It’s sat in the backlog for a while now. Read but not written. Pondered but not shared. Marketing Made Simple: A Step-by-Step StoryBrand Guide for Any Business was recommended by a marketing consultant I was working with. I appreciated the promise of the title but was skeptical of it as well. Having sat on the implementation of the recommendations of the book (and the consultant) for just shy of a year, I’m not sure that the book lives up to its title – but, like George Box said, “All models are wrong, some are useful.” I think you may find that there’s something for you in this work.
Building a StoryBrand
I’ve got to start with the fact that this isn’t the first book by Donald Miller that I’ve read. I started with Building a StoryBrand. It encourages you to use a framework – Campbell’s Hero’s Journey – to create a story about how your consumers can succeed with your help. Miller calls this a BrandScript. It’s what your brand says to the market and comes in various forms to communicate clarity in any space that you may find yourself in.
Marketing Made Simple translates that BrandScript into a website – which presumably sells your products or services.
Relationship: It’s Complicated
I’d love to say that you can follow the formula that Miller lays out and the result will be money beyond your wildest dreams. However, it’s not that easy. It’s complicated. From my point of view, you must have the right offering – something that you’ll need to look for other books for. Simon Sinek implores you to Start with Why, while Clayton Christensen encourages you to ask How Will You Measure Your Life? while Competing Against Luck and after having looked through the lens of The Innovator’s DNA. Christensen believes that the core product question is what are the “jobs to be done” that your product or service offers? He believes that it’s critical to get to clarity about what these jobs are, so you can communicate value to people that want these jobs done. It’s like the old saying: “Consumers don’t want ¼” drill bits, they want ¼” holes.”
With the right offering, you then must connect to the right market. Books like Duct Tape Marketing, The New Rules of Marketing and PR, Guerrilla Marketing, Launch!, Traction, Launch, and This is Marketing all try to help you connect with the market.
Once you’ve found the right product and the right market – and you know how to reach them – then and only then can Miller’s guide help you. The problem is, of course, that you can’t know whether you have the right product or whether you can reach the “right” market. So, what you get from Marketing Made Simple is a recipe for a website that presumably brings business.
What concerns me is that this leads to the easy out, “well, your product wasn’t right,” or “you didn’t connect with the right market audience” answers that aren’t helpful to entrepreneurs who are struggling to bring their ideas to life without killing themselves financially in the process.
That’s why the relationship with the book is complicated. You’ll never know if the formula doesn’t work because it doesn’t work or because you implemented it wrong, you have the wrong product, or you aren’t able to connect with the right market. That being said, there are two recommendations with a little additional support that Miller does offer – so it’s probably uncharitable to suggest that it’s just about the website.
Lead Generation and Email
Miller does briefly suggest that you need a lead-generating PDF – something that people want and are willing to exchange their email address for. From there, he recommends a drip email campaign to keep people connected to your brand.
These are both fine ideas and can be very powerful. The problem is neither does – or can – explain what works. Having created dozens of lead generation resources, I can tell you that I never know what will generate interest – and what will not. Sometimes, a tiny, crazy thing drives tons of leads. Other times, the most beautifully crafted resource that was targeted at what people were telling me they needed flopped. It’s about repetition and perseverance. It’s what Brené Brown calls gold-plating grit (see Rising Strong).
The other side is equally challenging. Email series that people have signed up for have much higher open rates than things like newsletters, which in turn have much higher open rates than SPAM. However, what Miller fails to share is that many email campaigns fall flat. They’re too short, don’t build enough trust, don’t transition people to the final product, and more. It’s not just that you have to have an email campaign, but you must also get the right messages in – with the right timing that varies by audience – and you’ve got to have the right calls to action embedded.
Results are better than not having an email campaign, but it’s not like an email campaign magically converts prospects into customers – even when your website is amazing. Getting email campaigns right takes time, perseverance, and a willingness to try, to be wrong, and to try again. It may be simple – but that unfortunately doesn’t make it easy.
Miller suggests that consumers go through three stages of relationship with your brand:
This is a good high-level overview; however, enlightenment and commitment are not a single thing. There are degrees in both. Often, customers only know a part of what you do, and step-by-step they learn more and become more committed to your organization.
He does clarify that people aren’t curious about you – rather, they’re curious about how they will solve their problem. You will need to convert that curiosity about how to solve their problem into curiosity about how you might solve their problem. However, care must be taken to minimize confusion about your offerings, because confusion is a vulnerable state – and one they won’t want to enter until they feel safe enough.
Miller further shares that intimacy and trust take time. The need for time to elapse is one of the reasons why drip email campaigns are effective.
Miller suggests that your website should be structured with a main page setup like this:
- The Header: The very top of your website, in which you use very few words to let people know what you offer.
- The Stakes: The section of the website in which you explain what you are saving customers from.
- The Value Proposition: The section of a website in which you add value to your product or service by listing its benefits.
- The Guide: The section of the website in which you introduce yourself as the brand or person who can solve your customer’s problem.
- The Plan: The part where you reveal the path a customer must take to do business with you and solve their problem.
- The Explanatory Paragraph: A long-form BrandScript in which you invite your customers into a story.
- The Video: A video in which you reiterate much of what was on the website in more dynamic form.
- Price Choices: The divisions of your company or your list of products.
- Junk Drawer: The most important part of your website, because it’s where you’re going to list everything you previously thought was important
The overall tone you’re going for is empathetic – that you understand the customer – and authoritative – you know how to solve their problems. Your goal is to do this in a way that anyone – even a caveman – could understand. It’s not dumbing down the language or making the problems too simple, but it is using language that will resonate with the customer.
I’m not 100% sure that there is anything that can take marketing and make it simple, but at least Marketing Made Simple makes the attempt.