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Rocket GTM 🚀 - The power of storytelling 📖
The world's biggest brands like Nike, Apple, and Salesforce are master storytellers. Here are seven steps to help you master storytelling too.
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Stories are powerful tools for organizing information and making sense of the world
How you construct your story and the characters in it have a big impact on it's effectiveness
Stories must create clarity and avoid confusion
Stories compel your customers to act and evoke powerful emotions that create loyalty and affinity
There are seven steps to building a powerful story
Scroll to the end for 15 key takeaways
Why tell stories?
With so much marketing noise in the world today we need a way to cut through it all.
Marketing noise creates confusion through lack of clarity.
When you confuse your customers, you lose them.
Stories help us organize information and enable us to burn fewer cognitive calories when making sense of the world.
Stories inspire us, motivate us, and compel us into action.
Stories act like glue that wraps around your brand and put's your product into context for customers. With stories we can turn marketing noise into the beautiful sound of music.
But how do you tell good stories?
In this weeks newsletter I unpack the storytelling framework laid out by Donald Miller in his book 'Building a storybrand' to help you build a brand that inspires customers to buy your product.
The storybrand framework
Every story you see or hear in a nutshell:
"A character who wants something encounters a problem before they can get it. At the peak of their despair, a guide steps into their lives, gives them a plan, and calls them to action. That action helps them avoid failure and ends in a success story" - Building a StoryBrand (p. 20)
Donald Miller lays out a framework for constructing powerful stories that your marketing team can leverage to build a world class brand.
has a problem
who meets a guide
and gives them a plan
which compels them to act
and helps them avoid failure
which ends in success
Who is the hero, who is the guide?
Your customer is the hero of the story. Not you, nor your brand, nor your product.
Heroes don't want other heroes to compete with, they want a guide.
Luke Skywalker has Yoda
Frodo Baggins has Gandalf
Harry Potter has Dumbledore
Yoda, Gandalf, and Dumbledore aren't trying to compete with their protagonists for the limelight. They are trying to support their protagonists to walk their own path and quickly step out of the way.
You must position your brand as a guide who enables your customer to be successful in their quest for greatness.
Identify the destination and what's at stake
Customer's don't know what the desired outcome is. You must define it.
You must also outline what's at stake if they fail.
"A story starts with a hero who wants something. And then the question becomes: Will the hero get what she wants? Before knowing what the hero wants, the audience has little interest in her fate. This is why screenwriters have to define the character’s ambition within the first nine or so minutes of a film getting started. Will the underdog get the promotion? Will the runner finish the marathon? Will the team win the championship? "- Building a StoryBrand (p. 45
If you sell cyber security it's up to you to paint he picture of what a security breach could mean for your customer. Until there is a known destination and clear understanding of what's at stake, it's hard to be emotionally involved in the story.
The objective of setting an end goal is to help create tension and pose the question "will the hero get there".
Defining an outcome is a visual way of helping your customer understand why they should buy your product. At Spendesk, we help finance managers capture receipts. But that's not an end goal, the end goal is to avoid regulatory authorities fining companies for incomplete records!
Customers don't care about what your product does, they care about what your product does for them, and more specifically what end goal it will help them achieve.
Create tension with a story gap
Customers need to be engaged with your story and care about what happens.
The way to do this is through a story gap.
A story gap: the difference between your character and what they want.
Every film starts by introducing what's at stake. Normally some evil villain or power that could take over the world and end in destruction.
They then introduce the hero and their desired outcome: Frodo Baggins must destroy the ring.
But if you knew Frodo was definitely going to obtain his goal, there'd be no tension, no interest, no story gap.
Think of your story like a rope, there must be cycles of tension and resolution. There must be hope and despair. If the rope is too slack the audience loses interest, if there is too much tension the rope breaks and people become overwhelmed.
A master storyteller cycles through tension by playing with the audience, making them guess whether the hero will actually achieve their goal.
"When we fail to define something our customer wants, we fail to open a story gap. When we don’t open a story gap in our customers’ mind, they have no motivation to engage us, because there is no question that demands resolution." - Building a StoryBrand (p. 48).
Introduce your characters with your customer as the hero, with you as the guide, and an end goal in mind.
Ensure to sell the picture of what happens if the desired outcome is unattained and provide hope to overcome challenges.
The desired outcome must be linked to survival
Miller identifies a common problem when building a company's story arch. When the desired outcome is not linked to survival it's not important enough for customers.
Referring back to the above Spendesk example. We don't help customers capture receipts, we help them prevent fraud which regulators penalize heavily for. We prevent customers from being fired or their businesses incurring serious penalties.
Survival isn't just linked to life and death, we can look at Maslow's hierarchy of needs to get more inspiration of powerful survival goals.
Customers may desire: safety, security, status, love, and self-actualization.
For example: when you buy a 65 inch TV, are you helping them:
'watch great TV at home'
or are you helping them fulfill a social status need and
'be the place where everyone wants to watch the game'?
For a landscaping company would you rather:
'help trim your bushes'
or help customers
"get a yard that looks better than your neighbor’s"?
⛔️ A Problem
For every destination there must be obstacles.
For Frodo there are Orcs and dangerous mountains to cover, for Luke Skywalker there are stormtroopers and strange lands to navigate.
For finance people it may be manual reconciliation, chasing employees for receipts, or spending hours in excel doing complex formulae to create a report for the board each month.
Your product is a tool that can be used to overcome these obstacles. But you are not selling a tool.... you are selling the end destination and all the benefits of getting there.
We must however shine a light on the problems our customers face and educate them why such problems exist, and how to overcome them.
Bilbo Baggins is given a sword that glows blue when there are Orcs nearby. Your customer is Bilbo, and your product is the sword. But you are selling the dream of a land free of evil, safety, security and prosperity... not the sword itself.
Problems have a part to play, but they are a minor detail of the larger destination.
Companies often make the mistake of overly focusing on the initial problem and solution rather than the bigger picture and destination.
Every story needs a villain
If our customers are the heroes, then we must define the villains.
Here are some example villains from storybrands of famous startups.
Salesforce is a tool to defeat the villain of 'companies that sell products which require you to spend $100k+ on a physical server just to get started'
Revolut is a tool that defeats the villain of 'banks ripping you off through extortionate FX fees'
Apple saves creatives against the villain of 'ugly and poorly designed product'
Villains don't have to be people, but they can be things or processes too. Villains are personifications of problems, but they give our hero someone to fight against and creates two sides.
Heroes encounter three types of challenges
There are three types of challenges that your hero will encounter
External problems are often physical or tangible problems. Frodo must kill some orcs. Finance people must collect receipts.
Most businesses solve external problems for customers, but few even attempt to acknowledge internal or philosophical ones.
External problems bring customers to our doors, but it's often internal or philosophical problems that determine whether they buy.
External problems tend to evoke internal problems.
For example: your childhood friend may have turned evil and become the villain. You must make the decision whether to kill the villain despite them being an old friend. The external problem is the villain attacking you, but the internal problem is "do I choose friendship over preventing evil?"
Harry Potter encounters internal problems of self-identify, overcoming the death of his parents, and the burden of saving the world. Having internal challenges makes people relatable, we can empathize with them.
Finance people may need to close the books at month-end (external) but they need recognition from their peers too (internal).
Apple's marketing campaign helped creative people address internal struggles of their fear over complicated computers, and need to be cool.
Philosophical problems transcend the problems experienced by the hero. They may be related to good vs evil, climate change, poverty, or social justice.
Toms shoes are 'in business to change lives' and have a philosophical mission to donate a pair of shoes for every pair bought and give 1/3 of profits to grassroots good.
Tesla solves an external problem (transport) and internal problem (status and belonging), and a philosophical problem (renewable energy).
If we want to create a powerful brand then position your company as solving all three external, internal, and philosophical problems.
Would Star Wars be as interesting if Luke Skywalker didn't have to battle the internal challenge of turning to the dark side?
🧙♂️ The guide
Heroes don't want to compete with other heroes, they want guides to help them achieve greatness.
You should position your brand as a guide, an enabler who empowers the hero and then steps out of the way.
Don't fight for glory. Don't position yourself at the center of the story.
"Consider the failure of the music streaming service Tidal. Never heard of it? There’s a good reason. Rapper Jay Z founded the company with a personal investment of a whopping $56 million with a mission to “get everyone to respect music again.”... "Jay Z failed to consider the mistake of positioning himself and other artists as the heroes. Were artists going to buy music from each other? No. He needed to position the customer, not the artist, as the hero."..."The public became nauseated listening to a row of famous, multimillionaire musicians guilt-trip them into paying more for their music." - Building a StoryBrand (p. 76).
Guides exhibit two important characteristics
Yoda and Gandalf are both empathetic towards their students, but without authority they would not be respected.
Authority is important so you are not seen as just a friend to your customer. Speaking at conferences, writing thought leadership, customer testimonials, and awards are all good ways to exhibit authority in your field.
"People will do anything for those who encourage their dreams, justify their failures, allay their fears, confirm their suspicions and help them throw rocks at their enemies". - Blair Warren - One Sentence Persuasion.
✍️ A Plan
Offer a path that reduces risk
Customers who buy products are making a commitment by saying 'I trust that your product will get me to where I want to go'.
But before committing, customers want to mitigate risk. They'll ask themselves 'is this going to work? How can I be sure? What happens if it doesn't work?'.
You must answer those questions by offering them a clear path to success.
Imagine your customers are crossing a river, they need to have faith that your plan will get them to the other side. if it doesn't work they'll get wet.
"In order to ease your customers’ concerns, we need to place large stones in that river. When we identify the stones your customers can step on to get across the creek, we remove much of the risk and increase their comfort level about doing business with us. It’s as though we’re saying, “First, step here. See, it’s easy. Then step here, then here, and then you’ll be on the other side, and your problem will be resolved.” - Building a StoryBrand (p. 86).
Do your marketing assets offer a clear path to success? Do they focus on mitigating risk and reducing obscurity?
Plans remove risk by making it obvious what must be donee, that doesn't mean it's going to be easy, but at least customers don't need to figure out what to do by themselves.
Great companies introduce a problem and give a clear path to resolution. But they let the customer do the hard work themselves.
Drift introduced the problem of one way marketing messages (brands sending messages to customers) and the need to have conversations with customers instead.
They created a category called 'conversational marketing' and then produce marketing assets that guide the user to execute conversational marketing themselves. These plans may be playbooks, webinars, and other forms of resources. All offering step by step guides to success.
When the plan of action is not clear, there will be no action.
Lack of clarity can come from anywhere
How hard will it be to use
What are the downsides
Who is this a good fit for
Will this be costly
How well does it actually solve the problem
Does it integrate with the tools I need
Your job is to provide clarity through a clear plan, and calling any objections upfront.
Hey.com have a great example on their pricing page, they create clarity in the plan by answering a common objection upfront..
Guides should provide plans that eliminate confusion, the hero shouldn't have to think about what to do, or if it's the right thing to do.
They should just do it.
You can incorporate clear paths to success into your sales and marketing process with the use of upfront contracts:
Upfront Contract: a tool that salespeople use to agree with their prospect, before the meeting, what will take place during that particular sales meeting. ... It allows the salesperson to maintain control during all phases of the selling process.
One example would be:
"I can understand that you're not sure if this is going to work, how would you feel if I gave you two weeks free access so you could see for yourself before deciding to purchase a year contract?"
Be a guide. Come with a plan. Do it confidently.
🎯 Compel to act
"Customers do not take action unless they are challenged to take action" - Building a StoryBrand (p. 34).
There needs to be some sort of catalyst to cause change.
Want to lose 30lbs?
You need a reason why.
This could be a doctor diagnosing a health condition, or having children that you want to live longer for. People only feel compelled to act when they are called upon by some external reason.
You create that external reason through educating your customers and outlining what's at stake.
Lower the barrier of commitment to promote action
Often people don't act because there is too much commitment required. You can resolve this by lowering the ask.
Instead of asking in a cold email: "Are you available for 30 minutes next Thursday?" you could ask "Do you encounter this problem?".
If you are selling cigars door to door, don't try to sell them. Give every house a packet for free and come back the following week and only charge them for any they've smoked.
This is called 'commitment stacking' - getting agreement to small requests and then obtaining incrementally larger commitments.
When you encounter action resistance, lower the call to action and increase the stakes.
🙌 Avoid failure
"Every human being is trying to avoid a tragic ending" - Building a StoryBrand (p. 107).
Every hero is trying to avoid failure, but you need sprinkles of failure to keep a story engaging. No risk of failure causes people to disengage.
It's our job as storytellers to play with the failure dynamic throughout our marketing strategy.
You must answer the "so what?" question. "Why is avoiding failure important?
The negative consequences of not acting must be explicitly clear. But be careful, too many warnings about imminent danger will turn customers off.
"Failure is like salt: use too much and you’ll ruin the flavor; leave it out and the recipe will taste bland." - Building a StoryBrand (p. 36).
Show don't tell
Showing the consequences is always more powerful than explaining them.
Allstate insurance did an incredible job of demonstrating what's at stake during a controversial Superbowl ad.
Their goal was to show how posting on social media while being at a game can help burglars break in to your home.
They staged a burglary at the house of a couple who were at the game and posting to instagram. Allstate then sold off their items live on television.
Watch the video below to see what happened!👇
The results were insane.
Website received 6,000-10,000 views per second
18 million views during the game.
Trended #1 on Twitter
20 million impressions on Facebook
18% rise in people taking out home insurance.
Your story must make it clear what is at stake and compel people to act by showing them what could go wrong.
There are risks of doing nothing.
Films outline what success looks like in the first nine minutes. Customers need to understand what their future transformation will be. Don't assume they already know.
Years ago, a friend gave me the best leadership advice I’ve ever received. He said, “Don, always remember, people want to be taken somewhere.”..."Where is your brand taking people?" - Building a StoryBrand (p. 117).
Nike is an example of an aspirational brand who promotes a clear vision.
It's clear that buying their products will transform you into looking and feeling like an athlete. Customers don't have to guess, they know exactly what story they are buying into.
Being specific matters. Kennedy would have bored the world had he sold America on a “highly competitive and productive space program.” Instead, he said “We’re going to put a man on the moon.”
Do you have a clearly defined future state that customers can embody if they purchase your product?
What are the most powerful forms of resolution that inspire action?
Resolutions that solve external, internal, and philosophical problems are the most powerful.
Buying your product should symbolize the act of resolution.
Your customers can now feel part of a community, mitigate the risk of losing their job, rejoice in being able to provide more their family.
Resolution should feel good.
Most stories resolve in one of three ways:
Winning power or position
Being unified with somebody or something
Experience some kid of self-realization that makes them whole
What kind of resolution is your brand provide?
"In 2013, the soap company Dove released a series of short films featuring women who were the subjects of an FBI-trained forensic artist. Without actually seeing the women, the artist would draw each woman based on how she described herself. Later, the artist would draw the same woman based on how a stranger described her. The reveal was shocking. The sketches drawn from the stranger’s description were always more beautiful than the ones in which the women described themselves. The point: many women don’t realize how beautiful they are. The ad was an attempt to help women accept themselves and find greater contentment in their intrinsic beauty". Building a StoryBrand (p. 126)
🔎 15 Key takeaways
Now we know stories are powerful and we know how to build them. Here are 15 takeaways from today's newsletter.
Stories help us organize information and enable us to burn fewer cognitive calories when making sense of the world
A good story has a character who wants something, who encounters a problem before they can get it. At the peak of their despair, a guide steps into their lives, gives them a plan, and calls them to action. That action helps them avoid failure and ends in a success story
Your customer is the hero not you
You are your customer's guide, you do not compete for hero status
It's up to you to identify what's at stake and why it matters
Stories require tension. Tension is created by creating a gap between the character and what they want
Your hero must encounter challenges, they can be in the form of external, internal, or philosophical challenges
Stories need a villain
Every story needs a guide, but they aren't the central character
Guides need to show empathy and authority to be listened to
Heroes need a clear cut path to success, even if they have to walk it alone
Heroes need to some sort of catalyst, or reason to act. They won't do it off their own volition
Stories need the threat of failure, and a hero's job is to avoid failure through the help of other people and tools as well as through overcoming internal and philosophical challenges
Showing what's at stake is more powerful than describing it
Make it crystal clear what the future state will be if your mission is accomplished
So, what story will you create?