Ghostly Whispers
If you’re a marketer who hasn’t been living under a rock, you’ve probably at least heard of the StoryBrand Framework—which exploded onto the scene in 2017 as somewhat of a salve for the marketing masses. Through a set of simple steps, seemingly anyone could position their customer as a hero and their business as their guide. What's not to love? Well...

As it gained popularity, both as a free business tool and a certification (gatekeeping) scheme, businesses of all stripes began adopting it—whether it made sense for their brand or not. But could StoryBrand be right for you? What can it do—and crucially—where does it fall short?

The StoryBrand framework: unpacking the appeal

StoryBrand centralizes the art of storytelling in marketing, with an empathetic narrative around your business, aimed at connecting with customers. By advocating an outsider’s perspective, it provides a structured approach to steer away from "The Curse of Knowledge" (being so close to the product you can’t see it clearly).

This simple tweak can be mind-blowing for first-time marketers—and to those uninitiated to the space, certainly better than whatever they were doing before.

However, as you can probably tell, there’s a flip side to this coin.

Simple > flexible: a derivative origin

StoryBrand's principles are not new. They synthesize the Copywriting Framework (Problem-Agitation-Solution, or PAS) and Joseph Campbell’s 12 Step Hero Journey, which overlaps with User Experience (UX) and lean design philosophies. It also borrows heavily from a single strand of the 12-archetype model developed by Carl Jung.

Rather than being thorough, and requiring the user to make strategic decisions at the outset, StoryBrand simply makes every brand—including yours—the Guide, part of the Hero’s journey.

A tight fit: making every narrative a hero’s journey

‘The Guide’ archetype is apt for many businesses. Think SAAS and consulting. But for many others, it’s completely wrong. And it could, in the case of a casual or discretionary product, result in an inflated sense of self-importance, potentially distancing the business from its customer base.

Afterall, ‘the Guide’ suggests a deep transformational relationship that may not align when the offer is a chocolate bar, emergency plumbing services, or embroidered woolen blankets. Can you make it fit if you push hard enough?* Absolutely—but that doesn’t make it right.

*That's what she said.

Better options: life beyond StoryBrand

So, what is the alternative? Businesses, including those who have used StoryBrand, should know that they haven’t completely wasted their time. The process itself offers a lot by getting internal folks to start thinking differently about their brand. Any system that spurs a different style of thought is worth something.

But if anything, that’s what StoryBrand is—a starting point at best. If you really want to make sure you’re using the right elements to tell your brand’s story, more work is required. It helps to first understand your customers' journey in depth and identify your brand’s unique role within that story. For example, Christopher Booker's seven basic plots can help in identifying which narrative resonates most with your customers.

On top of that, context matters. Businesses need to consider how their narrative unfolds on different platforms. Do you need the quick elevator pitch here? The whole brand summed up as a tagline? How would a Twitter thread compare to a VR experience? How can a chatbot be programmed to engage in a conversation that aligns with your narrative? These are long conversations, and they’re not going to happen in a vacuum, or without a carefully crafted plan—with all stakeholders at the table.

What the big brands do: messaging platforms and brand books

If you’re reading this, you’re probably not in the market to spend six figures on a big agency contract to figure all this out for you. Luckily for all involved, it won’t come to that.

A verbal strategy consultancy (*ahem) is more than capable of shepherding you through the entire messaging process, to produce something that both fits your brand well, and provides what you actually need to start writing in-voice and on-message.

The first and most basic of these tools is a Messaging Platform. Sometimes alternatively called a brand/messaging architecture, it comprises your brand's core messages, which provide a compass for all communication efforts. It extends beyond simple taglines or mission statements to include your brand's perspective on various relevant topics, while capturing all the subtleties of your brand’s tone of voice.

Going further, a brand book could be the answer. A brand book is a detailed document that outlines your brand's mission, values, personality, and tone of voice, along with visual elements like logo, color palette, typography, and imagery guidelines. A well-crafted brand book will serve as a 'north star,' guiding your brand expression in the marketplace and ensuring consistency across all platforms and touchpoints.

Both of these are suitable briefing documents for copywriters, marketers, social media specialists... anyone writing for your brand, as they contain the actual messaging they'll use. A StoryBrand doc, on the other hand, doesn't properly address messaging or brand voice at all, leaving far too much up to the interpretation (misinterpretation) of the individual.


To sum up, feel free to adopt the StoryBrand principles as a primer, but definitely not as the final blueprint. Always incorporate your deep understanding of your customer's journey, adapting and customizing any framework you use to your specific needs and communication channels.

This process will transform your marketing strategy from a samey, off-the-shelf narrative into an empathetic dialogue—one that truly resonates with your customers. So, embrace the starting point that StoryBrand provides, but don’t stop there. Challenge yourself, and your brand, to be and do better—because few others will.

At GhostCMO, we specialize in helping businesses overcome their challenges through strategic branding and marketing. Let's discuss how we can help you steer through the complexities, no matter what you're working on.

Let's talk about growing your brand. Visit our homepage to learn more.
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