with words like, “we understand how it feels to…“ or “nobody should have to experience…“ or “like you, we are frustrated by…“
Expressing empathy isn’t difficult. Once we’ve identified our customers’ internal problems, we simply need to let them know we understand and would like to help them find a resolution. Scan your marketing material and make sure you’ve told your customers that you care. Customers won’t know you care until you tell them.
Customers look for brands they have something in common with. Remember, human brains like to conserve calories, and so when a customer realizes they have a lot in common with the brand, they fill in all the unknown nuances of trust. Essentially the customer matches their thinking, meaning they’re thinking in chunks rather than details.
When a customer is deciding whether to buy something, we should picture of him standing on the edge of a rushing creek. It’s true they want what’s on the other side, but as they stand there, they hear a waterfall downstream. What happens if they fall into the creek? Our customers subconsciously ponder this question as they have with our little arrow over the Buy Now button. What if it doesn’t work? What if I’m a fool for buying this? In order to ease our customers concerns, we need to place large stones in that creek. When we identify the stones our customers can step on to get across the creek, we remove much of the risk and increase their comfort level about doing business with us. It’s as though we are saying, “First, step here. See it’s easy. Then step here, then here, and then you’ll be on the other side, and your problem resolved.”
When we spell out how easy this whole thing is and let them know they can get started in three easy steps, they are more likely to place an order. We must tell them to, 1: Measure your space. 2: Order the items that fit. 3: Install it in minutes using basic tools. Placing stones in the creek greatly increase the chance they will cross the creek. For instance, if you’re selling an expensive product, you might break down the steps like this: 1: Schedule an appointment. 2: Allow us to create customized plan. 3: Let’s execute a plan together.
A post-purchase process plan is best when our customers might have problems imagining how they would use her product after they buy it. For example, 1: Download the software. 2: Integrate your database into your system. 3: Revolutionize the customer interaction. Post-purchase process plan does the same thing pre-purchase process plan does, in the sense that it alleviates confusion. Customer is looking at the wide span between themselves in the integration of a complicated product, there are less likely to make a purchase. But when they reach your plan, they think to themselves, oh, I can do that. That’s not hard, and click by now.
A process plan can also combine the pre-and post purchase steps. For instance, 1: Test drive a car. 2: Purchased the car. 3: Enjoy free maintenance for life.
What steps do I need to take to do business with you? Spell out the steps, and it will be as though you’ve paved a sidewalk through a field. More people will cross the field.
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 Easy Installation Plan or The World’s Best Night Sleep Plan. Your agreement plan might be called the Customer Satisfaction Agreement or even Our Quality Guarantee. Titling your plan will frame it on the customers mind and increase the perceived value of all that your brand offers.
At this point in our customer story, they are excited. We have to find a desire, identify their challenges, empathize with their feelings, establish your competency in helping them, and give them a plan. But they need to do one more thing. They need us to call them to action. The reason characters have to be challenged to take action is because everybody sitting in the dark theater knows human beings do not make major life decisions unless something challenges them to do so.
If I wrote a story about a guy who wanted to climb Everest and then one day looked at himself in the mirror and decided to do it, I’d lose the audience. That’s not how people work. Bodies at rest tends to stay at rest, and so do customers. Heroes need to be challenged by outside forces.
The moral of the story is people don’t have ESP. They can’t read our minds and know what we want, even if it seems obvious. We have to clearly invite customers to take a journey with us or they won’t.
When we don’t ask clearly for the sale, the customer senses weakness. Customers aren’t looking for brands that are filled with doubt and want affirmation. They’re looking for brands that have solutions to their problems.
When you help your customer solve a problem, even for free, you position yourself as the guide. The next time they encounter a problem in that area of their lives, they will look to you for help. I’ve never worried about giving away too much free information. In fact, the more generous the brand is, the more reciprocity they create. All relationships are give-and-take, and the more you give to your customers, the more likely they would be willing to give something back in the future. Give freely.
Brands that don’t warn their customers about what could happen if they don’t buy their products fail to answer this “So what?” question every customer is secretly asking.
The last thing I want to be is a fear monger, because it’s true that fear mongers don’t do well in the marketplace. But fear-mongering is not the problem 99.9% of business leader struggle with. Most of them struggle with the opposite. We don’t bring up the negative stakes enough and so the story were telling falls flat. Remember, if there are no stakes, there is no story.
Loss aversion is a greater motivator of buying decisions than potential gains. People are 2 to 3 times more motivated to make a change to avoid a lost and they are to achieve a gain.
We do not need to use a great deal of fear in the story we are telling our customers. Just a pinch of salt in the recipe will do.
When receivers are either very fearful or very unafraid, little attitude or behavior change results. High levels of fear are so strong that individuals block them out. Low levels are too weak to produce the desired effect. Messages containing moderate amounts of fear-rousing content are most effective in producing attitudinal and or behavior change.
*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.