Marketing specialists tend to confuse me. Their discipline is often made to seem impossibly complex. Is there a simpler way to promote our brand? One branding expert says “Yes!” He believes our most powerful marketing tool is our own story. So we’ve given it a try.
In Building a StoryBrand, Donald Miller provides the basic building blocks of a good marketing story.1 He wrote, “Here is nearly every story you see or hear in a nutshell: a CHARACTER who wants something encounters a PROBLEM before they can get it. At the peak of their despair, a GUIDE steps into their lives, gives them a PLAN and calls them to ACTION. That action helps them avoid FAILURE and ends in a SUCCESS.” This kind of story helps our customers not to burn too many calories in an effort to understand our product.
So here is one non-marketer’s effort to tell our story:
Chandra’s Story: The Character and the Problem
I met Chandra several years ago in Delhi, India during a seminar for Indian leaders. Chandra showed up at the meeting to satisfy a personal hunger for leadership growth. He also longed to know how to cultivate effective leaders for his growing ministry.
Born into a Hindu family in the state of Orissa, eastern India, Chandra grew up without running water and electricity. Most of the people in his small village could not read or write. Being trained to become a Hindu priest, Chandra was miraculously converted to follow Jesus. He wanted to learn more about Jesus, so he left his village and attended a Bible college in Delhi, many miles away from home.
At the Bible college, Chandra immersed himself in study, spent countless hours buried among volumes of books in the library, and absorbed the classroom lectures like a sponge. He was a star student. After graduation Chandra was selected to teach at the college and eventually to become Dean of the school. But over time Chandra felt burdened to return to Orissa and minister among the people in his village and beyond. So he resigned from the Bible college and returned to the land of his childhood. Upon arrival, he wasted no time setting up a makeshift church, and began to deliver his sermons and theological teachings with urgency. Surely the people would come to Jesus!
But no one responded. The people’s attitudes appeared to be as hardened as the well-trodden path in the village. Leading them to become followers of Jesus seemed impossible. What had gone wrong? Chandra became discouraged.
Chandra’s Story: The Guide and the Plan
In 2006, Chandra was invited to a workshop that introduced him to the idea of storycentric communication. At first he was highly skeptical of this new approach, but soon he was convinced that storycentric methods of learning were more appropriate than literacy-based learning for his people. Instead of teaching the people through lectures and systematic theology, he began to incorporate biblical stories, drama, and traditional music.
The results were dramatic! People responded to the storycentric methods beyond Chandra’s imagination. Since 2007, the ministry he leads has baptized over 5,500 new believers and has planted more than 860 house churches throughout Orissa.
Chandra’s Story: Called to Action
However, Chandra’s story doesn’t stop there. Now he faced another dilemma. After the people of Orissa had responded to the Gospel and house churches were launched, many of the congregations struggled due to the shortage of good leaders. Some of the churches even closed. Chandra needed help. He wondered, “How do I lead this rapidly growing network of churches? How do I provide the leadership that is so crucial for these new believers and their churches? How do I develop effective, Christ-centered leaders in the storycentric villages and urban centers of Orissa?”
This is the point that I met Chandra. Since then Chandra has grown as a leader. He has also been resourced to develop Christ-centered leaders, and his ministry has blossomed in new and exciting ways. Chandra’s experience highlights a rising phenomenon among ministry leaders who are employing storycentric communication to reach people.
Initial responses to this story have been promising. So I’m a fan of this simple marketing approach. And we’ll keep practicing to tell our story well.
1Donald Miller, Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen, Harper Collins Leadership, 2017.