Go Hollywood and bring some action to your marketing.
If you don’t understand the economic impact of quality storytelling to your brand, listen to Guy Kawasaki’s recent podcast in which he chats with David Aaker, the “Father of Modern Branding.” A compelling narrative differentiates your company, products or services and adds excitement—helping better generate leads, improve conversion rates and even significantly grow enterprise valuation. But once you understand how important it is to have a strong story behind your brand, how do you make it happen?
The Hero’s Journey
One way to gut-check your brand story is through the work of Joseph Campbell (1904–1987) and his Hero’s Journey model. Joseph Campbell was a professor of literature at Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers, New York. Campbell’s best known work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, lays out a framework for storytelling that’s been used in films such as Star Wars, The Matrix, the Wizard of Oz, Fight Club and hundreds of others. Screenwriters and novelists use it as a go-to tool when outlining a story or pitch.
The Jungian-influenced template of the Hero’s Journey monomyth walks the main character through an exploration of the unknown that transforms him or her permanently through very specific steps. These include things like a call to adventure, engagement with mentors and helpers, challenges, revelations, and returning to everyday life as a different, and usually better, person. At the end of the adventure, they’ve grown or changed or can see things from a different perspective.
Branding as Hero-Making
The good news is that great branding is much easier, and more low risk, than your average Hollywood production. And since buyers and prospects take a variety of paths to purchasing, it’s not always a linear story. For many marketers, especially in the world of energy and industry, this is all sounding pretty woo-woo and ephemeral—but hang in there. Because the hero’s journey framework goes a long way in making your brand’s story both exciting and fulfilling to buyers.
For example, here are some things it can teach you:
Provide buyers with specific challenges—every good story has a bad guy, even if that “bad guy” is abstract such as project downtime, cost overruns or risk. The Hero’s Journey is interesting because of its many sources of tension. No bad guy means no tension and that means boring as #&*?!
Understand that you’re creating a world; a world in which something can be different for buyers. Maybe not one in which “The Force” is a thing, but maybe a world in which data can be better used to keep people more safe, you’ll have more time to spend on strategically important tasks or some other new, attractive reality; whatever differentiated value on which your brand can deliver.
Make your brand something to which buyers across all segments can relate. Heroes are relatable. In the ‘90s HBO series The Sopranos, Tony Soprano was, by all accounts, a pretty terrible person. But he was presented in a way that made viewers relate to him and, eventually, root for him. Whether you sell consumer goods, technical services, oilfield equipment or enterprise software you need to create a brand whose values and qualities resonate with buyers.
Lead audiences down a clear pathway towards transformation, and an obvious way to take that first step. Once you get them excited about the story, give them something specific to do. This is why content-driven sales funnel experiences can be so effective—you’re just squeezing audiences along specific milestones within the sales cycle.
Set buyers up to play the starring role. A lot of people in business claim that they want to be able to turn their buyers into heroes. While this is usually a pretty cheesy and ineffective thing to say directly, it’s a good goal to keep in mind. When you make your customer the hero, you’re the hero too.
A Hero Brand in Action
So let’s look at a brand that does a great job of hero-making. And let’s make it something that’s pretty conservative—one you probably wouldn’t associate with screenplays or literature. Charlotte-based Honeywell International, Inc. is a global conglomerate with a market cap of $70B+. Unleaded has no affiliation with the company, but they do a lot of cool things—one of which is to help industrial facilities improve performance from smart analytics via a platform known as Honeywell Forge. Honeywell Forge is a data-driven program that improves the quality of business decisions; something sorely needed in a world wherein everyone now has tons of data and rarely has any true idea of how to put that data to profitable account.
Now, in marketing Honeywell Forge, the company could have just shotgunned out a message to the effect of: “Hey we have this amazing suite of technologies that helps you prevent problems and do all kinds of awesome things. Do you want it?” Which is what many in that space basically do. But, instead, Honeywell leveraged the power of strong storytelling and the principles found in the Hero’s Journey to make their technology compelling to target audiences.
For example, in one success story the company shares publicly, Honeywell deployed Honeywell Forge to ensure operational continuity at the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC). When looked at through the lens of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, Honeywell’s success story breaks down like this:
The bad guy: Refinery down time
The stakes: 3M BBLS daily if the plant goes online
The revelation: They can lower risk through smart analytics
The journey: Lowering the risk of downtime even further
The mentors: Honeywell International and its people
The helper: Honeywell Forge, digital twin methodology, etc.
The hero: Client Honeywell collaborators and champions
The feeling: A helpful, high-tech partnership delivering real-world results
So don’t just take up the audience’s time. Take them on a journey. Make your customer a hero with the help of your brand, as well as a few storytelling cues from some of Hollywood’s best storytellers.