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SPI 655: How to Build Stories That Sell Big with Dr. J.J. Peterson

How much is a good story worth?

In marketing, it’s priceless. Crafting your message to capture attention and create an emotional connection is absolutely vital; it can make the difference between no sales and more sales than you can handle.

But how do you tell the right story? How do you find the exact formula that can take your brand to the next level?

This is the focus of today’s conversation with Dr. J.J. Peterson of StoryBrand and the Marketing Made Simple podcast. You hear me talk about Building a StoryBrand all the time: it’s essential reading for any entrepreneur. I had the author, Donald Miller, on the show in episode 393 for an unbelievable chat. Check it out if you haven’t already!

In this session, we dive even deeper into the game-changing impact of storytelling in business. Dr. J.J. Peterson shares the seven elements your brand script should include, how to become a better marketer and public speaker, how to stand out in your niche, and much more.

Thousands of organizations have seen massive growth under his guidance, so don’t miss this incredible talk!

Today’s Guest

Dr. J.J. Peterson

Since 2013, Dr. J.J. Peterson has used the StoryBrand Framework to help thousands of organizations clarify their message in order to grow their business. He holds a PhD in Communication and has spent the last 20 years practicing and teaching communication theory. J.J. has studied C.S. Lewis in Oxford, debated theology with filmmakers at the Sundance Film Festival, directed a documentary, served in marketing and PR for two multinational non-profit organizations, is currently an adjunct professor at Vanderbilt University, and has spoken to thousands of people about creating a clear message. As the Sr. Director of StoryBrand, J.J. travels around the world facilitating StoryBrand workshops and keynotes, helping people grow their business.

You’ll Learn

Resources

SPI 655: How to Build Stories That Sell Big with Dr. J.J. Peterson

JJ Peterson:
The very simple tip I would give people is when you’re creating a list of your features and benefits for your marketing, is lean into the benefit more than the feature. If you’re telling me that what we do for you is we… Let’s say you’re a business coach and you say, “Well, what I do for you is keep you accountable,” that’s a feature of your plan. And we think as marketers like, “Oh yeah, people understand the power of accountability.” They don’t. Well, they might. They don’t have time when they’re reading your website or your emails to really do the math in the moment. So you need to tell them.

Pat Flynn:
Do you struggle with telling story? Well, story is one of the most important things that you can have as a marketer and in your brand. And the better that you can tell a story and the better stories that you tell, the more revenue you’ll have, the more connections you’ll make with your audience and the bigger impact you can make.
Today we are speaking with Dr. JJ Peterson. He is the head of story over at StoryBrand. We’ve had Donald Miller on the show before, the author of Building a StoryBrand, one of my favourite books that I feel is required reading for any entrepreneur. But before you go read that book and check it out, if you haven’t already, make sure to stick around and listen to this episode because this episode could absolutely change your business. And the consequence of not doing this is just continuing to say the same message over and over again and have no better results than you have been getting. I’m here to help you improve and so is Dr. JJ Peterson. Here he is from the Marketing Made Simple Podcast and StoryBrand. Let’s talk about it.

Announcer:
Welcome to the Smart Passive Income Podcast, where it’s all about working hard now so you can sit back and reap the benefits later. And now your host, he thanks every fish he catches before he releases them, Pat Flynn.

Pat Flynn:
Dr. JJ Peterson, welcome to the Smart Passive Income Podcast. Thanks for joining me today.

JJ Peterson:
Thanks for having me. Excited to be here.

Pat Flynn:
I’m excited that you’re here. As head of StoryBrand, I was really excited because we’ve had Donald Miller on the show before and I talk about StoryBrand all the time and I’m trying to preach to the audience just develop a story. But not just your own, share the stories of your own audience as well. And I think hopefully the audience has noticed that we’ve done this in our brand too. We’ve tried to feature a lot of people on the show. And in fact, we’ve handed the mic over to a lot of our students as well. But let’s go back to the beginning and remind people why is story more than anything really important especially when it comes to building a business today.

JJ Peterson:
I’ll get a little geeky about it because-

Pat Flynn:
Get geeky, man.

JJ Peterson:
… my PhD is actually in narrative theory and communication. Really it goes all the way back to Aristotle and Plato who argued in poetics that if you want to change culture, if you want to move people to action or change their thoughts, the best way to do that is through story, that that is how you want to move people. And obviously, story has been studied over the centuries and there is kind of the godfather of narrative, his name is Walter Fisher. He would even argue that we as humans, he would say we’re homo narrative. Meaning we are like, first and foremost, storytellers. That’s how we make sense. That’s how we build relationship. It’s how we pass on crucial knowledge.
And so ultimately, I mean, I think everybody kind of knows this instinctively, that if you want to move people, their hearts or their minds or their actions, or you want to build relationship or you want to make connection, the best way to do that is through story. I think especially over these past few years where we are more segmented, and I don’t want to say even divided, just literally we’re not as in much human connection anymore face-to-face that what happens a lot of times with when it comes to marketing and trying to share your story as a business is it becomes very transactional and we’ve lost the human element in that. And now people are longing for even that deeper and stronger connection. And so telling a good story, inviting customers into a good story is even more important than ever.

Pat Flynn:
I’m even noticing on short form video platforms like TikTok, I noticed that when I am on that platform, usually when a person starts with, “Hey, let me tell you this story about something.,” I’m there watching for three minutes this random person when I’m normally just flipping through looking for cat videos or something and we don’t even know that that intrigues us so much. But when it comes to the definition of story for let’s say a marketer, what does that mean exactly? Is it just something with a beginning, middle, and end? Help us define what story means for us as entrepreneurs.

JJ Peterson:
Because I think story is a buzzword in marketing. But I think when people say, “We need to tell good stories,” subconsciously what they’re saying is, “We need to find good testimonies or we make need to make good commercials.” But the reality is, is that story is formulaic. Story is formulaic. And you just mentioned kind of beginning, middle, and end. That’s one form of story, that’s one formula of story. But really there are seven main elements of every good story. And to be a good storyteller, you need to understand those seven elements and how to use those in story. Once I say them here kind of quickly, you’ll notice them in every movie you’ve ever seen, every book you’ve ever seen because every story that is a good story is built on this framework.
So the seven elements is you need to have a character, a main character. Typically it’s one person. Sometimes it’s a group protagonist, but there is one character. And within the first in a movie, I believe nine minutes of the movie, you need to know what that character wants. So you need to understand very clearly that character wants one thing. And it has to be clear. It can’t be wishy-washy and it can’t be… If Jason Bourne wants to understand who he is, that’s kind of what he wants in the movie. You can’t also have him opening a cupcake shop and training for a marathon. You can’t have that. It has to be about one thing. Then within about 12 to 15 minutes of the movie, the main character has to encounter a problem, and that problem has to be clear. That’s what makes the story interesting. That’s what hooks the audience.
If there is no problem in the story, it’s not a good story. If I was to sit here and tell you just a bunch of facts about my day and say, “Man, I got up this morning and I had coffee and sat on the couch and I’ve read the news,” right? That can only last for so long because you’re kind of going, “Well, what’s the point? Why are you telling me this?” Well, what you don’t realize is you’re waiting for me to tell you the problem I experienced. That’s what’s going to make that story interesting. So if I said, “I got up this morning and I was sitting on a couch and all of a sudden I hear sirens outside of my house and a car comes crashing through my kitchen window,” now you’re like, “Well, what happened?”

Pat Flynn:
“I’m interested.”

JJ Peterson:
But if I stop there and I go, “So yeah, how’s your day?”, you’re like, “No, no, no, tell me more of the story.” That’s what makes the story interesting, is that problem that happened and you want to find out how it’s solved. So that’s really the hook in a story, a character wants something but then a problem gets in the way of that.
Then the third element is that the main hero, we know as an audience that the hero cannot overcome this problem on their own so they meet a guide, somebody who comes along and helps them win the day. And that is usually like Gandalf to Frodo. Frodo is the hero, Gandalf’s the guide. Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda are the guides, Luke Skywalker’s the hero, and so on and so on. You see this in every movie, a coach, a mentor. So the guide comes in and then the guide gives the customer a plan. That’s the fourth element of the story. You’ll hear this in almost every movie you watch, is, “What’s the plan?” or, “Here’s the plan.” It’s because we as the audience need to see a way forward for the hero to win. And if we don’t see that, then we’re not interested, we’re not hooked in the story.
Then the hero has to have a moment where they’re in or out. There’s like this moment like a bomb is going to go off or there’s a deadline where somebody is kidnapped and they’re going to disappear after 24 hours. There’s a deadline that the hero has to either run away or be all in, and that’s called the call to action moment. And then there are stakes in the story which we know as the audience that the story can either have a happy ending, which is successful ending or a tragic ending, which is failure.
Those are the seven elements. A character wants something, he/she encounters a problem, meets a guide who gives them a plan that calls them to action that results in success and failure. And like I said, this formula has kind of been studied over centuries and ultimately is refined in the box office with movies that are created every week. So now how does that actually apply to entrepreneurs? Most companies are not telling the right stories with their marketing and they’re losing a lot of business because of it. The first thing you need to understand is that your customer is the hero of your story, not your brand. Your customer is the hero. And what your job is as a marketer is to invite them into a story that their problems get to be solved. So you need to identify what is it that your customer wants and name that very clearly in your marketing. You need to then identify what are the problems that your customers are experiencing and talk about that over and over and over again.
The only reason anybody is ever going to buy a product from you is because you solve a problem. If they can solve the problem on their own, they don’t need you. So you have to talk about the problem that they’re experiencing. And if you do that, if you talk about that in your marketing, what you’re doing is you’re inviting customers into a story that they get to be the hero of. Then you position yourself as the guide. So you come in with empathy and authority, so you’re talking about how you understand your customer’s problems and you’ve helped other people solve them. So you have testimony, statistics, things like that. Then you need to give your customers a plan to do business with you. So what does it look like to do business with you? You have to have strong calls to action. And then you ultimately have to cast a vision for what their life will be like if they do or don’t buy your product. What does success look like and what does failure look like?
And when you create talking points for each of those seven elements, what you do is then you make sure that you’re telling the right story to your customer and it’s clear and focuses on making them the hero. And that’s incredibly important because all of us wake up as the hero of our own story, we’re the main character of our own movie every single day. If I wake up as the hero of my story and I’m trying to solve my problems, and you as a brand, position yourself as the hero in the story, then what happens is we’re in competing stories, right? You have to get more money out of me. So you become the hero of the story. So you get more money and I get ripped off. Or, I get a deal out of you, so you charge me less. Now I’m the hero and you’re not. You’re the villain in some cases, right? But if you position yourself as the guide in your customer’s hero, then what you’re doing is actually coming in on their path and their journey and showing them how you can help them win.

Pat Flynn:
How do you incorporate your own story when it’s seemingly important to not focus on our own story? I mean, I think it’s still important to relate, but we don’t want to make us the center of it. How do we do that?

JJ Peterson:
Yeah. Really in a good story, the guide positions themselves as the guide with two things, empathy and authority. Empathy is, “I understand your problems because I’ve either experienced them or worked with people who’ve experienced them.” And authority, which is, “I’ve helped other people solve it.” So when you’re talking about yourself, that’s all you’re talking about, right?
So for instance, if you were to ask me in this context what my story is, I would say something along the lines of, “Man, when I got out of college, I started working for this large international nonprofit and I was raising money to try to build homes and schools and water treatment for people around the world. And I’m sitting there and every time I go to write a fundraising letter, I’m struggling to figure out what to write in that email.” So what does that do? That tells anybody on here that’s listening that I’ve struggled with the same problems they do as marketers. That’s it. Then I move into authority of where ultimately understanding story and creating clear messaging then helped me raise millions of dollars for this nonprofit. So I’m combining empathy and authority. So I’m only sharing the parts of my story that are directly related to your story as a marketer. I talk about maybe I teach at Vanderbilt, which I do in their master of marketing. What I don’t say is I was in a Missy Elliot music video, right? Which I was.

Pat Flynn:
Were you for real?

JJ Peterson:
I was, yes. Ching A Ling. Ching A Ling. You can look it up.

Pat Flynn:
Oh my God, that’s amazing.

JJ Peterson:
I was in a Missy Elliott music video. I danced next to Missy Elliott. Now if I want you and I to be friends or we’re at a party and I’m just sharing my story, then yes, I share that I was with Missy Elliot. It’s a funny story. We can laugh about it and stuff like that, and that creates a connection between you and I as people. But if I’m getting up on stage at a conference and talking to a bunch of marketers, while that may endear them to me, it’s not going to position me as their guide. So I don’t mention that I was in a Missy Elliot music video. I don’t mention that I did improv comedy. I don’t mention different things that don’t directly pertain to their problems. So that’s how you can talk about yourself all you want as a business, as a brand, but only in the context of, “I am like you and I’m for you,” that’s kind of the empathy piece, “And I’ve helped other people. I have the knowledge and experience and track record that can help you win the day.”

Pat Flynn:
I’m reminded of my very first online business, in fact, which started in 2008. I had gotten laid off and I had started an online business to help architects pass a particular exam. Everything you’re saying I unknowingly was able to do, and I think this is why my business was successful. I was not the company who created this exam. I was the person who was also studying for it, who just happened to go through the hard parts already and passed the exam despite it being very difficult. So my blog posts and my messaging, it never felt like selling because I was just like, “Hey, I know how hard this exam is. I almost failed, but I created all these study things for myself and now I just want to pass them all to you.” It’s exactly what you had just mentioned. Nowhere did I mention any of this other stuff on the outside of just what that exam did.
But then the other part that you mentioned, which is the sort of painting a picture of the future, became a very important part of this because I talked about myself in the way that, “Now that I pass the exam, you will if you use my study material. I was able to get a raise and I was able to get a promotion, and you might be able to get those things too just like these five people did after they used my exam guide.” So it was exactly what you said. It’s like almost seems like a pretty simple formula when you think about it. I think we often tend to overcomplicate things.
What are some of the bigger mistakes that marketers make when it comes to telling story and sort of what they’re sharing that is actually reducing the impact that they’re making and reducing ultimately their bottom line?

JJ Peterson:
I think one is what I’ve mentioned is making themselves the hero of the story. People that do this a lot, in particular, people who are in industries that are very technical in particular, software companies. So one of the stories is when Steve Jobs first launched Apple, the first home computer that was launched was called Lisa. It was named after his daughter, a very personal thing. They took out this full page ad, I’m thinking the New York Times, that talked about all the specs and memory and all the features of the product, and the product bombed because nobody knew why they needed it. So they were trying to show how cool the computer was by how amazing all of the stuff was that was in it and what it could do, but nobody realized… At that point, nobody thought they needed a home computer. So they didn’t make the customer the hero. They made the computer the hero, and it totally bombed.
Steve Jobs gets fired. He leaves. He ends up going to Pixar. Pixar, he learns about story. He comes back to Apple. And then after that is when Apple switches and all of a sudden you no longer like the specs of the computer and the memory and all this different stuff, how fast it is. It’s you see commercials where it’s like they’re showing Gandhi and Martin Luther King and all these people who are seen as kind of overlooked, genius and outcasts. They don’t even show the computer or tools in the commercial at all. It’s literally talking about how as a person who is creative, who wants to change the world, we’re here for you. So positions, the customer’s the hero, not the product itself.
So that’s where a lot of times when people… So the very simple tip I would give people is when you’re creating a list of your features and benefits for your marketing, is lean into the benefit more than the feature. If you’re telling me that what we do for you is we… Let’s say you’re a business coach and you say, “Well, what I do for you is keep you accountable,” that’s a feature of your plan. And we think as marketers like, “Oh yeah, people understand the power of accountability.” They don’t. Well, they might. They don’t have time when they’re reading your website or your emails to really do the math in the moment. So you need to tell them what does accountability do for them, what’s the benefit of accountability.
So anytime I’m looking at a website or an email that any company gives me and they show me a feature, I always say, “Well, what does that mean for your customer?” And if you can just do a little tweak like that in your marketing to focus on the benefits than the features, you’re going to position your customers the hero.

Pat Flynn:
That’s great. Yeah, I often recommend doing the So That sort of test, which is-

JJ Peterson:
Yes. Yes.

Pat Flynn:
… which is my favorite thing to do. You want to explain what that is real quick and maybe have some examples?

JJ Peterson:
What I will do is I’ll either ask the question “So that what?” So you’re going to keep them accountable, so that what? Or I even just say, “Which means what?” So actually, when I’m working with clients, I just say those two sentences and I just say, “Finish that sentence.” And they always know how to. It’s not that they don’t know how to do that, but they’re not thinking about that or making it obvious in their marketing. So that’s where you move from being making your product or service the hero to making your customer the hero.

Pat Flynn:
So let’s take the word accountability as a feature. What would be a really good so that after that, to showcase the benefit that would attract a coaching client for example?

JJ Peterson:
Yeah, so say accountability, you say, “Well, I give you accountability so that you can make sure that you’re going to hit your deadlines, that you’re going to have somebody keeping you on track, so that you’re not wasting your time, so that you’re not wasting money,” right? Because a lot of times with coaching programs, it’s just like they give you good ideas, but they don’t actually keep you on track of meeting your goals. So that’s what accountability does.

Pat Flynn:
I like that. Going with the Apple example, which I really love and the whole Pixar story and Steve Jobs, that biography is amazing, I know that there was a commercial at one point during a Super Bowl when an Apple product came out that was sort of a George Orwell style, sort of like they threw the thing at the screen and it was just this message against like… There was essentially like a villain that they were coming up against. I know this idea of a villain comes up in the stories we read and the movies we watch. I’m starting to hear notes that having a villain in your own marketing makes sense too. Is that something we should be thinking about? Do you have any examples of how to incorporate that? I don’t think we need to say like, “Oh, this is my brand and I hate, insert marketer’s name here, he’s the villain.” I mean, maybe that is your thing, but can you talk a little bit more about that? Because I think it is powerful when you get people behind something like that.

JJ Peterson:
So a villain is an interesting piece of story, right? Especially when it comes to marketing. When I’m working with a company, I don’t ever start with the villain. I think a lot of people make the mistake of saying like, “Who is our villain? Who are we taking down?” What I always start with is that one of the first questions I’m asking client is, “What problems do your customers experience that you can solve?” Like I mentioned, that’s the hook of the story. That’s probably the most important part of understanding story, is understanding what problems you solve for your customers. So I name them, that’s called an external problem.
So a very simple example would be if my lawn is overgrown, the external problem is just literally my lawn is overgrown. Well, in movies, when screenwriters are creating movies, the external problem is often like a bomb or their daughter got kidnapped so they need to get them back, or there’s a wave that’s coming over the city and they need to rescue somebody. So there’s like this problem, this external problem that they hero has to overcome. But because we as the audience, 99.9% of the people in that auditorium have never disarmed a bomb or taken down a death star or gone to Mordor, competed in Hunger Games, because we haven’t, we technically can’t identify with the hero of the story.
So what screenwriters do is they do this little trick called the internal problem. So the external problem in a film, disarming a bomb, always manifests an internal problem. So typically the hero tried to disarm the bomb 20 years ago, they cut the wrong wire and they killed their dad. You see that over and over. There’s a backstory of where they failed at the same task. What they’re really struggling with is the idea, “Do I have what it takes? Am I good enough? Am I lovable?” All of those kind of things.

Pat Flynn:
Something we can relate to.

JJ Peterson:
Which those we can all relate to. So that’s true in story and movies. External and internal problem go really closely together. In your marketing, the principle is that external problems manifest internal problems, and people make buying decisions to solve internal problems. So if the external problem is my lawn is overgrown, if that doesn’t embarrass me, if it doesn’t overwhelm me, I’m not paying anybody to solve that problem, right? So once I become overwhelmed, once I become embarrassed, now I’m going to pay somebody to solve it for me. So those work really well together, and you have to have both of those in your marketing.
Now, let me get back to your original question about villain. So when I’m working with a client, the two most important things are understanding what external problem and internal problem you solve for your customer. To discover the villain, you say, “Is there a root cause of these problems?” So let’s take allergy medicine, right? The external problem you’re solving is a runny nose and maybe the internal problem is you’re feeling run down. Then we go, “Is there a root cause of this?” Well, a root cause could be pollen or dust. So we can make pollen and dust the villain in this story. So I don’t start with pollen and dust. I start with the problems and then go, “Is there a root cause of it?”
In marketing, if there is not an obvious root cause, then I actually don’t add villain to the story. A villain can be very powerful, but sometimes what happens is people make mistakes and they villainize another brand which makes them look bad sometimes, or subconsciously they villainize their customer. So let’s say it’s about somebody who comes in and helps somebody organize their closet. Well, if you say, “The problem is your closet is disorganized,” and then you go, “Well, the villain really is, you are disorganized,” now you’ve subconsciously made your customer the villain and now they don’t feel good about you.
So I always look for a villain, and if it’s obvious, it can be powerful for the story. But if it’s not obvious, I don’t want to make the mistake of villainizing my customer and I don’t like villainizing the competition because it kind of makes me look bad. So what I just stick to is external and internal problems, and those really will carry the power of the story.

Pat Flynn:
That’s super helpful. I think if there is a villain, an obvious one that people can relate to, you definitely want to bring it to light.

JJ Peterson:
Oh yeah.

Pat Flynn:
We see this in commercials a lot. You see the Mucinex green mucus guy and he just appears every time, and then you step on him or smash him, or the raid bugs and such, right? And they come out as characters. So on the lawn example, I’m curious because as marketers we often can think about it in two ways. It’s like if we’re helping people with lawn care, do we focus on having the best looking lawn on the block and the internal feelings that come from being proud of that and other people looking up to you and wanting to have a house like yours? Or do we go into, you’re going to be embarrassed if you don’t take care of this? You are going to have people coming into your house, it’s going to devalue your home perhaps, and whatever. I kind of struggle sometimes with, I’m not trying to paint the person who doesn’t mow their lawns as a villain, but I feel like I have to let them know what the consequence would be, but also I could go the other way. How do you balance or figure out like that?

JJ Peterson:
Yeah, I think you don’t want to go too strong, too heavy. One of the ways that I do it just in copy is asking questions. “Are you overwhelmed?”

Pat Flynn:
I like that.

JJ Peterson:
“Are you worried about?” When you ask it as a question and you ask, say like five questions on a website, maybe you have bullet points and you ask five questions that are all a little bit different, “Are you overwhelmed? Are you embarrassed by this? Da, da, da.” You’re not saying you are embarrassed, you’re letting people opt in, and it’s a much softer way of approaching it. So you still want to name it and allow them to name it in themselves, but you don’t have to just go, “Stop being embarrassed. Stop being overwhelmed.” If you want to make it a little softer, just ask questions instead.

Pat Flynn:
Yeah. Wow. Okay, that’s an epic tip. Thank you for that. Dr. JJ. I know a lot of people who are listening to this are kind of just starting out and they themselves might not feel like they have a really transformational story or even the problem that they’re solving is that big or interesting enough, and they haven’t really helped or served anybody yet. So there is no story to tell yet. Or they almost feel like they’re making this up and in many cases sometimes feel like they’re fake. There’s a little bit of an imposter syndrome there as a result of because they were just starting out. How would you recommend a person craft a story? Obviously, we don’t want to make up a story, but how do you get a great story to then share and tell?

JJ Peterson:
The first thing that I would say is, what has helped me is having a little bit of a mind shift on it, is what we’re not doing when we’re talking about telling a company story or having your brand be story branded, we’re not just reflecting the story of our customer back to them, we’re inviting them into a story. So we get to lead where the story is going, right? So when we say, “The problem most businesses have…” When you just start with a sentence like that, let’s say you’re a consultant and you say, “The problem most business leaders have is…” and then you name a problem, there’s 500 problems, but if you name one, then when your customer, your ideal customer sees that, they go, “Yes, that’s me” and then they get into the story.
Now if I was to say, “The biggest problem that companies have is finding new talent,” well, if I as a business don’t have that problem, you’re not going to be my guide. So when you narrow in the problem, what you do is you kind of say, “Nope, these are my customers and these are not my customers.” But that’s okay, because even getting niche, what you’re doing is anybody who does have that problem of hiring talent, you become their guide, right? So when you name it, what you’re doing is you’re inviting customers in. So even if you haven’t had a ton of success or a ton of things, you know if you’re going into business, the only reason you’re going into business is to solve a problem. Maybe it’s just to solve a problem differently than people who are already currently in the market. So name that, right? When you name that problem, that’s really where, like I said, the story gets interesting. And that’s how you can kind of create a niche in the market.
So I’ll ask you and see if you can identify this, all right. So I’m a customer and I want a razor. What problem does Dollar Shave Club solve for me?

Pat Flynn:
It solves the problem of getting razors that are very expensive, so I’m saving money?

JJ Peterson:
Exactly.

Pat Flynn:
It solves the problem of having to go to the store to get them. They get delivered to me so I’m able to save time and even more money that way?

JJ Peterson:
Yeah. And you may not have even known that going to the store regularly was a problem, right? I’m not sure I would’ve named like, “Ugh, buying a razor just takes too much time.” But they’re inviting us into that story of you need a razor. So what does the customer want? They want a razor. The problem is, razors are very expensive and it takes a lot of time to go back and forth. So now let’s shift it to a different brand. Schick. Okay? Schick razors. So you as a customer, same thing that Dollar Shave Club’s customer wants, you need a razor, but Schick says the problem is what?

Pat Flynn:
Not all the razors are the best. They don’t get close to the skin enough.

JJ Peterson:
Yeah. Exactly.

Pat Flynn:
And that’s why on the commercials you literally see graphic design computer artists create super razors pulling individual hairs out of my skin, right?

JJ Peterson:
Exactly. Right? So here’s a very, I would say, crowded market with a very common household item. And those two brands have approached their stories very differently. One solves the problem of expensive razors that take a lot of time, and one solves the problem of quality of shave, right? And that’s how so when you, and I say you as a listener on here, are looking at, you’re starting out and you’re saying, “How do I begin crafting my story?” Well, even if the market is crowded and you have a ton of other people who do what you do in the market, how do you solve the problem differently? Or just period, how do you solve the problem, but how do you solve it differently? That gives you a niche. And that’s the beginning of a powerful story.
Now, then what I would say that’s step one is don’t be afraid to identify the problem and identify it a little bit different than somebody else. And then step two is test. Test it. Well, we say at StoryBrand we create what we call brand scripts where we have the talking points for all of these stories. One of the things we say is never laminate your brand script, right? We put it out in the market and we test it and we see what works. Whatever direction really people are leaning into, that’s where we go.

Pat Flynn:
Love it. Before we continue chatting, I do want to ask you specifically about the art of telling the story, especially as an orator, somebody on a podcast or on a video or on a stage even and had a practice and get better at that. But I know you have a podcast, Marketing Made Simple. Everybody should go check out and subscribe to that. Obviously JJ knows this stuff, so if you are into storytelling and such, definitely check that out. You guys at StoryBrand also do a lot of workshops and even get really into the fine detail for individual brands who want to do that. Can you talk a little bit more about your workshops and where they can go and check those out?

JJ Peterson:
So many companies are really so close to their product that they do have a hard time telling a clear message about it and I’m really narrowing in on this story. So we do workshops where we actually over two days take companies through this process and help them with a coach identify their talking points so that they can have a clear story to put on their website and in their marketing. People can go and find out about that at storybrand.com. We actually have a workshop coming up February 28th through March 1st. So it’s just two days and by the end of that two day you have your whole company message on one piece of paper and are ready to go.

Pat Flynn:
Awesome. So storybrand.com, and then again, Marketing Made Simple Podcast. Can you tell us a story about one of your clients, for example, who went through a transformational sort of change in their story and kind of what were they saying before and how did the workshop and just understanding their story change things for them?

JJ Peterson:
Yeah, I was just working with… I don’t think I can say their actual name.

Pat Flynn:
That’s okay.

JJ Peterson:
I’m under NDA. But I will say… Oh, I wanted to say it so bad. But they’re maybe just named the largest company in the world. Anyway, so I was working with them, this very large company in “Schmeattle.” I was working with them and they brought me in because they were pitching a product to a company and they had a 30-slide deck that they were using. They went in and they couldn’t get through the first two slides with the company. The company actually got mad about it and had a whole bunch of questions. This is not a product that creates anger or anything like this. It was just very feature-focused, very, very feature-focused. They were talking about things that the customer did not understand. They had a ton of questions. And they went through, they read the StoryBrand book. They went through and the person who ended up bringing me in basically said, “All right, I’m going to boil this story down to what is my customer’s problem, what’s our solution and what is their success look like. So really three parts of the overall story.”
They went back to that company and they just said, “You know how most companies blank?” Literally just named the problem that most companies experience, named their solution, and then said what life is like after, gave the success. And in 90 seconds they sold the company. So they went from a 30-slides deck that they couldn’t get through to, they lost the sale, to going to a 90 second presentation that didn’t even show a single slide and sold. It really was because what they did is the first time they positioned themselves as the hero. And then the second time they positioned, the customers the hero.
When you name the problem that somebody is experiencing, that hooks them into the story. They want to know. In the same way like if I told you a car went through my kitchen window this morning and then I stopped that story, you’d be like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, what happened?” Well, when you name the problem the customer’s experiencing, they want to know, “Can you solve it? What’s going to happen?” You don’t just say, “You know how a lot of companies struggle with marketing? Sweet. Sweet. I know.” And then walk away.

Pat Flynn:
That’s like a million potential things.

JJ Peterson:
And so you say, “You know how a lot of companies really are so close to their products and services? Or, “A lot of companies are telling the wrong story and they’re turning off customers.” And then you go… For us, we’d say, “At StoryBrand, we come in and teach you how story works, help you create story, and ultimately that’s going to connect you with more customers and grow your business.” That’s a short story. And what you mentioned earlier, beginning, middle, and end. And so just that one mental shift of 30-slides talking about all the features to positioning the customer as a hero close the deal.

Pat Flynn:
It saves everybody time too when you nail it.

JJ Peterson:
Oh yeah.

Pat Flynn:
When you nail the story.

JJ Peterson:
I mean, we say that on our Marketing Made Simple Podcast. We say we help you create marketing that’s easy and works. And that’s the biggest thing for me, is that when you have this kind of framework, when you understand how stories work, it really gives you like a sandbox to play in, right? It kind of keeps you tight. Because really, good writers know what to write, but great writers know what to leave out, right? That’s really where… There’s that Mark Twain quote, I can’t remember the exact, but it’s basically like “this letter would’ve been a lot shorter if I had more time.” Like, you apologize for writing a really long letter. Because keeping things compact and tight actually takes a lot of effort and good writers know what to leave out, or great writers know what to leave out. And so when you create a story and keep it tight, it basically forces you to tell the right story and you know that it’s going to work.

Pat Flynn:
Same thing goes with video and podcasts. I mean, especially video on YouTube and the algorithm and just the attention span of people these days.

JJ Peterson:
Oh, for sure.

Pat Flynn:
Speaking of YouTube and podcasts and such, I do want to ask you because it’s one thing to share with a company, one of your clients for example, like, “Here’s your story.” But now you got to ask that company to go tell that story and to be an orator for it. How does one get better at the art of storytelling? Do you have any tips or suggestions and resources perhaps that we could use to just become a better storyteller?

JJ Peterson:
The first thing is always position your audience as the hero. I mean, that actually comes from Nancy Duarte who’s like one of the greatest speech coaches out there.

Pat Flynn:
She wrote Resonate in Slideology. She’s amazing.

JJ Peterson:
She’s unbelievable. So if you need a coach, I’d honestly hire Nancy Duarte because she’s amazing. So that’s one resource. But really what you want to do is when you walk up on that stage, I think what happens is a lot of people feel very insecure. So they go up on stage and they start with some joke. They try to ingratiate the audience to them, build rapport. Usually that rapport gets them to like the speaker versus actually be engaged with the speaker.
So one of the best tips I can give anybody when you’re starting a podcast, when you are creating a YouTube video or getting on stage at a conference is walk on stage and name the problem that you’re there to solve. Name the problem your audience is experiencing. Don’t get up there and go, “Hey, so good to be here, man. This weather’s crazy,” right? Because now all of a sudden you’re taking people’s brains down a path about weather. Well, now they’re thinking about weather and “What coat do I need to wear when I walk outside? What’s it going to be like at home? Maybe I should get out my phone and look at the weather,” right? No, get people focused on the story you’re telling.
So I get up on stage and the first thing I say… I don’t even say I’m Dr. JJ Peterson. I don’t say any of my credentials. I let the person introducing me say those things or have it in my bio, but I walk on stage and I say, “We’re all here because we want to grow our business,” which is what the character wants. And then I say, “But the problem is most companies are wasting millions of dollars on marketing.” And that immediately hooks. And then I go, “And here’s why.”
And then if I have a half hour talk, for the first almost 10 minutes, all I’m doing is hooking the audience by talking about the problem they’re experiencing. So I say, “Companies are wasting millions on marketing.” Then I talk about why that’s happening and how many problems it’s created. And then I bring up a bad illustration of marketing that everybody knows. And I just go on and on and on about, “It’s bad. It’s bad. Oh my gosh, it’s worse than you think. It’s even worse than that.” And I’m not being fear mongering. I’m not like going, “And you’re all going to die because…” I’m not going there with it, but I am really hooking them with, The problem’s bad and it’s actually worse than you think.” That’s about if it’s a 30-minute talk. The first third is hooking the audience with the problem.
Then for the next say 15, 20 minutes-ish, what I’m doing is I’m going into then how to solve that problem. And then the last little bit I’m closing out with what their life is like after they choose to do this. When you clarify your message, you’re going to be able to blank, blank, blank. So the biggest tip I can say is when you get on stage, don’t talk about yourself, don’t introduce yourself, have somebody else do that and immediately start with the problem. That’s going to hook them. And if you can solve a problem for a customer or an audience, they will like you. So you don’t need to get them to like you ahead of time.
The other thing I’d say about that is insecure people talk about themselves all the time, right? So when you’re at a party and you’re sitting there and I’m like, “Oh yeah, I went and visited England last year” and then somebody butts in and is like, “Oh my gosh, I lived in England for three weeks and da, da, da” and they’re trying to one up you and they’re always telling stories about themselves, we all look at that person and we don’t want to be around that person. We know that person’s insecure.
Well, that’s true in parties, but it’s true when you get on stage. If you get up and start bragging about yourself and start talking about yourself, you’re going to come across as insecure. And you don’t want to do that. You want to come across as their guide. The guide is always the strongest character in the story. Gandalf is the strongest, Yoda is the strongest, right? The people who lead the hero, they’re the strongest. So when you step on stage or start that video or even do a hook to intro your podcast, let’s say we were talking about this podcast and you were getting ready to do a 10-second ad for it, you would say, “Do you struggle with telling the right story for your marketing?” You just start with that. What’s the problem that this episode is going to solve? Always start with the problem.

Pat Flynn:
Beautiful. Let’s end it there because that was incredible and I think people need to go to your podcast, Marketing Made Simple, and also to storybrand.com and also pick up the book Telling StoryBrand with Donald Miller. I mean, if you haven’t, that’s almost like required reading at this point for any successful entrepreneur, I would recommend. So thank you so, so much again for coming on. Do you have a social media handle that we could go follow to interact and say thanks and say hello to?

JJ Peterson:
@drjjpeterson on Instagram.

Pat Flynn:
Cool. Thank you so much for this. Say hi to the team for me. Always appreciate the work that you guys are doing to help the world. It’s just another great reminder that story is the most important thing and we could always get better at it. So thank you so much.

JJ Peterson:
Oh, thanks for having me.

Pat Flynn:
All right, I hope you enjoyed that interview with Dr. JJ Peterson. Again, check out his podcast, Marketing Made Simple, as well as the book StoryBrand and just storybrand.com for a workshop if you’re interested in that. Did you catch when he said at the end there, he was like, “Hey, if you’re going to be pushing this podcast out, this is how I would start it.” You might want to go back and listen to exactly how I hooked you in this episode because guess what? You’ve made it all the way through and here we are.
This is Session 655 of the Smart Passive Income Podcasts. And if you want to get the links and the resources and things talked about here in this show on the blog, head on over to smartpassiveincome.com/session655. Again, smartpassiveincome.com/session655. Thank you again for listening all the way through. If you want to make sure you don’t miss out on episodes just like this in the future to help you with growth and marketing and being an entrepreneur and the struggles of that, but also hopefully the solutions as well, hit that subscribe button if you haven’t already. And again, thank you so much for taking the time. I appreciate you. And by the way, check out SPI Pro if you want to join our community, because entrepreneurship can be very lonely. I want you to come check out an amazing community. Hundreds of entrepreneurs just like you to come in to share problems, to hold each other accountable so that you can actually get results in your business. Head up to spipro.com. Thank you so much. Take care, and I’ll see you in the next one. Peace out.

Thanks for listening to the Smart Passive Income Podcast at SmartPassiveIncome.com. I’m your host, Pat Flynn. Our senior producer is David Grabowski. Our series producer is Paul Grigoras, and our executive producer is Matt Gartland. Sound editing by Duncan Brown. The Smart Passive Income Podcast is a production of SPI Media. We’ll catch you in the next session.


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