Building A Story Brand by Donald Miller [Actionable Summary]

This is a comprehensive summary of the book Building A Story Brand by Donald Miller (part of the business book summaries collection). Covering the key ideas and proposing practical ways for achieving what’s mentioned in the text. Written by book fanatic and online librarian Ivaylo Durmonski.

Worksheet: Download the interactive sheet for taking notes.

The Book In Three Or More Sentences:

Regardless of how good your product is, if you don’t know how to present it to the world, you won’t sell a single unit. Building A Story Brand by Donald Miller offers a proven 7-step framework to create a compelling story for your brand. Also, information on how to rid yourself from all the fluff, so you can craft a simpler, but more effective marketing message that sells.

The Core Idea:

Understand the key problems of your niche market and clearly communicate how you’re going to solve them for the people. By clearly, the author means positioning yourself in your customer’s shoes and focusing on their needs. The practical tips and the step-by-step process inside Building A Story Brand will equip you with the tools you need to craft the perfect marketing message that will generate more leads and increase your profit.


  • Create a compelling story around your product that explains how people will become better when they use your services.
  • Your marketing message has to be brief, punchy, and relevant to your customers.
  • Frequently remind people why and how they can get your product. Don’t assume they know.

6 Key Lessons from Building A Story Brand:

Lesson #1: Clear Message Beats Fancy Words

Pardon my French, but if your message is too complicated you won’t sell sh*t.

For years, I thought that in order to become a good writer, I should use fancy words and incorporate long complicated sentences. But the author suggests something else for brands: being very clear.

“The fact is, pretty websites don’t sell things. Words sell things. And if we haven’t clarified our message, our customers won’t listen.” Donald Miller

You need to get your message straight if you want to increase your sales. That’s the secret sauce for building a successful brand. Adding an extra layer on your site, redesigning your logo, or writing a 2,000-words About page won’t help you.

If people can’t understand what you’re selling on your website, and why they need it, within 5 seconds of visiting it, they’ll bounce and never return.

How to do it better?

Well, for starters, focus on their story. On what your clients need. Understand why they might need what you offer.

Then, sit down and write it down. Make sure that the message you craft is relevant to your product. Easily understandable from a 3rd person perspective and also attention-grabbing. Once you have something, read it out loud and rewrite it. Make sure to remove all the fluff. Repeat until there is nothing left to remove.

Lesson #2: Brands Make Two Mistakes When They Talk About Their Products and Services

Mistake #1: They Fail To Communicate How Clients Can Survive and Thrive

People don’t really care about your brand or about how many followers you have. They care about their own personal well-being. About how your product will potentially help them survive and thrive.

Most companies fail to communicate that. They talk about their own story and about how they invented the product. But nobody is interested in that.

When you position your product as a savior. As something that can help the person reading advance in life, you’ll have his attention and probably part of his income.

Mistake #2: They Overcomplicate Stuff and People Don’t Understand Them

When your message is too complicated the brain can’t process all the information and it starts to burn calories in order to understand what you’re trying to say. That’s against the codex of the brain. After all, the main function of the brain is to preserve energy so it can survive in this world for longer.

“People are looking for brands that can help them survive and thrive,” says Donald Miller in the book. So, you need to refine your message. Make sure visitors can understand what you mean without making them burn too many calories.

Lesson #3: Clarify Your Message and Cut Through The Noise

Eager to say everything about our product, we often confuse people.

We add noise to our message. But as mentioned already, this is bad for business.

If you’re not sure whether or not your message is clear enough, stop for a moment and ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What does the customer want?
  2. What is stopping him from getting what he wants?
  3. What will the customer’s life look like if she (or if she doesn’t) gets what she wants?

Once you have the answers, go to your site and see whether you’re communicating the right thing to the people visiting your page.

If people can’t figure out what you’re offering within 5 seconds, they’ll bounce.

“Story is similar to music. A good story takes a series of random events and distills them into the essence of what really matters. There’s a reason the final cut of a movie is called a final cut. Prior to the theatrical version, a film has gone through rounds upon rounds of edits, omissions, revisions, and deletions. Sometimes entire characters end up on the cutting-room floor. Why? Because storytellers have filters to cut out the noise. If a character or scene doesn’t serve the plot, it has to go.” Donald Miller

Lesson #4: Tell People How Your Product Will Change Their Lives

“Never assume people understand how your brand can change their lives. Tell them.” Donald Miller

The best way to convince someone to buy your product is to tell him how your product will change his life.

People are always looking for ways to become someone else. Someone better. They constantly buy things to look cooler, smarter, sexier.

The questions you need to ask yourself here are the following: “Where is my brand taking people?” and “What kind of people do my customers want to become?”

  • If you’re selling watches your customers will most probably buy if your products are making them look cooler.
  • If you’re selling books they’ll most probably want to be smarter.
  • If you’re selling clothes they’ll be aiming towards a specific look.

Whatever you’re selling, make sure you clearly communicate how your product will change the lives of your customers when they engage with it.

Lesson #5: Give Away The “Why” and Sell The “How”

Usually, people don’t know when to stop. They don’t know how much information they should give away for free and at what point they should ask for a credit card.

If you have the same problem, just do what the author suggests in the book: Give away the “Why” and sell the “How.”

Which means?

Tell them why building good habits (or your own product) is good for them. Why people need daily routines in their lives. Why not having such will lead to a dissatisfied life. Then, offer your proven, scientifically tested formula for a habit change. The “How.”

The “Why” is usually in the form of articles. Downloadable PDFs and webinars. The “How” can be eBooks, courses, and/or one-on-one meetings.

Still, don’t hide all the “How’s” behind a paywall. People online are generous. If you want money for every pixel on your site people won’t connect with you. When they start to see value in what you’re doing, people will happily support you by purchasing your products and services.

“Brands that help customers avoid some kind of negativity in life (and let their customers know what that negativity is) engage customers for the same reason good stories captivate an audience: they define what’s at stake.” Donald Miller

Lesson #6: A Good Story Can Transform Your Business

Donald is on a mission to help us slay the fiercest enemy in business: noise. The noise we add in our marketing materials and all across our websites. He’s advocating throughout the whole book that you need to simplify your message.

How to do that?

By telling a story. Successful companies don’t simply write words, they tell a story where their customers are the main heroes.

To help us, in the book, Donald is giving us a proven 7-step formula that will show us how to write a story that’s both simple and compelling.

Here’s a short version of the storyboard framework discussed in the book. The same method is used by companies all over the world:

Hint: First read the bolded parts!

  1. A character: Get it out of your head that it’s all about you, it’s not. Customers are the heroes, not brands. You need to understand what they want to achieve. Once you do, you can position yourself, your product, as a tool that will help them get what they want. So, start by asking yourself the following: What do people really want?
  2. Has a problem: There are three types of problems customers want to resolve using our brand: external, internal, and philosophical problems. External are usually things we can clearly see – I want a new car. Internal are harder to spot but are much more important – I want my car to make me feel sophisticated. Philosophical problems are when your brand involves them in some grand scheme. For instance, people will buy an electric car because they’ll want to save the environment. So, spend some time to identify all of the problems your brand resolves. Then, communicate this with your potential customers.
  3. And meets a guide: Position yourself, your brand, as a guide. Not as a hero. As someone that will help them along their journey. Someone that will help them win the day (think Gandalf). How to do that? Explain to people that you understand their problems and that you’re eager to help – show empathy. Then, show your previous work. Demonstrate authority. People will trust you only if you clearly know what you’re doing. The latter can be easily done by adding testimonials on your website.
  4. Who gives them a plan: Identifying the problem won’t be enough. To make them buy, we need to present a step-by-step plan that will help our clients safely reach the desired destination. The plan should be risk-free, should seem possible, but most importantly, the plan you’re going to present should be very clear. So, state on your website what steps people would need to make in order for them to work with you. Also, include a FAQ (frequently asked question) section. FAQs are helpful for addressing potential fears that customers might have prior to working with you.
  5. And calls them to action: You need to ask people to place the order. It might seem obvious, but don’t assume people will figure it out on their own. Add “Buy Now” buttons and regularly tell your visitors how, and why, they need to place an order.
  6. That helps them avoid failure: In essence, people are motivated by the following two things in life: escaping pain and moving closer to pleasure. Your brand should clearly communicate this. Explain to your visitors how your services will help them avoid potential loss and along with that achieve gain. For instance, if you’re in the cryptocurrency business, you can tell people that they’re missing out when they’re not investing in coins and later add that your services will help them earn money on the side.
  7. And ends in a success: You need to tell people how your brand will help them live a better life, numerous times. Don’t rely on them to figure it out on their own. Tell them what will happen when they start using your products. A simple way to do the previous is by explaining how their lives look now (before using your product) and after that show them how their average day will look like after (after they interact with your magnificent product). How they will feel, what will they have more, how their status will change. Basically, how your product will help them achieve success.

Actionable Notes:

  • Clarify your message: Do you have a business? If yes, can you easily say what’s your message? Is it simple and can someone who’s visiting your site for the first time understand what you’re doing in less than 5 seconds? If no, refine your statement. Make it short (one line) and memorable. Something catchy and repeatable.
  • Who’s the villain? Every story needs a villain. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a person, but without question, the villain of choice should have personified characteristics. For example, if you’re selling electric vehicles, you can identify the big corporations selling gas-powered cars as villains. The comparison between your product and the big corporations killing trees will intensify your qualities and help you stand out.
  • How your product transforms lives: The author calls this desire “aspirational identity.” People are always striving for more: more free time, more fun, more positive sensations. You need to associate your product with a specific persona. Later, tell them how using your stuff will help them transition from confused and ill-equipped to competent and smart.
  • What are you helping your customers avoid? People will happily pay you money if you can help them avoid losing money, or, if your product can help them prevent potential health problems. This is actually how insurance companies make money. They basically sell peace of mind. If you have insurance, you’ll be safe. If you don’t have insurance, “well, if something bad happens to you you’ll be all by yourself.” Instill a bit of fear. Just a pinch. This will help people understand why it’s important to get what you offer.
  • How are you helping people survive? To convince more people to use your services, you need to clearly communicate how your product will help them jump over an imaginary gap. A story gap. Or in other words, to place a gap between the person and what they want. Of course, your product will be the one helping them cross over so they can enjoy a happy life. To do this effectively, you need to understand how your product is helping them survive and thrive in the world. We have rooted desire to be safe, feel happy, healthy, loved. Define how your product is going to help them survive and thrive. This is how you win more customers.

Commentary And My Personal Takeaway

Though the author is constantly trying to direct you towards his site by adding links in the book, I’m still in love with his work.

Building A Story Brand by Donald Miller is full of actionable tips that will assist you to clarify your message and also help you understand the real needs of your customers. The 7-step framework in the book is probably the best way to create an effective marketing strategy for your new or existing product.

The book is both for people who are just getting starting and also for such who have been in business for years.

If you’re confused by all the info online about improving your story and writing a copy that sells, I highly recommend getting this book.

My personal takeaway: clarify your message by removing all the fluff. Adding fancy words won’t help you sell more. It will only add to the noise. Straighten your message. This is how you can make people listen and sell more stuff.

Notable Quotes:

“Nearly every human being is looking for a guide (or guides) to help them win the day.” Donald Miller

“Here is nearly every story you see or hear in a nutshell: A CHARACTER who wants something encounters a PROBLEM before they can get it. At the peak of their despair, a GUIDE steps into their lives, gives them a PLAN, and CALLS THEM TO ACTION. That action helps them avoid FAILURE and ends in a SUCCESS.” Donald Miller

“The rule is this: the fewer words you use, the more likely it is that people will read them.” Donald Miller

“In every line of copy we write, we’re either serving the customer’s story or descending into confusion; we’re either making music or making noise.” Donald Miller

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