Why Coffee Companies Should Ditch The Storybrand Marketing Framework

by | May 18, 2021 | 👋 Coffee Branding

The Storybrand framework is among the most popular marketing frameworks in the world. For the coffee industry, that's a big problem.
Coffee business customer research

On my office bookshelf sits Building A Storybrand by Donald Miller. When it was published in 2017, it became a New York Times bestseller and an instant marketing and branding classic.

The framework has helped millions of people clarify their brand message. I’ve used it with clients across the food and beverage world.

But I’ll never use it for a coffee company again.

Let’s explore why the Storybrand Framework doesn’t work for most coffee shops and roasters.

And what you should use instead.

Brief Summary of the Storybrand Marketing Framework

Donald Miller’s system for telling a brand story is clever, simple, and great for many types of businesses. Here’s how it is shaped:

  1. A character steps into the story (your customer)
  2. They have a problem (and need help solving it)
  3. They meet a guide (your company)
  4. The guide gives them a plan (to solve their problem)
  5. That plan calls them to action (buy your coffee)

The idea is that your customer is the hero, and you’re the guide. You’re not the knight in shining armor who will save the day. You’re the helper that helps them become the hero.

It’s “the hero’s journey” from scriptwriting, ported into marketing. It’s a great starting point for people who are new to brand positioning.

Also Read: Stop Trying To Be Blue Bottle Coffee

The Big Problem for Coffee Brands

The Storybrand Framework doesn’t offer any guidance for how to differentiate your hero’s journey from the others in your space. In fact, there’s virtually any mention of this in the book.

Storybrand assumes you’re the only one that does what you do.

In the coffee industry, that’s clearly not the case. There are thousands of shops and roasters, many of which serve…

  • The same types of drinks
  • Made with beans from the same few importers
  • Using the same general processes

Storybrand works if you’re pioneering a new type of product or service, because you can tell a new story. But this methodology, for any industry that’s highly competitive, is a major cause of sameness.

Sameness (n) — lack of variety; uniformity or monotony.

Sameness leads to mediocridy for everyone who fits the mold.

Also Read: 7 Coffee Ecommerce Marketing Strategies That Are 100% Free

It’s the Same Hero’s Journey, On Repeat

I’m willing to bet you’ve seen how this plays out in the coffee industry over and over again. Let’s look at some classic coffee brand narratives that rely too much on the Storybrand Framework.

Note: I’m not saying you cannot build a solid business on these narratives. I’m just saying it’ll be a lot harder than it needs to be since you won’t stand out. You’ll have to work twice as hard to generate business

The “We’re Making Coffee Simple” Story

A customer steps into the story You love coffee
They have a problem Elitist baristas have made good coffee so darn complicated
They meet a guide We’re all about making great coffee simple and accessible
The guide gives them a plan Just buy specialty coffee that’s roasted well and don’t fall for overcomplicated marketing
That plan calls them to action Check out our simple beans

The “Freshest Coffee Possible” Story

A customer steps into the story You love coffee
They have a problem But your grocery store beans are stale and lifeless
They meet a guide We know the secrets of coffee freshness and flavor
The guide gives them a plan Buy beans that were roasted less than two weeks ago
That plan calls them to action Check out our fresh beans

Strong businesses are builth on these stories, don’t get me wrong. They can work if you play your cards right, or have enough VC funding to out-spend your competitors on paid advertising.

But these narratives are already said and done. At least 500 times each.

This is why brand positioning experts avoid using the Storybrand Framework for many businesses: it encourages sameness in competitive industries.

And it inevitably leads to the creation of over-used cliches, like these coffee marketing cliches that just won’t die.

For customers, that’s confusing.

Which “coffee made simple” company out of the 500 should they pick? Are they all the same? And when 5 of 10 of coffee roasters use freshness as their core value statement, how should they pick which one to buy from?

Here’s What to Do Instead

In a crowded marketplace like coffee, people have more than enough options. Creating some generic story is a shortcut to creativng a generic business, because people will naturally gravitate towards non-generic brands they identify with.

Brands that…

  • Aspire to something exceptional
  • Tell a relatable personal story
  • Support an honorable cause
  • Target a precise audience
  • Do things in a particular or odd way

You can see some examples of strong narratives here.

The goal is to have a strong point of view, an opinion about the way the world should work (and how your customers interact with it).

That point of view can be almost anything. It can even be one of the overdone Storybrand narratives… if you’re bold enough in your messaging to stand out from the more generic versions of it (but I don’t recommend trying that). 

💡 I’ve got a detailed guide coming out soon on the exact process I use with clients to identify and shape powerful brand messages that stand out.

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Hey 👋 I'm Garrett Oden

Hey 👋 I'm Garrett Oden

Freelance Coffee Marketer

I'm a coffee industry native who works with coffee brands around the world to create and execute captivating marketing strategies.

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