How to craft a compelling brand story – that customers will listen to

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In this article, the author argues that by using the SB7 framework for brand story the brands can craft compelling stories, which helps them break the clutter and offer a unique, differentiated narrative.

“Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make but about the stories you tell” – Seth Godin, serial entrepreneur & marketing thought-leader

Companies spend millions on advertising to convince customers to buy their products and services. Getting the right results on this spend is critical to business success. This is true for big corporate brands and small start-ups alike.

Right results follow when customers pay attention to the message that the brand is communicating and feel the desire to act on the message. A message is understood better & remembered for long when it’s wrapped in a story.

There are two critical principles that every brand story should adhere to. First, the story that the brand is telling should talk about the aspects of the product or service that helps the customer survive or thrive, two critical evolutionary motivations of humans. We humans filter and process messages about survival and thriving at an unconscious level. For example, if we are left alone in a giant room for an hour, we will not care to count the chairs but we will remember the positions of the doors and windows. Because in case of any threat we must know how to get out of the room and that information is important for our survival. Second, keeping the message simple and clear so that customers understand the message without putting too much mental effort. Adhering to above two general rules will stand us in good stead while crafting the brand story. At this point, a mental model is needed to create the right brand story.

SB7 Framework

SB7 framework (developed by Donald Miller) uses the critical elements of great stories and provides a simple framework for crafting a brand story that customers will listen to and helps the brand achieve its full potential.

There are seven steps in this framework:

1) Character (Hero)

Every story has a central character. Stories are engaging when people see themselves in that character and relate to his journey. In the context of a Brand Story, the Customer is the Hero, NOT the brand. It is a common mistake to portray the brand as the hero. Even seasoned marketers fall into this trap often. Placing the customer at the heart of the story by portraying her as the hero, makes the customer pay attention.

For example, Proctor & Gamble, the global consumer goods company in its “Thank you Mom” campaign during 2012 Olympics tells a beautiful story with their target customers i.e. mothers as the central character. The brand connects deeply with their customers worldwide by telling the story about how mothers bring out the best in their children. The powerful story garnered $500mn incremental sales for P&G worldwide. (

2) Has a problem

The Hero in the story is trying to achieve something. It could be survival, finding love, conquering a challenge, finding answers to emotional dilemma etc. But there is somebody or something which creates impediments on his way. That somebody is the villain. Every great story needs a villain.

There are three levels of problem that the villain creates in the hero’s life: external problem, emotional problem and philosophical problem. External problems are generally physical and tangible in nature. Internal problems are the negative emotions that the Hero experiences because of the external problem. The Hero might feel frustration, anger, anxiety because of the external problems that the villain creates. The Philosophical problem in a story is about something even larger than the story itself. It’s about the why. The philosophical idea that drives the Hero could be justice, honesty, loyalty etc. The mistake most brands do is, they focus only on the external problem whereas what ultimately drives the Hero is the Internal and Philosophical problems.

For example, customers buying used cars hate dealing with the salesmen and haggling for the right price. The presence of the salesman is an external problem. Customers feel dissatisfied even after getting a bargain, as they are not sure about the quality of the car. This is the emotional problem. CarMax, a US based dealership chain solved this emotional problem of their customers by eliminating the need to haggle with a car salesman. They made the prices fixed and assured the customers of the quality of the cars by communicating stringent quality check process. This improved customer satisfaction and resulted in business gain.

3) Meets a guide

“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants” – Sir Issac Newton

In all critical junctures in our lives when we ourselves are emotionally too overwhelmed with the problems to think for ourselves, we have received guidance from someone who has helped us calm our nerves and inspired us to take action. Every Hero needs a guide. The guide, through display of empathy and authority brings emotional resolve in the Hero to take action. The brand should always position itself as the guide in the story. Many brands make the fatal mistake of positioning themselves as the hero. This alienates the customers as they don’t see themselves in the story and they tune out.

For example, Jay Z, the famous rap musician, founded a company which was to be owned by musicians rather than music studios. The intent was to cut the middlemen and make the artists keep a larger cut. The stated mission of the company was “getting everyone to respect music again”. By framing the brand story this way, the brand portrayed itself as the Hero and showed lack of empathy for its customers. Customers felt there was nothing about them in the story. Of course, the venture was a failure.

In addition to empathy, the brand should also display authority the brand story, for customers to trust its advice. Testimonials and awards communicate authority of the brand.

Customer Acquisitions & PPC

4) Who gives him a plan

Once the guide establishes trust with the hero, through display empathy and authority, he shares his plan for next course of action. A plan instills clarity in the Hero’s mind. In the context of a brand, plans are of two types: Process plan and Agreement plan.

In a Process plan the brand communicates clearly the step-by-step action that the customer needs to take to move forward in resolving the problem.

In an Agreement plan, the brand communicates the commitments that they make to the customer.

A Process plan in the marketing collateral for a B2B IT solutions firm might look like: 1.     Schedule an appointment 2.     Allow us to create a customized plan 3.     Let’s execute the plan together

Spelling out the process plan this way gives the customers clarity on what to do next without having to spend mental effort to figure out the next steps.

In theAgreement plan, the brand allays the fears of the customer by explicitly mentioning the commitments the brand is making. An Agreement plan for a retail chain positioned as ‘best deal shop’ could look like – 100% money-back if you find the items cheaper than our price.

 5) And calls him to action

At this point, the Hero is ready for taking action. He has felt understood and he trusts the guide’s advice. At this point, the guide must specifically and clearly call him to action. This final call to action breaks the inertia and jolts the Hero to action.

For example, Amazon has “Buy now” button on every product page. Not having a “Buy now” button prominently displayed on screen hugely reduces the critical action by customer which is to BUY.

6) That helps him avoid failure

Loss aversion is a powerful motivator. Loss of money or material causes far more psychological pain than happiness caused by gain of similar amount. This is awell-established principle now which was the core insight of Prospect theory proposed by Daniel Kahneman. Hence, communicating what the customer might lose out if she avoids the suggested action, makes it more likely for the customer to take action.

For example, when Lyndon Baines Johnson, the 36th President of United States, faced opposition from a particular conservative politician in passing the Civil Rights Act, he explained to his opponent that he has to choose on what side of history he wants to be. Either he helps passing the bill and end up preserving his legacy or be remembered as someone instigating hate. Spelling out the stakes involved and making the negative consequences of not taking action clear to the customer, tilts the balance in favor of the action that the brand wants the consumer to take.

7) And ends in success

Many a times the brand story-tellers assume that people understand how the suggested action will transform their life. Hence, they do not specifically mention how their brand transforms the customer’s life. Painting a vivid picture of future helps people be motivated to take action. Ronald Reagan shared the vision of making America a shining city on the hill. Bill Clinton promised to build a bridge to twenty first century.

If brands can include a compelling vision of future for their customers in the story, they inspire the customers to take action.


Story-telling is as old as human civilization. Every age-old human tradition has used stories to communicate deeper moral and philosophical messages. Hence, embedding the brand message in a story is the best way to communicate with customers. Using the SB7 framework outlined above, brands can craft compelling stories, which helps them break the clutter. It also makes customers pay attention to the brand message. Brand story allows customers to connect with the brand at a deeper level and customer loyalty ensues. Use this framework to craft compelling stories and grow your brand.

About The Author

Smruti Ranjan Mallick

Smruti Ranjan Mallick is an experienced marketer with expertise in product marketing, consumer analytics and segmentation, and brand management. His areas of interest are behavioral economics, neurosciences and strategic decision making . He is currently leading growth marketing at PayTM.

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