How to write copy that sells using the StoryBrand, PASTOR, and any other Copy Framework

I had written earlier about how to use research to understand the pain and problems of your customers.

Following that exercise, we need to piece together the messaging for websites and landing pages

The caveat for messaging is that it needs to sell to the audience.

Sell needs to transform the customer's experience of pain into joy.

Is there a tried, tested and proven framework for selling online?

Well, there are many. For starters, check out Joanna Weibe's excellent compendium of Copy Forumlas.

I recently came across Donald Miller’s StoryBrand technique for creating and clarifying the sell message on websites.

Donald Miller has studied several Hollywood Blockbusters. He has then essenced the successful framework of the blockbusters into a storytelling framework.

He uses the success formula to sell brands on the web. The result is clarity in messaging and all the ingredients needed for persuading the customer to buy immediately.

The True Origins of the StoryBrand Formula

The StoryBrand formula itself is a mix of several formulas, in my view. Let me explain.

The first is The Hero With A Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell.

The book, written in 1949, uses insights from psychology to unravel the structure of ancient myths across the world. Joseph Campbell then deconstructs the myths into an elegant Hero's Journey Formula.

The Hero's Journey: Source Wikipedia

Many Hollywood blockbusters are based on the Hero's Journey principles outlined by Joseph Campbell.

Watch Chris Vogler's explanation of the Hero's Journey as applied to Hollywood movies.

StoryBrand is a good derivative of Joseph Campbell's storytelling formula and its origins in universal mythology.

But the resonance doesn't end there.

In my view, StoryBrand is also an update on copywriting formulas: Ray Edwards's PASTOR and many others

So in essence, there are many copywriting formulas. You can learn one, use it, and study the nuances of the others with respect to the one you know.

You can also reverse engineer or study the structure of the copy that happens on websites. I have explained how to structure copy and messaging later in this article.

StoryBrand is just one more copy formula at its core. 

But it's a well marketed one. It's also useful. It gives you a quick structure for writing copy.

But, it does not and cannot give us a precise message. The message is part culture, part neuroscience, part psychology, and part good writing.

To write great messages you need to read the great ads of the direct response copywriters.

Two, copy can only convert folks who visit your website. Visitors to your website will buy only if they trust you. So one of the pre-requiesites for selling is having content that builds trust. This is usually outside the sell page, in the form of Testimonials, Case Studies and Value-driven blogs.

To make copywriting go further, you need to envelope it with an extended product. This covers the acquire and nurture activities in Digital Marketing.

Nurture uses buying funnels, prospect capture devices, autoresponders, and customer onboarding emails. 

Acquire uses tactics available in SEO, PPC, Social Ads, Affiliate Marketing, etc, to bring traffic to the website.

With that background, let's try and understand the StoryBrand Copy Formula.

The 7-point StoryBrand framework by Donald Miller

  1. A character, usually the hero/ or your customer

  2. With a problem/pain/ need

  3. Meets a Guide/ Mentor [the brand]

  4. Who gives the hero a plan [precise steps to achieve a goal]

  5. It calls them to action 

  6. That results in Tragedy [failure]

  7. or Comedy [success]

You can view the brandscript framework on the StoryBrand website

The template for writing the StoryBrand brandscript is publicly available here.

Once you understand the pain and problems of your audience you can use the StoryBrand framework to write the brandscript.

There are a few nuances to the StoryBrand script that you need to know.

Problem: The character's problem has 3 levels:Internal/ External/ Philosophical.

You need to understand and address all three problem levels to get a winning message.

The Guide needs to demonstrate 2 qualities to the customer for him to be credible:

Empathy [I have been in your shoes], and the Authority [I have solved that problem and more].

The plan needs to be precise [the number of steps] and graspable.

Eg 3 easy steps to financial freedom. Not 17 steps.

There are two aspects to the Call to Action:

> It can be direct [buy now, schedule an appointment, dwonload free trial] or

> And Transitional [Download this eBook, View this Video. The transiional, or secondary CTA creates interest/ captures the prospect.]

Success is the transformation of the pain experience for the customer.

If you can get into the customer's head and weave vivid imagery around how he/she will be transformed with the use of the product or service, you'll be home.

Tragedy is about the stakes in the game for the customer.

According to Donald Miller, without the stakes, there is no story. The stakes in the story provide the contrast: tragedy vs success. When juxtaposed, it enhances success. 

Remember to write to the StoryBrand principles for each audience that you wish to target, separately. 

Michael Lukaszewski shares with us what he learned at the StoryBrand Workshop with Donald Miller.

This offers some great insights into how StoryBrand works.

Search for StoryBrand Brandscript on Google

A simple search on Google Images for “StoryBrand brandscript” gives us some more details.

  1. The framework for writing the StoryBrand brandscript

  2. Several fleshed out brandscripts written for some brands

  3. A search for StoryBrand Website examples will unearth websites written with this copy formula. Observe the structure and then the content flow in each website. 

You will notice that the techniques for writing web copy is very similar to Ray Edward’s PASTOR rule. 

In fact, what we learned is that if you mix some of the elements of PASTOR with Donald Miller’s StoryBrand, you will end up with a fairly compelling copy.

By the way, Donald Miller and Ray Edwards are collaborators in videos and podcasts.

Ray Edwards' PASTOR Principles for Copywriting

P - your customer’s pain/ problem/ need

A - amplify the pain. You need to amplify to contrast and register the pain.

S - your story/ solution to the pain

T - transformation and testimony, social proof that reinforces the credibility of your communications

O - offer that could be a price offer

R - the response that you want from he customer

At Pigtail Pundits, we have written copy for several websites that follow the PASTOR framework and can swear that it works.

  1. Writer Relocations

  2. Shillim Estate Retreat & Spa

  3. Writer Information

Are the websites using StoryBrand different from those using the PASTOR framework?

Donald Miller tells us that tragedy creates tension in the story. Without tragedy, there is no story. So tragedy is an integral part of storytelling.

In the PASTOR copy framework, highlighting the Pain and Amplifying the Pain provides the same contrast to the solution as tragedy does in StoryBrand.

Apart from the Value Proposition [the unique benefits your brand offers]  and the Agreement [the guarantees that go with your product/ service] that's present in the StoryBrand framework, there is hardly any difference, between PASTOR and StoryBrand.

In terms of telling a story for a brand, the tragedy translates into:

  1. what would happen if you did not buy this brand?
  2. “what would happen if you put up with the status quo?”.

Awesome examples of websites executed using the StoryBrand framework

If you see examples of StoryBrand websites, or PASTOR copy-based websites, or any of the copy framework driven websites you will notice the techniques outlined above at play:

  1. D'frens Team Building & Employee Engagement Services

  2. ISET Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning Certification Program

  3. Pigtail Pundits: Digital Marketing Agency Mumbai

  4. Report Writers UK: Professional Business Intelligence Reporting

  5. Joshua Royalties: A Music Royalty Administrator

  6. Zingformation: Workshops That Transform Your Life

  7. ANI Integrated Services: Outsourced Technical Services for Projects & Equipment

  8. Village-Education: Thailand's Premier Institute for Special Needs Children

Where can you use StoryBrand, PASTOR, or any Copy Framework?

Use any of the copy frameworks/ formulas described in this article to create:

  1. Website messaging for your money pages

  2. Craft Landing Pages for your PPC and FB Ads

  3. Create Messaging for Marketing Collaterals 

  4. Write Blog Posts that follow a clear structure

  5. Add structure to your Social Media Posts

  6. Write Emails that convert: Cold Emails, Onboarding Emails, Autoresponder Sequences and Newsletters

How to build your Copy Message

Start with the insights and motivation you have on your customers for this.

Write the story using the logic and structure given below.

Check for examples of sites that use the copy frameworks.

Glean how copywriting transforms customer insights into a value stack for the story.

If you analyze websites that sell well, this is the structure you will see.

  1. A Clear Value Proposition with support points [What is it, Who is it for, How does it uniquely benefit the customer]
  2. Tragedy or Pain/ Amplication of the Pain [Amplifying the pain heightens the contrast and make the brain notice]
  3. Your Solution or Success for your Customer [Success after tragedy provides contrast that the brain takes in]
  4. Social Proof [Testimonials, Case Studies, Accreditations, Awards - these are sprinkled in the copy flow, strategically]
  5. Calls To Action [you need this virtually on every panel as the customer can get into this at any point in your persuasion]
  6. Pricing or Offer [prefaced and contrasted again with the pain that the solution resolves]
  7. How to buy from you [the exact steps that make it easy to do business with your brand]
  8. The terms/ benefits of buying from you [Or why should someone buy your brand as opposed to another brand]
  9. FAQs [Answers to frequently asked questions, or common objections dealt with]

The elements of this structure are not fixed. It can appear differently on different websites.

The study of good websites gives you a deeper understanding of what is happening in it. How the sell is constructed using copy.

With a few tries you can do this too.

But remember, expert copywriters will be able to do it faster and with a better sell.

If you need help with writing using expert, stroytelling copywriting for your website, landing page, or marketing collateral messages, write to Pigtail Pundits.

Do Read: How to hire a StoryBrand Copywriter to Sell on Your Website and Landing Pages.


Do you need any certification to write good copy?

Well, if you ask me, nope. Copy frameworks are but structures. Many exist.

It would be quite a stretch to imagine that one formula, such as PASTOR, or for that matter StoryBrand, can solve all the selling problems that we have.

If everyone uses StoryBrand copy on their website and marketing collaterals then you would have to find a new formula.

I sense a danger in evangelizing just one framework. As someone said, if the only tool in your box is a hammer then all problems will start to look like nails.

You need to experiment with multiple formulas to arrive at what works for you or works to sell a brand.

While frameworks offer a great shortcut to peg your copy on, it's not the ultimate solution for all selling.

As we learn more about how humans buy, through advances in neurocience, behavior design, and psychology, our copy frameworks will get better.

I am not StoryBrand Certified, thank you.

But can I write copy for websites, emails, and other promotional material? Sure I can.

So can a whole bunch of folks who have been trained in direct response copywriting techniques.

Let's also understand that there is little originality in the ideas that we use today.

We beg, borrow and steal to make what looks like a new idea. We then hurry to apply our copyrights to it. 

Let's take an example here.

Suppose you build a movie based on a famous framework, say, Joseph Campbell's.

I come in later, and reverse engineer the success of the movie using what I call a proprietary formula.

Is not the second formula derived from the original formula? 

Do you own the copyright then? Or do I, the reverse egineer, own the rights to the derived framework?

Are there proven storytelling frameworks that you can use for web copy?

We’re always looking to hone our craft.

We would love to hear what your experiences with writing web copy are. Use the comments below to tell us.

May your garden teem and throng with customers

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