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How to Tell a Story That DOESN’T Sound Cliche.

Storytelling is a powerful tool.


When used correctly, great storytelling can inspire people to act, think, or feel completely differently. The most obvious forms of storytelling are usually found in books and movies, but, if you look closely, stories can be found in the brand narrative of successful companies and organizations as well.


Brand narrative is simply the language that a company uses in its website, ads, or products that contains its message to the world. How it is written and delivered plays a significant role in the success of a business.


These brand narrative stories can be inspiring, like the Think Different Apple Campaign, emotional, like M.D. Anderson Cancer Center’s language of Making Cancer History, or even humorous, like the Chick-fil-A billboards that have 3D cows begging us to Eat More Chicken. But the 3 things that ALL of them have that make them so successful are

  1. A hero,

  2. a villain and

  3. a guide.


I found this language of hero, villain, and guide, from the phenomenal book Building a StoryBrand by Donald Miller. Miller created what he calls a StoryBrand Framework which is a 7-part formula for creating a great story. But for now, we are going to just use the abridged 3-part StoryBrand Framework that you see above.


And today I am going to show you why these 3 simple things are essential for a good brand narrative and how to use them to create a story for your company that doesn’t sound cliche.


The Importance of the StoryBrand Framework

In Building a StoryBrand, Miller says 2 very memorable things:

  1. The StoryBrand Framework works because some form of this formula has been active for thousands of years to help people tell stories

  2. The StoryBrand Framework is predictable.

The first point is great to hear! Not only is the StoryBrand Framework almost completely fool-proof because it has been in action for so long, but just by following the framework, you can guarantee a great story for your business.


But the second point is not the greatest news: if every great story follows this framework, it can be very easy to create an overused or cliche story. But before we look at how to avoid cliches, let's examine the framework a little more closely.


First, let's look at the expanded version of the 3-part StoryBrand Framework: A CHARACTER (the hero) has a PROBLEM (the villain) and meets a GUIDE (the guide). Now let's bring back the companies I highlighted before and identify the framework within their narrative.


Apple

  1. Hero — The Customer

  2. Villain — Conformity

  3. Guide — Apple

M.D. Anderson Cancer Center

  1. Hero — The Customer

  2. Villain — Cancer

  3. Guide — M.D. Anderson Cancer Center

Chick-fil-A

  1. Hero — The Customer

  2. Villain — Too Many Burgers

  3. Guide — The Cows / Chick-fil-A


I have three things to point out here:

  1. As you can see here, each of these companies frames us, the customers, as the hero of their story and they frame themselves as the guide. This dynamic is very important. If the company were to frame itself as the hero, we would lose interest very quickly. It would seem as if the company was more interested in bragging than in serving us. But because these companies are guides to help us defeat our problems and achieve victory, it is easy to become engaged in their stories.

  2. Also, each company addresses a legitimate issue. Apple connects with people who want to stand out, M.D. Anderson connects with cancer victims, and Chick-fil-A addresses the overwhelming supply of burger restaurants and lack of chicken options.

  3. And while each of these companies has a great story, the reason why it was easy for me to identify the 3-parts of their frameworks was that each story was clear and concise. If the story is not clear, it will not be heard.

“The more simple and predictable the communication, the easier it is for the brain to digest.” — Donald Miller, Building a StoryBrand

Okay. So now that we have established how important the hero, the villain, and the guide are for a story, let’s move on to the fun part: building a story that isn’t cliche.


Building a Story That Isn’t a Cliche

In this section of the blog, I am going to create 3 examples of non-cliche stories and walk you through how I created each one. But while I do, I want you to keep in mind this quote from Made to Stick by Dan and Chip Heath:


“The most basic way to get someone’s attention is this: Break a pattern.”

Example #1:

Betsy’s Animal Training — Your Dog Will Never Hump A Guest Again

This tagline that I coined for the made-up Betsy’s Animal Training is effective for two reasons: it is unexpected and it follows the StoryBrand Framework.


The unexpectedness is obvious, but the frameworks It is easy to miss at first. Let’s look again.


Here is the original framework:

A CHARACTER (the hero) has a PROBLEM (the villain) and meets a (GUIDE).


And here is the Betsy’s Animal Training version:

A host (the hero) of a dinner party is always ashamed that their dog humps the guests (the villain) but then they find Besty’s Animal Training (the guide).


Example #2:

Kelly’s Toothpaste — Your Smile is Beautiful

This tagline, this story, creates an emotional response. Just by reading it, I start to smile.

And the interesting thing about this tagline is that most of the story isn’t obvious, it’s intuitive.


If the customer is the hero, and they see this message in association with Kelly’s Toothpaste, 2 things will happen:

  1. They will become proud of their smile and will want to keep it beautiful.

  2. They will see Kelly’s as the guide to help them achieve their goal of maintaining a beautiful smile.

So now we have:

A person (the hero) is afraid that bad-colored teeth will ruin their beautiful smile (the villain) but then they use Kelly’s Toothpaste (the guide).


Example #3:

Dill College’s Coffee House — Coffee = Focus

For an on-campus coffee shop, there was a variety of directions that I could have taken: a place to work without distractions or maybe the coziest corner on campus. But I chose the power of caffeine.


This tagline in particular is extremely simple. And that is why it’s effective. The first draft that I had was “This Coffee Will Help You Focus For The Next 48 Hrs,” but that was too long, too wordy, and not sticky at all.


And as you can see, the story was not lost when I decided to simplify it. In both forms, the story remained:

A tired college student (the hero) has a bunch of work to complete but can’t focus on getting it done (the villain) but then they find Dill’s College Coffee House (the guide).


How You Can Break The Cliche Too

None of these stories were cliche because, while they each tell a story using the same framework, they all take different sides to that story.


The first one was unexpected, the next one was emotional, the last one was simple. And they each addressed a genuine problem.


That is one of the key things to keep in mind when writing a story. To keep your story from being cliche, don’t be a guide on a problem that has already been solved.


If Dill’s College Coffee House helps students by giving them caffeine, Susie’s Coffee Shop needs to find another problem to solve. Research what problems people have and then position yourself as the guide to help them resolve those problems.


Another thing to keep in mind is to remember the quote by the Heath brothers: break a pattern. If you are a coffee shop in a neighborhood where there are a lot of coffee shops, think about how you can uniquely communicate your story. Almost all coffee shops are similar, but through your story, you can set yourself apart.


So, if you are a business that is struggling to leave a mark, look at your brand and ask yourself: Am I telling a story?

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