Of branding and the hero’s journey

Any product or venture is often only as strong as the marketing and branding that surrounds it. You could create the greatest thing since sliced bread. But without a way of capturing and engaging a potential client’s imagination, you will not be able to capitalize on your own creativity. In other words, branding is critical. In Building a StoryBrand, Donald Miller presents a fresh and exciting approach to marketing grounded in the nature of story telling.

Story telling is fundamental to human beings. Ancient societies built their identities around their basic cultural narratives. Ancient Greek culture, for instance, rooted its moral and aesthetic values in the epic poems of Homer. To see how little things have changed, just consider the massive impact of such modern epics as Star Wars and the Lord of the Rings. Throughout human history, a good story has always grabbed and kept our attention better than anything else.

This is the core idea of the book. Miller adds another key element, drawing from the work of psychologist, Abraham Maslow. Maslow famously identified a hierarchy of human needs, starting with the basics—food, shelter—and building all the way up to our highest spiritual and social aspirations. Human beings want to belong. Your StoryBrand should tap into this need and inspire a sense of community and togetherness.

Which brings us to the StoryBrand itself. The concept is a simple but compelling one. Brands should not dully convey information about your product. There are simply too many brands and products out there for that to work. You need to stand out and catch people’s attention, fire their imagination. The best way to do that is to cast your branding in terms of a story.

The StoryBrand has some essential parts: a hero, a villain, a wise guide, a plan, calls to action, the possibility of failure, and ultimate, glorious success. These are the essential components of the StoryBrand 7-Part Framework, or SB7 Framework.

The basic idea is that your customer is the hero of their own story. You need to sell them on this. Say you’re selling a productivity app. In your StoryBrand, your heroic customer is someone who rises with the dawn and seeks to maximize their potential. They’re an efficient, unstoppable go-getter.

Then comes the villain. This can be anything from personal shortcomings, to external problems, to your competitors. Continuing the productivity app story, an effective villain might be procrastination or the hectic pileup of tasks so common in the modern workplace. These are not mere inconveniences, but villains which must be overcome. Fortunately for the hero, you can come in as a wise guide. The idea is to play Obi Wan Kenobi to their Luke Skywalker. You need to convey a complete knowledge and understanding of the villains and pitfalls your hero faces.

Once the characters of hero, villain, and guide have been established, the SB7 Framework turns to story. As the guide, you need to present a plan and a call to action. Practically, this can mean a lot of different things. For example, a simple form of call to action can be links on ads to “Buy Now” or “Try for Free.” This language is so common because it works.

You also need to communicate the stakes involved. People don’t read stories where the happy ending is a foregone conclusion. There has to be some stakes, at least the possibility of everything ending tragically. For your StoryBrand, this can help you identify your competitors and cast them in a negative light: “The number one problem for ABC industry is X, leading to the loss of millions every year…” This is precisely where you sweep in with your own success story, the final component of the SB7 Framework.

Overall, the idea of Building a StoryBrand is a beautifully simple one. It draws on fundamental elements of human psychology and is adaptable to any product or service. The book conveys these ideas in a clear and easy to understand way, without getting too bogged down in jargon. What jargon there is in the book, is immediately understandable because of how it ties into the way stories inherently resonate with us. If you want a fresh perspective on branding and marketing, give this book a read.

Building a StoryBrand is available for purchase here.

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