Every entrepreneur wants to build a heroic company. The question becomes, how does that happen?
As we saw last time, your startup becomes a hero by making your customers and clients the main hero. And rather than starting with trying to sell our ultimate products or services, we attract and mentor our prospects with content first.
Let’s return briefly to the Star Wars analogy from the previous article. When you put your prospect in the position of the main hero (Luke Skywalker), and your content as the mentor who guides or assists the hero on their journey of transformation (Obi Wan), it’s extremely powerful. You allow people to identify themselves within the context of an enduring mythical structure that also makes a hero out of your brand.
Some of the most effective (and expensive) television advertising campaigns have tapped the power of the monomyth that Star Wars adopted thanks to Joseph Campbell. And while content marketing doesn’t require Super Bowl ad spends and multi-millions in production costs, it’s nonetheless useful to see a few examples of how the hero’s journey has been used historically to grow revenue in a very real way.
It’s been called the greatest American television commercial of all time. And it almost didn’t get made, because the Apple board of directors didn’t understand what it had to do with selling computers.
Apple’s 1984 Super Bowl ad, which introduced the Macintosh to the world, was selling much more than computers. It was channeling the monomyth — calling to action the creative souls of the world to rise up against the tyranny of corporate computing (symbolized by IBM) and empower themselves to take a journey of creative transformation.
The striking blond with the hammer represents those creative heroes (the “users” in today’s inelegant terms). Not until the very end of the commercial is there any mention of the mentor, the tool that will guide you on your creative journey. That would be the Mac, if there’s any confusion at this point.
Apple’s “Crazy Ones”
In my opinion, Apple’s initial Think Different television ad (dubbed the “Crazy Ones” commercial), beats 1984 hands down, despite being simpler and much cheaper to produce. Again, the call to adventure to change the world is front and center, amplified by a powerful sense of identification with cultural icons such as Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr., plus business leaders like Richard Branson and Ted Turner.
The little girl in the final shot exemplifies the true main hero, which is designed for the rest of us to self-identify with. There’s even less emphasis on the Macintosh as the mentor or crucial tool in this spot, but everyone gets the point.
People often liken Apple’s customer base to a cult, and you have their brilliant marketing to thank for that, in addition to great products. Apple repeatedly taps into the hero’s journey monomyth that’s also dominant in the stories of Buddha, Moses, and Jesus. By placing your prospective customers and clients in the role of the main hero, you can develop a serious form of hero worship for your company and solutions as well.
Jared and Subway
Let’s bring things down to earth a bit so you can see how simple and practical a successful use of the hero’s journey can be in a commercial context. One of my favorite examples is Jared from Subway.
By the end of the Jared campaign, Subway sales had more than doubled to $8.2 billion. Following Jared’s brief departure as Subway spokesman in 2005, sales immediately dropped 10 percent, prompting Subway to quickly bring him back.
Jared is the literal hero, and he goes on a journey of massive weight loss with his “mentor” Subway. Let’s map it out against the initial steps of the classic hero’s journey structure:
- Ordinary World – Jared is obese
- Call to Adventure – Jared wants to lose weight
- Refusal of Call – Losing weight is hard, especially food choices
- Meeting the Mentor – Jared turns to a diet of Subway sandwiches
- Crossing the Threshold – Jared enters the “world of transformation” as he begins to see results
The Jared campaign embodied many of the basic elements of good content marketing. It was useful. It was inspiring. It was educational. It was about benefits, not advertising awards.
People identified with Jared’s story and turned to Subway for help as well, because even if you didn’t need to lose the kind of weight Jared did, you tell yourself that eating at Subway can help you shed a few pounds. If Jared could do it, certainly you can, right?
That’s effective marketing, and it gets even better when you do it with content over time.
How to Perform Heroic Content Marketing
The content you create performs all the same tasks as that rare beast known as effective advertising. It just doesn’t seem like advertising, and it doesn’t cost you millions of dollars.
Way more effective, way less expensive … what’s not to like? So, let’s track the critical steps of the hero’s journey, and see how they fit within the 5A Content Marketing Framework:
This is the research stage. This is where you immerse yourself in your hero’s world, in order to make educated guesses about what kind of content will attract and retain a relevant, profitable audience.
You’re trying to construct a model of your prospect’s ordinary world. What is their day-to-day life like? What are their hopes, dreams, desires, frustrations, problems and pain?
When you’ve got a clear picture of that, you’ve got a handle on a potential Call to Adventure. In other words, what do they want to achieve that’s not part of their current ordinary world? More importantly, what are the resistance points that causes them to Resist the Call?
What you’re really doing is constructing audience personas. Same thing as buyer personas, because ultimately that’s what you want them to transform into. But this approach allows you to discover what they actually want to buy.
More on crafting smart buyer personas soon.
In the attention phase, you are creating content to get them to “meet their mentor.” Your initial content should be an expression of empathy for their ordinary world, an identification of their call to adventure in the form of problems, desires, and aspirations, and an overcoming of objections that amount to a refusal of the call.
Your content becomes the catalyst for crossing the threshold in the world of transformation, and this is the motivation to subscribe and follow you over time. Your community starts to form, and individual audience members begin to bond with people who are on the same journey.
Ongoing challenges appear in the form of feedback, which fuels your agile content marketing process. You attain a minimum viable audience, where your audience begins to grow itself, and reveals what else they need to complete their journey.
Authority is attained one person at time, during the attention phase. Authority in the larger sense, where you (or your company) become recognized as a subject matter expert results from the aggregation of each of those people viewing you as a valued guide or mentor.
In the authority stage, you’re getting feedback about what’s missing. In other words, going into the “innermost cave” and facing “the supreme ordeal” will require something more than content. This is where your solution comes into play, and you’re now perfectly positioned to develop and offer it.
Whether you have an existing product or service or not, you’re now doing better than just guessing at what people want. You’ve metaphorically walked a mile in your market’s shoes.
You know what to do next based on serving the initial needs to real people, and you’ve earned the privilege of having your advice taken seriously. This is the best thing that’s ever happened to you, and it happened because you took care of others first.
At this point, your audience knows, likes, and trusts you. They may even be begging you to sell them something, which is strange situation in our current cynical environment.
The action phase is basically about copywriting. Except you don’t need a hard sales pitch, because know, like, and trust are about 85% of the battle.
Now, you craft the perfect offer because you understand who you’re talking to and what they want. You tell the perfect closing story because you understand what the supreme ordeal is for them. You know what is objectionable and what creates resistance, and how to coach them through it.
The acceleration phase is a gift that results from successfully taking people through the hero’s journey. In essence, you’re earned the right to take them further than they initially anticipated.
That means you take people through the journey again from a content standpoint, but it’s compressed and easier. You have to make the audience realize that there’s a higher level, and you can take them there.
Don’t get arrogant here, because it’s easy to fall from grace. In other words, don’t succumb to the dark side.
Instead, be Yoda. Become wealthy, you will.
Over to You …
Does this help make content marketing strategy simpler?
When you see what you’re trying to accomplish with your content in relation to the people you want to make your customers or clients, it’s less abstract in this context. At least that’s my hope.
Let me know in the comments, and thanks for reading!