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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.