Donald Miller's formula for building a brand that connects

Caroline Burk

Updated: Mar 08, 2024 · 9 min read

Donald Miller smiling on stage

Every day, our brains are subconsciously fighting to keep us alive. And part of that process includes constantly deciding what day-to-day information is worth accepting and what needs to be rejected.

Interesting, right? But you opened this article to learn how to connect with your audience and build your brand, so what does this tidbit about how our brains work have to do with that?

Surprisingly, it has everything to do with growing your business and reaching your goals — and Donald Miller, founder of Business Made Simple, shared why in his session at Keap’s Let’s Grow Summit.

Donald taught attendees how to effectively connect with your audience and entice them to take the next step with your business by crafting messages their brains want to accept, rather than reject. If you didn’t have a chance to catch Donald’s keynote, or if you need a refresher, read on for a rundown of his advice, including:

  • The importance of storytelling for your brand

  • Six steps to crafting a story your audience will engage with and act on

  • How to implement your new storytelling framework to see repeatable results and how marketing automation software can help

The importance of a good story

Donald’s mantra around the Business Made Simple office is this: If you confuse, you lose.

This simple saying speaks to a profound message about how crucial it is to be clear in each and every story you deliver to your audience. If you’re struggling to close more deals and you’re not seeing the results you want from your marketing efforts, it could be because your audience is confused about what your message is, and more importantly, about what you’re offering them. And when your audience is confused, they reject your message and you lose sales.

This is why the contents of your stories matter. It’s not enough to write up an email offer without a solid strategy in place. Instead, it pays (literally) to use a tried and tested framework like Donald’s.

In fact, last year, Donald taught his storytelling framework to a room full of executives from a software company. He asked who in the room had something they wanted to sell or a deal they needed to close, but their customers were on the fence. Every hand in the room shot up, so Donald told them all to get out their computers so they could put his framework into action right then and there by sending an offer email to their prospects. A few days later, Donald got a call from the chief revenue officer of that company, and he told him the executives in that room closed 2.5 million dollars in sales by implementing his storytelling strategy.

That’s the power of telling your story the right way — increased sales, more efficiency, happy customers. And all you need is a proven, six-step framework to help get you there.

Storytelling in six steps

Donald’s six–step storytelling framework is one you can recreate and repeat for any message you need to send to your audience. Check out the steps below and learn how marketing automation and a CRM for small business can help you implement this strategy automatically.

1. Start with a problem

We often don’t realize it, but the movies and shows we watch almost always start with a problem, and so should your messages to your audience.

The truth is, opening up with pleasantries isn’t going to entice your leads and customers to keep reading — you need a hook. You need to capture their attention quickly, and introducing a relevant problem will do the trick. This will grab their attention because they find it relatable and are looking for a way out of that problem.

There’s a catch to this first step, though. You can’t just pick a problem haphazardly. Donald stresses that you and your team need to find the right problem, frame it in the right way and use the right emotional trigger that will resonate with your audience. This requires a bit of research, but through your resources — your team, the data stored in your small business CRM, past campaigns, customer feedback and other assets — you can find a host of problems your audience is dealing with.

Beware of ignoring this advice and assuming you already know the perfect problem to start with. Customers will tell you their issue if you listen carefully, but if you’ve already decided you know what they’re going to say, you’ll miss the mark.

2. Position your product as a solution to the problem

After presenting the problem, your audience will be hanging on your every word to see where the rest of your story will go. And the next thing they’ll be looking for is a solution to what you just described. This is why the second step is to frame your product or service as their saving grace.

When you nail the problem and speak to what’s weighing on people most, they’ll be more likely to listen to the details about your product or service and be willing to pay for it. Plus, flipping the script and tackling the problem first can increase the value of your solution in the eyes of your audience.

3. Provide a step-by-step plan

After step two, your audience will have entered cognitive dissonance, which just means they have a lot of questions swirling around their heads, and they need a minute to think.

Donald marks this point in time as a red flag because a lot of people will feel tempted to just “get back to you” about your offer. Unfortunately, that’s usually code for “I will accidentally forget about this, move on to another task and never respond.” How do you combat this? A step-by-step plan that answers their questions and eases their cognitive dissonance.

This entails presenting three actionable steps, demonstrating how they can easily go from their problem to your solution. To get even more specific, Donald recommends two of these action items be baby steps they can take with no risk at all (i.e., scheduling a free consultation or downloading a free guide).

By the time they’ve read through your plan, you should have answered:

  • How’s this going to work?

  • What’s the risk?

  • What’s the reward?

  • What are this business’s motives?

4. Lay out the negative stakes

Next up: Increasing the sense of urgency by reminding your readers about the negative consequences of not taking the next step with your business.

Don’t be afraid to get real with your audience about what could happen if they don’t use your solution to take care of their problem. Be truthful, of course, but also be blunt. It may seem dramatic to you as you write it, but it won’t come off that way to your audience, and you’ll be doing them a favor. They need you to be honest to wake them up and propel them toward action.

5. Present the positive stakes

One of Donald’s keys to success is to always end on a positive note, so after being honest about the realities of life without your product or service, you should highlight the positive effects of life with it. This is your opportunity to show off and get your audience excited. Paint a picture of what your contacts can look forward to when they take the leap and purchase from you.

When you detail the negative stakes, it will naturally stir up some concern in your readers, reminding them of what they're dealing with and why they’re considering a solution in the first place. Initially, you might think it’s cruel to be so honest, but this process primes your readers to be met with the positive possibilities you offer. It also makes them more receptive to your call to action, which is the sixth and final step of Donald’s formula.

6. Call the customer to action

Asking contacts to take the next step is the least favorite part of the sales process for many of the entrepreneurs Donald works with.

It can be uncomfortable to say exactly what you mean and ask people to spend their money on your product or service. So instead of a clear, honest call to action, it’s common to beat around the bush, saying things like “If you’re interested, give me a call,” “learn more” or “get started.” When it comes to pitching an offer, Donald has found these invitations and their variations to be weak, ineffective and even confusing for audiences.

Remember the mantra of Donald’s company: “If you confuse, you lose.” This also applies to your CTAs, so make sure you opt for straightforward, actionable wording. Give them something they can easily accept or reject, such as “Schedule a call” and “Buy now.” These invitations may not seem too different, but the slight changes to the wording can make a big impact on your leads and customers.

Man with glasses and book

Pro tip

As you introduce this CTA, affirm your customers’ decision. Hearing from an expert that this will benefit them and that it’s a smart move will help provide the confidence they need to go forward with it. However, if you don’t think you have something that could help them, be honest about that too. Avoid saying their decision is the right one if you know your solution isn’t their best choice.

How to get started

This six-step gameplan has been a necessary part of Donald scaling his own business to millions in revenue, and it’s also helped his clients build their businesses and land more sales.

How can you follow in their footsteps? Donald instructs everyone he shares this framework with to implement it in the same way: Use these steps to craft an email and send at least one every single morning.

This framework can work for many different audiences, from leads to repeat customers, so take some time to craft specific messages to each of your groups using Donald’s six steps. Once you’ve done that, you can use small business automation to automatically send those emails to the right people.

Consistent use of this strategy can help you scale like Donald and so many others have. If you’re ready to close more sales, why wait to send your first email? Start today and share this framework with your team so your entire organization can start crafting better messages that build your business.

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