The Jedi Master Approach to Content Marketing that Converts

Star Wars as the secret ingredient for content marketing that works?

Yep. I’m not kidding.

That’s because a couple of Jedi warriors represent key elements of what makes the difference between content that builds a business, and content that simply takes up space on a web page.

Previously in this series of articles, we’ve covered the agile development mindset necessary to create content that builds an audience. We’ve also explored the five phases that effective content marketers travel through in relationship to their business objectives.

Beyond philosophy and framework, what makes your content actually effective as marketing? How do you avoid simply wasting time and taking up space with your content, while other companies attract customers, clients, revenue, and profit?

Let Me Tell You a Story

Back in the 1940s, psychologists Fritz Heider and Marianne Simmel conducted an experiment. They showed study participants an animated film consisting of a rectangle with an opening, plus a circle and two triangles in motion.

The participants were then asked to simply describe what they saw in the film. Before you keep reading, take a look at it yourself. I‘ll be here when you come back.

So, what did you see? Out of all the study participants, only one responded with “a rectangle with an opening, plus a circle and two triangles in motion.” The rest developed elaborate stories about the simple geometric shapes.

Many participants concluded the circle and the little triangle were in love, and that the evil grey triangle was trying to harm or abduct the circle. Others went further to conclude that the blue triangle fought back against the larger triangle, allowing his love to escape back inside, where they soon rendezvoused, embraced, and lived happily ever after.

That’s pretty wild when you think about it.

You’re Telling a Story with Content

The Heider-Simmel experiment became the initial basis of attribution theory, which describes how people explain the behavior of others, themselves, and also, apparently, geometric shapes on the go.

More importantly, people explain things in terms of stories. Even in situations where no story is being intentionally told, we’re telling ourselves a tale as a way to explain our experience of reality.

Human beings are storytelling machines. Not only do we love to experience stories, our cognition is an amazing mix of stories we tell ourselves.

Think about it — our entire sense of self is based upon an ongoing narrative we tell ourselves based on our memories and conditioning, mixed with our current experience of life. We also tell various parts of that story to others so that they know who “we” are.

We tell ourselves stories about the people we know and our relationships with them. We tell ourselves little stories about people we meet at parties, or pass on the street. We tell each other the stories we create about others, and they in turn tell themselves (often very different) stories about us.

And yes, we tell ourselves stories about brands, products, and services. Whether or not your brand is consciously telling a story about itself, we’re telling ourselves our own story about you.

Are you telling a story? And more importantly, does that story resonate with the story your prospective customers and clients are telling themselves?

What Kind of Story to Tell

You need to tell a Star Wars story. And by that, I mean you need to take your prospects along a content marketing version of the mythic hero’s journey.

In The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell identifies a “monomyth” with a fundamental structure that is shared among myths that have survived for thousands of years. Campbell’s identification of these enduring myths from disparate times and regions has inspired modern storytellers to consciously craft their work following the tenets of the monomyth, also known as the hero’s journey.

Most notable among those inspired by the hero’s journey is George Lucas, who acknowledged Campbell’s work as the source of the plot for Star Wars. As a digital media producer, you can also consciously incorporate the monomyth into your marketing.

Hero's Journey

The image above shows the general elements of the hero’s journey, which can be broken down into much more detail than presented here. It’s important to note that not all monomythic stories contain every aspect, but the original Star Wars faithfully follows almost every element of the hero’s journey.

Let’s focus on the first two steps of the journey, in the “ordinary world” before the journey truly begins. Remember back with me to how these elements occurred in the original Star Wars.

  • Luke is living life in the ordinary world of his home planet, working on the family farm.
  • The “call to adventure” is R2D2′s holograph message from Princess Leia, the classic princess in distress.
  • Luke initially refuses the call due to his family obligations, until his aunt and uncle are killed.
  • Luke meets his mentor and guide, Obi Wan Kenobi, who convinces Luke to proceed with his heroic journey.

How does this apply to content marketing? Simple.

Your Prospect is Luke. You are Obi Wan.

The mistake most often made in marketing is thinking of your business as the hero, resulting in egocentric messages that no one else cares about. The prospect is always the primary hero, because they are the one going on the journey — whether big or small — to solve a problem or satisfy a desire.

  • The prospect starts off in the ordinary world of their lives.
  • The call to adventure is an unsolved problem or unfulfilled desire.
  • There’s resistance to solving that problem of satisfying the desire, until…
  • A mentor (your content) appears that helps them proceed with the journey.

By making the prospect the hero, your brand also becomes a hero in the prospect’s story. By accepting the role of mentor with your content, your business accomplishes its goals while helping the prospect do the same, which is how business is supposed to work, right?

The hero’s journey is so powerful because it resonates with us at a fundamental level. Or, as author Steven Pressfield puts it, we “are born with the hero’s journey tattooed on our psyches.”

Your prospects will tell themselves a story about your company no matter what, to the extent they are aware of you at all. Delivering content over time that intentionally places the prospect as the hero of their own journey works wonders when marketing with content.

As a story told over time with content marketing, the hero’s journey approach accomplishes two critical things:

  1. It forces you to focus your content on the prospect. Anything that doesn’t aid them on their personal journey is extraneous, and should be editorially eliminated.
  2. It helps you understand what authority truly means in the context of content marketing. You’re striving to be a wise mentor who guides and challenges with your content, not a bossy know-it-all concerned only with your own benefit.

These two things alone will put you miles ahead of most, not only in content marketing, but business in general. Of course, there’s more that can be gleaned from applying the hero’s journey to your efforts to build a business with online content.

For Next Time…

In my next article, I’ll give you three examples of legendary television commercials that tap the monomyth for their success. We’ll then take aspects of the hero’s journey and apply them within the 5A content marketing framework so you can better craft your own content marketing story.

Make sure to sign up for the email list if you’re not on it yet. And feel free to let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Brian Clark is Editor-in-Chief of Entreproducer, a multimedia email publication exploring the business of independent digital media. Get more related content on Twitter.

Here’s what Entreproducer covers:

  • The business, revenue, staffing, and legal models that move you from content start-up to success.
  • Audio and video profiles of the entrepreneurs and companies that are pushing digital content innovation.
  • Tips, tools, and tactics for getting online content to work for you, no matter how you make money.

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Comments

  1. Have you seen the Kurt Vonnegut stories on “graph paper?” In addition to the Hero’s journey, there are a few others, and they’re explained so well on the graph paper:

    http://www.austinkleon.com/2005/12/17/graph-a-story-with-mr-vonnegut/

    (I’m sure you’ve seen them. I’m more just sharing this link just in case other people have not had the chance to see ‘em).

    • That Vonnegut video is pretty much the coolest thing ever.

      • Jim Quinlivan says:

        A longer written version appears in Vonnegut’s “A Man Without A Country.” Interestingly, he concludes the chapter demonstrating that Shakespeare “was as poor storyteller” because Hamlet doesn’t fit any of the story graphs. Vonnegut concludes: “But there is a reason that we recognize Hamlet as a masterpiece; it’s that Shakespeare told us the truth, and people so rarely tell us the truth in this rise and fall here [indicates blackboard with story graph]. The truth is, we know so little about life, we don’t really know what the good new is and what the bad news is. And if I die — God forbid — I would like to go to heaven to ask somebody in charge up there, ‘Hey, what was the good news and what was the bad news?’ ”

        Just a reminder that humility comes with true heroism and that we’re all still finding our way. If our content can help our customers sort out the good news from the bad news, we’ll be on the right track.

    • The graph for Metamorphosis is hilarious: guy starts off miserable–and ends even more miserable.

      Kafka FTW!

  2. Excellent insights, Brian! :)

    I love how literature can be applied in the field of content marketing. I will treat my readers and clients as Lukes from now on.

    Thanks for being our Obi-Wan!

  3. Brian

    I really enjoyed reading this story. It shows me how powerful a story can be as it frames our job as entreproducers. Gently but firmly guiding our customer through their own transformation, their growth. Very effective thinking tool. Thanks

    Looking forward to the next post. Always a treat

    Vlad

  4. I swear, in my mind, I was already making my content as the hero and was wondering who’d be the mentor! Brilliant sub head: “Your prospect is Luke. You are Obi Wan.” Goddamn that’s brilliantly simple. Makes soo much sense!

    Thanks Brian. Wonderful story told like a true mentor of mentors!

    P.S. You seem to be a good storyteller yourself. I suspect you read Copyblogger.

  5. As I was reading this I kept thinking of the recent article Pressfield wrote on his blog. A little later, boom, you quote his work. Here is the article for anyone who is interested in reading it; it relates tremendously to this one as well: http://www.stevenpressfield.com/2012/05/the-heros-journey-in-myth/

    It’s amazing what storytelling does, and this post examples that. Thank you for this.

  6. Hey Brian,

    I was just reading about the monomyth and Joseph Campbell after watching the Neil Gaiman commencement speech on Brain Pickings. Love the way you are structuring the Entreproducer posts. Can’t wait to see what the eventually product launch will be. People crave a usable framework for content marketing and you are providing (and building up to) just what is needed.

    I’m working on refining my company story today so this post is timed perfectly for me. Time for me to create a story rather than a series of disconnected-but-helpful posts.

    Thanks,

    Vince

  7. Brian, Man am I glad I subscribed to entreproducer. You and a couple others have put me in gear to start writing better content.

  8. Great info – I feel like my IQ goes up a few points whenever I read these. Thanks to Derek for sharing the graph info, that is good stuff as well.

  9. Totally agree with your thesis here, but I also use this same structure to help my clients understand their own hero’s journey — usually the background for their biz creation story. Obi-Wan also had to have a mentor and be a hero of a particular story which is what makes him such an awesome mentor. I consider you a mentor, Brian. But that makes me want to know your story, too. What was the hero’s journey that YOU took?

  10. It’s amazing how a story can illustrate a point to make what you are trying to say become so clear to understand and interesting.

  11. Ok, I am wondering if anyone can help me to understand the application of story telling to a services website – for instance http://www.healthyhomehvac.com which is a site I am building for a client right now.

    I understand the idea of content marketing as it relates to building a – tribe, herd, subscribers, etc. But what about for the customer who is lead to your site via solid SEO or SEM who is in need of the services provided to solve their emergency.

    I would posit that these customers don’t fit into this mold: “Delivering content over time that intentionally places the prospect as the hero of their own journey works wonders when marketing with content.” So I guess my question is this: Can / does content marketing apply to these types of service related businesses, and if you believe it does – what is the framework for presenting it?

  12. Wow, I just realized that Eric Ries takes us on that journey in Lean Startup. First he’s Luke and Steve Blank is Obi. Then we become Luke.

  13. Brian is a ‘god’ when it comes to story telling – that is if he really wants to tell it.

    @Mometh, yeah we could say he reads copy blogger but he is sure a mentor of mentor which means he has to break grounds to bring out anything to the public.

    @Brian, what do you think about video marketing? I mean using video as sales copy?

    Sheyi

  14. Elegantly expressed. Thank you.

  15. Hi Brian ! This is huge. Glad I just jumped into your list few days ago. This is not the first time I come across the “hero’s journey” story, but this is definitely a strong storytelling principle.

    And @Derek, that was a cool vid too. Didn’t know Kurt Vonnegut, it’s a nice pick.

    Thanks for your work !

  16. Brian, would you equate “crossing the threshold” to “identifying the pain” of a customer?

    In your analogy you reference that it was after the death of Luke’s aunt and uncle that Luke proceed on the journey.

    Would it be correct to infer that in the role of a mentor, your content should give context to the pain that the hero is currently experiencing, along with a path toward overcoming the pain experienced?

    In addition, would it also be helpful to not only provide context, but also identifying others that are/have experienced the same issue?

    The threshold stage of the hero’s journey – to me – seems to be a milestone point in the process and one that requires a Jedi masters touch to be effective.

    • Brian Clark says:

      Sean, that’s not quite right. The pain (or desire) for the prospect is the call to adventure. There may be resistance to the call that must be eliminated, but it’s not the same thing.

      For Luke, the CTA (desire/problem) was to go rescue Princess Leia. His resistance to going was his family, and their unfortunate deaths eliminated the resistance.

      My next article will map the journey against the 5A framework. So some of this will become clearer then. Also, one of the advertising examples I’ll give will clear up your exact question.

  17. This article has some great analogies for content marketing! I also agree/believe that how you write, position, and promote your content is the key to having content that people will be read by the masses!

  18. Although a Star Wars fan I have never really spent much time on thinking about the story’s structure – even though the resemblance to other ‘monomyths’ was always at the back of my mind. Great to learn of a term for that and even better to get actionable content marketing advice at the same time. Love this about your posts. Very often get me thinking.

  19. Appreciate the use of the science fiction film “Star Wars” to distinguish the role of the content producer from the online website prospect.

    I think deep down inside we’ve all suspected we’re writing the script to our own movie in our minds featuring us as the hero …. so I’m not sure how groundbreaking this is in light of the hero journey prevalent in religious text (i.e. old testament in the bible).

    But it’s always great to highlight what might not appear obvious in order to make use of it when producing content.

  20. Andy from Benchmark Email says:

    Great post! Telling a story is so important. I often rely on Gonzo-style journalism to tell stories, as it helps to suck the reader in.

  21. Scott Roj says:

    Excellent article! Not only has this article flipped my mindset on what role I’m supposed to be playing in this gig, but it also explains mythology, legend, pagan gods and what-have-you.

    Lege- what for it – ndary.

  22. If you REALLY want to understand hero’s journey, hang out a bit at http://www.clickok.co.uk/index4.html

  23. Great post! The concept of making your prospect the hero of the story isn’t new to me, and as a filmmaker (and content marketer) I know the value of Joseph Campbell’s monomyths, but I hadn’t connected the dots to turn the business you’re marketing into the mentor in this entrepreneurial myth. Brilliant! Luke and Obi Wan are golden! Thanks, have now subscribed, look forward to more!

  24. Awesome post Brian! Love what you’re sharing. Always best to make our audience the hero of the story.

    Your readers might enjoy my blog post, Inside the Storytelling Matrix, which introduces a reframing process beyond the model of problem/solution story.
    http://www.getstoried.com/inside-the-storytelling-matrix-part-1-problem-and-paradox/

    • Brian Clark says:

      Hey Michael, thanks for stopping by, and for the link. I’m heading over to geek out over that right now. ;)

  25. Excellent comparison and the hero story is indeed very powerful.

  26. Brilliant post! It makes me think of those taglines that have been so powerful and enduring over the years: think different, drivers wanted, just do it…. they all speak to our inner hero and call us to adventure.

    It is also why I’ve been reading Copyblogger for so many years and now Entreproducer… they both provide the tools and inspiration to us readers to get out there and do it ourselves!

  27. I will definitely be incorporating this perspective as I work on future posts. Thank you!

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