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Business Book Club: Building a Story Brand by Donald Miller

In Building a Story Brand, Donald Miller guides you through his proprietary framework to help you create a clear and identifiable message for your customers. He shows you how to keep it simple, using the seven universal story elements to create effective messaging for your business. Because the average person is bombarded with thousands of sales messages each day, it's becoming more challenging for businesses to be heard. If you do not want to be part of the white noise, Donald recommends his formula to attract the right customer to your business. Ready to recap?

Get your own copy of Building a Story Brand here.

E-reader with Building a Story Brand by Donald Miller on lap reading


Your customer should be the hero of the story, not your brand. This is the secret every phenomenally successful business understands.

CHAPTER 1: The Key to Being Seen, Heard, and Understood
  • Pretty websites don’t sell things- words sell things. And if we haven’t clarified our message, our customers won’t listen.

  • The reason most marketing collateral doesn’t work… it's too complicated .

  • Human beings are constantly scanning their environment (even advertising) for information that is going to help them meet their primitive need to survive.

  • Two critical mistakes brands make when they talk about their products and services:

    1. If we position our products and services as anything but an aid in helping people survive, thrive, be accepted, find love, achieve an aspirational identity, or bond with a tribe that will defend them physically and socially, you won't sell anything to anybody.

    2. A story identifies a necessary ambition, defines challenges we are battling to keep us from achieving that ambition, and provides a plan to help us conquer those challenges.

  • This is how we create a map customers can follow to engage our products and services.

CHAPTER 2: The Secret Weapon That Will Grow Your Business
  • Simplify your message into sound bites

  • Figure out your customers’ story and place your business right in the middle of it.

  • A good story takes a series of random events and distills them into the essence of what really matters.

  • 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.

  • For example: Apple (1) identified what their customers wanted (to be seen and heard), (2) defined their customers’ challenge (that people didn’t recognize their hidden genius), and (3) offered their customers a tool they could use to express themselves (computers and smartphones).

  • Remember: people don’t always buy the best products; they buy the products they can understand the fastest.

  • The framework: a CHARACTER wants something, but s/he encounters a PROBLEM before s/he can get it. At the peak of despair, a GUIDE steps into her/his life, gives a PLAN, and CALLS THEM TO ACTION. That action helps avoid FAILURE and ends in a SUCCESS.

  • How does our company make a clear story? Answer these 3 critical questions:

1.​ What does the hero want?

2.​ Who or what is opposing the hero getting what she wants?

3.​ What will the hero’s life look like if she does (or does not) get what she wants?

Anything that doesn’t serve the story has to go. Just because a tagline sounds great or a picture on a website grabs the eye, that doesn’t mean it helps us enter into our customers’ story.

  • Does your marketing material pass the test? Three questions a customer must be able to answer 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?

  • Using the same framework storytellers use, map out the story of your customer, then create clear and refined statements in the seven relevant categories of their lives to position your business as their guide.

CHAPTER 3: The Simple SB7 Framework

This is an overview of the framework:

A CHARACTER: The customer is the Hero, not your brand.

  • Identify who your customer is and what they want as it relates to your brand.

  • Unless we identify something our customer wants, they will never feel invited into the story we are telling.


  • Customers want to solve a problem that has, in big or small ways, disrupted their peaceful life.

  • By talking about the problems our customers face, we deepen their interest in everything we offer.

  • Heroes encounter external, internal, and philosophical problems but customers are much more motivated to resolve their inner frustrations.


That's your business!


  • Customers are looking for a clear path takes away any confusion they might have about how to do business with us.

  • There are two kinds of plans: the agreement plan and the process plan. This will earn trust and offer our customers a clear path to stability, greatly increasing the chance they will make a purchase.


  • Customer must be challenged to take the next step and the guide needs to communicate a clear and direct step our customer can take to overcome their challenge and return to a peaceful life. Without clear calls to action, people will not engage your brand.


  • What’s at stake? If nothing can be gained or lost, nobody cares. Will the hero disarm the bomb, or will people be killed?

  • 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: they define what’s at stake.


  • We must tell your customers how great their life can look if they buy your products and services. Identify where you are taking them.

The book then walks you through the BrandScript for your overall brand and then asks you to create a BrandScript for each division of your company. After that, you create one for each product within each division. You can even create a BrandScript for each segment of your customer base.


CHAPTER 4: A Character
  • A story starts with a hero who wants something. And then the question becomes: Will the hero get what she wants?

  • Define something your customer wants and communicate it simply. This invites the customer to alter their story in your direction.

  • Customers ask "Can this brand really help me get what I want?"

  • When you identify a desire for your customer, it should also open a story gap. You place a gap between a customer and what they want. If you don't identify this, the customer has no motivation to engage us, because there is nothing that requires resolution.

  • A critical mistake many organizations make in defining something their customers want is they don’t pare down that desire to a single focus. As you create a BrandScript for your overall brand, focus on one simple desire and then, as you create campaigns for each division and maybe even each product, you can identify more things your customer wants in the subplots of your overall brand.

  • Desire must be relevant to their survival. If what you've defined isn’t related to the customer’s sense of survival, potential customers can’t figure out why they need it. Making potential customers think too hard to figure out how your business will help them survive and thrive will turn them off. Survival includes saving money, conserving time, help find community, gaining status, helping people make money or accumulate much-needed resources, desire to be generous, desire for meaning (invite them to participate in something greater than themselves).

  • Define a desire your customers have: your customers want to know where you can take them. It you don't, they won't listen. 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. You can fix this.

CHAPTER 5: Has a Problem
  • Companies tend to sell solutions to external problems, but customers buy solutions to internal problems.

  • Identifying our customers’ problems deepens their interest in the story we are telling and helps them recognize us as a brand that understands them.

  • The more we talk about the problems our customers experience, the more interest they will have in our brand.

  • There are three elements of conflict that will increase customer interest.

    • Villains: the stronger, more evil, more dastardly the villain, the more sympathy we will have for the hero and the more the audience will want them to win in the end. Position your products and services as weapons your customer can use to defeat a villain. Four characteristics that make for a good villain:

      1. The villain should be a root source (i.e. high taxes, not frustration).

      2. Relatable

      3. Singular

      4. Real

    • What is the chief source of conflict that your products and services defeat? Talk about this villain. The more you talk about the villain, the more people will want a tool to help them defeat the villain.

    • In a story, a villain initiates an external problem that causes the character to experience an internal frustration that is, quite simply, philosophically wrong.

      • External problem: this is often a physical, tangible problem the hero must overcome in order to save the day.

      • Internal problem: Companies tend to sell solutions to external problems, but people buy solutions to internal problems. Create a backstory of frustration in the hero’s life. People's internal desire to resolve a frustration is a greater motivator than their desire to solve an external problem. The external problems we solve are causing frustrations in their lives and it’s those frustrations that are motivating them to call you. Identify that frustration, put it into words, and offer to resolve it along with the original external problem, something special happens. Ask "What frustrations do our products solve?"

      • Philosophical problems: Why does this story matter in the overall epic of humanity? A philosophical problem can best be talked about using terms like ought and shouldn’t. People want to be involved in a story that is larger than themselves. Brands that give customers a voice in a larger narrative add value to their products by giving their customers a deeper sense of meaning. Can your products be positioned as tools your customers can use to fight back against something that ought not be? If so, include some philosophical stakes in our messaging.

    • Position your products as the resolution to an external, internal, and philosophical problem and frame the “Buy Now” button as the action a customer must take to create closure in their story.

    • What challenges are you helping your customers overcome? Is there a single villain your brand stands against? And what external problem is that villain causing? How is that external problem making your customers feel? And why is it unjust for people to have to suffer at the hands of this villain?

CHAPTER 6: And Meets a Guide
  • Customers aren’t looking for another hero; they’re looking for a guide.

  • No two lives are the same, and yet we share common stories. Every human being is on a transformational journey.

  • If a hero solves her own problem in a story, the audience will tune out. Why? Because we intuitively know if she could solve her own problem, she wouldn’t have gotten into trouble in the first place. Storytellers use the guide character to encourage the hero and equip them to win the day.

  • Do not position your brand as the hero. You are the guide.

  • Heroes are often ill-equipped and filled with self-doubt. They don’t know if they have what it takes. They are often reluctant, being thrown into the story rather than willingly engaging the plot. The guide, however, has already “been there and done that” and has conquered the hero’s challenge in their own backstory. The guide simply plays a role. The story must always be focused on the hero.

  • Guides must be:

1. Empathetic

A guide expresses an understanding of the pain and frustration of the hero to build trust. Hero wants to be seen, heard, and understood. 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 . . .” Identify your customers’ internal problems, let them know you understand and would like to help find a resolution. Scan your marketing material and make sure you’ve told your customers that you care.

2. Authoritative

When looking for a guide, a hero trusts somebody who knows what they’re doing. The guide doesn’t have to be perfect, but the guide needs to have serious experience helping other heroes win the day. Four ways to show authority:

  • 3 brief testimonials on website or marketing materials

  • Statistics: How many satisfied customers have you helped? How much money have you helped them save? By what percentage have their businesses grown since they started working with you?

  • Awards

  • Logo of partners or brands working with

CHAPTER 7: Who Gives Them a Plan
  • Customers trust a guide who has a plan.

  • The guide has identified something they want, defined their problems, introduced themselves as the guide by expressing empathy and demonstrating authority. But making a purchase is a characteristic of commitment.

  • Need to identify kinds of questions our customers subconsciously ponder as they hover their little arrow over the “Buy Now” button. The guide needs to gives the hero a plan.

  • Plans do one of two things: they either clarify how somebody can do business with us, or they remove the sense of risk somebody might have if investing in our products or services.

  • Spell out how easy it is and let them know they can get started in three - six steps. These are steps a customer needs to take to buy our product, or the steps the customer needs to take to use our product after they buy it, or a mixture of both. I.e. 1. Schedule an appointment. 2.​ Allow us to create a customized plan. 3.​ Let’s execute the plan together.

  • A post- purchase plan spells out the steps or even the phases a customer would take after they make the purchase: 1.​ Download the software. 2.​Integrate your database into our system. 3.​ Revolutionize your customer interaction. You can combine the pre- and post-purchase steps.

  • Agreement plans are about alleviating fears. List all the things your customer might be concerned about as it relates to your product or service and then counter that list with agreements that will alleviate their fears.

  • Give the plan a title that will increase the perceived value of your product or service.

CHAPTER 8: And Calls Them to Action
  • Make calls to action clear and then repeat them over and over. I.e. Buy Now buttons on website.

  • Be direct. When we don’t clearly ask for the sale, the customer senses weakness. Customers are looking for brands that have solutions to their problems.

  • Direct calls to action include requests like “buy now,” “schedule an appointment,” order now, register, or “call today.” There should be one obvious button to press on your website, and it should be the direct call to action. Repeat that same button. Our customers should always know we want to marry them.

  • Transitional calls to action, however, contain less risk and usually offer a customer something for free. Includes: free information, free trial, testimonials and samples. A good transitional call to action can do three powerful things for your brand:

    1. Position you as a leader. Creating a PDF, a video series, or anything else that positions you as the expert is a great way to establish authority.

    2. Reciprocity - the more you give to your customers, the more likely they will be to give something back in the future. Give freely.

    3. Position yourself as the guide.

CHAPTER 9: That Helps Them Avoid Failure
  • Storytellers foreshadow a potential successful ending and a potential tragic ending. The only two motivations a hero has in a story are to escape something bad or experience something good. The story must have stakes.

  • The benefits of featuring the pitfalls of not doing business with us are much easier to include - use blog subjects, e-mail content, and bullet points on our website to include elements of potential failure. This gives customers a sense of urgency when it comes to our products and services.

  • People are motivated by loss aversion. Communicate something from the failure category (but not too much). 4 step fear-appeal process:

    1. Make a reader (or listener) know they are vulnerable to a threat.

    2. Since they’re vulnerable, they should take action to reduce vulnerability.

    3. Give them a specific call to action that protects them from the risk.

    4. Challenge people to take this specific action.

  • WHAT ARE YOU HELPING YOUR CUSTOMER AVOID? You’ll only need a few terrible, dastardly, awful things to warn your customers about to get the point across. Too much and your customers will resist you, too little and they won’t know why your products even matter.

CHAPTER 10: And Ends in a Success
  • Successful brands make it clear what life will look like if somebody engages their products or services.

  • The resolution must be clearly defined so the audience knows exactly what to hope for.

  • Show people happily engaging with your product or service.

  • Brainstorm what your customer’s life will look like externally if their problem is resolved, then think about how that resolution will make them feel, then consider why the resolution to their problem has made the world a more just place to live in.

  • The three dominant ways storytellers end a story is by allowing the hero to:

    1. Win power or position - by making our customers more esteemed, respected, and appealing in a social context, we’re offering something they want. This can be limited access content, scarcity, offer a premium, special privileges or identity association.

    2. Union That Makes the Hero Whole (The Need for Something External to Create Completeness): reduce anxiety (a job well done, closure, a more peaceful life), reduced workload (customers who don’t have the right tools must work harder because they are incomplete), more time.

    3. Ultimate Self-Realization or Acceptance (The Need to Reach Our Potential): desire for self-acceptance, inspire (offer or be associated with an inspirational feat), acceptance (helping people accept themselves as they are), transcendence (invite customers to participate in a larger movement)

  • Keep it simple. What problem are you resolving in your customer’s life, and what does that resolution look like? Stick to basic answers. We need to show repeatedly how our product or service can make somebody’s life better.

CHAPTER 11: People Want Your Brand to Participate in Their Transformation
  • Everybody wants to change. Everybody wants to be somebody different, somebody better, or, somebody who simply becomes more self-accepting.

  • Brands that participate in the identity transformation of their customers create passionate brand evangelists.

  • Gerber Kinfe defined an aspirational identity for their customers and they associated their product with that identity. The aspirational identity of their customer is that they are tough, adventurous, fearless, action oriented, and competent to do a hard job.

  • Consider how your customers want their friends to talk about them. Can you help them become that kind of person? Can you participate in their identity transformation?

  • When a brand commits itself to their customers’ journey, to helping resolve their external, internal, and philosophical problems, and then inspires them with an aspirational identity, they do more than sell products—they change lives.

  • GREAT BRANDS OBSESS ABOUT THE TRANSFORMATION OF THEIR CUSTOMERS. And, the guide comes back to affirm the transformation of the hero. Tell them they’re different and better than where they started.

  • Who does your customer want to become as they relate to your products and services?

  • When your team realizes that they sell more than products, that they guide people toward a stronger belief in themselves, then their work will have greater meaning.


CHAPTER 12: Building a Better Website
  • Your BrandScript should show up on websites, in e-mail campaigns, elevator pitches, and sales scripts.

  • The more we implement, the more customers will listen. The more you execute, the more clearly you’ll communicate and the more your brand will stand out.

  • Create tangible, practical steps.

  • You need a clear and effective website. It isn’t the only tool we need to motivate buyers but customers need to be convinced we have a solution to their problem. Customers simply need to know you have something they want and you can be trusted to deliver whatever that is.

  • 5 things your website must include:

1. Images and text above the fold (newspaper headlines). Like a first date, content should be short, enticing, and exclusively customer-centric. Customers need to know what’s in it for them right when they read the text. Make sure it’s obvious what you can offer a customer. Images and text you use meet one of the following criteria:

  • Aspirational identity. Can we help our customers become competent in something? Will they be different people after they’ve engaged us?

  • Promise to solve a problem.

  • State exactly what you do.

2. Obvious calls to action. Two main places we want to place a direct call to action: top right of our website and the center of the screen, above the fold. Buttons should be a different color and keep showing up around your site. Make sure transitional calls to action (second date) in a less-bright button next to the main call to action (marry me).

3. Images of success: smiling, happy people who have had a pleasurable experience (closed an open story loop) by engaging your brand should be featured on your website. Communicate a sense of health, well-being, and satisfaction with our brand.

4. A Bite-Sized Breakdown of Your Revenue Streams - find an overall umbrella message that unifies your various streams. Break down our divisions clearly so people can understand what we offer, customers will be able to choose their own adventure without getting lost.

5. Very Few Words - brief, punchy, and relevant. 10 sentences or less. Can add a little “read more” link for more info.

CHAPTER 13. Using StoryBrand to Transform Company Culture

  • The Narrative Void is a vacant space that occurs inside the organization when there’s no story to keep everyone aligned.

  • The personal interaction that once fueled connection in the workplace has been replaced by telecommuting, remote field offices, and conference calls.

  • Ordinary jobs become extraordinary adventures.

  • Become known as the cool company - people who work there love it and so do their customers.

  • During the interview, see how the manager describes the company - they're a bunch of interesting characters whose lives have led them to this place. Business goals sound like plot twists. There are mountains to climb and rivers to cross. There are storms to weather, bears to hunt, and treasure to find. The hiring manager is visibly excited. Not just anyone gets selected for this expedition.

  • Onboarding process - focus more on the customers than the company itself.

  • A thoughtmosphere is an invisible mixture of beliefs and ideas that drives employee behavior and performance.

  • A true mission isn’t a statement; it’s a way of living and being. Employees should know why they’re doing what they’re doing. When team members understand the story of the organization and can explain it in short, disciplined sound-bites that have been reinforced through varying modes of communication from executives, they give words to potential customers that potential customers can use to spread the word.

  • Improve the employee experience: advancement opportunities, recognition, meaningful work, camaraderie, and flexibility.

  • Your company leaders are guides. Guides are respected, loved, listened to, understood, and followed loyally.

  • Is your organization on a mission? Does every stakeholder you interact with understand the story of your customer and what role the organization plays in that story? And do they understand their personal role in this important narrative? If not, building your company around a compelling story may be the first step in a turnaround. Not just for the company, but for your customers, your team members, and even you. Where there’s no story, there’s no engagement.


Five (almost free) things you can do to grow your business:

1. Create your one liner to intrigue qualified buyers and invite them to do business with you. Everybody you work with can be converted into a sales force spreading the word. Who is your customer? What is their problem? What is your plan to help them, and what will their life look like after you do? Examples:

The Character: Moms

​The Problem: Busy schedules

​The Plan: Short, meaningful workouts

The Success: Health and renewed energy

​“We provide busy moms with a short, meaningful workout they can use to stay healthy and have renewed energy.”


The Character: Retired couples

The Problem: A second mortgage

​The Plan: A time-share option

​The Success: Avoiding those cold, northern winters

“We help retired couples who want to escape the harsh cold avoid the hassle of a second mortgage while still enjoying the warm, beautiful weather of Florida in the winter.”

You and your team should memorize the one liner. It should be used on your website and all your marketing collateral.

2. Create an Irresistible Lead Generator and Collect E-mail Addresses.

You need a lead generator. You need a downloadable guide (3 pages), PDF, e-course, video series, webinar, free trial, sample, live event, or just about anything else that will allow you to collect e-mail addresses. How you can help them resolve their problems. Offer them something valuable in return, something more valuable than the vague offer of a newsletter.

Create lead generators for each revenue stream our company offers. This allows us to segment our customers by their interests and offer different products to solve their various problems. Use a 10 second delayed pop up on your website to offer the resource.

Keep a running list of lead generator possibilities. Be as generous as possible. Give away the “why”—as in why a potential customer would need to address or be aware of a certain issue—and sell the “how,” which is where you offer a tool or teach customers how to follow through step-by-step. You should see results with as little as two hundred and fifty qualified e-mail addresses.

3. Create an Automated E-Mail Drip Campaign.

Every month top customers should be reminded that we exist. Potential customers should get automated prewritten sequence of e-mail messages that trigger once a person is added to your list.

A nurturing campaign is a simple, regular e-mail that offers your subscribers valuable information as it relates to your products or services. A sale is not your primary goal. Start a few days after the free pdf is downloaded.

E-mail Week #1: Nurturing e-mail

E-mail #2: Nurturing e-mail

E-mail #3: Nurturing e-mail

E-mail #4: Sales e-mail with a call to action. be direct.


Offer something of great value and then occasionally ask for an order and remind people you have products and services that can make their lives better.

  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. Add a PS

  5. For CTA email, aims to solve a problem. The only difference is that the solution is your product and a strong call to action has been inserted.


"You hate leaving your dog behind when you go out of town. At our boarding facility, your dog plays so hard all day, they are eager to lie down at night. We have three full-time staff members throwing tennis balls… Right now you can book three nights at Crest Hill at half price. This is a one-time offer. You’ll feel better when you have to leave town. No more guilt. No more sad good-byes."

*The call to action is strong and contains a degree of scarcity because it is a one-time offer.

4. Collect and Tell Stories of Transformation.

The transformation of the hero. Testimonials showcase your value, the results you get for customers, and the experience people had working with you. Use a form for customers to fill out (see questions below). Can make into video testimonials. Use everywhere.

1.​What was the problem you were having before you discovered our product?

2.​What did the frustration feel like as you tried to solve that problem?

3.​What was different about our product?

4.​Take us to the moment when you realized our product was actually working to solve your problem.

5.​Tell us what life looks like now that your problem is solved or being solved.

5. Create a System That Generates Referrals. Invite and incentivize customers who refer.


2.​ GIVE YOUR CUSTOMERS A REASON TO SPREAD THE WORD. Create a small, educational video or PDF that would be valuable to customers to give to friends.

3.​ OFFER A REWARD - Affiliate program, reward (i.e. merchant, money back, special privileges, etc.)

This book is definitely one you want to pick up and use to reference as you write your own Story Brand. To purchase your own copy, click here: Building a Story Brand.

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