The Hero’s Journey: Make Your Customer the Hero

Linda Mulcahy
February 20, 2019

You’ve probably heard about the hero’s journey, a 12-step storytelling structure identified by Joseph Campbell in his highly influential 1949 book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

Simplified, the hero’s journey goes something like this: A regular person living an ordinary life is called to an adventure. He faces an evil foe, finds help from a wise mentor, battles the enemy, and emerges victorious—a hero.

You can find this journey in ancient myths, great books, and popular movies. This formula works because we all identify with and root for the hero.

Can the hero’s journey work for copywriting, too? Absolutely.

The Hero’s Journey in Marketing

Study the messaging of your favorite brands and you’ll probably see some elements of the hero’s journey.

Think about Nike. Its popular Just Do It campaign has, for 30-plus years now, featured regular people pushing themselves to overcome their obstacles and do extraordinary things. They are the heroes of their own stories.

But the framework isn’t limited to fitness brands and athletic adventures. And it doesn’t require Nike-sized advertising budgets either.  

Nearly every product or service can benefit from the hero’s journey approach to storytelling. You can use it in brand messaging, case studies, testimonials, email series, and long-form sales letters. You can borrow elements of the hero’s journey in taglines and brief social media posts.

The trick is to make sure you’re not positioning yourself as the hero.

Make the Customer the Hero

Too many businesses use their copy to focus on themselves and their alleged awesomeness. “We have been around since 1982.” “We have won loads of important awards.” “We started in a garage and now we own a bunch of fancy buildings.” “We are the best.”  

None of this relates to the customer at all. The customer is living a story, whether he realizes it or not, and he wants to be the hero of that story.

Your role is to be the wise guide. The Helper. You’re Gandalf. or Yoda. Or the Nike shoe.

You’re not the hero. You’re the tool that the hero uses to conquer his problems and reach his goals.

Examples of the Customer’s Heroic Journey

Here are a few simple examples that use the relevant elements of the hero’s journey including a regular person, an evil foe, a wise mentor, a battle, and then the person emerging as a hero.   

  1. A hard-working woman (regular person) is worried about retirement (evil foe). She consults with a financial planner (wise mentor) who sets up an investment strategy. She saves diligently (doing battle) and then faces her financial future with confidence (conquering hero).
  2. A young high school dropout (regular person) faces a bleak future with limited income potential (evil foe). He learns about a welding school (wise mentor) and enrolls in a six-month certification program and studies diligently (doing battle). He graduates with a $60K job offer (conquering hero).  
  3. An aging woman (regular person) laments her inflexible, somewhat flabby, and weak body (evil foe). She meets with a fitness coach (wise mentor) who provides nutrition and exercise strategies. She works the plan (doing battle) and then emerges with a strong, flexible, and toned body (conquering hero).   

Telling these kinds of stories with appropriate emotion and credibility will naturally lead to greater engagement and response.

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