How Storytelling Can Clarify Your Message

Reviewing Donald Miller’s Building a Story Brand

Reviewing Donald Miller’s Building a Story Brand

Always focused on improving results for our clients, Frontier’s print team has been reading Building a Story Brand: Clarifying Your Message So Customers Will Listen by Donald Miller. We’d love to share our main take-aways.

What is everyone doing wrong?

In Building a Story Brand, Miller explains that the main mistake marketers make is in creating messages that are too complicated for people to quickly, easily understand. The key to success is to clarify your message so people understand exactly what you offer and why it matters to them. As Miller says, “If you confuse, you lose.”

The second biggest mistake marketers make is in creating ads that focus only on the greatness of their product, instead of focusing on their customers and the reason they should care about the product.

Throwback to High School English Class

Miller’s strategy to create both clarity and relevance is to make use of one of humankind’s oldest activities—storytelling.

By adapting the age-old principles of the hero's journey that you may remember from high school into his Story Brand 7 Framework, Miller demonstrates how to invite customers into a story they will remember and respond to.   

Every great story begins with a character who wants something, encounters a problem before they can get it, meets a guide who gives them a plan, calls them to action and helps them to avoid failure and achieve success.   

Too many marketers position their brand as the hero of the story. But people don’t want another hero, they are already the hero of their own story. What they want, and what your brand must become, is the guide that steps in to help them survive and thrive.

What really makes people part with their money anyway?

Marketing often focuses on the external problem that a product can solve, but people buy solutions to internal problems and innate desires.

Seven of the most universal desires are to conserve financial resources, to conserve time, to build social networks, to gain status, to accumulate resources, to be generous and to find meaning. In other words, people want to be accepted, find love, achieve an aspirational identity, bond with others, and find meaning through connection with something larger than themselves.

These internal desires are far more powerful than the external problems most products directly solve. To be successful, your brand must tell a story that shows how you will help people meet these fundamental needs.

The key to success is to clarify your message so people understand exactly what you offer and why it matters to them.
— Donald Miller

How does this apply to fundraising at Frontier?

Building a Story Brand reinforced a lot of the best practices that Frontier already follows, such as positioning donors as the hero, keeping appeals simple, and always including clear calls to action. Discovering this was a great feeling for our team! There is always room for improvement, however, and the many reminders from this book have us feeling excited to move ahead with these points top of mind!

What are our main take-aways?

While writing stories with donors positioned as the hero isn’t new to us, we’ve gained a new understanding of the part our clients should play in the story—the guide. And a guide’s main job is providing a plan and a clear call to action.

This means each appeal needs to call people to action by asking, directly and repeatedly, for a donation, and showing them how that donation will make the world a better place. Because what we really offer is the opportunity to achieve an aspirational identity and connection to a meaningful cause.

People want to be generous, especially with others who may not have had the same opportunities in life. Nonprofits are the guides that step in to help donors fight villains like poverty and injustice so they can see themselves as heroes. Meanwhile, we fundraisers are the storytellers.  


Katie Mutrie

Print Marketing Assistant at Frontier