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Marketing Storytelling: The Hero's Journey

I love a good story, whether I’m telling them, reading them or watching them. A story pulls you in and makes you care about the people involved. When used for marketing, a story can help you create credibility, generate leads, and illustrate competence.

The problem with many business-to-business case studies, videos, "about us" website pages and other areas where companies have an opportunity to tell a story is that… they don’t really tell a story. They only share the success. They jump right to the end. And frankly, that can be a little boring.

I want to challenge you to think about how you can take readers on a journey – a hero’s journey – where you are the hero. Taking examples from classic stories, I want you to stretch your imagination and move out of your comfort zone to tell stories that are more real, and more impactful. Implementing an ERP or CRM system may not have dragons or car chases, but framing your case studies and videos in a more dramatic story format can boost your results.

The 9 elements of a great dramatic story are:

1. A Hero With a Past

Have you ever noticed that most heroes are orphans? For example, Batman was orphaned as a child, which propelled his mission to fight evil.

“As a young child, Bruce Wayne watched his parents murdered before his eyes. Thomas and Martha Wayne were walking home from the Monarch Theater one night with their son, when they were held up at gunpoint by a mugger who demanded the pearl necklace that Martha was wearing. Bruce Wayne swore an oath to rid the city of the evil that had taken his parents' lives.” Excerpt: Fandom

You too have a back story. Often, small businesses will take on the personality of their owner(s), and that can be a great story to tell.

  • What made you start this company?
  • What made you care about your industry / solution?
  • What was your career path?
  • Where did you come from?
  • Do you have interesting personal hobbies?

Painful past stories are pure gold. I often tell my story of lugging a giant computer projector and monitor through airports, travelling all the time, and spending my days cold calling when I wasn’t on the road. That experience gave me a love of technology, and particularly of marketing technology.

2. A Clear Mission

Based on their life experiences, the hero has developed a mission, vision and values. They are going to eradicate evil or stop the alien invasion. Their mission gives a purpose to the story and serves to get others excited and engaged.

What’s your WHY? Do you believe every business should embrace lean manufacturing principles? Are you passionate about eliminating data silos? Do you do everything in your power to avoid failed implementations?

In Simon Sinek’s book (and video) Start with Why, he makes a great case for why you want to help people discover their why. The WHY creates a driving reason for people to feel fulfilled in their jobs and driven to go the extra mile.

Your company’s mission should be the central driver of all your marketing messaging. And I don’t mean, “To provide good services at fair prices.”

Disney delivers happiness. What’s your purpose? Create a mission statement your team can rally around!

3. A Bad Guy

You may not be facing dragons, evil pirates, or a wicked step-mother, but you are still overcoming adversity with every project you sell and implement.

In the accounting software space, the bad guy might be:

  • The competition
  • The economy/budget constraints
  • Fraud and embezzlement
  • Lack of knowledge/insight

The bigger and badder your ‘bad guy’ is, the stronger your story becomes. I wrote a wining Microsoft partner award submission for a client whose business “rose from the ashes of the Enron scandal.” Paint the picture of how big and ugly this challenge was. When you write a case study, push your clients to let you expose some of the ugly “before” issues. “Good to great” is not as interesting as “zero to hero.”

4. A Clear Goal

As you take your reader on a journey, right up front, be clear about the objective. Where are they trying to go? Why would this company spend thousands of dollars for new software?

In a case study, it might be that the client wants to:

  • Find the source of their profit leaks
  • Close the books faster
  • Tighten up their security

And remember, your software and services are only the means to an end. Often the goal is more strategic than tactical.

  • Expanding operations to serve more people
  • Increasing workplace harmony and efficiency
  • Keeping workers safe

5. High Stakes

What will happen if the hero doesn’t persevere? What is the risk of doing nothing? Talking about the consequences of inaction – or ineffective action – is a great way to add more drama to your story.

A good prompt for this section is to say: Without this ________, the company was facing ___________, which may have caused ___________.

6. Unexpected Obstacles

Few journeys go smoothly. And those that do, don’t make good stories. Bad weather, robbers on the road, and angry townspeople are common themes in children’s stories. You may have to push to get permission to tell these details, but they do make a story more interesting.

  • Last minute changes – mergers, acquisitions, key personnel
  • Newly discovered regulatory requirements
  • Technology gone wrong
  • Budgetary issues
  • Unexpected opposition

Companies can be reluctant to tell these stories for fear they’ll look bad, but what they really serve to do is to show credibility. There’s no such thing as perfect delivery in professional services. Showing how you step up when things get messed up is a great way to build trust and rapport with your reader/viewer.

7. Friends Who Assist

Where would we be without friends? If you have a great success story, spread the love! Give credit to the key personnel, ISV partners, Microsoft and other people who helped you deliver a successful project. Not only do you come across as generous, these people and companies you named will almost certainly share your story.

8. A Dramatic Rescue

All the components of our story so far lead to this moment. We set out on a perilous journey. We encountered unexpected obstacles, we found friends, we persevered – and now we’ve found success. Share how good it is!

Be as specific as possible. Again, this is an area where you may have to push so you can get those juicy details like: 

  • How much more revenue did the company make?
  • In what ways did you become more competitive?
  • How did people feel after the project was done?

9. Clear Resolution

What's the happily ever after? What's next for you or your client? Paint the vision of all that is now possible.

As you think about developing your Hero’s Journey stories, remember that these stories don’t always have to be written down. If you don’t have the budget to create case studies or videos, think about stories you can share internally or at networking events to help people gain clarity about what you do.

When you make your stories interesting, people will be interested!

If you'd like my help with copywriting, please reach out. I'm happy to send over samples of case studies, websites, and other compelling marketing content I've created over the years. 

About Adrianne Machina

Through marketing training, consulting and copywriting, I help companies find their focus and harness their authentic power to create an extraordinary impact. 


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