Storytelling That SellsPart 1: The Customer as Hero

In his book Building a StoryBrand, author Donald Miller lays out a simple framework for helping companies clarify their message so customers will listen.

It’s effective, straightforward . . . and incredibly difficult to implement.

Whittling a company’s message down to its most salient points is one of the more challenging tasks we face as marketers. It’s easy to list all the cool things we can do, but it’s hard as heck to present it to your audience — and get them to buy what we’re selling.

But before we dive into Miller’s seven-part framework, it’s important  to understand why we even need a framework. For that, let’s look at what we’re doing wrong as marketers.

The Biggest Mistakes Companies Make

Miller offers insight into two mistakes that often derail companies’ marketing efforts:

They don’t focus on “the aspects of their offer that will help people survive and thrive.”
Their offers are too hard to understand.

How many times have you heard something along the lines of “We’ve spent a decade building machine-learning algorithms to increase user engagement”?

Impressive? Perhaps. But does it speak to any specific aspects of an offer that will help the prospective customer survive and thrive? Is it clear? If not, how likely is it that the above statement will grab them and pull them in?

The truth is, if a customer does not immediately understand your offer, they will give up and move on. They require clarity, and fast.

And for clarity and speed, you need stories.

Stories Provide Clarity

In her book, Wired for Story, author Lisa Cron argues that people don’t use stories to escape reality, but to navigate it. Stories are humans’ way of interpreting the world: its dangers and pleasures alike. They are fundamental to the human experience.

What does that mean for us marketers? For one, it means that stories are a hard-coded way for us to communicate. They are universal; everyone understands them.

In fact, you are constructing a narrative in your head right now about what I may or may not say next. As humans, we are constantly trying to guess what will happen in the future so we can survive and thrive.

That’s the mindset that we each bring to our daily lives. To put it simply: We are the heroes of our own stories.

Customer as Hero, Brand as Guide

In StoryBrand, Miller lays out the following narrative framework to help companies simplify their messaging.

  1. A Character
  2. Has a Problem
  3. And Meets a Guide
  4. Who Gives Them a Plan
  5. And Calls Them to Action
  6. That Ends in Success
  7. And Helps Them Avoid Failure

Right off the bat, we see the first step is defining a character. This character, the hero, has a problem. They meet a guide who shows them how to defeat the problem and avoid failure (known in story terms as “the stakes”).

Here’s the problem with most messaging: Companies present themselves as the hero. They’re the ones with the great solution, the one who will swing in on the chandelier and save the day for the damsel in distress.

But from a story perspective, this is dead wrong. And it’s the reason we’re muddying our message and ruining our chances with a prospect.


Because we are not the hero.

Remember, the customer is, according to Cron, navigating life and unconsciously using a story to ward off danger. They’re the ones putting food on the table, changing the diapers, and buying your product.

They’re the hero, not us.

Which means, when we present ourselves as the hero with all the answers, we actually push our prospects away. Strangely enough, we compete with them for status!

They don’t need another hero. What they need is a guide.

You Are Yoda, Not Luke Skywalker

Let’s redefine our role in this relationship. Instead of being the hero who swings in to save the day, let’s become the guide who helps the hero reach their goal.

The classic example Miller uses is Yoda and Luke Skywalker. We want to be Yoda, not Luke. We want to guide Luke to achieve his goal, not achieve the goal for him and brag to him how well we did it.

If you can make the shift to a story-centered framework, in which the customer is the hero and you’re the guide, you’ll find it much easier to create more effective messaging.

It is the single key that unlocks the “stuckness” we feel surrounding our brand and communicating effectively with prospects.

If you’re struggling to find your story, you’re not alone. At fuoco, we’ve helped many B2B healthcare companies craft their message, differentiate themselves in the market, and use storytelling to grow their business.

Need help telling your story and growing your business? Send us a message or give us a call at (615) 866-9368.

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