I learned some awesome stuff on this StoryBrand webinar today - I hope you enjoy my notes 🙂
From the landing page description for this webinar: “Too many marketing campaigns turn out to be a dud. It’s frustrating, but there’s an incredibly easy fix. On this free, live webinar, Dr. JJ Peterson will teach you how clarifying your message will make your marketing campaigns soar and give you the practical steps you can take to fix your marketing, today.”
I also have some great next steps and resources from StoryBrand linked to at the end of the article, so if you loved this content, go check them out.
Bad Examples of Website Content
You only have a few seconds to capture your audience’s attention. If they can’t immediately understand what you do and the problem that you solve then they leave.
We’re being creative and edgy and think this is good. But it doesn’t tell me anything about the problem that you solve or the solution that you offer.
- Artisan. Innovative. Solutions.
- Together, we’ll reach a better best.
- The Final Word.
- Unmatched Intelligence.
- Peerless Technologies.
Confusion could be costing you thousands of dollars. They don’t buy the best product, they buy the one they understand the fastest.
How to Fix Your Messaging
How do you fix it — how do you clarify your message so customers listen and understand?
1. Clearly State What You Offer
This is not the time to be cute — be explicitly clear. Never be clever and cute and the expense of clarity. A second-grader should be able to figure out and understand what you do.
If you’re using technical language because your customers understand it, that’s fine, but dumb it down. This isn’t because they are dumb, it’s because they don’t have time. They have 3 to 5 seconds to figure out what you do and they don’t have time to put effort into figuring it out.
A few examples that connect what you offer to the benefit it brings.
- Good: A dentist experience your kids will actually enjoy. — Dentist experience is what you offer, kids enjoy it is the benefit.
- Bad: An innovative dental experience for children.
- Good: A simple software solution that streamlines HR activities.
- Bad: HR Software Solution
- Good: A pet retreat that your dog will love.
Get rid of street language and avoid business jargon and fluff. Remove words like very and really.
We write content at a level 10 — but we know that we need to dumb it down, so we bring it to a level 6. The problem is that our customers are at a 1 or 2. The gap between 2 and 6 is the “curse of knowledge.”
Anything that is first impression material needs to be on the nose and not cute or clever — it needs to be a level 1 or 2.
Your business might be complicated. That’s fine. It’s not that you’re never going to get into it in more detail. You just need to get them in the door, so your first impression needs to be simple and basic.
2. Define the Problem You Help Your Customers Solve
The only reason people buy from you is because you solve a problem they are experiencing. You must associate your product or service with the resolution to the problem they are facing.
There are two types of problems — external and internal.
External problems are the immediate, tangible problem. For example, my yard is overgrown and I need to find someone to help me take care of it.
Internal problems are how you feel about that problem. For example, I might be feeling shame or embarrassment that my yard is overgrown. If I don’t feel that internal pain, I’m not going to be motivated to make a change.
- A weekly lawn care service so you’re never overwhelmed with lawn care again.
- Stop being frustrated. Stop wasting your time working on your yard and start enjoying it.
The problem is the hook. You want to talk about it a lot — more than you probably want you. When you stop talking about the problem, they stop paying attention.
In a movie, if the problem is solved in the first few minutes, you don’t keep watching the movie. It’s the same in your messaging. You have to continually talk about it over and over again.
- If I said to you “I ate some bad leftover pizza yesterday and my stomach isn’t feeling great.” what is the first thing that comes to mind? You’d probably offer me Tums or Rolaids — those brands come to mind.
- If I said to you “I have a headache this morning” you’d suggest Tylenol, Ibuprofen, etc.
We associate products with the problem they solve. You wouldn’t suggest Tylenol for a stomach problem and you wouldn’t suggest Tums for a headache.
These brands have told us the problem they solve over and over and over again and it’s stuck there.
3. Illustrate What’s at Stake if They Don’t Make a Purchase
Describe what will be one or lost if your customer does or does not take action. You want to cast a vision for what your product is like if they do and if they don’t take action and make a purchase.
We tend to think that they will do the math on their own and figure out what life is like for them if they buy — but they won’t.
- Mattress: Are you tired of losing a good night’s sleep?
- Lawn: Are you worried if the plants you’re planting are safe for your pets?
- Shoes: This is a limited-time sale - if you don’t buy now, you’re going to miss out on the free bonus that we’re offering.
This shows your customer that they have something to lose if they don’t take action. Increase the sense of urgency your customers feel to make a purchase. You have to articulate the loss-aversion of not moving forward — lose money, lose time, miss opportunities, experience an inconvenience.
The stakes should be both loss or gain. Loss is the most common, but you can also cast the vision for what they will gain as well.
A great way to get started with this is to write the word “imagine…” and then writing sentences.
- Imagine having your friends and family over for a BBQ.
- Imagine your kids playing in the yard and making memories.
- Imagine not having to work on your yard every weekend.
I might change that language up for my marketing…
- Be proud of your yard when you have friends and family over to visit.
- Make memories with your kids in your yard without spending your weekends toiling in the dirt.
Don’t go “and, and, and” with negative stakes. Don’t do something like “if you left your yard get overgrown you could get in trouble with your homeowners association, and your kids won’t be able to play, and and and…”
4. Call Them to Action — With Force!
Your customers will not buy from you unless you tell them to. Our customers are the heroes in their stories — and heroes won’t act unless they are called to action.
Some people don’t want to be pushy and they use language like:
- Learn more…
- If you have any questions reach out…
That language isn’t strong enough to motivate heroes to action.
You have to define the relationship between you and your customers. If you have the ability to solve their problem and you aren’t asking them to buy, then you are missing out.
If you think that you’re being pushy, challenge yourself. Do you believe that what you do solves a problem they have? If so, it’s your job to call them to action so you can help them. Do it with confidence and force.
Think of this action as your “cash register” — it’s where people will buy from you. You have to give people easy access to purchase. It should be clear and easy for them to take that action.
It should be all over your website, in your email signature, in the PS of your emails, in the middle of your email.
Use actionable language in your call to action.
- Sign up now…
- Buy now…
If they aren’t ready to buy yet, they won’t. So stand on your authority and make the ask.
The Story Framework
This might all seem random, but it’s all very formulaic. Think about when you’ve tried to explain something to someone and you do something like “let me put it into context…” and you tell a story to do it.
Story is the sense-making device that will help you clarify your message.
There are 7 parts to this framework — A character with a problem meets a guide who gives them a plan and calls them to action that results in success or failure.
1. A Character...
We meet them early on and we learn what they want quickly.
- Jason Borne wants to know his identity.
- Frodo wants to destroy the ring.
Your story has to be about that one thing. You have to be very clear about the one thing your customer wants.
2. With a Problem...
The character has a problem that they need to solve.
- Destroy the Death Star
- Diffuse the bomb
They talk about this in the movie over and over again and it’s not solved early on.
You have to clearly articulate the problem so the customer can pay attention to the story you’re telling. You have an internal and external problem to speak to.
External is the thing like “diffuse the bomb” while internal is the character wrestling with things like letting someone down and feeling like a bad parent. We have probably never had to diffuse a bomb, so we can’t relate to that as easily. That’s why screenwriters use the emotions that we can understand so we can get pulled in.
3. Meets a Guide...
We understand that the character cannot overcome this problem on their own. Their Yoda or Obi-Wan steps in and guides them. They’ve been there before and can help guide the character to a solution.
It’s not your job to talk about what you do. It’s about positioning yourself as the guide in your customer’s journey and positioning them as the hero in their own story.
You do this by using empathy and authority. You understand and feel their pain, but you also have the experience and skills to do the job.
4. Who Gives Them a Plan...
No matter how crazy or impossible the problem is, as the guide, you have a plan for how they can solve this problem.
Trust the force, get to the Death Star, hit this one spot, and you can do this.
You need to be able to articulate to your customers that they can do it too. This is the way forward to overcome your problems.
You do this by creating a 3-step plan. You might have a complicated process for someone to take action — and that’s fine. But you need to simplify it.
5. And Calls Them to Action...
The first step is typically a call-to-action. There’s a moment when the character has to make a choice — the bomb is going off in 10 minutes, you have to decide if you’re going to step in and diffuse it or run away.
You might want them to make an appointment, book a call, etc.
6. That Results In...
This is the stakes… where you explain the success and failures associated with not making a decision or making the wrong one.
7. Success or Failure
Explain what success looks like if they move forward. And explain what failure looks like if they maintain the status quo and don’t move forward.
Example: Custom Home Builder
A custom home builder that was previously saying “Artisan. Innovative. Solutions.”
When we apply the Story Framework:
- Our Clear Offer: Custom dream homes your family will love.
- Define the Problem: Even most custom home builders use cookie-cutter ideas — making your home feel like every other house on the block.
- Illustrate What’s at Stake: You could end up with a house you’re unhappy with that looks like every other home on the block. Or you could finally bring your dream home to life and have a house you and your family will cherish for decades.
- Call-to-Action: Book a Free Consult Today
The Next Steps
If you find this article helpful, there are plenty more resources available from StoryBrand so you can dive deeper and start applying this to your messaging.
Business Made Simple University — affordable library of courses with workbooks to help you DIY StoryBrand for your messaging. I consider this an invaluable piece of my own toolbox.
StoryBrand’s Website — they frequently host live workshops to get your messaging right.
Book: Business Made Simple — a thorough overview of how to apply story to all aspects of your business and sales.
Book: Marketing Made Simple — a great walkthrough book that shows you how to apply StoryBrand to your website.