Want Brand Loyalists? Make Your Customers The Hero In Your Marketing Stories.
Updated: Aug 6, 2020
People relate to stories. There is no better way to connect with another person than by telling a story or listening to a story.
Think about the last time you made a friend. It wasn’t because you told that person your name, your occupation, and what you ate for lunch. You became friends through sharing stories and connecting with each other’s life experiences.
Not everyone is a great storyteller.
You might know a person who tells stories that drag on way too long and have way too many irrelevant details. They don’t make sense and you stop paying attention because they tell you everything except the main point.
Then there are people who are so blunt that there is no story. They just tell you exactly what needs to be said and don’t provide any excitement leading up to it.
Neither of these is a good way to connect with people. There has to be a middle ground.
Great stories evoke emotion. Emotions are universal.
All people feel sadness, frustration, despair, andgrief. And all people want to feel joy, inspiration, and love.
Stories help us connect to each other by showing that the narrator, too, understands the pain and suffering of the listener, and by showing that the narrator knows how to access happiness.
This is why stories are your ultimate marketing tool.
Keep Your Customers Loyal By Telling Stories They Can Relate To
There is a wonderful book, The Arabian Nights (also called One Thousand and One Nights) in which a fictional, Persian king finds out that his wife has betrayed him. In his anger, he decides that he will take a new wife every night and kill her in the morning, to take his revenge on all women and avoid another woman’s betrayal.
Finally, one woman in the city he rules over has had enough of the nonsense and the killings, and decides to take matters into her own hands. She tells the king that she will entertain him night after night with a story as long as he doesn’t kill her.
Every night for years she tells stories to the king about other kings and other men who had been betrayed- always, subliminally, centering the king as her main character making him feel personally invested in the outcome.
Every night, she halted the story in a unique place so the king would keep her alive to hear the rest of the story.
The king’s curiosity and desire to hear more stories eventually made him believe his new wife would never betray him. His story-telling wife created a sense of loyalty in the king, and it is what kept the woman alive.
To keep your business alive, you need to create loyalty by putting your customers into your marketing stories.
When the Persian king first took his storytelling wife into his palace, he didn’t care about the wife’s family, her desires, or even her looks. All he cared about was that she wouldn’t betray him. He cared that she would make sure he was happy, every day.
Your customers are like the Persian king in The Arabian Nights. When they first meet you, they don’t care about how you look (usually) and they don’t care about your family or the details of your product. They don’t care how long it took you to build your product or where you want your company to be in the next 5 years.
All they care about is what you can do for them.
Your customers care about how your product is going to make them feel.
Your customers care that you understand their pain, and they care that you know how to fix it.
That’s all they care about.
And you can get them to care about you, and keep caring about you, by telling them stories.
The Best Story Structures To Use In Your Marketing
There are some tried and true frameworks for telling stories. I’m going to share two of my favorites with you and show you how they can be used in your marketing materials. These are the two story structures that I use to engage an audience and ensure they stick around to hear more- like the Persian king.
The Once Upon A Time Story Structure
You’re likely familiar with Pixar movies. They’ve created classic gems like Finding Nemo and Toy Story, and more recently Coco and Inside Out.
These films all have a similar story structure that is well known among writers. It looks like this:
To see how this plays out, let’s look at two of Pixar’s popular films, Finding Nemo and Toy Story. Each starts with “Once upon a time,” and introduces the main characters of the story. From there, they follow the structure as you can see below:
These stories take kids and adults on an adventure with the main characters in an incredibly relatable way- by invoking emotions that everyone feels. Regardless of age, humans feel scared of big, wide, open unknowns.
We feel hurt when we’re left out.
We feel accomplished when we do something difficult.
We like to save the day.
You can structure your marketing story in the same way by understanding the emotions of your audience, connecting your story to them, and sharing the story of resolution of those emotions.
The Once Upon A Time story structure is not very complicated and can be used by any brand.
But, there are some businesses for which this story structure is more ideal. These are:
Ecommerce products with a one time use or short life cycle such as apparel or personal electronics
Products with a lot of competition that need to capture short attention spans such as videos or music
Information products that have one main point to get across such as community membership sites or business templates
When the product and customer life cycle is short, it doesn’t cost a lot of money or time for the customer to switch products or brands, and it doesn’t cost a lot of money for the brand to acquire new customers.
That doesn’t mean that businesses like these don’t want loyal customers. It just means that the story structure used in your marketing should be less complicated and help your customers love your brand immediately without making massive changes to their lives.
The stories in our example don’t take a long time to jump into action. Neither should your marketing stories for these products.
Your marketing story needs to be simple and quickly engage your customers to match the simplicity and speed of the buying process for competitive, low cost products.
Below are three examples of how well-known brands have used this story structure to attract and retain loyal customers.
Three Brands That Use Amazing “Once Upon A Time” Marketing Stories
1. Beats by Dre Commercials
The Beats brand was developed into a billion dollar business through its association with mega stars and product appearances in music videos.
Their commercial advertising strategy uses the “Once upon a time” story structure to connect with their audience quickly.
The beats commercial with Kevin Garnett listening to Aloe Blacc’s “I’m the Man” from 2014 does this well, even without telling the entire story. The audience who saw this commercial knew that Kevin Garnett was being called out and having a hard time with the media.
Beats’ marketing team is telling the audience the story, but only a specific part of it. They skip over the “Once upon a time” part and start the story with “One day…” Then they show you this:
One day, Kevin had heard enough about how he was too old. Because of that, he puts on his beats headphones to blocks out the noise. Because of that, he’s able to walk out onto the court with confidence.
The audience doesn’t get the beginning of the story- the “once upon a time” and the “every day”, because they already know what it is- once upon a time there was a basketball player who was super intense, and during every game he played harder than everyone else. People hated on him because he changed the game of basketball.
The end of the story doesn’t need to be told. The power of the marketing campaign is that it told enough of the story for the audience that they believe Kevin is going to walk out onto the court and show his greatness- because the headphones gave him a secret, superpower ability to block out all the negative noise.
The audience instinctively thinks, “Ahh, that’s why he’s so good.”
Audiences that can feel emotions from your marketing are audiences that want to buy from you. Every person has felt that they want to be able to block out the noise of others.
Every person has felt the desire to be great. This commercial helps the audience share those sentiments with Kevn Garnett- a legitimate superstar- and connects their product to those feelings.
Beats by Dre’s customer base is extremely loyal to the brand, and it shows in a unique way. Although other headphone brands sold more to more people in 2016, the amount that customers are willing to spend on beats made them the #1 headphone sales in the market at almost 50%. This kind of brand loyalty is what caused Apple to purchase beats for $3Billion.
2. The Mom Project Job Marketplace for Moms
The purpose of The Mom Project’s job marketplace is to help moms find jobs with employers who understand what #momlife is like.
This brand has a video that I absolutely love that uses the “Once upon a time” story structure really well by showcasing two customers who match The Mom Project’s target audience. In the video’s storyline, both characters are moms re-entering the workforce. It’s structured like this:
Once upon a time, a mom was a professional in her field. Every day she worked hard and she began to move up the ladder. One day, she had a baby, and left the workforce. She took time off to take care of her baby. One day, she was ready to go back to work. Because of her child, she couldn’t work full time hours, and she wanted flexibility to be the mom she always wanted to be. Many employers didn’t have positions that matched these needs. Because of that, the mom kept looking and came across The Mom Project. Finally, she found the perfect job that fit her family’s needs and her career goals.
The stories of the two moms are parallel to each other, with slightly different situations, until they get to the end of the video. Both stories finish the same way: with both moms finding the perfect job through The Mom Project marketplace.
In this example, the story is told in its entirety.
This video is extremely powerful because their target market is moms, and it’s important that their audience understands exactly what happens after the “because of that” part of the story.
Their audience needs to know what happens “finally” so they’re inspired to take action and sign up for the job marketplace.
The Mom Project puts their customers, moms looking for work, directly in the main character’s shoes.
It’s clear that this company understands the struggles and the emotions moms experience, and they clearly show what can “Finally” happen.
The Mom Project recently received $25Million in funding, and last year Serena Williams joined the startup in February of 2020. They have over 50,000 followers on LinkedIn, almost 30,000 on Instagram and over 32,000 on Facebook. General comments on their posts are really positive, and their platform of job seekers has grown over to almost 275,000 as of July, 2020- a 267% increase since 2018.
3. Marvel’s Superhero Movie Previews
If there is a product desperately vying for your attention, it’s movies on the big screen. Movie production companies are now competing with streaming services and need to capture the attention of their audience more than ever.
While Marvel movies often follow the Hero’s Journey story structure (you’ll learn more about this in the next section), the advertisements and previews for these movies usually follow the “Once upon a time” story structure.
They catch their audience’s attention quickly by showing you a small snippet of the first few parts of the story structure in the preview. But they leave out the main details of the conflict and the resolution - the “Until finally…” part, leaving you dying to know what happens. And for that, you’ll have to see the movie.
In movie previews, you are shown what life is normally like for the hero- the main character. These are the “Once upon a time” and “Every day” parts. You’re usually told something vague about what happens to the main character to get them on their way- the “One day” part.
Then, you’re shown snips of the journey they go on to fight the bad guy - the “Because of that” sections, and those are always designed to make you feel scared or nervous, or to make you laugh.
But of course, they don’t tell you the end. They don’t share “Until finally”. You’re left wondering what happens to the character, and that’s why you end up saying to the person sitting next to you, “We have to see that!”
Loyalty to the Marvel Universe shows by the box office numbers. Avengers: Endgame grossed over $356Million in the US, making it the highest grossing film of all time. It is seconded by Avatar, which is also a Marvel movie. Loyalty can be discerned by the amount of money your customers are willing to pay to get what you’re creating!
The Hero’s Journey Story Structure
If you’ve ever read or watched The Lord of The Rings or the Star Wars trilogy (the one that started in the 70’s) then you’re familiar with the hero’s journey. This is a story structure that has roots in epic poems and stories from ancient history. The Epic of Gilgamesh and the epic poem Beowulf also follow this story structure, as does each of the books in the Harry Potter series.
Here’s a neat graphic explaining the hero’s journey:
Notice how this journey is represented as a circle. As the hero returns to the “known” world, they return as a person who is changed, or elevated in a way. Because of this, they can’t stay in the known world for long and they begin to itch for a new adventure.
This story structure is excellent for marketing stories that must continue on and continue to draw people in. It’s best for complex products or services that require a multidimensional character who can grow as they continue their journey with your brand.
Businesses that can use the Hero’s Journey story structure include:
Consulting or SAAS companies that help clients or other businesses develop over time
Health & wellness companies who help clients become healthy
Coaches who support clients in changing their lifestyles
In these examples, the customer lifecycle is long and the service is ongoing. There is more at stake for the customer and so a short story with a finite ending just won’t cut it. For these types of businesses, the hero’s journey is the more appropriate marketing story strategy to use.
Three Awesome Examples of “Hero’s Journey” Marketing Stories
The hero’s journey is a bit more complicated than the “once upon a time” story structure. The latter is usually a linear narrative that takes the main character through one problem and provides one solution or one ending. The hero’s journey takes the main character through ups and downs (and sometimes twists and turns) along the way.
That’s why it’s best used with products or services that are complex and show varying levels of results over time. Here are three brands that use the hero’s journey story structure in their marketing.
If you’re in the tech world, you’re aware of Salesforce and their very unique brand and marketing stories. If you’re not, just take a look here and you’ll quickly understand why their marketing stands out.
Salesforce is known for its CRM and for its open source framework which allows developers and organizations to build apps to support various business processes. That in itself draws a lot of people to this now iconic brand.
But Salesforce’s marketing team has mastered using the hero’s journey to keep its customers (and employees, and partners) engaged throughout their entire lifecycle: with their very clever training tool Trailhead.
There are some close translations from the hero’s journey in the Trailhead training modules. Trailhead puts Salesforce’s customers directly in the hero’s journey story structure by turning them into the heroes of their own learning journey.
First, there is the call to adventure. On the Trailhead main site, visitors are called to start their journey with the promise of a better life on the other side. These come in the forms of a better, higher paying job and certifications that show off how well you’ve completed your training.
You are told to literally choose your adventure- the path you want to take. Then, you, the new “trailblazer” are taken through a series of modules, which translate to the hero’s journey “challenges.”
Trailhead sends you on a true hero’s journey, with mentors and guides along the way. Salesforce’s guides include unique characters like Astro and Codey.
The very first modules get you excited by earning you points and badges. This is akin to crossing the threshold from the “old, known world” to the “new, unknown world.”
It’s not an easy journey. There is a lot of learning and as with all new things, it can feel overwhelming. So although there is no “abyss”, the wealth of information that a new Trailblazer gets over the course of your Trailhead journey can make you feel as though you are in over your head.
But then, of course, the atonement happens. You begin to understand the language, the technology, and you get more and more badges and points until finally, you’re ready for your very last challenge- certification.
Once you pass your certification, you get to go “home” and show off your new certification, skills, and successful journey to the folks at work. But Trailhead is cleverly architected to keep you coming back for more adventures, and more learning. So, eventually, you set out on another trail and continue the cycle of the hero’s journey.
The purpose of Trailhead is to improve Salesforce skills, grow the ecosystem’s talent pool and increase the number of customers who can effectively use the technology.
This is a marketing investment into the Salesforce ecosystem that creates excitement and loyalty to the brand, and reduces customer churn.
And Salesforce’s customers are extremely loyal to their brand. In 2018 their signature annual event, Dreamforce, topped 150,000 attendees and their LinkedIn page has over 2.2Million followers.
2. Peloton’s Customer Engagement Strategy
Peloton’s hero’s journey is similar in a way to Salesforce’s Trailhead in that it makes their customers heroes of their own fitness journeys. But Peloton doesn’t take users along a personalized journey. Rather, they understand the journey their customers are already on, and target their marketing efforts to support that journey.
When using the hero’s journey for a complex health and wellness brand, you need to understand how far into the future your customer believes they can get. Then, you need to be able to match your marketing story to their level of belief- which changes at each level of their hero’s journey.
Let’s use Harry Potter as an example. If Hagrid had told Harry Potter from the very beginning that he was destined to destroy Lord Voldemort, do you think Harry would have gone with him to leave the Dursleys?
Probably not. He had to be fed the information slowly and figure some of it out himself in order to believe he had the power to defeat the dark lord.
Your marketing stories have to match the level of belief your customers have on their own hero’s journey.
At the beginning, Peloton calls their customers to adventure by showing them the actual adventure they’ll get to take with their Peloton bike. Then, customers are immediately shown the community they’ll get to be a part of and the incredible teachers with large followings. These are the mentors, the helpers and the guides along the way.
At this point, the customer’s belief is that they want to get healthy or try a new workout that with mentors and guides, they will be able to achieve these.
The first challenge on this journey, specifically with Peloton, is the cost. Peloton costs at least $2,000 per bike, which is not a small amount for most people. If customers leave the website or abandon their carts, Peloton uses retargeting ads to show them how valuable the bike is versus paying for a gym membership, and reminds them of the monthly payment option. This gets the customer back on their journey and matches the belief that they can afford the bike.
After purchasing a Peloton bike, the customer begins their transformation- literally- and Peloton is there with content that encourages their customers to continue using the bike and participating in the brand’s community. Customers are shown their workout stats and invited to participate in contests with friends to continue the transformation.
The content Peloton shares simultaneously increases belief and matches it.
Peloton’s customers are loyal before they even purchase their signature product- the at home exercise bike. Their subscribers work out with the community app an average of over 12 times per month, and the app has a churn rate of less than 0.75%, which is even lower than it was in 2019, at 0.90%.
3. Danielle Leslie’s Course From Scratch
Danielle Leslie is a powerhouse online entrepreneur. She is the creator of Course From Scratch, a digital product that teaches coaches and other online entrepreneurs how to use their knowledge and expertise to create a course and teach others online.
Her company recently passed the $10M revenue mark and she’s been in business for less than 5 years.
To say she’s got her marketing story figured out is a severe understatement.
If you’ve ever dipped your toe into the internet marketing industry, you may have come across one of Danielle’s ads. The journey that you’re taken on from the time you first see a Facebook ad, through the story on the landing page and in Danielle’s webinars, through to the stories she shares in her emails is truly a hero’s journey. And you, the customer, are the hero of the story.
In this marketing story the channels and content are adjusted and fed to the customer at each stage of the hero’s journey.
Ads for Course From Scratch are the call to adventure. They are the first time you, the lead, are introduced to Danielle and her system for time and financial freedom and they are enticing. They ask you to change your life, but not just to change it- they show you exactly what is possible if you take the Course From Scratch adventure.
The supernatural aid is the webinar or video series in which Danielle provides some solid, free advice to launching your course. It starts the wheels turning in your mind that you can actually do this. Then, you get to the threshold, and that’s the purchase.
The true hero in this marketing journey is the one who crosses the threshold- who decides to make the purchase to learn how to create and sell their own personal course. And in order to cross the threshold, you need to be convinced that it’s going to be worth it. That’s where the landing page copy comes in.