Building a StoryBrand - Critical summary review - Donald A. Miller

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Building a StoryBrand - critical summary review

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Marketing & Sales

This microbook is a summary/original review based on the book: Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen

Available for: Read online, read in our mobile apps for iPhone/Android and send in PDF/EPUB/MOBI to Amazon Kindle.

ISBN: 978-0718033323

Publisher: HarperCollins Leadership

Critical summary review

You probably know the feeling: you want to buy a product and check out the product’s website. But the brand’s message is so confusing that you come away less certain of what you wanted than before you started, and eventually turn to a competitor. 

As a brand, this is exactly what you want to avoid. You want customers to buy from you, and the key to that is successful marketing. In “Building a StoryBrand,” Donald Miller adapts the art of storytelling to advertising, so get ready to learn how you can successfully advertise your brand.

What is a StoryBrand?

Many companies spend tons of money on marketing, without ever realizing how to productively advertise their product. To avoid wasting money, you will need to be smarter than that and take a calculated approach to the marketing of your product.

First of all, it is incredibly important to have a clear message. Let people know what it is by advertising in the most specific and clear way possible. In order to avoid confusion and to drown out the noise of the marketplace, you can use storytelling as a powerful tool to organize information.

Stories are like a melody: they follow a set of rules and they stick with you even when you have forgotten about the daily noise of life around you. Great stories are about survival, so you should make this your central message - not only survival in physical terms, but also a desire of being accepted, and finding love or belonging.

Stories follow a clear pattern. They often revolve around a hero who needs to solve a problem. To do so, he or she gets the help of a guide, who guides them with a plan and calls them into action. This helps the hero avoid failure and ultimately succeed. 

This is the storyline of nearly every movie. Just think of the Hunger Games. The hero, Katniss Everdeen, has to solve a problem: she has to survive while remaining a good and authentic person. On her journey, she is helped by Haymitch who endears her to public sponsors. She then competes in the Hunger Games, where she has to avoid death and strives for success for herself and District 12.

To successfully advertise and sell your product, you need to adapt this story outline for your brand - what the author calls a StoryBrand. The StoryBrand Framework, or SB7, aims to use this basic storytelling format in advertising. You have a character, a problem, a guide, a plan, a call to action, the avoidance of failure and a happy, successful ending. 

The hero and the villain

Most companies make the mistake of casting their brand as the hero of the story. Don’t fall into the same trap. The heroes in your story should always be the customers. After all, it is them you want to sell your product to.

The second thing you need to do is to find out what it is that your customer wants in relation to your brand. This should be something related to their survival, to their instinct of belonging and acceptance. You should be specific in this.

For example, one of the author’s friends wanted to become a leadership expert. His tagline was, “Inhale knowledge, exhale success,” which was too vague. Instead, the author suggested changing it to, “Helping you become everyone’s favorite leader,” thereby making the message clear and also addressing the customers’ desire to be accepted and popular.

Every good story needs a villain. Without a villain, there will be no action. For your StoryBrand, the villain should be a problem that the customer, your hero, has - a problem that your product can help solve.

Identify the root source of the problem. For example, frustration is a symptom, while high taxes would be a root. The problem should also be relatable, singular, and real. You can also look at problems from the perspective of your product and ask, “What is the chief source of conflict that this product or service defeats?”

While most companies market their products to defeat an external problem a customer faces, customers are more likely to buy solutions to internal problems. For example, if you own a restaurant, the obvious external problem you are solving for the customer is that of hunger. But that does not set you apart from the competition.

Take Starbucks as an example. The reason why they manage to create so much revenue with a simple cup of coffee is because they sell a lifestyle along with it. Customers who walk into a Starbucks shop feel good about themselves. The environment in a Starbucks café creates a sense of sophistication and enthusiasm about life. Moreover, belonging is one of the central internal problems that Starbucks advertises to solve.

The guide

Now that you have identified a hero and the problem they are facing, it is time to show them how to solve their predicament: enter the guide - you!

Just like Yoda shows up to help Luke Skywalker understand the force, so should your company act as a guide to bring your customer to the solution to their problem. A good guide shows both empathy and authority. 

Your customer should feel understood and cared for by your company. You should also be authoritative - not in the sense of a know-it-all - but in the sense of being competent. By adding testimonials from past customers or statistics to your marketing materials, you will automatically appear more trustworthy.

The role of a guide in every story is to guide the hero to the solution to their problem. So you will need to present them with a plan. By providing customers with a plan, you create clarity for them. Your plan should aim to address any doubts they might have about your product.

There are two ways in which you can create a plan: the process plan and the agreement plan. A process plan basically outlines the steps a customer needs to take to buy your product, or how to use it once he has bought it. Again, these instructions should be precise and clear.

While process plans are great for reducing confusion, agreement plans will address customers’ fears. Take CarMax as an example: many customers looking to rent a car were scared of having to haggle over prices. So, CarMax made it part of their mission to promise no haggling in their stores.

The call to action

You obviously want your customers to buy your product. They, however, won’t do that unless you call them into action. In any story you have ever read or seen, there are always external forces at play that force the hero to act. In “Rain Man,” Tom Cruise wouldn’t have gone to pick up his brother had his father not died. 

On average, your customer is bombarded with 3,000 advertisements every day. So to get him to buy your product, a definite call to action is needed. That is why a lot of websites have the “Buy Now” buttons - unless you clearly communicate that you want customers to take the journey with you, they will not. 

The author gives the example of his early dating days, when he asked girls out by saying: “Coffee is nice, isn’t it? Do you like coffee?” Unsurprisingly, that rarely worked. On the other hand, when he met his wife, he clearly asked her out and even gave her a 30-day deadline to ditch her previous boyfriend!

There are two types of calls to action: direct and transitional calls. “Buy Now” buttons are an example of direct calls to action. Transitional calls, on the other hand, aim to make your customer come back to your company even if they decide against your services for the moment. 

StoryBrand managed to grow into a multimillion-dollar company by offering customers a free PDF of how to build a great website, which included an ad for StoryBrand’s marketing workshops. This doubled their revenue within 12 months!

A happy ending?

We keep our eyes glued to the screen or a good book because we want to know how the story will end - will the hero have a happy ending, or will they fail? Your StoryBrand should aim to show the customer how your product helps them avoid failure and leads them to success.

So as a company, you need to let the customer know what’s at stake. One of the main motivators for people is loss aversion. Daniel Kahneman, a pioneer of behavioral economics, published his findings in 1979 on how people make buying decisions. He found that people were more likely to buy something out of fear of missing out, and less likely to be motivated by their potential gain.

So in positioning your product, be sure to let people know what they stand to lose if they choose not to buy. For example, when advertising a summer camp for children, emphasize how without it, a long, boring summer lies ahead and how they will regret having wasted their summer.

Finally, let people know how your brand can change their lives. What is your vision? Nike, for example, promises to inspire and innovate athlete’s lives. Starbucks promises inspiration and nurturing with every cup of coffee.

Be specific and clear in your message. You can either aim at showing people how to win status or how your product makes them complete. Starbucks and many other companies use membership cards for special perks to make loyal customers feel special. 

Another effective way in which you can demonstrate completeness with your product is by showing customers how it will give them more time for the important things in life.

Five ways to implement your StoryBrand

Now that you have created your StoryBrand, you will have to implement it. You can do so by following this simple marketing road map:

  1. Create a one-liner. Use your StoryBrand to summarize your company’s purpose in one simple, catchy tag line. 
  2. Create a lead generator and collect email addresses. This can be a PDF or a short video. This should give you access to the email addresses of potential customers.
  3. Create an automated email drip campaign. Send regular, valuable emails to your potential customers in which you share your StoryBrand.
  4. Collect and tell stories of transformation. You can create a form for customers to fill out and use their stories for future marketing.
  5. Create a system that generates referrals. You can do so by offering existing customers rewards for introducing their friends to your product, for example.

Final Notes

To stand out as a company, it is not sufficient just to have an amazing product. You will also need to advertise your product successfully by creating a melody that outperforms the noise created by competitors in the market. You can do this by creating your own StoryBrand: your customer is the hero, and you are the guide who helps them solve an internal problem with the product you offer.

Seth Godin, author, is a fan of “Building a StoryBrand.” He says: “This is a seminal book built around an idea that will clarify, energize, and transform your business. Donald Miller offers a specific, detailed, and useful way to change the way you talk about the work you care about.”

12min Tip

Once you have created your StoryBrand, use the marketing roadmap to gain customers!

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Who wrote the book?

Donald Miller is the CEO of StoryBrand and has helped more than 3,000 businesses lead successful marketing strategies. He is the author of bestsellers such as “Blue Like Jaz... (Read more)

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