In 2017, Donald Miller wrote what I consider one of the most impactful marketing books of the decade: Building a StoryBrand. The book recognizes that in today’s complex and cluttered world, building a simple, compelling and, more importantly, clear messaging strategy is the difference between being noticed versus falling on deaf ears.
The book is built on decades of strong social science research into how people psychologically process information to make decisions. Miller wrote: “Those companies that explain what they do clearly most often win in today’s marketplace.” Therefore, the book takes readers through a seven-point process to simplify a brand message so people understand and act on it.
After reading this book, I began my own “StoryBrand” journey. Working through Miller’s framework, I’ve discovered a way to incorporate behavioral psychology — specifically, mindstate marketing — to make my brand messaging even stronger emotionally.
Adding A Fourth Lens To Your Brand’s Story: Motivation
In building a strong messaging strategy, Miller highlights the need to build it around the same architecture used in nearly every fiction book ever written. In a nutshell: A person encounters a problem as they pursue something they want. At the height of their despair, a guide helps them develop a plan and delivers a call to action, which helps them ultimately succeed.
In this process, the motivation of your customer is determined at the second step: encountering a problem. Miller lays out three lenses to understand their problem: external, internal and philosophical. As I went through this process with my own customer, I wanted an even stronger understanding of why my customer needed to overcome their problem.
What was the true motivation that would push them to really take action on their higher-order goals? This insight came to me through the world of motivational psychology.
Motivations drive your customers at a deep, emotional level. Understanding their true motivations will help you shift them from “intending to act” to “acting.” So, it’s important to understand your customer’s core motivations and “prime their need” by linking your product or service to their motivation.
Motivational psychology suggests there are nine universal and distinct motives driving all human behaviors: achievement, autonomy, belonging, competence, empowerment, engagement, esteem, nurturance and security. I found that adding a fourth lens — identifying which of the nine human motivations drove my customer’s desire to solve their problem — gave me a richer understanding of their latent identity and, more importantly, how to message to that specific motivation in the future.
Applying This Lens With Marketers
Let’s look at an example: My work focuses on helping brand marketers apply behavioral psychology, specifically mindstate marketing, to get their customers to act.
The external problem is that due to extremely low barriers to developing and placing advertising, essentially everyone is now an ad agency. Therefore, our lives are inundated with bad marketing and clutter, making my clients’ advertising even more difficult to break through and be noticed.
The internal problem is that many marketers are no longer confident in their advertising and are frustrated in their tools, agency and even their own ability to use marketing to expand their brand usage. Philosophically, they don’t believe that they should have to hold their breath every time they place a new ad, waiting to see if this execution is really going to make a difference.
In the traditional process, we would stop here. However, when I looked at my customers through the additional lens of motivational psychology, I see that they are also driven by strong feelings of achievement, empowerment and competence.
With this additional information, I can craft future messaging around my ability to help them become more competent as behavioral marketers and better control the outcomes of their marketing, so they can achieve brand growth.
This extra layer of insight can now be signaled in my future communications to add additional emotional energy to get my customers to act. Whether it’s priming achievement through the use of imagery on my website or framing my services as a way to gain control over their marketing, it all feeds into the broader messaging strategy that the branding process delivers on.
Motivation Takes Your Brand’s Story To The Next Level
In my opinion, Donald Miller’s book has been successful because the process works well. I’m learning that firsthand now as I work through the branding process laid out in the book.
The conclusion I’ve reached is that for the companies using the StoryBrand process, you can increase messaging effectiveness if you overlay your customer’s motivation on top of the process.
You might be asking yourself, “How do I identify my customer’s core motivation to build into my script?” The good news is that you don’t necessarily have to conduct deep psychological research. In fact, I’ve found that if you have spent significant time “in the trenches” serving your clients, you already know which of the nine motivations to focus on. All you need to do is trust your informed, gut feeling and select the primary and secondary motivations that most speak to you and go with it.
Therefore, all you really need to do is ask yourself these three questions:
1. What is my client most needing from me and my company?
2. Which one of the nine human motivations best explains why your client needs your help to reach their personal or business goal? (Remember, the nine motivations are achievement, autonomy, belonging, competence, empowerment, engagement, esteem, nurturance and security.)
3. Is there a secondary motivation that could also be at play? If so, which one?
Once you articulate their primary and secondary motivation (if there is one), you can focus on how to best position your brand’s story and messaging to speak to that motivation.