What do Star Wars, Kung Fu Panda, and Jesus have in common? No, we’re not about to tell you a bad joke. This relates to marketing, we swear. The answer is: all three follow the classic archetype of The Hero’s Journey, coined by mythologist Joseph Campbell in 1949.
The concept is pretty basic—since the dawn of time, people have told a very specific kind of story, that of the hero who comes from humble beginnings only to eventually triumph over adversity and realize his true destiny.
This classic story arc pops up constantly (it’s the plot of every action/adventure movie, for one) because it resonates deeply with our human psyche. People love stories that inspire them to be better. When we hear a story framed in this way, our ears naturally perk up.
Brands that resonate well with their customers use this same principle—they follow a story arc. A successful brand isn’t just an “image” standing still in time: it’s a story with a beginning, middle, and end.
For example, chances are you know the story of how Tom’s Shoes came about. Or, how Richard Branson’s Virgin empire came to be. These companies’ story arcs are their single most important marketing tools. Their stories resonate with people, who can’t help but retell them and spread their popularity even further.
To create a story arc for your company, you need vision. You need to know not only where your company has been, but also where it’s going. To help you get started on building the story arc of your brand, try to think about your brand’s story in these five stages:

  1. Describe Your Beginnings
    How did your company come about? Do you have an interesting origin story? Now that you have the benefit of retrospect, was there anything that made you or your company uniquely positioned for success?
  2. Introduce the Challenge
    What was the main thing working against your chances of succeeding? Was it a personal challenge, like a founder coming from humble beginnings? Or was it a business challenge, like taking on an industry giant? The challenge could still be on-going.
  3. Talk About Your Aha! Moments
    Everyone loves to hear about the “breakthrough” moments, the times when you solve an important problem that has been preventing you from reaching your potential, and everything you do becomes redefined.
  4. Frame Your Success
    Unless you simply lucked out, chances are your success is directly attributable to a unique quality gained or strengthened through the challenges above. Whether your unique quality is hard work, perseverance, intelligence, or empathy, remember to always tie your success back to what you learned along the way.
  5. Foreshadow What’s Next
    Unlike the stories referenced at the start of this post, which are complete, your story is still in the middle. To keep people interested, share where you think your company is going next, what challenges you’ll encounter there, and why you think you’ll succeed. The promise of further adventures will keep people along for the ride (such as the originally serialized works by Charles Dickens, for example).

Now that you’re familiar with story arcs and The Hero’s Journey, keep an eye out for brands that incorporate some of these elements into their stories. Chances are, these brands will be very successful at getting audiences to pay attention to their message. Now, isn’t it time for your brand to embark on its Hero’s Journey?
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