(notes on) ‘Building a Story Brand’ by Donald Miller

NB. These notes contribute towards my diyMBA, my attempt to learn lots without a formal MBA programme. Check out my full reading list, and why I’m doing it DIY.

In summary, this is a great read. The author uses tried and tested storytelling techniques from movies we know and love to explain why the specifics of this framework are so impactful. Its simplicity borders on gimmicky but never crosses the line, and is all the stronger for it.
Buy the book.


“A customer has a problem and meets a guide, who gives them a plan and calls them to action that helps them avoid failure and ends in a success.”

The customer is the hero of the story, and your brand is the guide. You help them solve a problem with a clear, simple plan that helps them succeed. Your brand message explains exactly how you’ll do this, winning their business in the process.

My Notes

Why do we need a new StoryBrand?

  1. Your current story does not help the customer survive.
    (within Maslow’s physical, emotional, relational, spiritual survival needs)
  2. Your current story makes customers work too hard to understand the offer. Too much info causes users to lose interest.

Position products and services to help people survive, thrive, be accepted, find love, achieve an aspirational identity, or bond with a tribe that will help them. These are the only things people care about.

And position them simply and clearly.

For example, Apple ‘Think Different’ does this perfectly. It…

  1. Identifies what customers wanted — to be seen and heard
  2. Defines the customer’s challenge — people don’t recognise their genius
  3. Offers a solution or tool — computers & smartphones

Use this 7 point framework below to build your Storybrand…

The SB 7 Framework


Focus on a desire relevant to their survival, eg to conserve money or time, build a social network, gain status or resources, to be generous, or give meaning to their life by being a part of bigger movement.

Then outline a single focus of your company that meets that desire.


There are three levels of problems:

  1. External problems — restaurants solve hunger, plumbers solve leaky pipes. These problems must trigger an internal problem.
  2. Internal problems — people want to solve internal struggles, not external problems. Apple solved customers intimidation of computers, Starbucks offered affiliation and belonging.
  3. Philosophical problems — Find the deeper meaning. “Bad people shouldn’t win”, “People ought to be equal”, “You deserve to have a great manager”, “Pets deserve healthy food.”

When a customer hits the “Buy Now” button for your product they should believe they are solving all 3 problems. Don’t include more problems, only one of each is needed.

Alongside this, create a villain that is relatable, singular and real, and is the root source of all problems.

Eg Tesla
Villain: Gas guzzling, inferior technology
External: I need a car.
Internal: I want to be an early adopter of new technology.
Philosophical: My choice of car ought to help save the environment.


Your brand is the guide, and the hero wants to know, “How are you helping me win the day?”

Empathy and Authority help customers recognise us as a guide.

Empathy — Show that you care. Everyone wants to be seen, heard and understood. People trust those who understand them. Use phrases like “We know how it feels to…”, “Nobody should have to experience…”

Authority — nobody likes a know-it-all and nobody wants to be preached at. But they do like competence. Show you’re a competent guide through testimonials, stats, awards, and logos of companies you work with.


Process Plan — Reduces confusion by clearly listing the steps customers need to take to buy your product, set it up, and enjoy it.

Agreement plan — Reduces the fear that your product may not help them, reducing the risk. Do this by showing your shared values.

Give the plan a title, eg the “Easy Installation Plan”.


Direct CTA — “buy now”, “schedule appointment”

Transitional CTA — “download pdf”, “watch webinar”, a free trial. Use transitional CTAs to stake your claim as authoritative.

Include Direct and Transitional in your messaging. Repeat both. After saying yes to enough Transitional actions customers will eventually say yes to a Direct action.


Prospect Theory — people hate losing more than they love winning. Loss aversion is the greatest motivator (from Daniel Kahneman’s ‘Thinking Fast & Slow’, read more)

Elicit only moderate fear in your messaging, not too much or too little.


What will they have? What will they feel? What’s their average day? What’s their status? How do they want their friends & peers to talk about them?

Great stories end in the hero…

  1. Winning power or position — eg loyalty club, owning something scarce
  2. Being unified with someone/thing to reach completeness — eg a better product reduces anxiety or workload
  3. Experiencing self-realisation to reach completeness — eg accepts a new reality, transcends above fears

Remember, people want your brand to participate in their transformation.

To keep the relationship positive in the long term, ensure your brand (the guide) shows how far the customer (the hero) has come in their transformation.

And that’s it, your script is complete! It can appear in some form everywhere, on your website, in emails, your elevator pitch, your sales scripts and more. A Storybrand can also transform your company culture, by bringing a company mission to life and filling a demotivating narrative void internally.

Implementing your Storybrand Script

Get started with these first steps…

  1. Create a one liner: Who is the customer? What is their problem? Whats your plan to help, what will their life look like when you do?
  2. Collect a lead generator and collect email addresses
  3. Create automated email drip campaign — send regular nurture emails followed by a sales email (a nurture email presents a problem, explains the plan to solve it, and describes how life can look once its solved).
  4. Collect and tell stories of transformation (of the customer) — stories, video testimonials
  5. Create a system that generates referrals

Case Study : Electric Vehicles

(1) A customer (2) has a problem (3) and meets a guide (4) who gives them a plan (5) and calls them to action (6) that helps them avoid failure (7) and ends in a success.

  1. A customer — what do they want?

A great, affordable car that doesn’t damage the planet. To be a part of the movement towards a more sustainable future.

2) has a problem – what problems? who causes them?

The Villain — Outdated, inferior cars.
External problem — I need to get from A to B comfortably and affordably
Internal problem — I am an early adopter of the best new technology
Philosophical problem — My car shouldn’t destroy the planet

3) and meets a guide – how is your brand the recognised guide?

Empathy — Nobody should have to compromise on quality to be more sustainable.

Authority — You know we’ve always made great cars, well now we know how to make them sustainable too.

4) who gives them a plan — what plan?

The “Try Driving Electric” plan.

Process plan — Go here to book a test drive with your local dealer. Watch this video to learn how to drive and charge your electric vehicle. Click here to check out your local home charger installers, view the public chargers near you, and learn how much you can save by driving electric.

Agreement plan — We know you’ve driven traditional cars for many years, so we’re here to help guide you as you lead this change. Millions of drivers globally have already chosen to drive electric so they can have the best driving experience. Come for a test drive so you can experience for yourself the best driving experience in 2021.

5) and calls them to action — what’s their next step?

Book your test drive today, and go here to learn why driving electric is the best driving experience today.

6) and helps them avoid failure — what’ll they lose if they don’t choose you?

Don’t get left behind in your gas guzzling car.

7) that ends in success — how does their role in the story end?

Join the electric car revolution and lead the change our planet needs.

What was the customers transformation?

From: One of many drivers of gas guzzling inferior cars

To: An early adopter of the best driving experience, leading the change our world needs.

The End! Buy the book and follow Donald Miller on Twitter…

…and see my full reading list with notes on other awesome books.

Dad, Hub, LDN/E17 resident. Strategy @Spotify. ex Universal Music. Here I share my thoughts or things I learn, please help me understand them more. @CWStoneman