What specific problem do you solve for your customers?

Is your team clear on what specific problem your business solves for your ideal clients? 

When brands clearly identify their ideal customer's problem, it deepens their interest in the story you invite them in and it shows how your brand understands their needs.

In StoryBrand, we call this the "hook" of your story.

Without a specific problem, your customers have less of a reason to engage with your business.

In episode 4 of the Marketing Made Simple podcast, J.J. Peterson and April guide you through the Problem section of your StoryBrand Framework:

  • Clearly uncover and identify the problem you solve for your clients
  • Breakdown the problem your customer experiences into three levels of conflict
  • Implement problem-language into your marketing and messaging

Examples of effective StoryBrand Problem-Language

Here are a few examples of StoryBrand problem-language section of your StoryBrand framework: external, internal, and philosophical.

Creativeo, a StoryBrand Agency

Storybrand agency team

Customer: business looking to successfully implement the StoryBrand framework

  • External: There are hundreds of StoryBrandCertified Guides
  • Internal: Overwhelmed by the options
  • Philosophical: To succeed in Storybranding your business, you need a guide who's the right fit for your business.

Beta KIDS, kid's immunity supplement


Customer: a mother who wants to protect her children from getting sick.

  • External: Immunity supplements don’t seem to make much difference in protecting kids from getting sick.

  • Internal: Powerless (out of options in keeping their kids safe)
  • Philosophical: There should be a way to have fewer sick days and avoid the stressful domino effect they have on the family’s health, schedule, finances, and relationships.

HMH Legal Law, Debt Collection Mexico and Credit Protection

New StoryBrand website under construction

Customer: International businesses who want to collect their outstanding debt in Mexico amicably

  • External: Debt collection in Mexico seems like a waste of time
  • Internal: Powerless (because debtors can walk away and you have no way of collecting your money)

  • Philosophical: Selling on credit in Mexico (and Latin America) shouldn’t be an insurmountable risk [for your business].

StructureCraft, an engineering and construction company

StructureCraft mass timber engineering and builder

Customer: Architect, Developer, Owner who is looking to design and build a mass timber structure

  • External: There's too much division between engineers and builders in the construction process
  • Internal: Limited in what can be achieved [with regards to beautiful and efficient mass timber structures]
  • Philosophical: There's a lot that can go wrong when designing and building a mass timber structure. You need a unified process that fosters innovation and accomplishment.

Levity, Machine Washable Covers

Levity - messaging example
  • External: Ruining my sofa with spills and mess
  • Internal: Live in fear of ruining my beautiful sofa
  • Philosophical: Life is messy, but your sofa shouldn't be.

How to identify your customer's problem?

  • 01 External problem: try to identify what is the tangible obstacle your customer has to overcome in order to get the thing they want?
  • 02 Internal problem: because the character is facing the external problem, how is that making them feel internally? This can be a feeling, like “frustrated” or “embarrassed,” or it can be related to identity like “lost” or “alone.”
  • 03 Philosophical: Because of the external and internal problem your customer is facing, why is this just plain wrong? 

If you're struggling to identify a clear problem, try to write the following:

We know you want (Character want) but the problem is what?

This will give you the external problem

Key takeaways from episode 4

  • Customer's file brands in their mind based on the problem they have. Headache = Advil
  • When people sale their products/services, they make the mistake of talking about their products and services and they don't position their brand as a solution to their customer's problem
  • Identifying a clear problem is huge for your marketing, because it communicates to your customer that you know what they're going through
  • The story begins when the hero of the story encounters a problem; if there's no problem, there's no story

Episode 4 Transcript

  • Dr. J.J. Peterson (00:06):

The story really begins when a hero in a movie encounters a problem. If there is no problem, there is no story. But it's also true in your marketing. You need to constantly be talking about the problem your customer's experiencing and how you solve it.

Welcome to the Marketing Made Simple podcast where we believe marketing should be easy and it should work. I am your host, Dr. J.J. Peterson, and I am joined as always by April Sunshine Hawkins.

So when I said I have a stomach ache or something's wrong with my stomach, you didn't say, "Hey, I have some Tylenol." And when I said I had a headache, you didn't say, "I have Tums." A lot of people think that people just have brands at the ready. Like they file them in their brain based on their branding. No, no, no. People file brands in their brain based on the problem they solve. So when I have a stomachache, you offer me Tums. When I have a headache, you offer me Tylenol. And this is a huge thing that many people miss, right?

We see this all the time is that when people go to sell their products and services, they start with talking about the product and service, and they don't position their brand as a solution to a problem. And this is huge because the only reason people are paying attention to you, paying attention to your marketing at all is because you are showing them that you solve a problem.

Yes. So we have been going through the StoryBrand framework, which is a messaging framework to help people clarify their message and engage people with customers. It's all based on story. And so in the first couple episodes we talked about how you need to understand who your customer is, who they long to be, who they want to transform to be, and then what they want. And those two things are really key in creating clarity, inviting customers into a story. But the story really begins when a hero in a movie encounters a problem. If there is no problem in the movie, there is no story, right?

Exactly, exactly, right. You're waiting for a problem, something to make the story interesting. Now if I was to say, "Then the waitress came over and squirted barbecue sauce all over my shirt." Now it's like, "Wait, what?" Then we start talking about that and how then I had to go to a meeting right after, and it was embarrassing and I took my shirt off and everybody was disgusted. All that stuff. We could go through ... Now, it's an interesting story. But if there's no problem, there is no story. That's true in movies and it's true in storytelling, but it's also true in your marketing. If you do not talk about the problem your customers are experiencing and how you can solve it, then there's no reason to pay attention. They would act like you just did where you're like, "Get to the point." They would move on from your marketing. One of the things that you need to understand as a marketer is you need to constantly be talking about the problem your customer is experiencing and how you solve it.

  • April Sunshine (05:15):

And there are really three different types of problems that you want to define and say again and again. The first one is the external problem. The thing that you are experiencing. "I am having a stomachache and I need a solution for my stomachache." That is the external problem that is happening to your hero. So you've got to define that and you've got to nail it because if you don't, they're not actually going to listen to you.

  • Dr. J.J. Peterson (05:44):

So here's an example. Finish this phrase for me. "Plop, plop, fizz, fizz..."

  • April Sunshine (05:49):

"Oh, what a relief it is."

  • Dr. J.J. Peterson (05:51):

Yes, it's Alka-Seltzer. Alka-Seltzer to the rescue. They have positioned their brand as something that solves a problem. And so that's the external problem. You have to identify what is it that is getting in the way of what your customer wants. So let's say you are a business consultant. Maybe you have to identify that your clients are struggling with the external problem of, they don't have systems and processes that help them scale. So you're just identifying the external problem they're experiencing. But like you said, there are more layers to this. So there's the external problem, but then there is an internal problem.

And this is key in storytelling. Screenwriters use a trick to engage an audience in a very deep way and that is the internal problem. Liam Neeson gets his daughter kidnapped for the eighth time again.

So most of us, I would argue have not had our daughters kidnapped by terrorists. Most of us. I'm not saying everybody, but most of us have not. And so we don't necessarily identify with the external problem. So they have to use an internal problem, which is that he is maybe not sure he can do it. He doesn't have what it takes or maybe he feels like a bad dad. And so by solving the external problem, he's actually solving the internal problem as well. He's a good dad. He has what it takes. And so we can identify with that problem. We are drawn into the story because of the internal problem. Well, here's the trick when it comes to marketing. This is, I would say a little insider information. People go shopping to solve an external problem, but they make buying decisions to solve an internal problem.

And here's what I mean, is that if my lawn is overgrown, that's an external problem. But if I am not embarrassed by it or overwhelmed by it, I am not going to hire somebody to fix it. And so that's the internal. The internal problem that I'm struggling with is being overwhelmed or frustrated by it or embarrassed. That's the internal. So when you as a brand can speak both to the external problem you solve, "I can mow your lawn and make it look great." That's an external. So you don't have to feel overwhelmed by that. That is now solving the internal problem and it actually brings more value to your product and service than just mowing my lawn. You're solving two problems. And really the second one, the internal is almost more important.

  • April Sunshine (08:28):

It really is. And then there's a third layer that might be even more important than that. So we've defined external, then you define the internal. And after that it's philosophical and you're digging really deep here and you're figuring out what is the you deserve statement? What is the we believe statement that if you were to say it in front of an audience of your customers, your heroes, they would likely stand up and cheer and say, "Yes, we believe that too!"

  • Dr. J.J. Peterson (09:04):

Yes, yes, yes. It's because like in movies, there's often this bigger theme that is going on. So in Star Wars it's like good versus evil or in Hunger Games it's oppression versus freedom, so there's this kind of big overarching theme, that's the philosophical question that is being brought up by this movie. And so we are rooting in the movie for the side we want to win, for the side that has the same world view that we do. So let's go back to the lawn company. If you say something like, "You deserve to spend more time enjoying your yard than working on it." That's now a philosophical statement you are making about the world we believe our customer should be able to live in. So when you use words like deserve or opt or should in your marketing, you are actually making a philosophical statement and you are saying, "I am going to overcome this for you so that you can live in a better world."

So all three work together. There's external problem, you have to identify, you have to talk about it. Internal problem, you have to identify, you have to talk about it. And philosophical problem, you have to identify, you have to talk about it. This could be one of the most powerful tools you can use in your marketing because so many companies don't do this. They brag about their product or service and they make the story about them. And really the story is about your customer and they are looking for you to solve their problem. If you stop talking about their problems, they stop listening. I wanted to talk to a StoryBrand certified marketing guide. These are marketing professionals and agencies who we have certified, who we have trained that help people create effective marketing. So I wanted to talk to Aleya Harris.

  • Dr. J.J. Peterson (10:48):

We love Aleya. I love all of them. They're all so wonderful, but I wanted to talk to her about how she specifically used problem language to create marketing for a client that engaged customers at a higher level. She is fantastic at this and really helped her client identify what is the problem your customer is experiencing, and then put that in their marketing. So listen to this, because this is a really practical example that you can see a professional use in creating marketing that will help you create better marketing for your business.

Aleya, thank you so much for being with us today. I always love seeing your face on Zoom or in person. And as you know, April and I have been talking about the problem element of a brand script. What you need to focus on in your marketing messaging is your customer's problem. And we often say at StoryBrand that this is one place in particular to really differentiate yourself from the crowd, right?

  • Aleya Harris (11:53):

I've experienced it with a lot of clients. The one that pops in mind right now is actually Outside/In Living, which is an interior design and decorating company in the Seattle area. And [inaudible 00:12:10] think of like, "Well, what do you do?" "Well, you make it look pretty." How else do you say that? If it's ugly, I make it look pretty. You're welcome. When I was working with this client, she was really like ... Her name is Yvette. Yvette was really like, "Well, how do I say to them that I'm not just your typical slapped and paint up, knocked down a wall, throw in a throw pillow kind of gal?" Our job is to help your internal feeling about that place of safety and home and comfort come out. And when we honed in, really had to hone it into that character want, and then we realized that there are three parts of the problem.

There's the external, internal and philosophical. There is a lot of shame and guilt when your home doesn't feel like it matches. One of the main headers of our website is "You deserve to show off your home," which is tapping into the philosophical statement. And then right underneath that, it says, "No more hiding in the doorway when the FedEx delivery is dropped off at your front door. No more suggesting other friends' homes for the next get together. With Outside/In Living, you can create a home that you're proud to share with your loved ones. Go ahead, invite them to stay a spell.

  • Dr. J.J. Peterson (13:32):

I love that because the whole external problem is you're looking for a designer, and so you're looking for somebody to make your home look nice. That's external. But in order to differentiate, you focused in on that internal, and not only did you mention the internal of being proud of your home and not feeling shamed. You deserve, that's philosophical, but then you really took it to that next level by ramping it up a little bit, by giving very specific examples of what that looked like. I love that. Explain your thought behind that.

Aleya Harris (14:01):

Well, when I do marketing, I always want to hit the client that's reading the website or the lead generator in the head, the heart, or the gut. You hit them in the head when it's clear and they can read it and understand what the heck you're talking about. So that's step one. That's what StoryBrand is all about. You hit them in the heart when they resonate, when they feel like you get them and that you understand where they're coming from. And the best way to do that is with visual language. You can't articulate empathy. I know that's another part of the brand script, but [inaudible 00:14:33] underline some of that empathy. You can't articulate that problem and get them to know that you understand what they're going through without being hyper-specific.

When you write copy, your client's client needs to be able to see in their brain. As soon as I said that you're standing in the doorway using your body as a human shield so that they don't see what's behind, you can see that. And then when it hits them in their gut, that visual language does the same thing. Like, "Ooh, yeah, they got me."

Yeah. That's how good copy is written. That's how you bring the StoryBrand framework to life, especially in the problem section, you have a lot of opportunities to resonate with your audience using the problem.

  • Dr. J.J. Peterson (15:20):

I love that. I love that so much. And obviously, you're an amazing copywriter.

Also adore you as a person, but you are just an amazing copywriter. And I think for our listeners, that's so important to hear. I think the first practical tip I'm getting from you is this idea that if you want to differentiate yourself from other people in your market, maybe really lean into the internal problem that your customers are facing because you solve the external problem differently than other people by solving their internal problems. So really focus on that. And then when you're describing that use visual language, don't just say you're ashamed of your home or you're embarrassed about having people over. Go really deep with it and just give that visual imagery of standing in the doorway, blocking them from seeing. So use visual language, and that will allow the problem to come to life and your customer can then resonate with how you solve their problem through your product or service.

  • April Sunshine (16:45):

I would follow her to the end of the world. And everyone out there needs to create clear messaging that actually points your customers to the problem that you solve and not just the external, but also the internal and the philosophical. If they do that, they will win. And if you need some help doing that, you could hire someone like Aleya. We have StoryBrand marketing guides all over the world. We certify the best ones in the whole world. They come and they are trained to use the StoryBrand framework to help their clients clarify their message. And you can find them at marketingmadesimple.com. Go there right now, find an expert that will help you create your clear marketing. And if you want to become a guide, you could go to storybrand.com/guide and start your journey as one of the best marketers in the world using this powerful, powerful tool.

  • Dr. J.J. Peterson (17:46):

I love it so much, and they really do amazing work for their clients. So if you have been following along with us, you've been filling out your brand script at mystorybrand.com. And the brand script is just your tool that acts as a roadmap through all the parts of the StoryBrand framework and it allows you to write down each part of the framework and how it applies to your business in one place. After you do that, look in the bottom left-hand corner of the brand script, and there are three sections that you need to fill out. The external problem, the internal problem, and the philosophical problem. And here are the questions you need to answer. One, what problem is my customer experiencing that I can solve? Just write that down right now. Just say what problem are they experiencing that my product or service solves? The second question you need to answer is, how does that make them feel?

The internal problem is always a feeling. How does the external problem make them feel? And then philosophically, the question you want to answer is why is that just plain wrong? If you can answer those three questions, what problem is my customer experiencing? How does that make them feel? And why is that just plain wrong? And put that language in those three sections of the brand script, you now have language that you can apply to your marketing. You can put it in emails, you can put it in websites. You can put it in your one-liner. You can put it in your lead generator. You want to hook your customer with the problem of the story. So let me give you a very practical example. If you are a lawn care company and the external problem is your lawn is overgrown, the internal problem is you're overwhelmed by that and philosophically you want to say, you deserve to spend more time enjoying your yard than working on your yard, here's how it looks on a webpage.

You might just ask the question, "Are you feeling overwhelmed by your lawn being overgrown? You deserve to spend more time enjoying your yard than working on it." That's it. You literally only have to put those two sentences on your website and now you've hooked your customer. So think about that for your product or service. Can you ask them a question if they're struggling with the external and internal problem, and then make your philosophical statement to overcome those problems and say, "You deserve to live in a better world." I love this piece of the StoryBrand framework because it positions us as problem solvers. We're not trying to fight our customers for money. We're not trying to get more money out of them. We are saying, "I have something that will make your world a better place." And when you can step into that role as a problem solver, not only is your customer's life going to be better, but you are going to succeed. Never stop solving your customer's problems. And when you position yourself as that problem solver, you are going to win and your customer is going to win.

  • April Sunshine (20:58):

And so for you listening out there, what you need to do is just do this again and again and again. Refine it and it will become more clear every time.

  • Dr. J.J. Peterson (21:08):

I love, I love giving people tips that can help their marketing and messaging, right?

Yes. And if you want to dive in deep with this information and really figure out what your brand story is and get all your messaging in one place, then you can do it in 48 hours. Just in 48 hours, you can get all of your messaging fixed by going to storybrand.com where you can register for our live stream marketing workshop event. It's July 19th and 20th. And to make sure you're doing it right, we actually have virtual coaches that are StoryBrand experts, StoryBrand guides that will coach you through the process to make sure you're doing it right. So register for our upcoming live stream event on July 19th and 20th at storybrand.com today.

Well, that's all for this week's episode of Marketing Made Simple. Thank you so much for listening and believing, like us, that your marketing should be easy and it should work. Subscribe to Marketing Made Simple wherever you listen to podcasts and don't forget to rate and review the show, letting us know how these parts of the StoryBrand framework are clarifying your message and transforming your business. Can't wait to see you next week.

So here's an example, just when you're specifically talking about the stomach problem and how somebody did this really well, finish this phrase for me, "Plop, plop, fizz, fizz..."

  • April Sunshine (23:05):

"Alka-Seltzer is the best."

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