Building a StoryBrand

Humans love good stories. This book is about effective marketing via storytelling. It explains the essential elements of a good story and relates them to your business, positioning your customers as heroes of their stories and your brand as a guide.

Building a StoryBrand


Story is similar to music. A good story takes a series of random events and distills them into the essence of what really matters.

A story is the most powerful tool we can use to organize information so people don’t have to burn many calories to understand it. A story is a sense-making device. It identifies a necessary ambition, defines challenges that keep us from achieving that ambition, and provides a plan to help us conquer those challenges.

When we define the elements of a story as it relates to our brand, we create a map customers can follow to engage our products and services.

What every story needs

A CHARACTER who wants something and encounters a PROBLEM before they can get it. At the peak of their despair, a GUIDE steps into their lives and gives them a PLAN and CALLS THEM TO ACTION. That action helps them avoid FAILURE and ends in SUCCESS.

In a story, audience must always know who the hero is, what the hero wants, whom the hero has to defeat to get what they want, what tragic things will happen if the hero doesn’t win, and what wonderful things will happen if they do. The same is true for the brand you represent.

The customer is the hero, not you.

Every story starts with a hero who wants something.

The customer is the hero of the story, not your brand. As a brand, it’s important to define something your customer wants because as soon as we define something our customer wants, we plant a story question in the customer’s mind: Can this brand help me get what I want?

Solve your customer’s problems

What challenges are you helping your customer overcome?

Companies sell solutions to external problems, but customers buy solutions to internal problems.

Start talking about the problems your customers face. Identifying your customers’ problems deepens their interest in the story we are telling.

Every story needs a villain. The stronger and bigger the villain, the more sympathy we have for the hero. Position you, your products, and your services as weapons your customers can use to defeat a villain.

Be a guide, not a hero.

Every hero is looking for a guide.

Customers aren’t looking for another hero. They’re looking for a guide. Position your customer as the hero and your brand as a guide. If you do this, your customers will recognize you as a trusted resource who will help them overcome their challenges.

Nearly every human being is looking for a guide to help them win the day. Brands that position themselves as heroes unknowingly compete with their potential customers.

Once we identify our customers, we must ask ourselves what they want regarding our brand.

Customers trust a guide with a plan.

Never assume people understand how your brand can change their lives. Tell them. Even better, don’t just tell, show them.

Making a purchase is a huge step, especially if our products or services are expensive. What customers need is a clear path we’ve laid out that removes any confusion they might have about how to do business with us.

Offer a vision for how great a customer’s life could be if they use your products or services.

All effective plans do one of two things:

  1. they either clarify how somebody can do business with us, or
  2. they remove the sense of risk one might have when considering buying our product or service.

The plan removes the confusion. It describes the 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 both.

Call to Action

Make your call to action clear and easy to understand.

People can’t read our minds, and they don’t know what we want, even if it seems obvious. We have to invite the customers to take a journey with us or they won’t.

Do you believe in your product? When we try to sell passively, we communicate a lack of belief in our product. If you can change the customer’s story for the better, why shouldn’t you be bold about inviting them to do business with you?

Two types of CTA: Direct and Transitional. Direct calls to action include requests like ‘buy now’ or ‘schedule an appointment’. It’s something that leads to a sale. Transitional calls to action contain less risk and usually offer a customer something for free, such as ‘sign up for my newsletter’, or ‘download a free PDF’.

Is there a transitional call to action you can create that will grow your business? Are your direct calls to action clear and repeated often? If not, your customers likely don’t know what you want them to do.

Help them avoid failure.

What will the customer lose if they don’t buy your products or services?

Every human being is trying to avoid a tragic ending. A hero’s only motivations in a story are to escape something bad or experience something good.

Brands that don’t warn their customers about what could happen if they don’t buy their products fail to answer the “so what” question every customer is secretly asking.

Help them succeed

The ending should be specific and clear.

Be specific about what your product or service will help your customers achieve.

What problem are you resolving in your customer’s life, and what does that resolution look like?

Repeatedly show how your product or service can make somebody’s life better. If we don’t tell people where we’re taking them, they won’t follow. A story has to go somewhere.

Help them transform

Heroes are designed to transform.

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

What does your customer want to become? What kind of person do they want to be? What is their aspirational identity?

Brands that realize their customers are human, filled with emotion, driven to transform, and need help truly do more than sell products; they change people.

Clarify your story

If you confuse, you’ll lose.

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

Most brands cause their customers to burn too many calories to understand their offer. The simpler and more predictable the communication, the easier it is for the brain to digest.

Your prospective client or customer should be able to answer these three questions within five seconds of looking at your website:

  1. What do you offer?
  2. How will it make my life better?
  3. What do I need to do to buy it?

Make music, not noise

Technically speaking, music and noise are similar. Both are created by traveling sound waves that rattle our eardrums. Music, however, is the noise that has been submitted to certain rules that allow the brain to engage on a different level.

The brain remembers some brands and forgets others, just like it remembers music and forgets about noise.

Noise has killed more ideas, products, and services than taxes, recessions, lawsuits, climbing interest rates, and even inferior product design. What we often call marketing is really just clutter and confusion sprayed all over our websites, e-mails, and commercials.

Your customers are the heroes of the story, not you or your brand.

Written on January 22, 2023