A Brand Story Exercise: OTM’s Approach to Building a StoryBrand

women writing on a whiteboard

 More than 5 million new business applications were filed in 2022, and yet 45% of new businesses fail within 5 years. 

With so much competition in the marketplace, it’s getting harder and harder for businesses to stand out. At OTM, we leverage the StoryBrand framework as a part of our OTM Path to Growth® to help clients break through the noisy marketplace and win customers.

OTM is a StoryBrand Certified Agency

Just one of roughly ~30 StoryBrand Certified Agencies in the country, the entire OTM team was trained by Donald Miller and the StoryBrand team over the course of a 2-day intensive workshop.

What is the StoryBrand framework?

StoryBrand is a 7-part framework developed by Donald Miller and made popular by his book, “Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen.”  

StoryBrand turns the traditional approach to brand messaging inside out by telling a customer-centric story rather than a brand-centric story. It puts the brand’s customer (your customer, client, patient, etc.) at the center of the story, painting them as the hero, while reserving the brand itself as “the guide” of the story. 

The 7-part framework defines the character (or hero of the story), the problem they face, the aspirations they have, and then introduces them to a guide (your business or brand) who develops a path toward success, ultimately achieving great things and avoiding failure along the way. 

Traditionally, businesses have positioned themselves as the hero in the story, but as Miller explains, since every customer sees themselves as the hero in their own story, this approach largely falls flat.

“Every human being wakes up each morning and sees the world through the lens of a protagonist. The world revolves around us, regardless of how altruistic, generous, and selfless a person we may be. Each day is, quite literally, about how we encounter the world.”

– Donald Miller; Building a Story Brand

What’s necessary is a paradigm shift of sorts; your business must play a different role in order to break through the noise. To see your business successful you must abandon the sole proclamation of your accolades and take up the guise of a qualified guide. In a world full of heroes, it’s crucial to shape your business offerings so as to aid those heroes on their quests. Once positioned as a humble guide, your business is free to come alongside your story’s hero and graciously lead them to success.

This upside-down approach is how we help our clients at OTM; with a few alterations. To better understand this storytelling form of marketing, let’s walk through a fictional example of a homeowner and their lawn.

Meeting the Hero

Meet Blake. Blake is a homeowner in Colorado, and his lawn was the talk of the block. It donned an evenly dispersed deep green and was always perfectly trimmed. His neighbors would regularly shower him with compliments that unveiled a not-so-subtle jealous admiration, and he loved it.

He was admired and looked up to for his beautiful, lush green lawn. 

Blake had earned these accolades. He followed a rigorous yet sustainable watering schedule. He mowed and edged his lawn every Tuesday afternoon, and maintained constant patrol for grass-eating pests and invasive-weed eye sores.

To his dismay, however, no amount of routine rigor could prepare his lawn for what was to come.

Discovering a Problem

It was a brutal, seemingly endless winter in Northern Colorado. It was a wonder if the snow would ever melt to release the spring. But alas, as it always does, the snow melted away, and spring sprung. Only instead of revealing the beautiful lawn that was kidnapped by the cold a few months ago, Blake discovered a mere shadow of the glory that once was.

No problem, he thought. It was hard work and discipline that made his lawn what it was. All he needed to do, he assured himself, was to continue that hard work and restore what appeared to be lost.

To Blake’s disappointment, however, his strategies didn’t seem to be working and his lawn was fading fast. How could this be? He worked hard on his lawn every year; how could this be happening to him?

He felt helpless and discouraged. 

He shouldn’t have to deal with this alone. If Blake was going to maintain his title of ‘best homeowner of the block’, he was going to need some guidance.

Finding a Guide

Old Town Lawn & Landscape (OTL&L) is a small, fictional, landscaping company in Northern Colorado. With years and years of experience, they are experts in all things landscaping, especially lawns. A modest company, with the help of a local marketing company, they’ve positioned themselves as the very guide Blake required.

They understand how difficult it can be to keep a perfectly manicured lawn in Colorado – with pests, harsh sunlight, long winters, and the oh so dreaded HAIL that pelts our lawns every spring. 

OTL&L has seen it all over the past 15 years and their experts know how to get to the “root” of the problem. 

The Plan

After talking to a few friends and searching the internet, Blake finds himself on the OTL&L website. He reads that they “get to the root of the problem” and help homeowners like him become the talk of the town with their beautifully manicured lawns. They’ve been in business for 15 years and have raving reviews from a number of Blake’s neighbors. 

“Contact us today for a free consultation to get started” directs the website, with a big shiny red “contact us today” button. 

Before clicking the button, though, Blake tries to understand what will happen next. Luckily, the website provides him with an easy-to-digest 3-step plan:

1. Contact us today for a free ‘lawnsultation’

2. One of our experts will come take a look at your lawn and provide you with an estimate 

3. Within just a few days, all your neighbors will be back to calling you the ‘best homeowner on the block’

Addressing the Call to Action

OTL&L made it clear that they wanted Blake to succeed. They unveiled what it would take to achieve the former beauty of his lawn, and they offered him access to their blog which housed various guides for troubleshooting a struggling and fading lawn.

Whether Blake chose to hire OTL&L or attempt this rescue mission on his own, they warned him that he would need to act quickly if he wanted to witness his lawn’s recovery.

Blake clicks the button.

Deciding Between Success and Failure

Blake had never needed help with his lawn before. Hiring a professional landscaping company, he was afraid, would reveal a chink in his Kentucky-Bluegrass armor, and would lose him the respect he’d worked so hard to earn.

But he couldn’t deny he needed help. Would he hire the services of OTL&L and maintain his grassy pride and joy, or risk losing it all to one dreadfully cold Colorado winter?

Uncovering an Aspirational Identity

OTL&L understood their role in Blake’s story, that of a necessary and qualified guide. You see, they’ve worked with plenty of Blakes in their years of experience, and they all shared one thing in common: an aspirational identity.

An aspirational identity addresses more than just a tangible end goal. Blake longed to have his green lawn back, yes, but what he really wanted was to retain the glory of being a model homeowner. OTL&L is one of a great many local landscaping companies in Northern Colorado, but the reason they were chosen by the Blake of this story wasn’t necessarily because their approach to landscaping was the best, although Blake believed it was.

OTL&L was the chosen landscaping company because they understood Blake’s aspirational identity, and they spoke to it. OTL&L made clear that they saw the gravity of Blake’s problem, and they laid before him an attainable solution. With OTL&L, Blake felt understood and that they were committed to achieving what he was afraid he’d lost: his perfect homeownership.

How Building a StoryBrand Leads to Success

In this fictional story OTL&L used the StoryBrand process to create genuine value for their customers. They assigned their characters their proper roles, and played the part of the guide who would help their heroes attain their aspirational identity. With their customers playing the role of the hero, OTL&L was free to present their offering in a way that spoke to what the hero wanted and needed on their quest to success.

“No story has power, nor will it last, unless we feel in ourselves that it is true and true of us.”

– John Steinbeck; East of Eden

This strategy reshaping helped create a story OTL&L could tell their customers in which they could see themselves. With empathy and clarity, they assured their customers they were on their side while unearthing a clear path forward. And as the wise guide in their story, they presented the tools and know-how necessary for the journey, and pointed their customers toward a clear call to action.

At the end of the day, OTL&L knew the decision was up to their hero. But by wrapping them up in their story, the only difference between the hero’s success or failure was whether or not they chose OTL&L.

The Bottom Line

This storytelling methodology isn’t confined to the world of fictional landscaping companies. By developing value propositions that cater to the aspirational identities of their customers, any company can differentiate itself from the pack and bring forth a truly valuable offering.

At OTM, we understand this truth and we’d love to help you realize it for your company. As a part of the OTM Path to Growth™, our brand story exercise we’ll help you discover how to set your company apart, and become the guide your customers are looking for.

Building a StoryBrand with OTM

OTM is one of roughly ~30 StoryBrand Certified Agencies in the country, and our entire team was directly trained by members of Donald Miller’s team. Ready to get started on your StoryBrand journey with OTM? Request a 30-minute consultation to get started!

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