A Geeky Guide to Brand Storytelling
Your Dream Client has just sat down to enjoy a moment for herself. She takes a sip of tea from her favorite mug and opens the laptop. In the dark room, the light from the monitor illuminates her face.
She loves this small island of freedom at the end of the day when the kids are in bed and she can let herself dream.
Her life is fine. She could live like this forever. Except that something inside of her is itching for more. It’s a quiet but enduring voice she can only hear at moments like this.
It’s telling her to start learning Italian again. Or to learn to draw. Or to get back to journaling. Or to turn her jewelry making hobby into a business. Or to write a memoir. Or, maybe the voice has no particular plan. It’s just there, insisting that she needs to do something with her life.
Her heart knows what it is. She doesn’t. Not yet.
One day, she will receive a call to adventure. While browsing the web, she will hear THE story she always needed to hear. It’s going to scare her at first. She will come up with tons of excuses why she can’t change: She’s too old. She doesn’t have the time or money. She isn’t creative enough and brave enough.
But then, she will accept the challenge and her life will never be the same again.
This is how the story of your brand begins.
Because a brand story doesn’t start with “The company was founded in 2016.” It begins and ends with your Dream Client. You aren’t the superhero here; your Dream Client is.
You’re the one who uncovers her inner strength and helps her leave her old self behind so she can save the world. Even if it means “just” learning a language or writing a book. Because by doing this, she becomes a new person. A person who now has the power to change the world around her, just as she has been changed.
The Hero’s Journey and brand storytelling
Each brand tells a story, whether it tries or not. In today’s post, we’ll explore a framework that will help you take control of your brand story.
There’s no “one and only” way to structure a narrative, but some patterns are more popular than others—like the framework we’re going to talk about here: The Hero’s Journey (also called the monomyth). From ancient myths to fantasy novels and superhero comics, you can spot the monomyth everywhere.
No wonder businesses around the globe, big or tiny ones, adopt the pattern and use it in marketing. It’s been tried and tested for centuries, on millions of people. Literally. The monomyth works.
When you look at its structure, you’ll see how well it fits our needs—the needs of an online teaching/coaching brand. The thing is, both your brand story and the Hero’s Journey are all about the change.
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Note: The Hero’s Journey was first introduced by Joseph Campbell in his 1949 book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. The version below is taken from the contemporary work The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler who adopted the theory with western storytelling in mind. #nerdout
Here are the twelve stages of the monomyth story arc, according to Vogler:
1. Ordinary World
This is the Hero’s life before they receive the call to adventure. They’re safe here. They may feel emotional discomfort, pressure, or pain, but aren’t sure why. Or, they may be happy with things as they are, unaware of what’s *really* going on.
2. Call to Adventure
Short after we’re introduced to the Ordinary World, something happens and disrupts the status quo. It may be an external event or something deep within the Hero’s mind. Either way, the Hero must change. Otherwise, there would be no story.
3. Refusal of the Call
Now that the Hero has to choose between their familiar and safe life and a step into the unknown, they’d rather stay where they are. They’re full of fear and self-doubt and want to ignore the call.
4. Meeting the Mentor
The Hero meets someone experienced who provides them with guidance, insights, training, tools, or self-confidence. Thanks to the Mentor, the Hero can overcome his fear and sets off on the journey.
5. Crossing the Threshold to the Special World
The Hero crosses the line between the world as they know it and the Special World: an unfamiliar, dangerous, and scary place. From now on, there’s no way back into the comfort zone of their old life.
6. Tests, Allies, and Enemies
For the Hero, things get harder and harder. Just when they overcome one obstacle, they come across a bigger one. The tests, allies, and enemies help the Hero learn, grow, and get stronger.
7. Approach to the Innermost Cave
The Innermost Cave is the place—real or metaphorical—where the Hero faces the ordeal. Once again, they have to overcome fear and doubts to cross the second threshold and enter the Cave.
The ordeal takes the form of a physical test, deep inner crisis, an embodiment of the Hero’s greatest fear, or their most powerful enemy. This is the most challenging test so far, during which the Hero’s old self dies, and his new, stronger self is born.
After the fight, the Hero emerges with a reward. The reward is something of great power and importance, whether it’s an object or new knowledge, skill, or insight.
10. The Road Back
This is the beginning of the final act. The Hero is now heading home, ready to leave the Special World. But the journey is not over yet, and the danger is still present.
11. The Resurrection
At the climax of the story, the Hero must undergo one more test. This fight is even more dangerous than the previous one, with consequences beyond the Hero’s own life. This time, the rebirth is complete. It’s a definitive proof of the Hero’s change.
12. Return with the Elixir
The Hero returns home changed, bringing new hope to everyone in the Ordinary World.
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Brand storytelling versus fiction
We know how the framework works in fiction; I’ll bet some examples came to your mind when reading about the stages. (No? Think of The Matrix, The Star Wars Trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, The Lion King, Harry Potter, …)
But how do you use it in brand storytelling? What are the differences between brand storytelling and fiction?
Unlike fiction, a brand story:
(1) Is true
You don’t invent the story; you take real elements and use them within the monomyth framework. Also, you stay true to your business vision.
(2) Is strategic
A brand story isn’t random, and you don’t tell it just for fun. Like any other brand element, it’s well-defined, and has a clear purpose.
(3) Is told over and over, in different ways, depending on the context
And like any other brand element, it has to be used repeatedly and consistently. You treat the story the same way you treat your brand colors—a real brand uses the same, limited color palette everywhere. Consistency builds trust.
You rarely tell the whole story at once. You tell the right parts of the story, to the right people, at the right time, and in the right place. To show you what I mean, I’ll walk you through the three brand story elements you need to have on your website in the next part of this series (here on the blog).
Oh, and if you want me to guide you through writing your own brand story, here is something for you:
✯ How do you feel about the Hero’s Journey and its use in marketing? Please let me know in the comments.
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