StoryBrand: How to Tell More Compelling Stories for Your Business – Josh Cantrell
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One of the best ways to create a rapport with your customers and earn their trust is through storytelling. When you learn to tell stories that customers in all points of your sales funnel can relate to, you’ve made your product or service that much more valuable to them.
The ideal way to create your stories is to have a brand script in place, with carefully chosen words that resonate specifically with your customers. Your brand is about customer perception, so you need to be able to tell stories that substantiate and embody the challenges and experiences of your customers. Josh Cantrell helps clients create these scripts using a 7 point plan for effective storytelling.
Rich: My next guest is certified StoryBrand guide and the CEO of Signal Brandworks, a strategic copywriting and marketing agency. He helps organizations use words to tell the right story, spread great ideas, and sell more stuff. I’m very excited to be chatting with Josh Cantrell. Josh, welcome to the show.
Josh: Hey Rich, thanks so much. I’m super glad to be here today.
Rich: Alright now Josh before we get started, what exactly is “StoryBrand” and how are you associated with it?
Josh: StoryBrand – which by the way is not my company, it’s another company out there – I have a company called Signal Brandworks and we’re related, but I’ll get to that in a minute. But StoryBrand is a company that exists to help small businesses and organizations clarify their message so that their customers actually listen.
So they’ve got a 7-part framework that they’ve built to help companies clarify their message in a way that makes customers engaged and clients excited to work with them. They can see the value in what that company does clearly and they get excited and want to work with them right away.
So they’ve got online workshops, they’ve got an in-person workshop, and a book called, Building the StoryBrand, by Donald Miller. And my relationship with StoryBrand is that I’m certified in that process. So my agency, it’s BrandWorks like you read in the bio, we use words to help customers spread their ideas and sell more of their stuff. And so my relationship with StoryBrand is that I’m certified in that process to help people do that. That’s pretty much what it comes down to.
Rich: So similar to like that somebody may be Hubspot certified, or they might be in the EMyth certification program. You understand the process and you are a purveyor of this process.
Josh: Yeah, it’s actually become…I have been Hubspot certified in the past and a lot of other certifications over the years. But this is one of those that has not just been a nice one to have, but it’s fundamentally changed how I do business because its process is so impactful.
Rich: And how do you, like you said you run Signal Brandworks and you guys do copywriting, you do marketing. How do you implement StoryBrand into what you’re doing? Is it an add on, is it something that is basically built into the DNA at this point?
Josh: Yeah, it’s really built into the DNA. Sometimes customers will come to me and say, “Hey, we’ve read the book, we’ve been to the course and we love it. We just want to go really deep and we want someone that really knows that process and can help us create marketing material that has this philosophy as the backbone.
But sometimes businesses will come to me and say, “Hey, I just feel too close to my business to write words for my website.” Or, “We need new leads, we’re promoting this event and we want to be able to talk about it the right way.” In that scenario I don’t really say, “Hey, let’s do StoryBrand”, I just tell them we’ve got a process and we’re going to help you get that message dialed in 100%. So when you go to spend money to promote that message, you know it’s actually going to be something that’s powerful and effective for you.
Rich: That makes sense. Now storytelling is a popular topic in digital and in marketing. What do you think more companies and businesses get wrong when it comes to storytelling?
Josh: That is such a good question. The thing that comes to mind first off is that I actually went to a storytelling conference recently for a niche group in the marketing world, and a lot of the conversation was around telling your story. And I think that’s actually a big mistake.
When we approach marketing ourselves as a business and the first thing we think is, it’s my story and how can I say it better. We’re actually starting off on the wrong foot. And what I mean by that is that really when our customers wake up in the morning they’re not thinking, “I wonder what Rich Brooks’ company is doing today.”
Rich: They should.
Josh: They totally should. I wish they woke up thinking of my company, but they don’t. They wake up thinking about themselves as they should. They are the hero in their own story. So we need to approach the storytelling concept as the way to use it in business to make more money or to spread our ideas. We have to think about the storytelling as their story.
So when we think about them as the hero of the story that we are telling, that changes everything about the words that we choose to use and it makes everything that we’re saying a whole lot more effective because we’re now entering into their story, and they’re like, “Ok, I get it. I now have someone that can help me rather than someone who I’m kind of competing for airtime with.”
So if you’ve got two heroes in the story, they conflict and go their separate ways. If we can position ourselves as the guide to that hero, it’s the Yoda to that Luke Skywalker, so to speak. Then we actually have found a place in the story that they’re trying to live, and they want to bring us in to let that story out.
Rich: And one question that I know a lot of people probably have right now is just the fact that a lot of us understand that really we need to make our customers the hero of the stories. Sometimes we’re not so sure about who our customer is and what their story is that we need to become the Yoda. So is that part of the framework of storytelling, to figure out who that client is? Or do we first need to figure out who the client is, and then we can start improving the stories we’re telling?
Josh: Yeah, that’s a good question, too. Typically the question I ask – and it’s pretty simple – I just say, “Who spend the most money with you?” That’s the story that you probably need to tell the most. Sometimes it’s evenly spread. If that’s the case then a lot of times what we’ll do is we’ll say the storytelling process does not help you who that person is other than say, where does the majority of your revenue come from and let’s focus on that.
If there’s not a clear answer to that, the StoryBrand process can still help with that. Because what we’ll do is we basically say you’ve got 3 different audiences, what’s the one common thread that unites all of those audiences together around the service that you’re providing. And how can we create a message that, regardless of where they come from, it’s relevant to all three. So we kind of do an umbrella message – so to speak – and in each of those instances later we recommend going back and getting a message dialed for each of them.
So when you’re promoting to that audience you’ve got that story dialed in promoting the other audience, specifically you’ve got theirs dialed in, and so on and so forth.
Rich: You mentioned a framework earlier, maybe it would be helpful if you shared with us – just at least from a high level perspective – what are the steps or the pieces of that framework in the StoryBrand?
Josh: Yeah, for sure. So what makes this really easy to remember is that it’s essentially the 7 parts of any story. So Jason Bourne’s story, Luke Skywalker’s story, all these stories that we’ve told from the beginning of time, a lot of times they follow this 7 part model. So what we’re doing as marketers is tapping into the way stories are told in order to captivate human attention and motivate people to change.
So the 7 parts that we’ll walk through of this framework is really a story. So let’s start at the beginning. The first part is that you’ve got a character, and that character wants something. So the character is wanting something.
The next element of the story is they’re encountering a problem. So a story doesn’t actually start until they experience some sort of obstacle to the success that they want to achieve. So the character has something they want, they experience a problem or an obstacle that’s keeping them from getting what they want.
The third element of the framework is they meet the guide. So this is where we as the organization or the marketer comes into play. Now we begin to talk about ourselves not as the hero but as the person that comes along beside the hero.
And then the next component is the plan. So the guide is going to provide the hero a simple, easy to follow plan that the hero can execute on to get what they want.
The next component is that me as the guide calls the hero to action. So give them something very clear, specific, and simple to do, and tell them to get started. Otherwise most heroes never get started. A bomb has to go off or a letter has to arrive in the mail or something like that, they have to receive some impetus to go.
Rich: We must travel to Alderaan.
Josh: Exactly. And then the final two elements here are success and failure. So the success is what the character is trying to achieve, that’s the big picture thing, all the good stuff. And the failure is what they’re trying to avoid. So if they do what we say, if they follow up, they will get success and they will avoid failure.
So the 7 elements all together are a story and the backbone of any good marketer.
Rich: So if I’m trying to get somebody to attend an event or to buy my product or service, I’m guessing that – just thinking of the customer journey – there are going to be different parts of the story that are going to resonate with different people. Is that correct?
Josh: Yeah, there are. And I’ve even found that it’s less predictable what each person can latch onto. But to me I’ve found that different industries latch onto different stories, or repel different elements of the stories.
So for instance if I were to promote a luxury product and I really hammered home the problem and the failure, you’re probably not going to really resonate with the person that’s trying to buy that luxury product, right. But luxury, like Lexus or Audi or Tesla, that’s going to be all about aspiration. So we’re going to talk about success, we’re going to talk about the emotional change that they’re going to experience and the exciting success that is possible for them.
But if I’m selling something small like plunger, I might want to emphasize the failure of a plunger that doesn’t work or a plumber that doesn’t fix the problem the right way. So you can kind of see how the industry or the niche might emphasize certain elements. But when you are talking to the people that are in different points in the buyer’s journey, it’s helpful to think through.
You might have an overarching message that you’ve already identified, but it might be worth using that 7 part framework to think through, ok they’re in the consideration stage right now, so what do they want out of this consideration stage that is different from what they want in the awareness stage or what they might want in the decision stage. So you can still use that framework to form messaging for each stage in the buyer’s journey, if that makes sense.
Rich: Yes, absolutely. Let’s say that we have a prospect in mind and we’re starting to craft this story. Are we telling the entire story to somebody? And of course, where are we telling this story? Are we telling them face to face, are we telling them from stage, are we telling them on social media?
Josh: Yeah, that’s a good question. When we go through and we create the 7 part, it’s called a “brand script”. So the 7 components altogether, StoryBrand has a label called a “brand script”. So if you’ve got your brand script in place, there’s a lot of different applications for it. It’s not that you’re always ever going to only see these words in this order but this is kind of like now you have a home base for deciding what I should say.
A lot of times people come to me and they say, “Alright, we’ve done this process, what’s the next step?” And to me, if you have a website and you have a homepage, that is the first step. We’ve got to get essentially the front door of your business saying the right things. So that’s truly where we start.
But from there you can use it in any way where you’re going to be communicating something to people and want to get your point across. So if I was putting together a keynote for a presentation, I would use my brand script like this, I would probably start with what they want. If you’ve come to this event I know you want to get x out of this event, here’s the problem they’re experiencing.
Let’s say you’re talking about mobile marketing, you might position the problem that’s keeping them from having success in local marketing or success in SEO, and then position your speech as the plan for overcoming that. The points of your speech are the points in the plan for how you as the guide are going to help overcome that problem in SEO or mobile marketing. Does that make sense?
Rich: Yeah, absolutely. So that’s a great idea for a presentation, and you also mentioned the homepage of the website. So I’m just thinking as you’re talking, we’ve got an event for a brand new thing we’re calling, Fast Forward Maine, and it’s targeting business owners here in the state, It’s a full day conference. So how might you craft a story to get people who maybe have never heard of this brand to be like, “Oh, that resonates with me”?
I’m guessing that the hero of the story is the typical Maine business owner, and the problem that they encounter is that their business maybe is not running as well or as smoothly as it can. The guide, I guess, is the brand Fast Forward Maine and the education it brings. The plan is maybe the full day conference. Like, “come to the conference and you’ll learn a lot”. And the call to action or the something for them to do, I guess is to buy a ticket. And then it’s either success or failure. If they come to the event they’ll obviously be a huge success, and if they don’t they’re going to be a complete failure.
I know I’m over simplifying that, but is that kind of process that you might go through with a client?
Josh: Yeah, absolutely. So a couple of things that I might flesh out a little bit more on that would be for one, the problem might be where you get a little specific about the problems they have with other conferences, or the problems they have in their business. So you could say, “There’s a lot of conferences out there that are going to waste your time and you’re going to get really bored. But that’s not what’s going to happen here. Fast Forward Maine has put together a conference and here is the plan for overcoming that boredom problem.” Whatever the problem is, the plan needs to address that specifically.
So you mentioned the plan and said “Come to the conference”, but you might even have a 3 step plan that might be; purchase ticket, reserve your spot, and grow your business. So that could be a very simple 3 step plan. I mean, you could go in and make it a little more in depth where it’s like, “Reserve your keynotes”, “Book your lunch times with your peer group”. And step 3 could be, “Purchase your ticket for next year”, or something like that.
Josh: And on the success side, I could go a little bit more in depth in that example if it would be helpful. If not you can have some other questions.
Rich: I always like to anchor things, and just because this conference is on my mind. I certainly understand the first 5 steps, but then it’s almost like the “choose your own adventure” on success or failure. I am curious to see how you might fit that into a typical process if we use this event as an example.
Josh: Yeah, for sure. So success might be, when I think about success I try to think about both short term success, the things that I can actually accomplish as a result of going to this event that I would not be able to do if I didn’t. So that’s a short term thing. And then the long term success would be what that stuff allows me to do. So when I’m thinking through success I’m going to have two to three bullet points – maybe more – for short term, and two to three for long term.
So for short term it might be “learn business practices so you can stop spinning your wheels and make more progress”. That’s a very simple one. Another one could be, “finally figure out how to get Google to send you more leads”, if the focus is around SEO and marketing. You see how that’s kind of like a short term, where you come and learn that specific tactic to accomplish that thing.
Josh: Long term might be “grow your business and meet potential partners to help you grow your business”. That’s actually short-term. But a long term one might be grow your business”, or something else along those lines. Does that kind of make sense?
Rich: Yeah, absolutely. So we’ve talked about the storytelling in sort of a long form content, whether you’re up on stage, whether you’ve got a website. Obviously a lot of people listening to this podcast are going to be posting things to Instagram, or Facebook, or even Twitter, where there’s a real limitation on your ability to tell a full-fledged story. How do you implement some element of StoryBrand into social media where there may be limits on length as well as attention span of your audience?
Josh: Such a good question. So first off I would recommend a book that if you’re interested in story, if you’re interested in social media, it’s called, Social Media Success For Every Brand. It’s actually a spin-off StoryBrand material. It’s produced by StoryBrand, it’s written by Claire Diaz-Ortis who is actually who Forbes or New York Times or someone called her “the woman who got the Pope on Twitter”. So she was working for Twitter, she literally was flown to the Vatican to get the Pope on Twitter, and to teach him and his team how to use it. I don’t know how much time she actually spent with the Pope on it, it was probably just his team. Either way, he’s on Twitter now thanks to her.
What she’s done is she answered all the questions of how to use social media in light of StoryBrand and hat we’re talking about, and gone into a ton of detail. And if you turn to page 50 or so, they’re talking about Facebook ads. So in short the answer to your question is, first off don’t feel like you have to communicate everything as a complete story. Now that we’ve figured out our full story, this brand script, we know that when we communicate something from the success bucket, that’s a complete unit. I know that I’m doing a good job in my marketing if I communicate about success. I don’t have to communicate the whole thing to be doing a good job and to be resonating with what my customer actually cares about.
So when I’m thinking about Instagram or Instagram ads, Facebook or Facebook ads, etc, I’m thinking about how can I communicate very clearly and what can I communicate that would be relevant to them. And the things that are going to be most relevant are problems, problems are a huge deal, and getting very clear about what someone wants.
So let’s say I’m trying to promote an ebook or an event. They don’t necessarily want my ebook, they don’t want my event. They want the thing that the book or the event is going to accomplish for me. So how can I communicate about what they could experience, for one. How can I communicate about the problem in a way that gets them excited or interested in this thing that I’m talking about. And then later I can position the next step, the call to action, in that content. And whatever it is I’m trying to promote would be that call to action or that next step.
So that’s just one example. But again, Claire Diaz-Oritz is the best and her book on social media is a fantastic read.
Rich: How much of storytelling comes down to voice? I’m just curious if you need to be a great copywriter or writer to be able to tell a compelling story, or could you tell a story in video or photography as well?
Josh: Yeah, that’s great. So I think when you’re using words, the better you are at using words the more effective you’ll probably be.
Rich: Makes sense.
Josh: So you don’t need to be a copywriter but I think there is some element there where the better you are at understanding customer’s problems they actually care about and being able to precisely communicate those things. That’s going to be the best indicator of success in this process, not necessarily if you’re a great writer, so to speak. So sometimes great writers can – they love to write, they love to talk, they love to hear their own words – so they end up saying too much. And so part of the story process is stripping out all that excess and just getting to the thing that’s most important. I
’ve talked to plumbers that are really good at this process because they don’t have a whole lot of time for a bunch of words, but they’re getting really quick and to the point. Like, “we fix clogged up toilets”, or “we fix clogged up sinks”. And sometimes that’s the clear concise message that your customers need, they don’t need to be long and drawn out. Does that kind of answer your question?
Rich: Yeah. When people come to work with you, are you writing? You meet with them, you consult with them, and then it’s StoryBrand time, say. Are you crafting all of their messages or are you teaching them how to start thinking more in a StoryBrand way so they can tell their own stories? Or is it a little bit of both?
Josh: It is a little bit of both. I’ll talk to someone to kind of hear what they want on an initial call, and sometimes they’ll say, “I just really want to know how to do this better”, in which case we can do a “done with you” sort of thing where I’m helping you learn and master this process and be able to take it and use it in your own marketing.
And then sometimes they don’t have time to do it and they just need the deliverable, they just need the end result of an email campaign or a new website. So I can just take this process, I’ll glean from them all the little golden nuggets that I can in terms of what they know about their customers and what they’re trying to communicate about themselves. So we’ve got both ends.
Rich: Alright. Well Josh this has been great. If people are interested in either having a “done for you” solution or working with you to figure out what their story is via StoryBrand, how can they find you?
Josh: So signalbrandworks.com is my website, that’s probably the best place to go. I’ve got a free resource on there called “6 Reasons Your Website Isn’t Making You Money and How to Fix It.” A lot of the StoryBrand principles are included in that as it relates specifically to your website. So that might be something that would be of interest to your audience. BUt they can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rich: Awesome. And of course we’ll have all those links in the show notes, so head on over to our website if you didn’t catch all that. Josh, this has been great, thank you so much for your time today.
Josh: Yeah, absolutely Rich, thank you so much.
Josh Cantrell understands the power of storytelling in marketing, and he is dedicated to helping brands create strategic scripts to tell compelling stories to the right customers.
Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine, and founder of the Agents of Change. He’s passionate about helping small businesses grow online and has put his 20+ years of experience into the book, The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing.