Brad Callen
Tuesday . 16 min read
Storybranding Framework Pt. 1

Hey, so in this chapter, I’m going to be talking about StoryBranding. I read about this in a book I highly recommend called Building a StoryBrand by Donald Miller. Anyways, I thought it was so valuable that I wanted to share some of the main concepts of StoryBranding with you guys here.

But before we really get into it, I want you to know that the two StoryBranding chapters in this book aren’t going to cover how to write a specific story for a VSL, for example. Instead, they’re going to help you create a brand story.

Once you’ve created your brand story, you’d then filter every line of copy you write through that framework,meaning that the copy you create for web pages, sales letters, VSLs, webinars, and anything else should all support the story of your brand. That’ll give your brand a cohesive brand message.

Anyways, as we go through this chapter and the next one, I’d encourage you to jot down your thoughts on a piece of paper and use that information to create a 1-page brand story for your own brand. In the same way that customer personas can help you craft more persuasive appeals, a cohesive brand story will provide you with a framework that’ll improve all your copywriting.

Let’s start with a simple sentence that Miller uses to sum up the StoryBrand framework:

A character 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 success.

A little clunky but once I break it down, you’ll be better able to see what he’s talking about here. So, let’s get into the character part of that sentence.

A character 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 success.

The character is basically the hero of the story. It’s really someone just like your customer. While it’s tempting to identify your own brand as the hero, you don’t want to do that. Customers are turned off when you make it all about your brand. Instead, your customer should be the main focus of the story and your brand should be more like a wise leader that helps your customer reach his desired goal.

Now in any good story, there’s conflict. If you write a story and the main character has a happy-go-lucky, carefree life, there’s nowhere to go from there. Imagine seeing a movie where nothing much happened, and everybody enjoyed happy lives. Boring. You’d never go see a movie like that, because it’d be dull. The same holds true for any story you create for your brand.

At the start of the story, your character should be the underdog, meaning there’s something he wants but doesn’t have yet. This creates what’s called a story gap, and it demands resolution. Your brand is what’s going to close the gap and help the character get where he wants to go. So, when you think about your character, you also have to clarify what it is he wants.

That can’t just be some vague “feel-good” desire either. It needs to be something clear and specific. For example, Miller mentions a client he worked with who had “Exhale Success” as the destination he helped clients reach.

While in theory, this line sounds good, success is undefined. What does it actually mean to his prospects? Miller advised him to change it to “Helping you become everyone’s favorite leader.” That’s a much more specific destination.

So it’s important that the destination you choose is one that helps your customers thrive–anything other than that and nobody will care. Destinations that fit into that category include things like being accepted, saving time or money, gaining status, accumulating resources, finding love, or achieving an aspirational identity. Basically, we’re talking about the big, universal things that everyone wants.

However, you just want to pick one destination, not multiple ones. Your goal here is to create one story gap and close that gap. Too many story gaps create confusion and dilute your brand message.

A character has a problem and meets a guide who gives them a plan and calls them to action that helps them avoid failure.

OK, so let’s talk about the problem part of this sentence. Like I said earlier, without a problem, you don’t have a story, nobody cares. The problem is what gets people invested in the outcome.

This is where a lot of companies screw up and make the mistake of only focusing on external problems. Let me give you an example. I used to own a company, truVitaliti, that offered anti-aging skin care products.

An external problem I was solving was a reduction in the appearance of wrinkles. However, I wasn’t just selling that–I was also helping customers solve the internal problem of feeling less attractive as they got older. So, in a larger sense, my products were solving issues related to self-esteem and self-confidence.

Now, had I written copy about reducing wrinkles–without ever mentioning things like looking younger, feeling more beautiful, and having greater self confidence, I wouldn’t have been able to sell any products.

Your customers face all kinds of problems–internal, external, and even philosophical. Your goal as a copywriter is ideally to address all three, rather than focusing only on external problems.

So, how do you talk about problems? Miller says the best way is to use a villain. Every good story has one and the concept of a villain is something that gets the customer more invested in the outcome. Your products are what the hero’s going to use to defeat the villain.

So let’s talk about the characteristics of a good villain.

Characteristics of a “Good” Villain

1. It’s real. You don’t need to use fear tactics here. There are plenty of real villains to choose from.

2. It’s the root source. Anger or irritation is not a villain. Big Pharma, corrupt politicians, and germs–now those are villains.

3. It’s singular. You can probably think of multiple villains, but you only want to pick one. The goal of storybranding is cohesive messaging and too many villains makes the story confusing.

4. It’s relatable. Your villain should be recognizable as a villain to everyone, not just you. Sure, your aunt Margaret may be a horrible human being. But keep her out of your brand story and choose something more universally despised.

5. It’s personified. Your villain doesn’t have to be a person, but if you use an object, you’re going to want to give it human characteristics. That’s why ads don’t just mention germs, by the way–instead, the germs are usually animated and have nasty personalities. That makes them more real to your audience

OK, now that I’ve talked about what constitutes a good villain, let’s return to the different types of problems I mentioned earlier–internal, external, and philosophical. I want to give you some examples of each so you have a better understanding of them.

External problems are things like a flat tire, ants in your kitchen, and dry skin. These are pretty easy to figure out.

Internal problems are like what I talked about earlier with truVitaliti – feeling less attractive or worrying about getting older. Customers want to buy solutions to internal problems. If you offer to resolve an internal problem AND an external problem–your copy will convert much higher.

Finally, there are philosophical problems–these are the ones that give customers a deeper sense of meaning.

An example here might be Bombas. Bombas is a company that sells socks. Socks are the #1 most requested clothing item in homeless shelters. For every pair of socks their customers buy, Bombas donates a pair of socks to a shelter. This is a company that’s addressing the more philosophical problem of homelessness.

Anyways, the best brand stories tackle all 3 of these types of problems–internal, external, and philosophical. So, let me give you an example of how that looks:

Villain: Processed, chemically-laden food
External: I need to eat.
Internal: I want to take good care of my health.
Philosophical: We should do more to protect the environment. My grocery story supports food suppliers who use sustainable agriculture practices.

Another good example might be Dove. I’m sure you’re familiar with the brand–they offer a huge line of soaps, deodorants, and skin care products. Anyways, when Dove conducted research, it found that unfortunately, 8 out of 10 girls are unhappy with their appearance.

So, the brand’s main story now is that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. Beauty shouldn’t be a source of anxiety for women, it should give them self-confidence. To promote that, Dove has something called the Self-Esteem Project which educates young girls on the importance of feeling good about themselves.

Now that I’ve given you a little background, here’s an example of how this fits into the framework we’ve been discussing:

Villain: The Media (that promotes unrealistic beauty expectations)
External: I need to clean my face.
Internal: I want to feel good about my appearance.
Philosophical: Women should have higher self-esteem. My purchase supports self-esteem education.

Alright, now that we’ve discussed the problem part of the story, let me just wrap it up by saying that you don’t want to go crazy here with multiple villains and lots of external problems. Keep it simple.

OK, let’s move on to the next part of the sentence, the part that reads “and meets a guide.”

A character 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 success.

As I’m sure you can guess based on what we’ve been discussing, in this case, your brand is the guide that’s going to help your hero get to his destination.

Again, your brand is not the hero. The example Miller uses is Jay Z and his Tidal music subscription service. To launch the Tidal app, Jay Z partnered with 16 famous musicians and held a press conference to explain Tidal’s mission of helping artists make more money from their music.

It dramatically backfired, because prospects got upset listening to multi-millionaires try to guilt-trip them into giving them more money. The problem with this story is that it makes Jay Z and Tidal the heroes, rather than the customers themselves.

Bottom line here is that your customer should always be the hero, and your brand should be the guide, offering wisdom and understanding to help them reach their desired destination.

To position your brand as a guide, you’ll want to display two main characteristics–empathy and competence. With empathy, you want to get into the minds of your customers and try to figure out what they’re thinking and feeling. Then, you want to write copy that acknowledges their frustrations, using language like, “We understand, we care,” etc.

The second part of the equation is displaying competence. Keep in mind though that you don’t want to come off as smug. Nobody wants an arrogant jerk preaching to them. So, the best way to straddle this line is through others.

For instance, you can use testimonials from happy customers or you could cite statistics of how much money you’ve saved people or how many customers you have–that kind of thing. You can also include logos and awards on your marketing materials. All of these approaches are a great way to establish authority in your industry.

Alright, that brings us to the end of this chapter. In the next chapter, I’ll discuss the final 4 parts of the StoryBranding framework. See you there.


Copywriting Swipe Files

Brad Callen
About The Author

Brad got his start online back in 2002, and is the founder of Bryxen, Inc. The Bryxen team has built 30 online businesses over the past decade. Ranging from eCommerce products, to information products, to Saas products. His life mission is to help small to medium-sized businesses experience dramatic and consistent growth, no matter how successful they already are.

The Bryxen product line includes...