note: this post is compiled and adapted from the work of Donald Miller, “Building a Story Brand“.
Remember mission statements?
” The mission of our program is to bring to life the American Express value of good corporate citizenship by supporting diverse communities in ways that enhance the company’s reputation with employees, customers, business partners and other stakeholders. We do this by supporting visionary not-for-profit organizations that are: Preserving and enriching our diverse cultural heritage. “
How about their Vision Statement.
“We work hard every day to make american express the world’s most respected service brand.”
Doesn’t that just make you feel warm and fuzzy?
Why would I care to respect American Express’ philanthropic escapades?
How about how hard I work every day? And, what are you going to do for me?
Yet, this is how most websites talk. Not about you, but all about them.
Websites are generally full of images and buttons, menu choices and disclaimers. They have a logo with some uniformity in color selection and a font presentation.
That’s all good – to a degree.
The most important element on a website, however, is words.
Words clarify and convey our message.
And people won’t listen unless your message is clear.
So, how do you do that? I’m glad you asked.
Survive and thrive
Here’s Maslow’s hierarchy of needs?
Fundamentally, our needs are to survive – food, water, warmth, rest, security, and safety (the bottom two levels), and then to thrive – relationships, prestige, esteem, and achievement.
This controls everything. We seek to survive and thrive!
Mankind constantly scans their environment to see what is available to meet their needs to survive and thrive.
If a website rambles on about how they want to be the most respected brand on planet earth or shows image after image of their building and offices, we ignore it, why? because we don’t care and it doesn’t begin to meet our needs to survive and thrive.
In effect, it’s all noise and noise is ignored.
Here’s your mission for your website:
- Focus on the needs (survive/thrive) of your prospects, clients, and customers, and
- Make it simple for them to understand what you’re saying. Don’t make them work so hard to understand what you’re brand is about.
People pay attention when you tell a story.
Here’s a secret.
Want to get the attention of customers and clients. Tell a story. Stories have been around forever. But not just any story, a story that follows a formula.
Book writers and movie scriptwriters have kept our attention for years. How? By developing stories according to a specific formula.
So let’s narrow the necessary elements of a compelling and intriguing story to seven basic plot points. Here’s the formula:
- The hero (your customer) wants something, but
- Encounters a problem which hinders them. In despair
- A guide (you and your company) steps into their lives, and
- Gives them a plan, with
- A Call to Action.
- That plan helps them avoid failure, and
- Ends in Success.
- end of story…
Sound familiar? It should, it’s in almost every major movie plot.
Let’s take Star Wars: A New Hope.
The Hero, Luke Skywalker, experiences a devastating tragedy: his aunt and uncle are murdered at the hands of the evil Empire. His problem, he must destroy the Empire (the external problem), but is he a real Jedi (his internal problem)? After all, this is good vs. evil (the philosophical frame).
Along the way he meets a guide Obi-Wan Kenobe who trains him and gives him a plan – “Trust the Force”.
The death of his aunt and uncle are his call to action. Predictably, he avoids the failure of defeat and experiences success by crushing the evil Empire.
The story above has focused on the hero’s need and has made it simple to understand what’s at play. No extra noise. No confusion. Nothing but the plot.
Could someone look at your website and immediately tell the following:
- What do you offer?
- Will it make my life better?
- What do I need to do to buy it?
If not, you’re losing sales.
Understanding the 7 Principles of building a Story Brand:
Principle One: The customer is the Hero, not your brand.
Your customer wants something. The rest of the story is a journey about whether or not the hero will get what they want.
You need to identify what it is that they want.
Here are some examples:
- Financial Advisor: “A plan for your retirement”
- Fine-dining Restaurant: “A meal everyone will remember”
- Bookstore: “A story to get lost in”
- Real Estate Agent: “The home you’ve dreamed about”
- Breakfast Bars: “A healthy start to your day”
By defining something our customer wants, paring it down to a single simple focus, and featuring it in our marketing materials, the customer is encouraged to engage with our company.
It is important to focus on a single, simple desire which is relevant to their basic survival needs.
Survival means the primitive desires to be safe, healthy, happy and strong. In other words, that we have the economic and social resources to eat, drink, reproduce and fend off foes. As such we need to conserve financial resources, conserve time, build social networks, gain status and accumulate resources. We even have the need to be generous and to search for meaning.
Brainstorm what your customer wants that your brand specifically fulfill?
Principle Two: The customer has a problem.
Actually, there are three levels of problems customers encounter – external (which companies normally try to address), internal and philosophical (which are more motivating to customers).
People buy solutions to internal problems. The only purpose of an external problem is to manifest the internal problem. For example, in Star Wars, Luke Skywalker is told he is too young to join the resistance (the external problem) so he doubts his ability (the internal problem).
Additionally, every problem has to have a villain, and although the villain doesn’t have to be a person, it has to be personified. Like slimy monsters living in and stinking up your kitchen drain. Here the external problem is a kitchen that smells due to those evil monsters living in the drains. The internal problem is the embarrassment you feel over a kitchen that doesn’t seem fresh and clean.
The third level, or philosophical can best be addressed by ought and shouldn’t. “Bad people shouldn’t win” or “People ought to be treated better.” It is the “deeper” (philosophical) meaning to the problem.
Here an example:
Nespresso Home Coffee Machines
- Villain: Coffee machines that make bad coffee
- External: I want better tasting coffee at home
- Internal: I want to feel sophisticated with my coffee system
- Philosophical: I shouldn’t have to be a barista to experience gourmet coffee at home
Remember, external problems produce difficulties that elicit internal frustrations which can be framed inside a deeper philosophical meaning. Your goal is to present your business as the solution to all three problems.
Principle Three: The customer meets a guide – your company.
If heroes could solve their own problems they wouldn’t get into trouble and need a guide. Nearly every person is looking for a guide to help them win the day.
Heroes are often ill-equipped and filled with self-doubt. The guide, however, is the authority with the necessary empathy that has already solved the problem. They’ve already been there and done that.
Empathy is simply stating “I know your problem” and “I’m here to help.”
Authority is exhibited through social proof such as testimonials, statistics, awards and, in business to business situations, showing the logos of other companies which you’ve worked with and have helped.
Customers are trying to determine if they can trust you and if they can respect you. They trust empathy and respect authority.
Principle Four: The guide offers a plan.
Your plan gets the customer from point A to point B – from problem to solution.
All effective plans either clarify (process plans) how someone can do business with us or how the risk is removed (agreement plans) in considering to work with us.
The Process Plan alleviates confusion by providing the steps a customer needs to take to use our service or buy our product.
- Call to schedule an appointment
- Bring your last year’s tax return
- We’ll execute a financial plan together
The Agreement Plan alleviates the fear of risk by listing agreements you make with your prospect to help them overcome the fear of doing business with you.
- You’ll never haggle over price
- You’ll never be stuck with a lemon
- All cars earn a quality certification seal
While the process plan works in the foreground, the agreement plan works in the background.
Develop a process and/or agreement plan that will clarify how you get your customers from frustration to success without any confusion or fear of risk.
Principle Five: Customers do not take action unless they are challenged to take action.
Customers respond when they’re called to action. There are two types of calls to action (“CTA”): the Direct CTA where the customer is directed to buy something or set up an appointment for example. There’s also the Transitional CTA whereby the relationship is enhanced.
Direct CTAs are akin to “will you marry me” while Transitional CTAs are more like “are you free this Friday for dinner?”
You will need to use strategic placement of “buy now” and “make an appointment” buttons on your site to get prospects to act which are best above the fold. Additionally, telephone numbers which are big enough and easy to call with smartphones by just touching should be deployed.
You have to clearly invite customers to take a journey with your “or they won’t”.
Principle Six: Customers are trying to avoid a tragic ending and your plan of action is their passport.
Stories live and die on “What’s at Stake?” If nothing is gained or lost, no one cares. You must show customers the cost of not doing business with you.
People are more motivated by the loss of something than by the gain of something. In other words, people hate losing $100 more than they like winning $100.
For example, a financial advisor could help their customers by avoiding the following tragic endings:
- not being ready for retirement
- not knowing what their advisor is doing
- discovering hidden fees
- not having access to their advisor when the market turns
- not having access to funds in case of an emergency
You need to show what your brand does to help your customers avoid loss.
Principle Seven: The guide needs to paint a picture of success for customers.
Paint a picture of the success that’s achieved by using your service or buying your product. If you don’t tell people what your brand will do for them, they’ll look to another company.
Being specific and clear matters here. You need to show them what it looks like before and after you’ve resolved their problem.
Your brand can be effective if it can show you’ve accomplished one or more of the following three desires:
- The need for status through
- offering access,
- creating scarcity, and
- offering a premium
- The need for completeness through
- reduced anxiety,
- reduced workload, and
- more time
- The need to reach our potential through
- acceptance, and
- transcendence (eg philanthropically)
This is the conclusion to your story brand. Customers and clients are looking for happy resolutions to their external, internal and philosophical problems that result in more status, completeness or reaching their potential.
Since your products and services can make someone’s life better, you need to paint this picture for them.
This is the “happy ending” to your story. Where is your brand taking people?
The greatest single motivation your customer/client has is the human desire to transform.
Everybody wants to change, to grow, to be someone different and better.
Brands that participate in the identity transformation of their customers create passionate brand evangelists and succeed.
Define an aspirational identity for your customer and they will associate your product or service with that identity.
Some examples of aspirational identities are as follows:
- Pet food
- from: passive dog owner
- to: every dog’s hero
- Financial advisor
- from: confused and ill-equipped
- to: competent and smart
Let us help build your Story Brand and then implement that on your website.
To set up an appointment – call me now – (817) 523-8188.