According to Donald Miller, the single greatest human motivation is the desire for transformation—but what does this really mean? Should brands be leading customers through a period of Kafkaesque evolution? And where does this way of thinking fit in the age of personal branding?

Survival of the simplest

Miller is a writer, and CEO of StoryBrand, a company that helps businesses grow by clarifying their message. In Building a Story Brand, we learn that Miller’s approach has roots in biology. ‘Our brains are constantly sorting through information and so we discard millions of un-useful facts every day.’ The information that is retained, is information that is key to our survival.

In addition, our brains are hardwired to conserve calories, meaning we will avoid tasks that expend unnecessary energy. As Miller puts it, ‘The key is to make your company’s message about something that helps the customer survive and to do so in such a way that they can understand it without burning too many calories.’

It’s doubtful that any fitness tracking apps will allow you to log this kind of exercise, but Miller’s assertion is a logical one, and it’s the foundation he builds his StoryBrand framework upon.

The narrative

Story is at the heart of Miller’s book. Miller himself is a storyteller, and this book is peppered with anecdotes about his life—all of them linking back to the StoryBrand framework somehow. In a BrandStory, there are three main characters: the hero (the customer), the guide (the brand), and the villain (whatever is causing the customer issues). Creating a BrandStory involves identifying how your offering will help your customer overcome failure by defeating the villain and ending in success.


Let’s return to Miller’s thoughts on transformation. By the end of any story, the protagonist is changed. Miller prompts us to consider how our customer’s identity will be transformed with the help of our brand offerings.

In some cases, this transformation might take place in an urgent, medical, or very literal sense: for example, a customer who purchases a medical item to soothe a malady. In Miller’s case, he gives the example of buying a knife from Gerber Knives, and how owning it allowed him to step into an aspirational identity. Either way, ‘transformation’ is a key takeaway from this book.

Many of us are hungry for change, on both a personal level and at a wider society level. Miller may be right: transformation may indeed be the greatest human motivation. Change is certainly upon us: brands are changing, consumers are changing, and in turn, the world of business is changing.

Miller asserts that brands need to take the customer somewhere, but it seems equally true that it is the consumers who will ultimately carry brands forward into the future, or discard them in the past. As humanity continues to grapple for survival, we can all agree with Miller that we want the good guys to win, ‘Because in a good story, they always do.’

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