Who’s the hero of your story?

Sep 18, 2017

Your brand has a story to tell – and content marketing is the best way to tell it. But before you turn the page, you need to know who the hero of your brand’s story really is. You may be surprised how this one ends, writes Narrative Chief Content Officer Mark van Dijk.

Content marketing is booming. In the United States it’s already a $28-billion business, with expected revenue growth of 14 percent (CAGR) through 2021. In South Africa, our 2016 Content Marketing Benchmarks and Trends report found that 30 percent of marketers are now spending 20 percent or more of their total budget on content marketing. It’s relevant, it’s valuable, it’s targeted and it’s very clearly the future of B2B and B2C marketing. But it’s also rooted in the past, in a time-honoured tradition of storytelling.

Everybody loves a good story. Whether it’s an ancient text like Beowulf or the story you tell your friends about the day you missed your flight to Cape Town, there’s nothing quite as engaging as a cracking good yarn.

There’s a craft to storytelling: it’s as much science as it is art. Theorists of literature will tell you that there are really only seven basic plots: seven fundamental stories that get told over and over, in different ways and with different characters, leaving you with the nagging sense that you’ve seen this movie or read this book before.

Here the archetypal examples range from ‘Overcoming the Monster’ (e.g. anything from Harry Potter to Beowulf) to ‘The Quest’ (see The Lord of the Rings, or the old TV advertisement of the man who couldn’t find the Cremora in his refrigerator until a voice told him: “It’s not inside, it’s on top!”). Then there’s ‘Voyage and Return’, which could be anything from Dorothy’s trip in The Wizard of Oz to Stirling Moss and Denis Jenkinson’s unique approach to the Mille Miglia (as retold recently in an advertisement for PSG).

Your brand has many stories to tell – and at Narrative, we’ve helped our clients tell a bunch of them. There’s the classic story of the person who needed to paint their stoep on a cold winter’s day, the heroic tale of the man in search of a well-groomed beard, and the one about the person who got the worst gift ever (and what they should have received instead).

Each of those stories follows that time-honoured tradition of a hero, a plot, an action and a resolution.

As a brand storyteller, the key question you need to ask is: who is the hero of your story? The answer might surprise you.

In the stories we’ve just listed, who’s the heroic protagonist? Who’s the character you’re really rooting for? Is it the painter, or the paint? Is it the handsome dude or the carefully formulated beard shampoo? It’s certainly not the re-wrapped teacups. In each story, the real hero is neither your brand nor your product. The hero is your customer.

Your product is the key that unlocks the door for the hero, or the treasure the hero is questing for. It’s not the hero – but it’s absolutely vital to the hero’s story because without it, there wouldn’t be a happy ending.

That’s the secret to a great story, and – from a brand storytelling point of view – it’s what makes content marketing so effective, and so relevant to your customer. Because ultimately, everybody wants to be the hero… and your customer is no different.

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