Stories are the legs with which we navigate the world around us. They connect us to the people around us through shared experiences and passions. Everyone loves a good David and Goliath story. That’s why during the 2016 World Series, everyone, even people who could care less about baseball, was rooting for the Chicago Cubs, the eternal underdogs.
In marketing, stories are an essential part of tapping into the psychology of a lead and for leaving them a breadcrumb trail towards conversion. A good story resonates. It connects you and your lead on a level that feels familiar to them on a deeply personal level; the stories that they live and live by that shape their identity.
This is a secret we use here at Story Block to create exceptional inbound marketing campaigns with motivational and conversion-driven content.
So I'm going to let you in. I'm going to walk you through the essential formula for crafting an amazing story for each stage of your next marketing campaign or side project. A formula that was crafted by Joseph Campbell in his 1949 book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Campbell's "Hero's Journey" has been a staple writer's manual for screenwriters, fiction writers, poets and, yes, even successful marketers. It has become so engrained in our storytelling that sometimes we don't even know that we are using it. But once you know the hero's journey, you'll never not see it in every movie you watch, and you'll forever be a better storyteller. Here we'll learn how to write for the buyer with a thousand faces;in a way that transforms them into a hero on a journey leading towards the ultimate reward, becoming heroic advocates for your brand. In the end, I'll give you some helpful tips to start training your brain to recognize the hero's journey in all things story-related, so you can exercise that muscle and become a better content marketer and writer in general.
So here it is, the 12 stages of The Hero's Journey and just how it mirrors and enhances your user journey and marketing funnel. We also have everything here plus bonus content in our eBook available for free.
A good story has to start in a familiar place. Somewhere that any reader can relate to, and there is no more relatable place than normal.
In the status quo, your hero has fallen into the trap of the day-do-day grind, doing what she’s told. She had dreams once upon a time, but has gotten used to life as it is. She’s comfortable and ‘happy.’ But deep down she knows that there is more to life, that there is something waiting for her somewhere that would make her feel accomplished… that would make her feel like the hero she has always dreamed she was capable of becoming.
Every good story begins this way. In Lord of the Rings, Frodo is complacent with his mundane life in the Shire. Rose feels trapped in her unhappy wedding engagement in the beginning ofTitanic, and Guy Montag burns a library in ignorant bliss in the first chapter of Fahrenheit 451. In the beginning of any story, the hero is just like any of us; living our lives the best we can but regularly feeling the itch that there is something more.
As your buyer, this person is the long lost soul that is ready to go on your marketing adventure, and ultimately to be improved by your service. They fit right into your ideal buyer persona, they just don't know it yet. At this stage, she is comfortable with her life as it is, but she just needs one good push to start her hero's journey. This is the beginning of the awareness stage, where your buyer does not yet know that she has an issue or need that you can solve.
Call to Adventure
In every compelling story there is a call to adventure. A moment when normal life can never be the same. Something breaks the veil of ignorance, someone runs to you and asks for help, something falls from the sky that you just know will change your life forever. A call to adventure could be anything as complex as an alien invasion or as simple as walking past a payphone just as it starts to ring...
This is the moment where everything your hero knew about the world changes. Peter Parker is bitten by a radioactive spider leaving him with weird superpowers. In Die Hard, John McClane is changing clothes when a group of German terrorists enter the Christmas party guns ablaze. In any case, destiny has summoned our hero with an opportunity to journey out of her comfort zone and into a world that will change everything she knows about herself.
Often, the call comes with the hero understanding the reward that comes from completing the journey. There is a glimmer of how conquering the nemesis will change their lives. A trite example is the classic, "Oh, sir knightlyhood, a dragon has captured the princess and is holding her in his tower along with his horde of gold and treasures. You have to save her!"
In your marketing campaign, creating a call to adventure starts with relating to your buyer persona's status quo and giving them a glimpse of how their life will be changed once they've completed their journey and taken home your treasure. Your call to adventure should be clear and compelling. Your buyer has never seen your product and they don't know that it could help them. Most buyers don't know what they want, so you have to show them. Give them the call.
A great example of successful "Call to Adventure" marketing is in the #1 selling game of 2017, Destiny 2. In the trailer below, Nathan Fillion does an excellent job starting you off in a world where the status quo has just changed. Take note of this as a strategy for your video marketing campaigns: videos that win embody either the entirety of the hero's journey or will tease a call to action with just the first steps before crossing the threshold. In this trailer, Destiny achieves the ladder.
- Status Quo - Everything you love about Earth is gone except for 1 remaining city.
- Call to Adventure - A psycho rhino is coming to take that city.
Another interesting part of this marketing campaign is how they mimicked the real process with actors. The narrator listed various ways that the status quo is in disarray, but it only took one of them to elicit an emotional reaction and a conversion to the next stage from the "buyer," that puppies went kabloomy.
Refusal of The Call
Even in the stories, heroes are weary to leave the life they know. Leaving the status quo to venture into the depths of the unknown means facing your fears and parts of yourself that you may not know or want to know. To Joseph Campbell, venturing into the unknown and back out follows a rhythmic tradition across all life. Plants grow, die and regrow from new seeds and the fertile compost of their dead progenitor. We slip into the dark webs of chaos in our unconscious every night when we sleep, only to return to a world of order and predictability. This journey is necessary and it resonates with us when we see it in art. But when it comes to ourselves being the hero, that muddles things. "I think you're looking for someone else?"
As Campbell said in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, "Facing yourself is the hardest, most painful thing you will do in your life."
So then it's no surprise to know that an essential part of the hero's journey is the hero refusing the call to adventure. The reluctance to face destiny can be seen across great literature. Frodo doesn't want to leave the shire, Harry Potter doesn't believe that he can be a wizard, Luke Skywalker doesn't want to leave because he's needed at his aunt and uncle's farm on Tatooine.
When we're writing a marketing campaign we should anticipate reluctance. Change is hard. That's why everyone talks about their dream life, but never embarks on the journey to get there. Even if you're not happy, it's easier to coast along then to carve a new path and risk failure. It's easiest to deny the confrontation with our fears by not taking any chances.
We can't immediately convince people that we can improve their lives. In fact, most people never take the call. It's not a good story, but many characters in the real world never take the journey to become their best selves. But since we're anticipating this, we know what's needed.
Meeting The Sage
No hero works alone. They, through some form or another require the motivation, the mentorship or even a magical totem passed down through some lineage of wise elders or mystical guiding force. The guru character plays the pivotal role of convincing the hero to take the next step, to heed the call.
We can all picture the sage roles and their position in some of our favorite narratives. Gandalf takes Frodo to meet the Fellowship of the Ring. Simba meets Timon and Pumba in the jungle and learns to hakuna matata. A scene that really sticks out is in The Matrix when Morpheus meets Neo for the first time and forces him to make a choice; red pill or blue pill, see the world differently or go back to the way things were, take the hero's journey or go back home.
In any case, the mentor is responsible for convincing the hero to take the next step, that their guidance will aid you throughout the rest of your dive into the dark unknown.
In your campaign, you get to play the influential role of the mentor. You get to tell your buyer that, with your assistance, they can get through to the other side. They can take the risk because you're with them the whole way, offering your guidance at every turn.
That's where we wrap up the awareness stage. We have the reader acknowledging that there is a better world, a solution to their problem. And we've taken the position of the sage ready to guide them across the threshold into consideration. It's that moment in poetry of old, where the bard enlightens the princess experiencing her first existential dread, and guides her to the woods on a perilous adventure that will change her forever. Let's review what this looks like in real time:
Act i - Awareness
Your buyer has just discovered that they have a nemesis. The stock market is great, but just too time consuming to manage alone. She finds your call to adventure, a service that manages a competitive stock portfolio for free? That's too good to be true. On the other side of her signing up with your business, she could have freedom and spoils. It's just going to take a bit of risk and the discomfort of change. But don't worry, you've been there before. But she should believe you, even if it's just to read on a little bit further....
Now it's time to cross the threshold into the other world, where the buyer takes the leap of faith and starts to adventure outside of her comfort zone, considering change. This is your consideration stage content, where your buyer is now aware that he/she has a need that needs solving, and is digging into research to discover what potential solutions are out there.
Crossing the Threshold
After realizing that the world will never be the same and accepting the guidance of a mentor, the hero has now left the old world behind and is venturing into the unknown. This is the point of no return where the hero has truly begun the adventure.
In movies, this metaphorical transition is generally glaringly obvious. Luke Skywalker flies off of Tatooine on a mission deep into space. Neo takes the red pill and wakes up outside of the Matrix. Frodo and the Fellowship embark on their quest to Mount Doom. There's no going back and the only thing ahead of them lie their biggest fears.
For your marketing campaign, your lead is now venturing into learning more about your services. They are in the consideration stage. For the buyer, they've realized that your service is going to change their life, but they still have a ways to go before they are sold on it. It's going to take money and time, and the change is scary. There are also alternatives, your competition, that they could potentially explore.
Remember, their enemy is your enemy. You're on a team together and you are the mentor. Your job is to keep them walking the path. Don't let them stray on their journey.
Trials and Allies
Once the hero has crossed the threshold, she enters a world filled with new rules. She must learn these rules by undertaking spontaneous challenges, obstacles and conflicts. While she's undergoing a training montage, she also makes new friends and frienemies. But all of this is necessary because she's being tested to prepare for the main challenge that lies ahead.
Adjusting to life in the new world is an essential part of a good story. It's important because it mentally and physically prepares the hero, but it also establishes the boundaries and inner workings of the new world and its inhabitants for the story reader. It's these moments where Harry Potter forges integral friendships with Ron and Hermione; where Han Solo and Chewbacca agree to take Luke and Obi-Wan to Alderaan; where Frodo and the Fellowship face the demon Balrog who drags Gandalf down into the pit of doom. It's where the story gains momentum and the hero gains the confidence needed to continue towards the big bad.
As your lead continues reading your blogs or watching your video series, you should also be testing them and forging their loyalty to your brand over all others in this new world of solutions. Your product won't be for everyone, but it will be absolutely right to the right people. And those are the heroes that will pass through your journey with the fortitude needed to continue on.
Weed out the weak leads and boost your strong lead's desire. Forge connections between the lead and your returning customers through honest reviews, referrals or even the availability to communicate amongst one another. Create alliances. It's you, your customers and your lead vs the enemy.
Approaching the Cave
The time has come. As the hero approaches the inner most cave of this special world, she must brace for the confrontation with the big boss. Joseph Campbell described that there is always some sort of metaphorical dragon in the cave. He claims that "the cave you fear to enter holds the treasure that you seek." Whether it is a literal place or an internal conflict, the cave holds everything that you fear the most; everything that is keeping you back from obtaining the thing that you want. Here at the cave, the hero struggles one last time to decide whether she has made the right decision to come here or if she can even defeat the dragon at all.
At the base of the cave, the hero is at a crossroads. In Die Hard, John McClane is bloody and bruised hiding in the bathroom but tells his driver via walkie-talkie that he's going to keep fighting, though he may not make it. In Star Wars, The Death Star destroys Alderaan and so the gang invades The Death Star and rescues Princess Leia. This is the moment right before crisis, a peak leading up to the ordeal.
This crossroad is where you have to meet your buyer. They are right at the point where they are ready to face their fears and enlist your services. So, address that. They know exactly what's coming up ahead. And just like every great hero, they have to make the decision themselves. But, knowing that their new friends and their mentor are with them and not thrown down a pit with a giant demon (like Gandalf), they should have the confidence and comfort to head straight to the shopping cart.
Here it is, the biggest challenge yet. The hero must overcome her deepest fears, but at a price. In most good stories, the ordeal is synonymous with crisis. The dragon is killed, but the hero isn't actually happy yet. The son avenges his father's death but loses the people he loves in his transformation. The ordeal is a peak point in the story where the hero is knocked down to rock bottom with a deep inner crisis, only to be resurrected with the new power or insight to fulfill her destiny.
A good ordeal is when the price for victory is as high as the value of the immediate reward. But the ordeal stage can take many forms. In Star Wars, Luke rescues Leia but Darth Vader kills Obi-Wan Kenobi. In The Matrix, Neo's group is ambushed and Morpheus is captured. In Die Hard, John McClane defeats his main nemesis and rescues his wife. The essence of the ordeal stage is that, although the hero faced her fears, she's not done yet. Whether she was crushed to rock bottom or kicked bad guy butt, she has more to learn.
For your campaign this stage is pretty straight forward. As I said, a good ordeal is when the price for victory is as high as the value of the immediate reward. That means the "cost" (whether monetary or contact details) needs to reflect the value of service you are offering.
At this point, your buyer has crossed into the decision stage. She has either gotten to the checkout and bailed or she's purchased your service. In the first case, she's going to feel defeated and maybe she needed that after all, with a few more nudges along the way "back," she may develop the insights necessary to come back with gusto. In the second case, she's entered the cave, paid the price and now she has the reward. But there's still more, and she'll find that out soon.
Act ii - Consideration
Your lead has crossed the threshold from awareness to consideration. She trusts your guidance into the realm of your solutions, competitive stock portfolio management. And didn't you mention, free? Once in the realm, though she learns about precise details of what your account services has to offer. She's wary. It's a lot of reading, but when she gets on a call with you and reads some testimonials, she's more confident that this is the right solution for her. After all, she wants to save time while making money. So, she braces for the commitment of your service. All she has to do is make the call and register an account. But when she does, she breaks into a sweat. Change is hard and she's really putting a lot of trust into your care, wouldn't you agree? But she goes ahead and signs up. She had to have one more phone call and read a few more service reviews, but she's on board. Now, she just needs to get ready to return home with her life changed. But it's up to you to make that process smooth. You have to stay with her on that road, then and only then will she become a supporting character or even a recurring hero in your business's narrative.
Once the lead becomes a buyer you cannot let her leave your journey. Cinderella doesn't end when she dances with Prince Charming. Star Wars doesn't end after Luke rescues Princess Leia. A story ends when the hero is changed, and that takes nurturing. In your marketing campaign, this nurturing is essential for customer satisfaction, loyalty and ultimately advocacy; that's what you really want for your decision stage content and beyond.
After the hero has narrowly escaped from the confrontation and lost something important, the hero escapes with a reward. This could be a physical object, knowledge, love or the courage to make the right decision. In whatever form it comes, the reward came with a price attached, and the hero, after having finally faced her biggest fears, has experienced an inner change and will never be the same.
Although the reward takes many forms in our favorite movies , it always symbolizes the same thing; the realization of some change within that will bring the hero closer to the destiny she chose by fully confronting her fears. In Die Hard, John McClane defeats his nemesis, Hans Gruber, and rescues his wife. They kiss, and now maybe their marriage issalvageable. Luke Skywalker saves the princess, but after losing Obi-Wan Kenobi he makes the decision to join the rebels and destroy the Death Star once and for all.
In any case, the reward demonstrates the readiness to become the person the hero set out to be. In our case, your hero is ready. She has decided on your service and is ready to begin her improved life. Just as in the movies, the experience here is variable depending on the price paid. If the value of your product is so great that the cost was a no-brainer, then your hero, like John McClane, is just happy to have paid it and is ready to go back to normal life and give it a try. However, if the price was high and your buyer isn't completely convinced that she made the right decision, then it is your role to delight her in the next stages and prove to her that she is in fact a hero, and now she has the ability to show it.
The Road Back
After the hero's high wears off from facing her fears and receiving her reward, she realizes that she must eventually leave the special world. There are still dangers, temptations and tests ahead of her when she returns home. In a lot of cases, this danger is still the original dragon -the ultimate fear that the hero faced off with in the ordeal. If the hero never fully resolved her conflict with the conquered nemesis, it comes back with a vengeance. Sometimes the nemesis is chasing the hero, and in other cases the nemesis is one step ahead, sieging the ordinary world unbeknownst to the hero. Metaphorically, this return refers to the psychological recurrence of neuroses, addictions or traumatic pasts coming back to haunt us.
Crossing the threshold back into the ordinary world is the point of either relief or peak intensity depending on what is waiting for the hero on the other side and if they know it's there. For Simba in The Lion King, the road back means facing Scar to reclaim home. In Die Hard, it's as simple as walking out of the Nakatomi Tower with all of the hostages John McClane rescued and meeting his voice-over ally, officer Al Powell. But in The Matrix, Neo is being chased on the road home (out of the Matrix) and is killed by Agent Smith before he can leave.
For your hero, the road back means returning to ordinary life with the improvement of now having your product. She is ready to cross the threshold from decision to user. However, there is still danger lurking. There is the fear that she made the wrong choice. There is the possibility that it doesn't solve her problems, that she'll have made this whole journey for nothing.
Your buyer shouldn't be alone while she is crossing this threshold. When she returns home to use your service, you need to be there to delight her. Reinforce her decision and help her to combat the enemies that resurface. At this point, I'd recommend user tutorial videos and additional "hacks" that demonstrate the service's value is even more than she had thought it was before she bought it.
When the hero returns, she must gear up to face evil and darkness one last time. At this point, danger is at it's highest potential. The threat now pervades the hero, it is in the ordinary world now. The risk is to the world and the stakes couldn't be higher. But our hero has resurrected. She's ready to face her fears head on this time. She's ready to end this thing. The hero pulls together everything she's learned on her journey, every lesson she learned during her trials, from her allies and her defeats. She transforms into a new being, her ultimate self. In really great stories, this transcendence comes from the hero hitting rock bottom, going to the deepest darkest parts of her psyche and after triggering an enlightening experience, surfacing with a fierceness. The hero hits a peak her in development, but she had the power within her the whole time.
This is the moment when the hero pulls out all the stops. Luke Skywalker remembers Obi-Wan's advice and uses the force to destroy the Death Star. Simba learns that Scar killed his father, and after diving headfirst into a dark place, he surmounts and throws Scar off of Pride Rock. Trinity revives Neo, and with a new sense of self as 'The One,' he returns to The Matrix with an unstoppable power and defeats Agent Smith. The hero always comes out on top with a personal transformation.
This is the moment when your buyer shines. You're standing there right beside her (metaphorically) as she begins to use your service. She remembers all of the advice you gave her earlier in the campaign, she remembers the resources she can use to answer any question she has, and she has your guiding tutorials and user hacks that are putting her on a whole new level of happiness and decision justification. She is an expert in your product and she is loving it. All of those doubts and insecurities have been put to bed. But don't go away yet. It's important that you're with her the whole way through.
The Return Home
The hero's transformation is complete and it's time to return to the ordinary world once again. But now, the hero has a new understanding about herself, and also a prize. That new understanding is what allows the hero to implement change through the prize, an understanding that he wouldn't have had without the final showdown upon her return. This is your classic, knight saves the girl and gets all the gold, but once home has had a shift in character and now gives the gold to the poor. This development is crucial to any good story because unless the hero has changed, she's doomed to repeat herself until she has learned the lesson.
My personal favorite example of this, is in It's a Wonderful Life (or Click because it's essentially the same movie). George Bailey, after being taken to a world where he no longer existed, returns home. Not only does he have a renewed spirit and appreciation for life, he also has the community's appreciation for him and the money to win his bank back. His character is now a better person and is set on a new course of happiness. To cap off some of the stories we've been using in this series, Simba, no longer a coward, climbs Pride Rock and reclaims the throne. Jon McClane, winning back his marriage, gets to go home with his wife who has introduced herself as such. Neo makes a phone call in the Matrix claiming that he will free humanity. Luke Skywalker gets a medal and begins training to become a jedi like Obi-Wan. Am I forgetting any? Well, you get the point. Happy ever after.
If you want a visual of some of the examples traveling the journey, Vennage drew up a really great illustration:
For your buyer, it's the same story. She's back at home, on her computer completely satisfied with your service, but having overcome her fears and obstacles she's ready to better the world for it. She's ready to advocate for your service to her friends, coworkers and anyone else who will listen.
Act iii - Decision/Advocacy
Right after she clicks the get service button, she has the immediate feeling of doubt. Did she make the wrong decision? Is she being scammed? She's not sure yet, but she has the service and she's navigating your user page, setting up your competitive stock portfolio management service. As she begins setting it up, she's emailed a tutorial and a "user hack" video guide that shows her the best ways to optimize your service. Now she's thrilled. All of those doubts are put away as she starts to set up the profile. At first, it seems like it's overwhelming, but after she puts in the time to set up the service, she is off the hook. It really works! She's amazed and because of your quick support, friendly emails and regular check-ins, she knows she's being cared for. She can't help herself but to tell all of her friends, and before you know it, she's out there selling your service for you. Job well done.
Right Back Around
But just like Joseph Campbell said, the hero's journey is never over. It's not a linear path where we reach the end and it's over. It's a cyclical journey of personal transformation where we constantly face challenges, all for the purpose of growth, wisdom and sublimity. There's a reason there are sequels to movies. John McClane has more to learn. Even Luke Skywalker, as an old hermit still has obstacles to overcome and wisdom to gain; wisdom that allows him to vanish and become one with the force. But before he vanishes, he becomes a new mentor for the next generation of hero on her hero's journey, Rey.
So don't let your buyer get off of her journey. If you continue to nurture her as a user and build her brand loyalty. She may discover that you have other services that she wasn't aware she needed. And the whole adventure starts again. And if you ever have writer's block throughout this process, think of Luke taking that step into the adventure, be brave, continue to write and remember where you are in Joseph Campbell's hero's journey.
So now it's time for you to pick your adventure and learn what it takes to put this strategy into practice. A split in the road comes into focus. You see a sign. One road leads to creating masterful video content with the tools to write screenplays like the leading visual marketers. The other lends itself to evolving your marketing strategy by using these stories to create unique journeys for your best personas.
Choose your adventure:
Or, skip ahead and download our free eBook -The Buyer with a Thousand Faces. You'll get everything you've read so far plus all of the additional bonus content that will set you on your way to becoming the Bruce Wayne of your office.