How to Create a Transformative Story for Your eCommerce Brand

Think about the last movie that you saw. What was the storyline? Who were the main characters? What happened in the end?

According to Donald Miller of the book, Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen, all stories (including that movie you last saw) more or less follow the same plotline:

“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.”

Okay, you might be thinking, that’s great and all…but what does this have to do with improving the sales of my eCommerce store?

Well, a lot actually.

You see, storytelling helps to build connections and trust with your audience. It turns them into lifelong, loyal customers and advocates for your brand.

But Miller says that in order to be effective, storytelling has to follow the above framework.

In this blog post, we’re going to dive deeper into the StoryBrand Framework (also called the SB7 Framework); by the end, you’ll know how to create a story for your eCommerce brand. Sound good?

But first, I’d like to go over two key things that you’ll want to keep in mind when crafting your brand story:

Your Customers Are in Constant Survival Mode

As human beings, we’re wired to constantly think about our survival. More specifically, we think in terms of a hierarchy of needs:

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According to Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, people are first concerned with their biological and physiological needs, like shelter and sleep. Once those needs are fulfilled, people aim to protect their safety and establish stability. Next, people look for love and to form relationships. After that, people try to build their self-esteem, status and feelings of accomplishment. Finally, people aim to realize their full potential and fulfill their needs for self-actualization.

As Miller argues, people are constantly looking around for ways to meet those needs, so if your brand isn’t serving one of those needs, then it might as well not exist.

Simplicity is Key

If your audience has to “burn calories” to understand what your brand is all about, then your messaging is ineffective.

Your brand message should be so simple and easy to understand that it should pass the “grunt test” as Miller refers to it. If a cavewoman were to look at your website or marketing material, would she be able to grunt out what you’re offering, how it will improve her life and what she needs to do to buy it? Within five seconds, your audience should be able to grunt out an answer to those three things.

Why? Because as Miller mentions, people don’t buy the best products…they buy the products that they can understand the fastest. Why do you think Apple products are so popular?

The author gives the example of one customer he had, named Kyle Schultz, who created an online photography course and made $25,000 in sales within the first launch. But he wanted to sell more.

So before the next launch, he removed 90% of the copy he’d had on his sales page and replaced the photography jargon (like “f-stop” and “depth of field”) with simple and easy-to-understand phrases like “take those great pictures where the background is blurry.” He then sent another round of emails to the same list as the first round, but this time, got a whopping $103,000 worth of registrations.

His sales more than quadrupled…All because he simplified his message.

So like Schultz, get rid of all that extra copy on your website. Otherwise, if you don’t end up confusing your website visitors, you’ll just end up overwhelming them.

If you want to include a larger chunk of text on your homepage, Miller recommends putting a “Read More” link at the end of the first or second sentence.

Want us to take over and simplify your brand message (or craft your entire brand story) for you? Get in touch to find out how our talented team of experts and eCommerce marketing services can help with that.

The SB7 Framework

As you may have noticed above, there are seven parts to the Storybrand Framework. Let’s break it all down:

1. Character

Many brands make their products or the brand itself the hero. But this is a mistake. Your customer should always be positioned as the hero of your story—not your brand. Your brand is simply the guide that brings your customer to their final destination (more on that shortly).

Start your story by opening a “story gap” or identifying something that your customer wants. Because if you open the gap, then they’ll want to close it. That’s just part of human nature. It’s why people are eager to satisfy their hunger by eating a meal or anxious to finish a song once it starts.

Start by: Brainstorming what potential desire(s) your customers might have that you can fulfill.

2. Has a Problem

Every good story has a villain. Villains are what cause the problems that your characters (or customers) face. Miller says that you should position your products as the “weapons” that your customers can use to defeat the villain.

Whether your villain is a person or an inhumane object really doesn’t matter…but either way, it should have personified characteristics. And only create one villain. If you create too many villains, you’ll just end up confusing your audience.

Types of Problems

Your customer is faced with three different types of problems: internal problems, external problems and philosophical problems. Miller says that “companies tend to sell solutions to external problems, but customers buy solutions to internal problems.”

External problems are those more tangible, obvious problems that your hero must overcome. Internal problems are, just like they sound, the internal issues that your customers are dealing with (the backstory or less obvious problems), which are generally caused by external problems. Internal problems are the reason why customers are coming to you. Philosophical problems ask the question: why does this matter at the end of the day? They are often referred to using the words “should” and “shouldn’t.”

The philosophical problem to your brand story is often the least obvious one. When defining your philosophical problems, Miller suggests asking yourself if your products or services can be used “to fight back against something that ought not be? Is there a deeper story your brand contributes to?”

For example, if your company sells all natural face lotions, the villain in your story might be dry weather or lotions loaded with chemicals. Your character’s external problem might be dry or bad skin. Their internal problem might be a feeling of embarrassment or frustration at not having the skin they want. The philosophical problem might be that great skin is a human right that everyone should have, and it’s not fair for people to have to suffer with bad skin.

Start by: Asking yourself what villain your brand is fighting against, what external problem that villain is causing, how that external problem makes your characters feel and why it’s “unjust for people to have to suffer at the hands of this villain.”

3. Meets a Guide

In your story, your brand should be the guide (again, not the hero) that helps your characters find what they’re looking for.

Miller states that in order to position itself as a guide, a brand must be both empathetic and authoritative. Showing empathy helps to establish trust and commonality, while showing authority helps to demonstrate competence and experience.

Testimonials are one way that you can show authority…But avoid having too many or you might come off as the hero. Miller recommends starting with only three. And keep them brief.

Showing statistics is another way to demonstrate your brand’s authority. How many customers have bought your product? What percentage of those customers have been happy with your product?

Start by: Thinking of ways that you can show your customers how you care about their internal problems and can relate to what they’re going through. Then, whether it’s through testimonials, statistics or whatever else, go on and tell the world how great your product is—but without going overboard.

4. Who Gives Them a Plan

Just like the hero of your favorite movie or book, your customers need a guide who provides them with a plan. Otherwise, they’re like lost puppies.

Miller differentiates between a process plan and an agreement plan. Just like it sounds, a process plan is a plan that lays out the steps of doing business with you (the author says that this plan should have at least three, but no more than six, steps).

An agreement plan is what you promise your customers if they buy from you. An easy way to look at it is “process plans alleviate confusion and agreement plans alleviate fears.”

Unlike a process plan, an agreement plan doesn’t have to be advertised on the homepage of your website; this is something that customers might encounter later on in the buying process.

Start by: When creating your process plan, think about the questions that a customer might have when purchasing from you and where they might be confused. Then write out the steps so that the process is as simple and clear as possible. For instance, if your company sells custom stationery online, your process plan might be as simple as:

1. Pick the design you want

2. Write the text

3. Place your order!

When creating your agreement plan, think of the hesitations that your customers might have when it comes to buying from you—and then address those hesitations. For example, if your eCommerce store sells sunglasses, people might be concerned that the glasses won’t look the way that they expect.

So you could create an agreement plan that allows people to try on the glasses at home before committing to a purchase, like Warby Parker does:

They even lay out a simple process plan (“How to do a Home Try-On”) to explain to their potential customers how it all works.

5. Calls Them to Action

In any story, characters only take action when they are driven to do so.

There are two different types of calls-to-action (CTAs) that you should be using. A direct CTA, like “Schedule a Consultation” or “Buy Now” is one that leads to a sale. A transitional CTA is a lead generation tool that offers customers something free, normally in exchange for their email address.

In other words, transitional CTAs are used to gain the trust of your leads and direct CTAs are used to turn them into actual customers. The direct CTA should always be the most obvious CTA on your website (a large, bold button, repeated throughout the page).

But your calls-to-action shouldn’t just be limited to a few buttons on your website. They should be in the follow-up emails that you send, recommending additional products. They should be in your social media posts. Heck, they can even be in browser pop-ups, like the bracelet company, Pura Vida, does:

Start by: Crafting clear and attention-grabbing CTAs across a variety of channels. Use transitional CTAs to establish trust with your audience and direct CTAs to lead them to sales. Don’t be afraid to call your customers to action with a variety of upselling and cross-selling techniques.

6. That Helps Them Avoid Failure

Loss-aversion theory says that people are “more likely to be dissatisfied with a loss than they are satisfied with a gain….people hate losing $100 more than they like winning $100.”

And this is exactly why you need to be telling your customers not only what they can gain from your products and services, but also how your product will help them to avoid failure.

For example, if your eCommerce store sells deodorant, then your buyers will gain the benefit of smelling good and will avoid being that smelly person in the room.

Start by: Brainstorming the negative outcome(s) that your products prevent from happening. Do they help prevent bad B.O.? Broken iPhones? A bad night’s sleep?

Just make sure that you only choose a few warnings; otherwise you’ll just end up confusing your prospects.

7. And Ends in Success

Everyone likes a happy ending. Your customers included.

How will your products make the lives of your customers better? How will you help them resolve the external, internal and philosophical problems that they’re grappling with?

Miller says that there are three main ways that storytellers end their stories. They can let their heroes…

1. Achieve some sort of power, which can be done by offering exclusive access to something or creating a feeling of scarcity (which appeals to their need for status)

2. Be united with something or someone external that makes them feel complete (which appeals to their need for fulfillment)

3. Experience a self-realization that makes them feel complete (which appeals to their need to reach their full potential)

Start by: Thinking about how your brand can ultimately bring about a resolution for your customers. But as Miller advises, don’t overthink it. The answer is probably much simpler than you think.

Transform Your Customers

We all aspire to be someone…some better version of ourselves. Some of us aspire to be marathon runners…trendsetters…better cooks…

Who do your customers want to become? And how can your brand help your customers become that improved version of themselves? How can your brand help transform your customers into the people that they want to become?

Think about Louis Vuitton, for example. When you think of this luxury brand, you probably think: Fashion. Elegance. Glamour.

And when someone buys a Louis Vuitton product, they automatically feel more fashionable…elegant…glamorous.

Or there’s Fitbit, a company that sells activity trackers. Except in reality, they sell so much more than that: Like Louis Vuitton, they sell their customers an identity transformation. People buy from Fitbit because they want to become healthier and get in better shape.

At the top of the Fitbit homepage, the menu bar encourages shoppers to “Get Motivated” with Success Stories, Fitbit Challenges and Races.

On the Success Stories page, they share stories of people whose lives have been transformed by the brand:

Remember: People don’t buy products—they buy brands. And above all else, you should be selling your customers an identity transformation.

Create a One-Liner for Your Company  

Your company one-liner should touch on the main points in your story: your characters, their problems, your plan and their success.

For example, if your company sells sports drinks to athletes, then you can create your one-liner like so:

Character: Athletes

Problem: Lack of endurance

Plan: Hydrating and energizing drinks

Success: Start and end your workouts feeling good

We provide tired athletes with hydrating and energizing beverages so that they can start—and end—their workouts feeling good.

Then use that one-liner everywhere you go. It’s your new best friend.

A Transformative eCommerce Brand Story in Action

Flat Tummy Tea Co sells detox brews that help women debloat and gain energy. But, like Louis Vuitton and Fitbit, they don’t just sell products. They sell an identity transformation.

Take a look at the product page for Flat Tummy Tea:

Notice how, in the brief product description, they speak directly to a problem that many women face: bloating. In this story, bloating is the villain.

But the brand immediately establishes itself as a guide and authority figure, promising to help its characters fight bloating and “get back on track.”

Then below the fold, they tell (and show) their prospects how to make the tea (providing them with a plan of action):

And towards the bottom of the page, they show before and after photos of their customers (aka the heroes):

Talk about a happy ending.

Your Brand Story

Creating any old brand story isn’t hard. But creating a brand story that captures your customer’s attention, builds loyalty and increases sales? Now that’s a bit trickier.

The good news is that if you rely on the Storybrand Framework to craft your story, you’ll be on the path to success.

First, define who your character is, and make them the hero of your story. Recognize the problems that they are facing and then provide them with a plan of action that demonstrates how, as the guide, your brand can help. Finally, call them to action in a way that helps them avoid failure and end in success. Above all, think about how you can transform your customers’ lives.

Simple, right?

Just like your brand message will be. 😉

Mary Blackiston

Mary is the Content Marketing Specialist for eScale. In her free time, she enjoys yoga, rock climbing, blogging, traveling, and soaking up as much eCommerce knowledge as she can.