Seven Steps for Creating an Engaging Communication Strategy
Donald Miller’s book, “Building A Story Brand”, is a guide that shows organizations how to follow the time-tested method of storytelling in their marketing. Miller’s seven basic story elements connect with an audience to help people understand a message:
1. Every story starts with a hero who wants something.
2. The hero encounters a problem before they can get it.
3. At the peak of their despair, a guide enters their life.
4. The guide offers them a solution.
5. The solution comes in the form of a call to action.
6. That action will help them avoid failure.
7. If taken, the action will help them end in success.
Think about how your favorite book or movie follows this story arc. Most likely you connected with the hero, empathized with their problem, and felt a sense of satisfaction as their story ended in triumph. Now, imagine how a potential supporter could connect with your next marketing campaign in the same way.
Step 1: Establish the hero
The first thing you need to establish is that your potential donor or supporter is the hero of the story. This means that you center your message on their needs, problems, and potential solutions. Avoid the mistake of establishing your nonprofit as the hero instead of the guide. The last thing any supporter wants to hear is another organization bragging about their superiority. There is a time and place for you to establish your authority in your field and showcase your results, but we will get to that in Step 3. Again, the most important thing is to make sure the supporter knows that they are the hero.
Step 2: Identify the hero’s problem
When you are trying to fundraise, get volunteers, or simply raise awareness, the best way to communicate your message to your audience is to focus on the problem you are solving for the them as the hero. Most nonprofits spend too much time talking about an issue they are trying to solve, which is so unrelatable to their target audience that they don’t end up succeeding in finding long-term support.
Although it seems counterintuitive to not lead with the problem that your nonprofit is trying to solve, think about how unsuccessful a for-profit company would be if they used that approach. For example, if you were a car dealership that pitched like most nonprofits do, your approach would be something like: “We sells cars because people need cars. We need your money to help us keep selling cars, so that people who need cars can get them.” Obviously, that pitch would never help a dealership sell cars even though it accurately reflects what they are trying to do.
Instead, the best car dealership pitches address their audience’s problems and sound more like this: “If you are looking for a reliable car for your family that is inexpensive, safe, and stylish, come test drive our new model today and get $1,000 off the retail price.”
With a pitch that focuses on key words, dealerships can quickly target things that consumers care about – their families, saving money, and looking good while driving a safe car.
Now, your nonprofit’s pitch to potential supporters should follow the same guidelines. For most nonprofits, the hero’s problem is the same: people are looking for a way to feel significant or make a difference in the world but don’t know how. Once you address whichever problem you’ve identified, show your audience how your nonprofit will give them opportunities to solve it.
Step 3: Present yourself as the guide.
Now is your time to tell your audience who you are and why they can trust you as their guide for navigating their problem. Establish yourself as an expert in the field by showcasing your involvement and history. Maybe you’ve worked in the same community for 20 years or can share impact statistics about the work you’ve done. You want to present yourself as an experienced and trustworthy authority in your nonprofit’s area of work.
Step 4: Offer a solution to the problem by showing them your plan.
Once you’ve established your credibility, people will trust that you can provide an effective solution. They are ready to listen since you’ve helped them connect to your work by addressing their problem.
If their problem was that they wanted to make a difference in the world but didn’t know how, your solution will explain how involvement with your nonprofit will help them make a difference. This could be by volunteering, starting a fundraising campaign with friends and family, or donating to support your work. Whatever it is, make sure to clarify the significance of their participation.
Step 5: The solution includes a call to action.
Now your audience needs to know how to take the first step in order to arrive at the solution to their problem. This call to action should sound simple, manageable, and attainable for any user.
The call to action should also be communicated in relatable terms. For example, many nonprofits use a call to action similar to this: “Give up coffee for a month and donate that extra $30 to help a child go to school.” This pitch is easy to relate to, easy to commit to, and communicates the impact of the user’s involvement right away.
Step 6: Following this call to action will help them avoid failure.
Now, you have to define the stakes. What does failure mean for a potential nonprofit donor? If the early problem you identified was that people don’t know how to make a difference in the world, their failure would correlate with their inaction. In the case of this example, if they just go about their normal lives and don’t heed the guide’s call to action, they will not be making a difference in the world and the hero’s problem won’t be solved.
Step 7: They will end in success.
A successful ending means that a supporter feels like their problem has been solved. They’ve chosen your nonprofit as the most trustworthy guide to follow in order to help them solve their problem, and have followed your plan to take some sort of action.
The donor leaves feeling satisfied and successful because you have helped them accomplish their ultimate goal. Now, they are likely to return to you again the next time they face a similar problem.
If you want to learn more about the StoryBrand method, you can read Miller’s book or talk with our team and get access to templates that will help you build your nonprofit’s StoryBrand campaign.
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