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Why you need to be a character in your customer's story

The way we make sense of the world around us is through stories. Cultural stories. Religious stories. Stories our fathers and mothers have told us. Stories are the way we create meaning and understand who we are and our identities.

Heroes are at the heart of stories and they come in all shapes and sizes. The hero has a thousand faces.

The psychologists tell us we all have a self-written story in our heads. We are the heroes of our own story. A story we tell ourselves, shaped by our upbringing and our imaginations. A story about who we are, why we exist and where we are going. If reality lives up to the story we are happy. If in an area of our lives we are not living in accordance with this story we are unhappy (more on this here).

Therefore it's natural for us to think in storylines. Stories are the glue which sticks everything together for us. Emotionally.

Story in business

However, we rarely do this as businesses. And when we do we tend to do so from our perspective. Our story. Our narrative. But business is not simply about us is it? It's about our customers. The people we exist to serve. They are the heroes.

We do this because we do not utilise 'brand thinking' effectively. By "brand" I'm talking about the meaning people attach to you and your offer. "Branding" is the attempt to manage that meaning and we fail to thoughtfully and purposefully consider our business activities through the lens of brand.

I'm on a mission to change that.

Meaningful Business

Why would we not want to have more meaningful businesses? Businesses where employees are all recruited because they believe in what the business believes? Systems that champion ways to serve customers better in line with the businesses 'meaningful' strategies. Business would be much more interesting with this "brand first" approach. And because a clear brand purpose would run through everything the business was doing it would attract loyal and passionate customers. Customers who would believe in what the brand stands for. Customers who would be happy to pay more to see the business succeed. Customers who were forgiving of small mistakes.

How do we get there? How do we create meaning? As in life, so in business. Stories. But not simply our story. Our customer's story.

If brand is the meaning they attach to us it behoves us to think about it from their perspective. Not ours.

Storytelling tools

There are a number of storytelling frameworks I use in my work helping leaders to think in this way. Perhaps the most popular is from Joseph Campbell.

Joseph John Campbell was born in 1904 and died in 1987. He was an American Professor of Literature at Sarah Lawrence College and worked in comparative mythology. His work covered many aspects of the human experience including research into the journey of the archetypal hero shared by world mythologies. Campbell defined the idea as a "Monomyth" in his book 'The Hero With A Thousand Faces'. A singular basis that almost all stories follow. Universally. Across culture and time. Why? Because this is how we, as humans think.

So why not use it in brand building? Why not use this to think about our customers? Why not use it to help our people think about our brand in a meaningful, emotional and exciting way?

Suddenly we are not selling widgets. We are helping a customer become more. We are improving them. We are making them stronger. We are helping a hero on their quest.

The Hero's Journey

Campbell's archetypal character development has 12 stages:

  • Status Quo - this is where the hero exists before the story. Its the norm.

  • Calling - there is a call to adventure. Maybe a threat or objective that comes to the hero.

  • Mentor - the hero meets someone who gives them help, information and encouragement

  • Departure - the hero begins his quest, moving from the ordinary world into a new unknown world

  • Trials - the hero faces tests, finds allies, and encounters enemies

  • Approach - to fulfill the quest a huge challenge lies ahead. The hero musters the courage to approach it.

  • Crisis - Facing their greatest fear the Hero must draw upon all of his skills and his experiences gathered so far. In the crisis things go badly wrong.

  • Treasure - having managed to overcome the enemy the hero is rewarded with some form of treasure

  • Result - the impact of the change the hero has enacted is there for all to see

  • Return - the hero returns to their ordinary world. Sometimes there is some difficulties in getting there but failure is not an option.

  • New Life - Finally the hero overcomes all obstacles. They make it back but things have changed. This is a new life.

  • Resolution - Everything is resolved. We live happily ever after.

If you like videos this TED ED one helps to explain this concept brilliantly:

Who are we in the story?

A brand could come into the story in two places:

  • As a mentor - are we here to help the hero begin their adventure? Do they come to us for advice on how to begin? Can we give them what they need to effect the change they need?

  • As an ally - has the hero already begun their adventure and need an ally to help them with a part of it? Maybe they need help to defeat an enemy. Maybe they need information. Maybe some tools or an army.

However, you believe your brand fits into your customer's story it is essential to ask what type of character you are. How do you live into this personality on all that you do? How will you make the hero stronger - not just today but into the future? How will you manage meaning and communicate this to your people and to your customers?

There are loads of ways to align leaders and companies around this kind of thinking. Perhaps the most powerful is archetypes.

Why use this approach

The benefit of using this approach is that it is creative, exciting, different and most importantly it works. It's not about boring mission statements and values which end up in the bottom drawer. It's about having an emotional strategy which sticks. Meaningful from the top of an organisation to the bottom. Simple.

This is what branding should be all about. This is why you need to think about why you need to be a character in your customer's story.


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