Required Reading: Building a Story Brand that Customers Will Remember

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In everyday conversation, people tend to pay the closest attention when they are at the center of attention. When it comes to business communications and a company’s interactions with its prospects, the basic psychology isn’t much different, argues Donald Miller in his new book, Building a Story Brand. Associate Editor Oren Smilansky spoke to Miller about why marketers would be wise to cast their customers as the protagonists of their brand stories. 

CRM magazine: Why did you decide to write this book, and why now?

Donald Miller: I’ve watched businesses struggle for years to get their messages out. Even if they have a great product, spreading the word about that product can be mind-numbing. As a story expert, I knew I had a process they could use to get attention in the market place, and I knew it would work. 

In the book, you outline the seven universal elements of stories. What are those? 

All stories start with a character who wants something. Then that character faces a challenge or a problem that doesn’t let him get what he wants. A guide steps into the story to help him overcome the problem. The guide gives him a plan and calls him to action, and that action ends, hopefully, in a success. 

Why is it so important that businesses share the right stories as part of their marketing efforts? 

Story is the universal language each of our customers secretly speak, their operating system. When you understand your customers’ stories and place yourself in those stories, you become relevant to them and they become more than customers—they become fans. 

How should companies approach the act of crafting and sharing their stories?

Most businesses think they have to tell their stories, but telling your own story will lead to bankruptcy. Nobody cares about your story; they care about their own. The customer is the hero, and you are the guide. If you play the guide, you become the very person they’ve been looking for. It’s important for businesses to understand this because if they don’t, they will waste enormous amounts of money on marketing, get beat by the competition, and likely go out of business.

What would you say typically drives customers to make purchases from one company instead of another?

Clear communication. People don’t buy the best products and services; they buy the ones they can understand the fastest. If customers know, right away, where you can take them, how you can solve their problem, and what their life will look like after you do, they will buy from you. But it has to be clear. If you confuse a customer, you will lose the sale.

Can you point to a company that has taken your advice and seen success as a result? 

A job-placement company in Canada called Fitzii recently contacted us telling us they saw a 126 percent increase in overall revenue within seven months of clarifying their message using the StoryBrand framework. But we’ve also seen companies double, triple, and even quadruple in revenue. And all for the same reason. Before StoryBrand, people couldn’t figure out why they needed their products; after StoryBrand, their products made sense and seemed necessary to live a better life. That’s the race we are in, to communicate a message that makes people understand, quickly, how we can solve their problem and make their lives better. Nobody cares whether your grandfather started the company, or that you won some kind of award last year, they only care about where you can take their story. 

Are there any quick tips you can share with marketers who are hoping to create a clear, digestible brand message they can share across digital and physical channels?

A short tip would be to identify the main problem you solve in your customer’s life and say it, in bold words, on your website, in your emails, and in the rest of your advertising. Our customers have a little Rolodex in their brain, and they file your business card not under the name of your company, but under the problem you can help them solve. So if you haven’t clearly communicated what problem you solve, they throw your business card in the trash because you aren’t relevant to their life. And, quite honestly, if we are so obsessed with telling our own story that we neglect to understand our customers’ story, we probably don’t deserve to be in business any way.

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