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Book of the Month – Building a Story Brand by Donald Miller

This is the first book to be recommended by the Build Better Business Book Club. It’s full of really useful advice on how to clarify your marketing message, so that clients will listen. If you’re looking for a different way to promote your business, I really recommend that you read it. If you don’t have time, or you’d like to know a bit more about it, before you buy it, here are some of the key messages that I’ve picked up from reading it.

Marketing Mistakes

Miller says that many businesses make two major mistakes when trying to promote what they do:

  • Mistake number one – not focussing your offer on what will help your clients to survive and thrive. If your service is only seen as something that is ‘nice to have’ you will struggle to sell it.
  • Mistake number two – making your potential clients work hard to understand your offer. It needs to be clear.

This is where stories can help you, because story is a sense making device. We’re surrounded by business ‘noise’ so you need a clear story that helps to cut through the noise. And the basis of any story is really simple. A character wants something … and encounters a problem. A guide steps in, gives them a plan and calls them to action that helps them avoid failure and end in success.

A good story is life with the dull parts taken out; I think that good marketing is the same. Here are some more details of the seven stages of building a story for your brand.

1. A character – your client is the hero of this story, not your brand or your business

You need to focus on a need or want that your client has, that will help with their survival. This could be helping them to conserve resources by lowering the costs of doing their accounts (if you’re an accountant), conserving time by helping them to reach their goals more quickly (if you’re a coach) or accumulating resources aka earning more money! Make sure that your branding makes it clear where you can take your clients. Who are the characters in the Appletree story? People who want to run successful businesses without the struggle.

2. Has a problem – clients buy solutions to their problems

Who or what is the villain in your brand story? You need to talk about your services as the weapons that will overcome this villain. And the more you talk about the villain, the more your potential clients will want a service that will help them to defeat it. There are three levels of problem that are caused by villains:

  1. External problems – such as a not being able to comply with employment law (for the clients of an HR Consultant)
  2. Internal problems – these are manifested by external problems and might include self-doubt (for the clients of a coach)
  3. Philosophical problems – which you can spot with words like ‘shouldn’t’ and ‘ought’. “I ought to be fitter and able to live a longer, healthier life” is something that a personal trainer’s clients might say.

What’s the villain in your story? For Appletree’s clients, the villain – the beastly thing that keeps them awake at night and frustrates and confuses them – is none other than marketing!

3. Meets a guide – your clients are looking for a guide who can help them, not another hero

The day you stop losing sleep over the success of your business and start losing sleep over the success of your clients is the day that your business will start really growing.

Clients know that they have external, internal and philosophical problems and they know that they can’t solve them on their own. That’s why they need a guide.

As their guide you need show empathy in order to create a bond of trust with a potential client. Show them that you understand their internal problems for when clients ask “Can I trust you?” You also need to demonstrate your authority and competence in what you do for when you’re asked “Can I respect you?”

4. Who gives them a plan – clients trust a guide who has a plan to help them deal with their problem

The plan is the stepping stones that bring your clients towards working with you. The plan creates clarity – it’s your chance to clarify how a client can work with you and removes the risk of investing in your service. Your plan should answer the potential client’s question of “What do you want me to do now?” Set out the steps clearly, for example, for a professional speaker:

  1. Book me to speak at your event
  2. Allow me to inspire the members of your audience
  3. Watch their productivity soar!

5. And calls them to action – because clients don’t take action unless they’re challenged to do something different

Your clients can’t read your mind – you have to tell them to buy from you. Your “Buy now” buttons need to be repeated all over your marketing and need to be really obvious. Selling passively shows a lack of belief in your service, so be bold about inviting potential clients to work with you.

There are two types of calls to action that you can use:

  1. Transitional calls to action – book a free coaching call, download the PDF, sign up to the newsletter. This is like asking “Do you want to go on a date?”
  2. Direct calls to action – call me to book your first coaching call. This is a like asking “Will you marry me?”

6. That helps them to avoid failure – clients want to avoid tragic endings

Our desire to avoid pain motivates us to look for a resolution to our problem. What’s at stake for your hero? What’s the awful thing that will happen to them if they don’t overcome their challenge? What will your client lose if they don’t buy your service?

  • You can tell your client that they’re vulnerable – x% of businesses fail because they don’t do their accounts properly
  • Or you can tell them to take action – join the coaching programme in order to reach your potential
  • Give them a specific call to action – call me now to book me to speak
  • Challenge them to take action – call me today.

What failure are you helping your clients to avoid?

7. And ends in success – when your business changes the lives of your clients for the better

Never assume that people understand how your business can change their lives – tell them. People want to be taken somewhere by your business and your service. Think about what your clients have – before they buy from you and after they buy from you. What are they feeling, before and after? What’s their average day like and what status do they have, before and after they’ve worked with you?

Tell people where you’re taking them – how they will think and feel after using your service – and they will follow you.


Those are the seven elements of building your story brand and there is one more to consider. Heros want to transform. Your business helps people to become a better version of themselves.

Good brands define an aspirational identity. How do your clients want their friends to talk about them?

Great brands obsess about the transformation of their clients. Who do your clients want to become when working with you?

So that’s it – that’s how to build a story about your brand and your business. I’m sure there is more that I could tell you, but that would make a very long blog – or even a book. I recommend that if you would like to know more about how to build a strong story to help you promote your business, you get a copy of Building a Story Brand and read it. There’s even a link to a website where you can build your story brand online. And do let me know how you get on! Click here to email me or call me on 07773 252 744.

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