You’re Not the Hero

People don’t care about your story, they care about their own.

Donald Miller’s Building A StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen has had a significant impact on my thinking and work with clients. Miller is president of StoryBrand, a marketing firm that helps clients clarify their messaging. I picked up the book after hearing him chat on Chris Brogan’s podcast. There were points made in the podcast that I felt could be applied to my clients as they looked to advance in their careers.

You’re Not The Hero

Miller is a big believer in using story to convey one’s message (brand / professional value) to people who are willing to pay for products or services. In the work I do with clients, we work together to identify and articulate their Leadership Narrative — the story of their unique value. Together we develop clear, concise, crisp (not canned) stories that convey their value; how they achieve that value; and examples of those achievements.

This approach positions clients as the hero. They become the hero of the story, where they’ve “saved the day” for their bosses and organizations, and clearly could do the same for a prospective role.

This needs to change.

According to Miller, customers – bosses, hiring managers, and other decision-makers – see themselves as the hero of their story. They don’t want another hero to deal with. They need a guide who understands their problem and has a plan of action that leads the hero to success – someone who can help them win the day.

Be The Guide

The guide has demonstrated experience in conquering the hero’s challenge as part of their own backstory. While the guide has tremendous authority, the story is about the hero.

The guide expresses understanding of the hero’s pain and frustration. Empathizing with the hero’s dilemma creates trust. The hero will trust a guide who knows what they’re doing. The guide needs to have serious experience helping other heroes win the day. Think Frodo and Gandalf, Katniss and Haymitch, Luke Skywalker and Yoda, Harry Potter and Dumbledore.

Solve the Hero’s Internal Problem

Miller notes that we tend to “sell” solutions to people’s external problems (“My organization needs to grow 25% this year”). However, they tend to buy solutions to their internal problems (“Do I have what it takes to make that kind of growth?”).

In every story, the hero struggles with self-worth, which makes them feel frustrated, incompetent and confused. Their desire to resolve a frustration is a greater motivator than their desire to solve an external problem.

We’ll move forward with people if we identify their frustration with their external problems and show them how to resolve both the frustration and the original external problem.

Three Key Questions

Miller offers three questions to distinguish us from the noise of others marketing their services:

  1. What does the hero want?
  2. Who, or what, is opposing the hero from getting what they want?
  3. What will the hero’s life look like if they get (or not) what they want?

I’ll be working with my clients to focus on these questions as they seek to advance in their careers and position themselves as guides to the heroes they need to work with.

Over to You

As you look to advance in your career, can you make your boss or hiring manager the hero of their story? Can you be the guide that empathizes with their dilemma and shows them the path to success?


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