copywriting for storytelling with donald miller’s storybrand: the missing piece
copywriting for storytelling with donald miller’s storybrand: the missing piece

You’ve got a story brand: why do you still need a copywriter?

If you’re anywhere near the world of copywriting and storytelling, you’ve probably heard of Donald Miller’s best-selling book, Building A Storybrand.

That book has become top of mind for many large and small businesses. In fact, companies are seeking freelance writers who know the Storybrand framework. Mastermind groups and marketing coaches advise their clients: “If you’re not sure how to define your business, go read that book about Storybrand.”

The 7 Components Of The Storybrand Framework

  1. A character — The customer is the hero.

2. Has a problem — The hero faces internal or external obstacles.

3. And meets a guide — A guide appears!

4. Who has a plan — Customers trust a guide who has a plan.

5. And calls them to action — Customers are challenged to take action.

6. That helps them avoid failure — Everyone wants to avoid a bad outcome.

7. And ends in success — Their businesses, relationships, finances or even lives will be transformed.

If you’d like the tl.dr version of the book, here’s a good summary article (I don’t know the author and have no relationship to the article):

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“Everything’s easier when you do it with stories.”

Why it Works

What makes this framework brilliant — and widely used — is that Miller takes a fairly familiar formula and turns it into a story format. You may have been taught to introduce yourself at networking events with something like this (this is my speech for my Personal Branding With Stories program):

“You know how most people really have trouble talking about themselves? Well, I work with clients who’d rather be boiled in oil than write their own bios.

“I have a three-step method that makes them comfortable talking about themselves. When they finish my program, they no longer dread meeting new people and being so nervous they say all the wrong things.

“They actually look forward to attending networking events and making keynote speeches…and they report growing their businesses at an unprecedented rate.”

Can you find each of the 7 elements in this elevator speech? You can.

But is it easier to put the speech together when you work with the 7-part Storybrand framework? Absolutely!

Cinderella: a great movie, a lousy business story

Not every iconic story will work for business owners. Take this classic fairy tale, for instance.

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The Cinderella Story: Not for your business brand!

Cinderella has a problem: she wants to go to the ball, but her family has consigned her to the fireside, dressed in rags.

The situation seems hopeless.

Soon, however, she meets a guide: her godmother appears out of nowhere, uninvited and unexpected.

Who’s the real hero here?

The godmother’s plan consists of waving a wand to get Cinderella the appropriate clothes, transport, and shoes; now Cinderella has to step up and charm the prince. She avoids being stuck at home and (literally) gets a vehicle to transform her from unwanted housemaid to beloved princess.

From a business perspective, you can think of Cinderella as the hero and the godmother as the guide. Like a supernatural life coach, the godmother gives Cinderella everything she needs. Unlike a more earthly life coach, she doesn’t charge Cinderella for her services.

Real-life guides don’t work this way.

Why do we need copywriters for our real-life journeys? And who needs more storytellers, anyway?

In the iconic hero’s journey stories, a guide appears on the scene just in time, filled with vague promises.

We rarely see the guide persuading the hero: “Look, you need me. I’m not a flake. I’m not one of those scams promising to save you from the tax people if you just pay me a fortune in gift cards. I’m the real deal.”

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And in many of these tales, the guide’s the only game in town. The hero’s out in the middle of nowhere. Where else can they go?

Cinderella’s family abandoned her by the fireside with nobody around but a few useless mice.

Luke Skywalker’s stuck in a whole new universe with only his mechanical friend for company.

So, when a guide appears, the hero’s thrilled: what have they got to lose? There’s no one else in sight.

Business heroes choose from many guides.

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Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

In today’s commercial environment, heroes are far from alone.

If they’re savvy enough to type in “how to solve my problem of …” they’ll get pages and pages of solutions, whether the problem is as simple as an ingrown toenail or as complex as a cryptocurrency exchange.

Today’s guides need to sell the hero on the value of their services.

The hero isn’t likely to starve or be killed by a monster. So, there will be little temptation to just follow the guide — any guide! — out of a sense of urgency.

In the traditional hero’s journey, the guide could move the hero with just one impassioned speech. Today you often need multiple “touches” to get the attention of your prospects.

There’s just one Yoda. But hundreds of guides compete for your prospect’s attention.

And as a guide, you rarely work with just one hero. You need to learn more about your client or group of clients.

Clients look for 2 qualities in a guide.

Donald Miller calls them “authority and empathy.” You’ll hear variations of these terms such as “expertise and caring,” or “knowledge and understanding.” As a service professional, you’ll need to communicate that you share these qualities.

Authority is pretty straightforward. Your customers usually aren’t looking for a new friend. They want someone with the expertise and experience to solve their problem.

Some marketers claim clients are looking for someone who understands where they’re coming from, even walked in their shoes.

We can frame these qualities as questions.

From a copywriting perspective, I’d prefer to frame these qualities as two questions that can be broken down into a series of sub-questions. For instance:

1 Can you solve my problem?

“Have you seen problems like this before?”

“Do you have education and training in this specific type of problem?”

“Do you have a repeatable, proven system to solve this problem?”

“When you solve my problem, will you avoid generating other new problems as a by-product?”

2 — How will we work together?

“Will you be respectful of my time and money? Will you be on time for meetings? Will you avoid suggesting add-ons or larger services I don’t need or want?”

“Will you treat me with courtesy?”

“Will you accept my circumstances as normal? For instance, if I’m single will you respect my status or compare me unfavorably to married couples?”

“Will you take me seriously regardless of the size of my problem?”

Specific questions raised will depend on the client’s backstory. A client with a negative experience will bring more questions. You won’t know the details of every individual backstory, but if you’ve been in business a while, you’ll most likely identify some common themes.

For example, from the negative side:

Web developers who talked fast with a lot of tech terms, disappeared into the sunset with their passwords, went over budget, missed deadlines and decamped to a ski resort one week before the site was due to go live

.Lawyers who disparaged their claims and ridiculed them for getting into the situation in the first place.

Financial planners who sneered at the small size of their portfolios and overwhelmed them with Wall Street jargon.

Because so many people come to you with negative experiences, you have to overcome their resistance with a credible promise. You communicate your promise all the way through your marketing.

Branding With Your Promise: You’re Not A Big Company

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Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

Here’s where a lot of entrepreneurs bump up against branding. Your small service can’t brand itself like big players — beer, soft drinks, toothpaste, and even dog food. Those brands have big budgets, to be sure.

But more importantly, they need to create personalities for their brands. For instance, what’s beer? A bunch of chemicals suspended in water. So, the brand manager has to give these products a new personality. That’s why you see those “warm and fuzzy” commercials; we learn to associate one brand of beer with cute dogs and horses.

When you are the brand, you don’t need to create a personality. You choose a style to guide your marketing. You encourage prospective clients to understand how your background and experience allow you to deliver value.

That’s where the copywriter comes in.

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fPhoto by Allie Smith on Unsplash

The copywriter’s first challenge is to find the hero’s backstory. It’s not always as obvious as, “I’m lost.” The copywriter needs to ask questions like:

“Where did you start out?”

“How did you get lost?”

The copywriter’s second challenge is to hone in on how a particular guide can help. The hero has many choices: why you?

Rewriting the Cinderella Story

Cinderella becomes a hero-victim in the Storybrand framework. Her godmother appears as a guide — something like a life coach who’s introducing Cinderella to a new mindset and a new life.

When the godmother appears, Cinderella might share her story, just as any new client would share a story when encountering the guide for the first time.
Her backstory might go like this:

“Ever since my dad married my stepmother, I’ve been stuck here in this kitchen every day. My stepsisters don’t do anything; they dress in fancy clothes and go wherever they want. I get to live like a servant.

“But here’s the last straw. The kingdom’s prince is giving a big ball tonight. My stepmom is going. My stepsisters are going. They all got beautiful new dresses. And here I am, dressed in rags, sitting by the hearthside with my list of chores.

“I can’t get a job and strike out on my own. It’s the wrong century! I’m just going to sit here and cry…”

Cinderella’s Godmother: The Limitations

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If the godmother were a contemporary life coach, she’d teach Cinderella to make her own escape from the hearthside and find her own soulmate, who may or may not be a prince. To be fair, jobs for cinder-girls aren’t easy to come by, even today.

Just one simple 3-step plan.

Wear these clothes, jump into this coach, and enjoy the dance. (Yes, Cinderella will also know how to dance by the time she gets there.) Just one thing: be home by midnight.

A solution that’ll get eaten alive by the competition.

Today’s godmother can’t just hand over a coach, gown, and slippers, not to mention holding her client to an arbitrary deadline.

She’d need to show why her plan works better than anything offered by the competition. Another godmother would be right there with a plan that included dancing lessons and a 3 AM deadline (“more hours at the ball — more time to meet your prince!”)

Copywriting saves the hero AND the guide.

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As copywriters, we don’t just target one sad young daughter. We define our audience as young millennials who feel life has let them down. They’ve lost confidence. They have no idea what to do next and they lack the skills to reinvent themselves.

So, we position the godmother as a guide who doesn’t just point the way: she does all the work as she escorts her clients to a new life.

“You get to take on a new identity just when you need one. Bye to the tattered girl sitting by the hearthside. Introducing a beautiful, confident young woman. We do all the work.”

Your copywriter has the job of connecting the elements of your Storybrand. You need high-quality content to introduce the guide who will solve the hero’s problem.

It’s not enough to say, “Here’s the guide!” The copywriter has to communicate why this particular guide will be the hero’s best choice. For example:

The standard fairy godmother will wave a wand and solve your problem.

Big deal.

Today’s successful godmother acts as a coach. She introduces you to her proprietary system to learn 5 critical life skills in one afternoon.

You won’t just go to the ball. You’ll stand up to the people who are holding you back and demand equal rewards. You won’t just get one gown: you’ll learn to use a sewing machine and whip up half a dozen.

No more sitting by the hearthside weeping for your misfortune!

This guide will teach you a few self-help techniques, such as meditation and EFT tapping. You’ll enjoy an uplifted mood, so you’ll feel empowered, maybe for the first time in your life. You’ll learn how to recognize a person — or family group — that seems warm and welcoming but has the potential to trap you by the hearthside before you know what’s happening.

With the right guide, Cinderella might even realize the prince is a pretty good guy … but she can do better.

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Cathy Goodwin

Cathy Goodwin is a strategic copywriter and marketing strategist, helping business owners escape their loathsome Cinderella chores and find a way to dance at the ball.

Helping entrepreneurs and independent professionals grow their businesses one story at a time.

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