Donald Miller’s StoryBrand framework is an internationally acclaimed marketing tool that helps businesses clarify their messaging in order to attract more customers. The StoryBrand framework is as follows:
- A character, aka “Hero” (with a want or desire)
- Has a Problem (defined on the external, internal, and philosophical levels)
- And meets a Guide (with empathy and authority)
- Who gives them a Plan
- And a Call to Action
- That leads to Success…
- Or Failure.
We have seen this framework work in our marketing efforts over and over again. It has helped our clients achieve incredible results—filling up their pipelines with qualified leads over a rapid period of time, skyrocketing their revenue, increasing their own customers’ satisfaction and user experience, and even pulling them back from the brink of going out of business.
I’m here to tell you that you should break the StoryBrand framework.
But just sometimes – not always. That would be pretty ironic coming from a StoryBrand-certified marketing agency! Companies must always put in the work to create their StoryBrand message before they think about strategically breaking it.
StoryBrand is a framework, not a rule. It must adapt to each business’s marketing.
As a StoryBrand-certified agency, we have seen many instances when the StoryBrand framework needed to be broken in order to meet the needs of our clients. Here are the top 3 times when you may need to break StoryBrand.
1. If your product or service is singular, simple, and straightforward.
StoryBrand teaches us to never stop focusing on our customer’s wants and their problems.
However, some businesses are a lot more straightforward than others; these businesses need to feature their product or service prominently in their marketing.
These are typically B2C businesses whose products appeal to basic wants and needs; as such, their customer isn’t as concerned with the “why” as much as the “what”.
These companies should focus less on their customer’s problem and more on the product or service.
If you sell the best ice cream in Nantucket, you don’t need a long, drawn-out scrolling journey through your website trying to convince people that they have a problem, that they’re sad, that you are a guide who can help them, and they need a three-step plan, etcetera…just put up a picture in your above-the-fold (ATF) of a gleeful kid about to devour your Triple Chocolate Concrete Cone with extra sprinkles.
This strategy works best with companies that don’t have a deep philosophical proposition or a major objection they’re trying to overcome. If you sell a simple product that doesn’t need explaining, don’t try.
Theme parks, grocery stores, venues, and small e-commerce businesses are examples of when this could work. On the other hand, big corporations, medical practitioners, and highly technical B2B businesses (like IT companies), would be examples when not to use this tactic.
2. When optimizing your website for SEO.
It doesn’t matter if your website has the perfect StoryBrand message poised to bring in record sales — what does it matter if no one can find it?
StoryBrand is all about getting to the point—no fluff or filler words along the way. It’s easy to get caught up in crafting the perfect StoryBrand message for your website, but in order to ensure your website can even be found on the web, you need to have a keyword strategy that you’re looping into your message.
The most grievous SEO error that StoryBrand websites make is in the H1 title tag in the above-the-fold (ATF). These are the first words you read on the website, and per StoryBrand rules, they should pertain to the Aspirational Identity of the customer (what they ultimately want). This is all well and good, but if you don’t include your primary keyword in your H1, you may be shooting yourself in the foot.
Including your primary keyword in the H1 (things like “financial advisor” if you’re a financial advisor) is the most important SEO optimization for your website. In the ensuing copy (H2s, H3s, and body), you also need to include your secondary keywords (“retirement planning” and “investments”) and long-tail keywords (“best financial advisor in Kansas”).
If you need more help with SEO, that is one of our specialties at Good Agency!
3. When your credibility is a selling point.
If StoryBrand had a Ten Commandments, the First Commandment would be “You shall be the Guide, not the Hero.”
That said, if you have an established and respected brand presence in your market and industry, use it to your advantage. Don’t focus your message too heavily on your customer (the Hero); your credibility stands on its own and will bring in qualified premium leads if you play a little more self-centered and hard to get.
It’s a slight shift in the Aspirational Identity – instead of communicating “Imagine yourself successful because of us”, it’s more like: “Imagine yourself successful with us.”
On this website we made for a client that is dominating its industry (the premier tree moving company in the country), we created a very simple design that focused more on the company’s credibility than it did on their customer’s journey. Note how the call to action is also a little “weaker” than StoryBrand would typically recommend (“Contact Us”) and how we feature their successful projects and Fortune 500 clients’ logos prominently.
BONUS: Break StoryBrand in your video
When you create a video for your marketing efforts, there are several times to break the StoryBrand framework.
The first time is if your product or service needs an explainer/demo video over a marketing video that features your BrandScript.
Typically though, your site needs a StoryBranded video in the first or second section of your website. When creating your StoryBrand video, you’ll want to rearrange your BrandScript around. I talk more about this in my other blog post about how to build a StoryBrand film for your business.
You’ll want to ditch the Transitional Call to Action. Your marketing video should point toward the Direct Call to Action – “Buy Now,” “Sign Up Today,” or “Request a Consultation”, but the most important rearrangement is to put the Failure at the beginning when you talk about the Problem.
You don’t want to end on a sour note (Failure); you want it to end on a high point (Success). A happy customer’s testimonial that leads to a Direct Call to Action is a perfect example. By doing this, you can create an effective narrative in your video ad: “We know you want x, but y is standing in your way. If you can’t overcome y, z could happen, and that’s no good. We can help. Here’s someone who went with us and achieved x. So, engage with us today.”
We covered a lot of ground. To recap, the best times to break the StoryBrand framework are:
- If your product or service is singular, simple, and straightforward, focus more on your product than the customer’s journey.
- When optimizing your website for SEO, ensure the right keywords are inserted into your message.
- When your credibility is a selling point, take on a more heroic role.
In your video, failure should come near the beginning.
Here at Good Agency, we believe in the StoryBrand framework, and we can help you with creating a message, a website, ads, and other marketing content that is StoryBranded but customized to your specific business needs. If you’re ready to get started, schedule a call with us today!