The digital marketing age has given rise to a booming online economy and created some of the fastest growing industries in the world. Coaching and entrepreneurship are increasingly common paths, and there has never been a better time to build your own business.
As awesome as that is, it comes with a built-in problem: standing out from the crowd, amid all that noise is seriously tough.
In order to distinguish yourself in the digital sphere, your brand needs to have one vital thing: meaning.
Searching for meaning in your brand is no easier than finding meaning in your life. But it doesn’t have to be so tough. In fact, it can be suuuuuper simple.
You need a hero.
Or, more specifically, you need to make your client a hero...
Why Storytelling Is Vital For A Successful Brand
When the message of your brand lacks an underlying purpose, it’s really difficult to connect with your ideal clients. Connection is so important, and the best way to achieve it is to adopt your ideal client’s worldview.
You then need to infuse that viewpoint into your brand at every available opportunity. One great way to do this is through storytelling.
Anything said about you, your biz, and your brand, is essentially part of your story.
Given that most of these things will be said by other people (clients, prospects, readers, competitors, etc.) it can leave you without much control over your own narrative.
It’s up to you to take back control by creating a cohesive, memorable narrative that follows your script. One that represents your dream for your business, and aligns with the values and beliefs of your clients.
Storytelling is powerful in marketing because a story fully engages your brain, making you an active participant in the narrative, rather than a bystander observing something, or being told after the fact.
When you use stories in your brand, it draws people in and makes them a part of the narrative. Your narrative.
When it comes to storytelling and journeys, none is more powerful than The Hero’s Journey, because it is one that every single person instantly recognizes (consciously or otherwise), and connects to on a very deep level.
Stories speak to your ideal clients on a subconscious level through their emotional responses to your tale, and the images and symbols within it.
By developing a brand story that is interesting, unique, and authentic, you can connect with your ideal clients using a message that resonates with them.
What Is The Hero’s Journey?
The Hero’s Journey is a narrative pattern that was first identified by Joseph Campbell. It appears in many of the most popular TV shows, literary pieces, and movies, but it’s also found in the most ancient mythology, of every recorded culture the world over.
It’s a story that has been told in many different ways, featuring many different characters, in times, places, and cultures that span the globe, and yet the core of the story, the structure of it, remains the same.
Here are a few modern examples of The Hero’s Journey at work:
Lord of the Rings
The Wizard of Oz
The Lion King
Believe it or not, the basic story in all these stories is the same.
It follows a distinct path, with stages that are clearly laid out, in a specific order, each serving a vital function.
As we are led through The Hero’s Journey, we experience various emotional and psychological responses triggered by events in the narrative. These responses are predictable, and occur in all humans regardless of their personality types (the potential exception to this being those who have atypical brain function).
The Hero’s Journey really resonates because it’s designed to show a better version of ourselves, an improved version of our own lives, our own world, with a roadmap for exactly how we can achieve this for ourselves. It shows us that we all have more in common than we imagine, and can all achieve astounding things in the right circumstances.
It’s an empowering message, and if you can harness it as part of your branding, you’re well on your way to phenomenal success.
If you’re struggling to visualize the concept, here’s a great commercial from Visa that sums The Hero’s Journey up perfectly:
The Client’s Journey
Using The Hero’s Journey in your branding can be done in a few ways, but the best (and usually the easiest!) way is to tell a brand story in which your ideal client is the hero.
This will ensure your prospects connect with your brand, recognize the universal truths of your values (which are also their values!), and gain a sense of being a part of something bigger than themselves.
All of your clients have their own story.
They are in the process of becoming.
Exactly what they are becoming will vary greatly depending on your business, but all of them are seeking something. They are in a particular point or place in life, with a specific problem or issue that they need solving.
You are going to provide the solution, and in so doing allow them to transform, and move forward, into a better place.
Businesses that elevate their customers, and can support them in their transformations are particularly valued. They are also seen to hold strong meaning.
In short, it’s already all about the journey for your clients.
Making that journey The Hero’s Journey will not only strengthen your brand, it will improve their experience and the results they achieve through you and your business.
By transforming your client’s journey into a hero’s journey, you will speak to their hearts in a much deeper, more profound, and longer-lasting way.
Here’s another great example from Google:
Use A Story In Lieu Of An Elevator Pitch
You’re probably familiar with the concept of an ‘elevator pitch’ for your brand.
It’s a short, pithy, perfectly formed description of your business that can easily be delivered to someone in the space of an elevator ride.
In other words, when someone asks, “What do you do?” your elevator pitch provides the perfect answer.
It informs people of your industry, specialty, niche and expertise, as well as what makes you unique and different, and ideally why they should choose you over other people.
But it does it in a subtle way.
You don’t stick your hand out, wait for someone to shake it and say, “I’m a graphic designer, hire me!”
Coming up with the perfect elevator pitch for your brand can be really tough. The good news is that you can use a brand story instead.
Having a Hero’s Journey to tell people when they ask you that question is a super-simple way of tapping into people’s emotions, almost instantly, and forming a connection. It’s personal, relatable, interesting.
It will also make them curious.
The only thing we love more than a good story is a great sequel!
Stages Of The Hero’s Journey
The reason The Hero’s Journey is so effective in storytelling is that it’s instantly relatable. This is partly because so many stories familiar to us follow the same path, but largely because that path is frequently one we walk in reality.
We begin with an uneasy hero (our ideal client), who is either uncomfortable in their existence, or unaware of something about themselves or their situation that is profoundly important.
The audience can instantly identify with this state of unease.
The hero is pulled in different directions making them feel a lot of negativity, almost as if they have an illness, yet they remain stuck because change would push them outside their comfort zone.
It’s less painful to stay put than it is to try and find a better situation, even though the current situation is painful.
This starting point is essential as it defines the purpose of your story, and demonstrates that there is a reason for your hero-client to embark on their journey.
To figure out this part of the story, you need to know your ideal client:
Who are they?
Why are they frustrated?
What do they want?
N.B. to make this powerful and effective you should know your ideal client well — ideally, through market research.
The Call To Adventure
Having seen that something isn’t quite right with our hero, the stage has been set for some form of conflict (either internal or external), to compel your protagonist to make a change.
This is known as the ‘call to adventure’ and it can be literal or figurative:
Gandalf can turn up at your door with a troupe of dwarves and invite you on a quest.
Hagrid can arrive with a birthday cake and a letter from Hogwarts.
Your father could head south to be the new Hand of the King, leaving you alone with the step-mother who despises you, compelling you to join the Night’s Watch.
Your boyfriend could dump you for not being serious enough and head off to Harvard, spurring you to prove your intelligence and seriousness by getting into Harvard Law.
Or you could find yourself at an emotional rock-bottom, and realize that change is necessary if you ever want to be happy.
To figure out the best call to adventure for your brand story, you need to know three things about your ideal client:
What will happen if they don’t answer the call and take action?
What do they stand to lose by doing nothing?
What do they stand to gain by taking that first step?
The Refusal Of The Call
This is perhaps the most relatable part of the whole of The Hero’s Journey.
Your protagonist is in an uncomfortable position, called to action, compelled to make a change (usually for deeply personal or practical reasons) and they resist.
They ignore the call, or out-right refuse it.
Because fear of the unknown is a very powerful force, and even though the current situation is bad, it feels better than stepping out into a situation that’s unfamiliar.
This part of the story forms an emotional bond with the audience as it invites them into the hero’s perspective, and allows them to really empathize with the situation. We’ve all felt paralyzed at some point by the fear of what will happen if we try to improve our situation, achieve something new, or gain more in life.
To devise this part of your story, ask yourself:
What has been holding my ideal client back?
What is still stopping them from taking action?
Crossing The Threshold
As the hero overcomes their fears and step out of their comfort zone, they cross a threshold of sorts and embark on their journey into the unknown. This can be a literal threshold, like their front door as they leave to go somewhere new, or a metaphorical one, such as accepting they can’t handle something alone, picking up the phone, as asking a friend for help.
Whatever form the threshold in your journey takes, it involves moving from the known into the unknown.
It is often accompanied by some form of peril - there are guardians watching your front door, and dealing with them is risky, or you are unsure how your friend will react to your admission of need and request for help, they might refuse.
The ‘danger’ however is a test of character, and provided you have the courage to continue forward it quickly fades into the background.
However, the life the hero knew previously has been disrupted.
Even if they were to return to the point at which they began, the experience has already changed them, so they would view the world differently.
They would no longer be able to ignore their unrest. This is important because it means they have no choice but to continue on in the hope of finding a solution to their problem, so they can eventually return and find themselves in a better situation.
For your ideal client the disruption that forces them across the threshold could be a number of things. Ask yourself:
What disruption in the market or your client’s life would need to happen in order for them to see that your work is urgent, relevant and needed?
What situation would pull the proverbial wool from their eyes and force them to confront reality?
How can you help them, providing the solution they need to find comfort and peace in life/work?
This part of the story is usually where the hero encounters allies. Other individuals who join them on their quest, either because they are looking to achieve the same goal, or because they care about the hero and want them to succeed.
Essentially, this is where your client becomes part of your tribe, and encounters like-minded individuals who will support them in their efforts at transformation.
But while the camaraderie of this aspect of the story is positive and supportive, there is generally conflict during this phase.
After all, without conflict, there’s no story.
Your hero encounters obstacles that could prevent them from continuing on. This is often in the form of blocks they have that keep them from buying. What are the obstacles in your clients’ way, keeping them from signing up? Consider the following:
Are they stuck on the price?
Is your/their availability preventing them from taking action?
Are they still carrying some fear of the dreaded unknown?
Are they experiencing discouragement from others?
Meeting The Mentor
The mentor is a vital character in The Hero’s Journey. All the best heroes have one. Luke had Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda, Harry had Dumbledore, and Jon Snow had Lord Commander Mormont.
When your hero reaches the point of fully committing to the quest they will encounter their mentor, who will guide them (consciously or subconsciously, literally of figuratively) through the remainder of the journey.
Now that they have responded to the call, found their courage and continued on, overcoming obstacles and still persevering, your hero reaches a turning point. Forces align in their favor, and they find that, while there are still obstacles to overcome, they have the strength required to face them.
This may come from within themselves, but often comes from the allies they have met along the way, their mentor, or natural forces at work in the world (essentially mother nature).
This phase is all about tests, allies, and enemies.
The hero is tested and sorts out allegiances in the world outside their comfort zone. They adapt to the unfamiliar and gain the skills needed to move towards their goals.
Think of the training montage that is the staple of a lot of movies: Mulan, Rocky, and The Empire Strikes Back, to name but a few!
Your client enters this phase of the journey when they have bought from you and become your client.
You are the mentor!
You are Yoda!
Consider the following:
What’s the promise of working with you?
What are the emotional results of working with you?
What value do your clients receive?
What are your clients going to uplevel by working with you?
There’s a moment in every Hero’s Journey when they are confronted by one of two ordeals: either death, or their worst fear.
It can be a physical, literal death (think Harry Potter and Jon Snow), or it can be a more spiritual death that sees the hero lay their old life/ways/habits/problems to rest.
Either way, the hero emerges from the ordeal resurrected and renewed. They have a moment of clarity, and rise to greet a new life.
Although this is a positive thing to go through, ensuring the hero finally gets to where they need to be, it can be quite traumatic.
Fear and death are hardly a picnic!
The ordeal separates the hero from their old world, self, or ways that were so familiar, and sets them on a new path.
Your hero needs to really dig deep to overcome this ordeal, and it’s often the thing that made them hesitate and refuse the call initially.
But once the ordeal is over, they begin their transformation. For your client, this is the point at which your help leads to the change they needed in life, or the solution they were so desperate to find.
Go back to answers you came up with when considering why they would resist the call. Consider the following:
What are their worst fears about working with you?
How can you demonstrate that - despite the fact they will be challenging - they can also be overcome?
This phase sees the hero reap the rewards of their efforts. They have won something in the process of facing death, or their worst fear, and they carry that reward with them as they move forward.
It is at this point that the hero reflects, and concludes that, while difficult, the journey was well worth it, for they now have what they wanted/needed all along.
For your clients, this is the point where they give you glowing feedback, and bask in the wonder of what they have achieved with your help.
The Road Back
Every great adventure has two aspects: the journey there, and the road back. Generally speaking, we don’t see much of the journey home. Consider Lord of the Rings, which covers the journey to destroy the One Ring in immense detail, and the journey home as a brief aside.
Now in possession of the reward they sought, the hero can return, secure in the knowledge they are richer and stronger for the journey.
But the journey isn’t quite done yet, as the hero has to pass back across the threshold in order to return home. As with when they were leaving, there is usually an obstacle of some sort here, that can make it difficult for the hero to reintegrate.
After all, they are not the same person they were when they left.
But at the beginning of the story they were unhappy, conflicted with themselves and, despite being comfortable at home, didn’t really want to be there. The journey has honed your hero to the point they are able to find peace, either by settling back into their old life with a new perspective, or moving on to a new life.
Consider Marlin returning with Nemo and Dory to the reef, far more relaxed and content in life despite his worst fear having been realized - he lost his son, but found him again, and has made new friends and discovered new strength in the process.
Frodo returns to the Shire to discover he no longer fits into the world of hobbits, and elects to leave with the elves. His best friend, Sam, on the other hand, settles into a happy and contented life, finally confident and secure enough to win the love of his life.
The final test is reintegration: how will your hero use what they have learned?
For your client, this part of the journey is the bit you need to paint for them in technicolor throughout your marketing. THIS is what they sign up for. They may enjoy the journey, but it’s the payoff they’re really interested in.
What will their new life look like?
How will it be different?
Why will it be better?
What will it mean to them?
What’s Your Story?
There’s little I love more than a good story. Taking the time to figure out the Hero’s Journey of your brand is an amazing way to connect with your ideal clients, and create a successful brand. But often the best part about finding your story is getting to tell it! Pop a comment below and let me know the story of your clients’ journey…