What Donald Miller and Storybrand get wrong

Brother Patch
3 min readMay 25, 2019

First of all, I’m not a hater.

I was reading Miller’s books back when he was the face of the emergent church. I donated to the crowdfunding campaign he did with Steve Taylor to make the Blue Like Jazz film.

Miller and I go way back.

These days, I think Donald Miller has some extremely valuable and insightful things to say about story. Especially how it relates to sales and marketing. I think he doesn’t give Joseph Campbell enough credit (I suspect that’s down to his evangelical disagreements with Campbell).

But there’s one thing I think Miller gets wrong and it’s grounded in one of his better points.

The good point — you, as a business owner are not the hero of your customer’s story. The customer is the hero of their own story. I wholeheartedly agree with this point. If the client is the hero, a business owner takes on the archetypal role of the guide or mentor. All good so far.

Where I think Miller goes too far is in suggesting that business owners shouldn’t tell their story as part of their sales process or marketing. Miller seems to believe this has the potential to confuse the client by creating a competing story.

His support for this argument seems to be political campaigns like Jeb Bush’s where he presented himself as the hero of the election, instead of the American people. I take his point, but I think politics and elections are too complex to lay victory at the feet one tactic, like that.

I think it’s essential that salespeople and business owners tell their story because, when they do, they create oxytocin in their listener’s brain. They create empathy and that empathy creates trust, and that trust leads to sales.

Neurologist, and personal hero, Paul J. Zack did experiments where people were presented with two stories — a story designed to create specific brain chemicals like oxytocin and cortisol — and then a second story that presented the listener with a call to action.

The first story and it’s effect on brain chemistry was shown to produce favorable results to the call to action.

Miller seems concerned that hearing a salesperson’s story will confuse the buyer. I agree that we need to avoid confusing our buyers, but I disagree that hearing a sellers story will necessarily lead to confusion — especially when that story provides context and support for the sale. The sellers story, if created with an eye towards brain chemistry, can actually produce a desired response to the sales story.

So, yeah, that’s where I disagree with Miller. But that disagreement shouldn’t be seen as sour grapes or a desire to downplay his success. But, instead a big fat “BUT” in the conversation.

And who doesn’t like a big fat but?