How to use stories to brand a business

Have you ever wondered about the best way to market your business? As I was reading Building a Story Brand by Donald Miller, he explains that branding your business as a story helps to clarify your message and make it much more effective. The book has lots of useful, concrete activities if you’re working on branding (or re-branding) your company, and keep reading this post for some overarching, key points from the book.

Photo by Maegan Martin | Accessed on

Main impacts

  1. Stories are how we make sense of the world
  2. Stick to the structure
  3. Your customer is the hero

Stories are how we make sense of the world

We use stories to make sense of what’s happening around us. It’s a way of making music out of all the noise around us, and provides clarity.

Stories are an easy way for us to make sense of what we see and hear. We naturally put stories together even based on small details that we see – thinking naturally in terms of cause and effect.

Stories are also very easy for us to understand. We easily apply stories to ourselves and see ourselves within them. We tend to understand information better when it’s told as a story. Think of times when you learned about history as a story with clear cause and effect versus as a series of dates and names of people/places. It’s much easier to remember and understand the story version.

Since stories can powerfully and easily communicate information, they can also be used to improve marketing. If you can use stories to describe what you do and what you’re selling, you’re likely to be much more effective when marketing your business. The goal is to connect with a customer easily and clearly, and there’s no better way than through a story that centers them.

Stick to the structure

Stories can be applied to anything. They can convey any kind of information, it’s simply a matter of framing it in a way that follows a basic structure. Pretty much all stories follow a very similar structure, seen in the image below.

Basic story structure (Credit: Donald Miller @ Storybrand)

Generally, a character or hero has a problem and meets a guide, who gives them a plan and calls them to action. Then the stories either ends in their success or helping them avoid failure.

Once you understand the structure, you’ll start seeing it everywhere. You’ll see the structure in all the movies and even in advertising. Take a moment to think through some of your favourite movies, can you apply the structure to them?

Here’s an example from The Hunger Games. Katniss is the main character or hero, and has a problem. In the image it shows the various types of problems she’s facing (external, internal and philosophical), but they all stem from the external problem of having to survive the hunger games. Then she meets Haymitch, who is her guide, and has a plan to get her more sponsors by having people support her. She gets called to action by actually competing and doing her best in the game. Katniss avoids failure (dying in the games) and ends the movie by successfully winning the game. See the diagram below for a visualization matching the story structure.

Story structure shown through The Hunger Games (Credit: Donald Miller @ Storybrand)

This basic structure applies to all things story related. All you need to do is stick to the basic structure and your story will make sense. The more you see it in the content around you, the more possibilities you’ll see to tailor stories within the structure.

This story structure can also help you tell your company’s information. If you frame it as a story, it’s incredibly easy to remember and understand for both your employees and customers. A story can also be very effective and persuasive, especially if you are able to frame your product or service as the plan to overcome your customer’s problem.

Your customer is the hero

As outlined above, your story needs a main character or a hero. When branding your business as a story, the customer is the hero and you’re the guide.

Generally, the hero/main character has lots of good qualities, but doesn’t usually understand how to overcome their problem, which is why they need a guide. The guide is both how they learn to overcome the problem and are called to action (meaning they actually do something to overcome the problem).

The key to a successful business story is that you frame the customer as the hero, and most importantly, you show how you can fix their problem. Remember they are the hero with a problem and you are the guide who has a plan to help them.

Part of framing yourself as the guide, is proving that you have the authority and expertise to help solve the problem. You need to show that you understand the problem and can actually help them. You also need to show them a plan, outlining how to solve the problem. People are more likely to engage with you if they understand what’s going to happen next.

Just remember, your customer is the one with the problem, and your business is what’s going to help them fix it. Make sure your story (and all your content) is focused on them – not you. They don’t need your life story, they just need to know how you can help them.

Final thoughts

A fascinating way to think about branding your business. Framing everything as a story is such a good way to position the things you’re doing. It’s easier for people to understand and for both customers and employees to easily remember your business and describe it to others.

I personally haven’t studied that much about marketing, so I’m not sure if this is a common way to discuss marketing, but I found it very useful.

There’s also so many activities and concrete actions that you can use to apply these concepts directly to your business. If you found this at all interesting, it might be worthwhile to try out some of the activities for your own business.

I was also able to borrow this from my library on Libby (a mobile app), which can be a great way to get a taste of the book before buying it.


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