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Book review: Donald Miller’s ‘Building a Story Brand’

‘Building a Story Brand’ by Donald Miller (Harper Collins Leadership, 2017) is a business book about one of the key aspects of marketing: communications.

The author takes the reader through the ‘seven elements of great storytelling’ to demonstrate how we can better communicate our message (and value) to customers.

The book was chosen as part of a ‘Busy Businesswomen’s Bookclub’ event run by Edinburgh Businesswomen’s Club and Perthshire Businesswomen’s Network. A group of around eight women reviewed it together.

On balance, several people found the book helpful. The idea that humans respond to the seven universal story points seemed acceptable to us. The frequent movie analogies in the book (Star wars, The Hunger Games, Romeo and Juliet, etc) also helped us confirm this. Most of us could relate to getting caught up in the hero/heroine’s story in a movie and caring about what happens to him/her.

In summary, the seven elements of great storytelling according to Mr Miller are:

1. The Character

2. Has a Problem

3. And meets a guide

4. Who gives them a plan

5. And calls them to action

6. That helps them avoid failure

7. And ends in a success

The biggest revelation or ’aha’ moment we had as readers is that the character or hero is not you/your brand/you company but rather is the customer. Miller makes the point early on (chapter 3) that the traditional marketing approach of setting out how great your company is, how long it has been running, etc., is of little interest or value to our customers. “Customers don’t generally care about your story; they care about their own.” In fact, your company/ brand really plays the role of the guide, or expert, who helps the hero achieve success.

The book also touches on various aspects of human psychology which makes for interesting reading. For example, peoples’ frustrations can act as powerful motivators and Miller explains the three levels of problems people face everyday - external, internal and philosophical.

There are also several resources available to readers of the book such as a StoryBrand template which is a helpful bonus. The author also devotes the last section of the book to the practical implementation of his framework with five marketing tips to grow your business, plus he has a succinct section with tips for a successful website.

Of course, there were a few grumbles about the book: like many business books, the author is American and therefore the cultural references to adverts, etc., are often not as relevant to a British audience. Also, the formulaic approach to marketing outlined can make marketing feel just a little too manipulative and underhand for my liking.

Overall, the book scored about 3 out of 5 from our panel. I personally rated it higher at 4 out of 5 and would recommend it for its fresh take on the age-old dilemma of how best to communicate your message. I think it could be particularly useful for anyone who is struggling to get across their business message and I’m looking forward to trying out the ‘formula’ over the coming months.


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