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🗣 Building a StoryBrand – Donald Miller

Donald Miller Storybrand

This book describes the seven universal story points that resonate with people of all cultures and backgrounds.

Goodreads Link

This book gave me a new way to think about how I explain products to customers.

The most eye opening explanation is that your customer is the hero of the story – your solution is just hoping to guide them to success.

🚀 3-Sentence Summary

When a brand talks to a customer, the customer is the hero, not the brand.

Story in a Nutshell: A character who wants something encounters a problem before they can get it. At the peak of their despair, a guide steps into their lives, gives them a plan, and calls them to action. That action helps them avoid failure and ends in a success.

👍🏼 Who should read / watch / listen to it

Anyone who wants to improve their communication and storytelling.

✍️ How it changed me

This gave me a much better concept for stories. It is a variation on the standard storywheel, which I am familiar with. I like the clear examples for how this can be applied to business, websites and sales messaging.

💬 Top 3 Quotes

1) Branding must be simple

“Why do so many brands create noise rather than music? It’s because they don’t realize they are creating noise. They actually think people are interested in the random information they’re doling out. This is why 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.”

2) Include a hook

“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. As soon as the conflict in a story is resolved, audiences stop paying attention. As the novelist James Scott Bell says, ‘Readers want to fret.’ It’s true in story and it’s true in branding.”

3) Empathy plus Authority

“Oprah Winfrey, an undeniably successful guide to millions, once explained the three things every human being wants most are to be seen, heard, and understood. This is the essence of empathy.”

📔 Summary + Notes

Steve Jobs learned his lessons from Pixar and got much better at storytelling for Apple. Before Pixar, Lisa was released with a nine-page ad full of technical features. After Pixar came the “Think Different” campaign. The clear message was more customer centric and compelling.

Website advice

And they 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 it?

Internal Problems

Comapnies sell external problems but what people actually buy are solutions to internal problems. The external problems cause frustrations which effect our day-to-day lives. That’s why someone starts looking for a solution.

e.g. Starbucks doesnt just offer you a cup of coffee. Thye also offer a sophisticated location to drink that cup of coffee and fit in with like-minded people. Oh you drink a frappucino too?

Story Gap

“Everybody wants to be taken somewhere. If we don’t tell people where we’re taking them, they’ll engage another brand. In the seventh part of the StoryBrand Framework, I’ll elaborate on what is perhaps the most important element of your messaging strategy: offering a vision for how great a customer’s life could be if they engage your products or services.”

Open up the space between the desire your customer has and getting that thing.

Things that motivate people:

  • Make more money
  • Attract a partner
  • Conserving time
  • Desire for meaning

Identify the villain

Be sure to identify who is preventing your customer (main character) from getting what they want.

Aim for the root cause. E.g. Frustration is not a villain, but high taxes could be.

Too many villains can distract your story, even if the world is a complex place made up of systems. Simplify to one villain.

Empathy plus Authority

The secret combination for successful brand is empathy backed with authority. A brands needs to communicate that it sees the customer as they are. And that it has the

Best answer for authority – testimonials from other people.

And statistics, such as how many customers you have made happy.

Plus awards, if you’ve got them.

Building Trust

Amy Cuddy (HBS professor) asked how people can build trust in business relationships. The first step is to first demonstrate that you are trustworthy, or communicate the feeling of safety. And after that is established, you want to communicate that you can be respected.

What to share

Share process plans – either the steps needed to purchase your product, or the steps to use your product, or some combination of the two.

Make them simple enough to be useful. Good rule is to include at least three and no more than six. Otherwise you should break it down into sub-plans.


What opportunity will the customer lose if they don’t buy your product?

This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to fear monger, but be clear about what’s at stake.

Include on a Website

These things will help keep people around and get engagement.

  1. Above the fold should clearly state the offer. Don’t make a customer scroll to figure out what you do.
  2. Make the call to action very clear and explicit. What do I do next?
  3. Show images of success – these back up the words you have included.
  4. Keep it concise – try to write your message in as few words as possible. Make sure it doesn’t require too much mental effort to understand your offer.

Lead Generator

Give out something awesome and free to incentivize people to give away their email addres.

Ex – 5-Minute Marketing Makeover (

More ideas: online course or webinar, pdf (keep it to 3 pages)

The pop-up (10 seconds after a reader starts browsing) – it’s annoying, but it’s very effective!

Email workflow

  • Write 3 nurturing emails
  • Write one sales email wtih a clear call to action

Repeat every month (maybe too annoying?)

The steps for the highest customer engagement are as follows:

  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. Also include a PS – oftentimes this is the only thing somebody opening an email actually reads

** You might also like my summary of The Elephant in the Brain: The Hidden Motives in Everyday Life **

❇️ More Resources

🎙 Podcast Interviews

173: Donald Miller Teaches You How to Tell Your Story – Rachel Hollis Podcast (Dec, 2020)

↪ Bibliography

Duarte – Great Presentations: Understand the Audience’s Power

Present as if you are Yoda and your audience is Luke Skywalker

Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges by Amy Cuddy (2015)
Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky (March 1979), PDF Link