top of page

CEOs, Here’s How to Clarify Your Company’s Core Message So People Will Listen

As a CEO, you’ve painstakingly built a business or nonprofit of significant value. Yet, you find yourself in a frustrating situation, unable to break through the noise, reach your target audience, and boost revenue and other key performance indicators.


You’ve wasted enormous amounts of money on marketing that gets little or no results. You hired Fancy Pants Marketing Firm to overhaul your website, and it looks very nice but hasn’t moved the needle. You contracted a Brilliant Millennial Marketer who can outfox the algorithms, and you got a momentary spike in KPIs but nothing sustainable. You’ve got a pretty decent sales team, but if they don’t get warm leads, they can’t do their job.


When you see the dismal results, you wonder what went wrong. Are Fancy Pants Marketing Firm and Brilliant Millennial Marketer not good at what they do? Or worse, you question the value of your products and services. But what if the problem isn’t with the outsourced experts or your products or services?


The Problem is Simple


The problem is simple. The marketing firms you’ve hired are good at what they do, which is build websites and resources that are pleasing to the eye. The brilliant algorithm manipulator you hired is a really smart person who does what he promises. However, neither is effective at clarifying your core message so customers listen.


Rest assured, pretty websites and 'cutting-edge' marketing techniques have their place, but they alone don’t sell things. Research confirms that while first impressions are visual, commitments to act are message-based. So, by clarifying your message, you can ensure your customers will listen.


So, what’s your core message? Is it concise, relevant, and memorable? How many website visitors and other prospective customers have you lost because they can’t figure out your offer? How many have left the website within the first minute, disinterested in your valuable products or services?


The Solution is Straightforward


The good news is that there is a solution: as a CEO, you have the power to clarify your core message by imagining your ideal customer’s life story as it relates to your product or service and then shape your message around that story.


Why story?


First, storytelling is the ultimate attention-grabbing device. True, a small portion of your audience will perk up if you convey information using a systematic presentation. But if you introduce characters, a plot, and a conclusion, the whole audience will be drawn in.


Second, storytelling is the world’s best memory device. Research reveals that narratives are up to 22 times more memorable than prosaic arguments, bullet points, systematic expositions, and other types of information. And that’s half the battle, right? If your audience remembers your brand, you’re well on the way to winning them.


Third, storytelling is a powerful call-to-action device. Neurologists have discovered that narrative triggers our brains to release dopamine (pleasure), cortisol (fight or flight), endorphins (pleasure), and oxytocin (empathy, trust, romance). Additionally, stories activate our auditory, olfactory, visual, sensory, and motor cortices. They cause our palms to sweat, hearts to race, and eyes to dilate.


When you convey information through a well-crafted story, your audience will lean in rather than tune out, remember rather than forget, and feel the effects in their mind and body.


The Story Centers on Your Customer


Before you get too excited and think, “I’d love to tell the company's story,” we need to be clear: the customer doesn’t really care about your company’s story unless the customer is your Aunt Lurleen or Uncle Rufus. What they care about and want to see is that you understand their life and challenges as it relates to your brand. That’s the story they care about. Their story. They must be the hero of the story you tell.


Fortunately, Donald Miller and Storybrand have distilled customer-centric storytelling into a proven formula. Drawing upon the pattern found in nearly every successful work of fiction or Hollywood movie, the Storybrand formula elucidates the seven elements of a great marketing story.


In a nutshell, the main character or hero of your brand story (the customer) faces certain challenges as they relate to your product or service but meets a guide (your company!) who gives them a plan (how to acquire your product or service) and calls them to action (e.g., purchase now or subscribe to our mailing list) so they will achieve their goals as it relates to your brand and avoid the failure they would experience if they don’t follow your suggestion.


The Marketing Framework is Simple and Concrete


Once you understand how story integrates with your brand message, you can effectively apply it to all components of your communications constellation—website messaging, lead generator, email campaigns, social media channels, sales scripts, radio and television ads, public talks, and more.


So, drawing upon Storybrand, let’s do a flyover of the framework so you can understand, in concise form, all it can do to simplify your messaging. We’ll use the story formula a food truck chef might use to sell their Mediterranean fare:


  1. A Main Character (Hero): In your company’s brand story, the main character should be the customer, not you. That’s not just good manners; it’s also good business. For example, every busy person wants delicious, high-quality food in minutes.

  2. Has a Problem: Prospective customers are curious about your company because they want it to solve a problem that has disrupted or inconvenienced their lives. For example, most fast food is low quality, leaves a bad taste in the mouth, and is bad for the gut.

  3. And Meets a Guide: Prospective customers are looking for a chef who understands and can provide delicious, high-quality food on the go. For example, “At The Trojan Horse, we got tired of bad-tasting fast food and developed a food truck concept that delivers delicious, nutritious food quickly and at a reasonable price.”

  4. Who Gives the Hero a Plan: Prospective customers trust a guide who has a simple plan for success. For example, “To satisfy your cravings and get on with your day, simply swing by The Trojan Horse, order your meal, and be on your way to a happier, healthier day.”

  5. And Calls the Hero to Action: Prospective customers generally don’t take action unless they are challenged to do so. For example, “Swing by The Trojan Horse today, located at 1 Capital Boulevard, caddy corner from the Whole Foods.”

  6. That Helps them Avoid Failure: Every human being wants to avoid another “failure” or “dissatisfaction.” So, remind them of what’s at stake if they don’t take you up on your offer. For example, “Don’t let your lunch be a bad-tasting letdown. Swing by today.”

  7. And Achieve Success: Never assume people understand how your brand can improve their lives. Tell them, “If you do, you’ll wake up your taste buds, satisfy your cravings, and return for more.”


That’s a simple sales pitch. We’ve used a small business as our example, but the pattern works equally well for nonprofit organizations. And that type of story pattern can be adapted to websites, emails, presentations, social media posts, and more. Once you know how a customer-centered story works, you can clarify your message so people will actually listen and commit to action.




Right now, you might be excited about the framework but tempted to move ahead and skip thinking deliberately about each of the seven components of the framework. Amateur authors make the same mistake. They believe they have a great story—the next bestselling fiction book—so they start typing, and a few months later, they’re disappointed when publishers reject it as boring and unrelatable. Here’s why they fail: They have a 30,000-foot-level overview of the pattern but never bothered to learn the actual rules of effective story writing.


Each component of the brand story framework has its own “rules” that cannot be broken successfully. If you break the rules, prospective customers won’t see themselves in the story and probably won’t engage with your brand. So, if you’re ready to get started, contact The Ashford Agency today to schedule a “deeper dive” session that helps you create a clear and compelling message that will simplify your marketing and grow your company.


bottom of page