Marketers have long known the power of storytelling to bring home a message to an audience. But B2B manufacturers haven't always got the memo. Here’s how the famous concept of the ‘Hero’s Journey’ can help your marketing team generate content ideas that will keep your audience gripped and coming back for more.
What is the hero's journey?
You may have heard of this common story structure – also known as a monomyth – that was defined by the mythologist Joseph Campbell.
The Hero's Journey involves a protagonist (the hero) setting off on an adventure, overcoming obstacles, and returning transformed with new knowledge or power.
Campbell argues this basic narrative structure is the blue-print for every story ever written. And he’s got a point. From the ancient Greek Odyssey via Pilgrim’s Progress (written just half a mile from where I’m writing this now) to Star Wars and beyond - every narrative is really about the passage from darkness into light - the movement from ignorance to enlightenment.
This is not just a story - it’s THE story. This structure speaks to everything that is important to human beings, the urge to make a journey, to learn, to battle the odds and win new knowledge. That’s why we want to hear it over and over again - across centuries and across media.
How does it apply to the challenge of marketing?
When you think about it, it’s easy to see how the format of this classic narrative can map to the story of the buyer’s journey.
In fact, the writer Donald Miller has built an entire marketing theory around this concept - you can read more about his StoryBrand framework here.
Miller breaks down the 7 major ‘plot-points’ of the hero’s journey and shows how it can relate to the stories we tell about our own customer's paths to purchase:
- We meet a character (the customer)
- Who has a problem (the business need)
- They meet a guide (the brand)
- Who gives them a plan (the product idea)
- Which calls them to action (the purchase)
- Helps them avoid failure (fights off the competition)
- And ends in success (business growth)
Donald Millier argues we can use and reuse these plot points to speak to our customers about what matters to them as they navigate their buying process. We can use it to warn them about what could happen if they do (or don’t do) business with us.
The argument goes, if we can package our marketing messages to echo this ultimate story structure, we have a greater chance of winning the attention of our prospects and keeping them coming back for more.
B2C brands love to tell stories
B2C businesses have long understood the importance of storytelling in selling brands and products to us. Think about those tear-jerking Christmas ads that John Lewis bring out every year - or the way tech brands position themselves as the key to new successes and discoveries in our lives.
Consumer brands tell us stories about how our lives could be improved through their innovation and intervention. The best of these stories make us ‘feel something’ about their products and services that go beyond the transactional. They create a relationship of trust and understanding with the brand - that can convert into future sales and encourage us to tell their stories to others.
But B2B brands see themselves differently
But B2B businesses - and particularly manufacturers - have resisted the pull of building this kind of storytelling into their marketing. Just a quick look at the websites of many contract manufacturers will convince you that their buyers are not interested in stories or brands at all - but instead only services and rate cards.
Manufacturers have tended to avoid working on ‘storytelling’. They’ve rejected the ‘fluffy stuff’ the ‘emotional connection’ between brand and customer. But in doing so, they’ve missed a huge opportunity
Because stories are the great constant in human life and wait for it - B2B buyers are human too!
How the Hero’s Journey format applies to B2B
B2C and B2B customers are the same! They are compelled by human impulses, hopes, fears, jealousy and desire. As B2B marketers we can look to speak to those impulses within our storytelling, too. And when we do, we can use these hooks to build successful and more long-lasting relationships with our customers.
In our marketing we can identify their wants and needs, speak to their professional fears and aspirations - we can paint a compelling picture of what failure and success could look like for them.
We can use the hero’s story structure in countless ways to help B2B prospects and customers engage with us on a deeper level.
From blog posts to white papers, to product demonstrations and case studies, we can help the B2B audience recognise themselves as the hero of our story. We can convince them we feel their pain and can answer their most pressing challenges.
Making the customer the hero
And that’s the point of this storytelling structure. In contrast to traditional advertising techniques, it’s not about trumpeting your brands’ achievements or continually puffing your reputation.
It’s about focusing 100% on your customer, identifying with their struggles and making them the hero of your your story. It is the ultimate 'customer first' position for your brand.
“When we position our customer as the hero and ourselves as the guide, we will be recognised as a trusted resource to help them overcome their challenges. Positioning the customer as the hero in the story is more than just good manners; it’s also good business.”
Donald Miller, StoryBrand
This is the creative challenge and opportunity for B2B brands. We need to frame all our messaging and content so that prospects and customers see themselves reflected in all our output. From company straplines to the case studies that tell of our customer's success - the objective is to become the ultimate guide and support for the hero that is our customer.
Why B2B sales need the ‘hero journey’
B2B sales are often slow-burn sales. Outsourcing manufacturing services can be expensive, time-consuming and disruptive. Buyers’ jobs and livelihoods depend on getting those decisions right. It's not the same as buying dishwasher tablets, or choosing a fizzy drink.
In this context becoming a constant and helpful presence in the digital lives of your prospects and customers makes a lot of sense. To sustain conversations across a long sales process, brands need to create meaningful and helpful content that answers questions and pain-points in different ways and in different formats.
We need to be constantly imaginative and inspiring in the way we talk to customers if we're going to keep them engaged and interacting with us over long periods of time,
Be the book your customer can't put down
In a fragmented and competitive marketplace, you need a clear story that speaks to the specific needs, wants and aspirations of your audience. Get this right and you can develop a voice that continually extends your reach and influence using the channels that your customers value most.
The structure of the hero’s journey is a useful way to think about your brand storytelling.
It's a dramatic framework through which we can imagine our customers as the heroes of our narrative, and ourselves as the mentor who shows them the path to success.
The Hero's Journey concept can be a powerful way to:
- Make your customer the hero in your brand narrative
- Tell a story with jeopardy and conflict - to show what’s at stake
- Speak to their pain points
- Answer their needs with your content
- Become a powerful and authentic voice in their world