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The hero with a thousand faces.

The hero with a thousand faces.

Mike Doane

How marketers can use Joseph Campbell’s idea of the hero’s journey to make their customers feel larger than life.

Marketing is a lot like storytelling. The only difference is that the main character is an active participant in the process.

A lot of businesses place themselves and their products as the center of attention in their marketing.

That’s a big mistake.

You see, it’s our customers who are the true heroes of our marketing stories.

In his 1949 book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, anthropologist Joseph Campbell described what he called the hero’s journey. This journey describes a common storytelling structure in the world’s most famous myths and legends.

It observes that the main character — the hero of the story — is always confronted with a problem, must find tools and resources to overcome that problem, and then is rewarded handsomely for their work in resolving the conflict.

Here’s how we can apply these observations to our marketing stories to place our customers at the center of the narrative and make them feel like the heroes they are.

The customer journey begins with a call to action

The usual hero adventure begins with someone from whom something has been taken, or who feels there is something lacking in the normal experience available or permitted to the members of society.

— Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces

Marketing is all about taking our customers further away from pain and closer to pleasure.

But for the journey to begin, customers have to be aware that there is some sort of pain in their lives.

Identify whatever pain your customers’ are feeling and speak directly to it.

Are you selling software? Your customers are probably feeling bogged down by manual processes.

Are you selling books? Your customers probably feel like there’s a lack of adventure in their lives.

Whatever it is, let your customers know that you understand how they feel.

Make customers feel larger than life

The makers of legend have seldom rested content to regard the world's great heroes as mere human beings who broke past the horizons that limited their fellows and returned such boons as any man with equal faith and courage might have found.

— Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces

Great advertising is like a dressing room mirror. It reflects your customers’ best traits. It makes them feel like they’re on top of the world, larger than life.

Your customers aren’t just regular folks. They’re special.

Part of the Campbell’s described journey is finding mentors and magical objects that can help the hero reach their fully realized potential.

If you’re selling a product, position it as that magical item. If you’re offering a service, you’re the mentor or helper that will guide customers’ to their destinies.

Marketing is all about making your customers feel like they’re the hero and that your company is offering whatever they’re looking for that will transform their potential.

What’ll happen if they don’t answer the call?

Often in actual life, and not infrequently in the myths and popular tales, we encounter the dull case of the call unanswered; for it is always possible to turn the ear to other interests. Refusal of the summons converts the adventure into its negative. Walled in boredom, hard work, or "culture," the subject loses the power of significant affirmative action and becomes a victim to be saved.

— Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces

Your customer — the hero of your marketing story — has just arrived at the threshold of their destiny. All they have to do is purchase what you’re selling for their life to finally be transformed.

What happens if they don’t answer that call?

Show them.

That’s what great advertising does. It shows them what life is like without the solution and what life could be with the solution.

And if they do answer the call?

Deliver on the promise.

Great marketing is nothing without a great product or service behind it.

Whatever you’re selling better not be snake oil. Whatever product and service you offer to the hero, better actually transform their lives.

Because the hero’s journey ends with the monster being defeated. Always.

— Mike Doane