Building a Story Brand - Book Review

One of the most important parts of branding is connecting with customers and engaging them in a brand story, so when I saw the “Building a Story Brand” book on Amazon, I knew I had to check it out. I’m always looking for ways to improve my brand design skillset, and one way I do that is by learning about and analyzing the branding frameworks that others use.

So, is “Building a Story Brand” worth checking out? Read my thoughts below to see if it’s right for you, or skip to the end for the TL;DR version.

“In every line of copy we write, we’re either serving the customer’s story or descending into confusion; we’re either making music or making noise.”

 

– Donald Miller, Building a Story Brand

Soon after opening “Building a Story Brand”, it becomes apparent that the approach contained within is centered around the familiar story of The Hero’s Journey, a formula routinely employed in fiction novels and mainstream movies. For those of you who aren’t familiar, this same story has been retold thousands of times over hundreds of years, ranging from works such as Homer’s “The Odyssey” to George Lucas’ Star Wars.

Beware movie-goers, once you become aware of the Hero’s Journey formula, you start noticing it everywhere which can take some of the suspense out of the experience. For those of you who prefer to see how the sausage is made, read on!

Building a Story Brand - Heroes
So what is The Hero’s Journey? Here’s the official synopsis: “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”
This formula is broken down into steps outlining each plot point of the story which you can see in the graphic below, but here’s the simplified version:
  1. The Hero initially lives an ordinary life, but encounters a problem.
  2. The Hero meets a Mentor that shares their wisdom and gives the Hero a plan to conquer their problem.
  3. The Hero embarks on an adventure, undergoing many trials and tribulations before finally overcoming their enemy and emerging victorious.
  4. The Hero receives an award/power.
  5. The Hero then returns to the Ordinary World, sharing his newfound solution/wisdom with his fellow man.
  6. Everyone lives happily ever after.
Building a Story Brand - The Hero's Journey
Sound familiar? Try to apply this formula to your favorite superhero movie and I bet it lines up pretty well.
Okay so now that we’ve covered The Hero’s Journey and potentially ruined your next trip to the theater, you’re probably thinking “that’s great, but how does that apply to branding?” Good question.
Donald Miller, the author of the book, argues that this same formula should be applied to all brand messaging that you create for your company. Because your customers are familiar with the story (consciously or subconsciously), he believes that they will be drawn to the story should you place them in it, and I tend to agree with his approach. After all, who doesn’t want to be the hero?
Here’s the way “Building a Story Brand” breaks down The Hero’s Journey in terms of branding:
  • A Hero (your customer) wants something
  • There is a villain (the cause of customer’s problems) preventing them from getting it
  • A guide (your business) establishes expertise and gives them a plan (what your product or service will help your customers do)
  • The Hero is called to action (how do you get your customers to buy your product/service)
  • The Hero succeeds in their goal (what benefits will your customer experience after purchasing your product/service)
  • While avoiding failure (what could happen if the customer does not use your product/service)
  • And undergoing transformation (who was the customer before your guidance, and who have they become after?)
Miller then goes on to explain how each part of this brand journey can be utilized when writing copy for your business. For example, you could use the framework to create messaging that calls out a problem (the villain) your customer (the hero) is facing, establishes yourself as an expert through case studies and testimonials (become the guide), entices them with a free business audit (call to action), and completes the sale by explaining the results they can expect to see once the branding process is complete (undergoing transformation).

“The customer is the hero of the story, not your brand. When we position our customer as the hero and ourselves as the guide, we will be recognized as a trusted resource to help them overcome their challenges.”

 

– Donald Miller, Building a Story Brand

One of the most important points Miller makes in “Building a Story Brand” is that your company is not the hero. Your company is the guide that helps the hero (your customer) overcome a problem and achieve their goal. This is a common mistake that I see many businesses make, where all of their brand messaging is focused on why their company is the best, what’s wrong with their competition, and the list of products they offer. This approach places your brand as the hero, and leaves your customer on the outside looking in.
On the flip side, one issue I had with the book was an upsell that is mentioned a bit too often for comfort. “Building a Story Brand” contains many reminders to visit the corresponding website where you’re able to take notes on how your brand fits in to each step of the journey (essentially an online PDF). But, in order to access the site, you have to provide your email, which is then undoubtedly entered into a sales funnel of some kind. The website also contains many links to paid e-courses, workshops, and supplemental videos that makes the whole thing feel a little too sales-y. That being said, you absolutely do not have to make any purchases aside from the book in order to find it useful.
Building a Story Brand - Framework

Overall, I absolutely recommend reading “Building a Story Brand” if you’re looking for a fresh approach to branding. While the book only covers a portion of the branding process as a whole, it’s a great way to align all of your brand messaging and to make sure every piece of communication is customer-centric (the way it should be!). It can also be a fun exercise to apply The Hero’s Journey to your messaging in order to focus on telling stories instead of simply listing benefits and features.

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