A Story Is...

Merriam-Webster defines a story as an account of incidents or events; a statement regarding the facts pertinent to a situation in question; an anecdote. 

We like “accounts of incidents” and anecdotes, but for us, this just scratches the surface. 

A brand story is your marketing strategy expressed in a way that connects on a human level and inspires your audience, your prospects, to action. 

Any good Merriam-Webster story will move the audience and make them laugh, cry or take action.  By using the same framework to create a marketing strategy, we can have the same effect. 

We borrow our story framework from the work of Joseph Campbell.  We have taken his concept of the hero’s journey and simplified it for business.  

We use the hero’s journey because of its power: Campbell identified the concept of the hero’s journey after studying the world’s mythologies.  Through his studies, he discovered themes and patterns across all of the stories that we have been telling each other for millennia.  These similarities span time, cultures and geographies. 

Campbell codified a framework for communication that is biologically built into our brains.  He didn’t create the framework he discovered it reflected over and over again in the stories humans tell. 

In the stories that ALL HUMANS TELL.  

Our brains are tuned to specific messages and narratives when we encounter a story that connects with us our brain releases hormones in our bodies that make us pay attention.

Taping into this biologic predisposition to stories is the most potent form of communication that there is. 

Which is why we use it to create marketing strategies. 

All of which begs the question: what is this marvelous framework? 


It starts with a character in the normal world. 

The character is living his or her life with hopes and dreams and desires.  They live in the world that they know and understand.  Think of Bilbo Baggins in Bag End, or Luke Skywalker living with his aunt and uncle on Tatooine.

In your marketing story, the character is your customer.  Their hopes, dreams, and desires are what you deliver.

The character faces a villain

The villain is standing in the way of the character’s happiness.  The villain can take many forms but is a block in some way.  The villain can appear at different times in the story, but in brand stories, we want the villain because it frames the critical problem that you solve.

The character meets a mentor

The meeting of the mentor is a crucial point in the story because this opens up access to an entirely new world, the special world where the character can achieve his or her goals.

The Mentor is Gandalf or Obi-wan Kenobi and you.

You are the mentor in your brand story, and your role is to inspire with the possibility of what you can do for your market.

The mentor brings tools or a plan

Or both.  The mentor brings something to the character that provides a way out of their normal world and into a special world where the impossible is possible.  This is where the character can defeat the villain and realize his or her dreams.

Obi-wan gives Luke a lightsaber and a plan to leave Tatooine, Gandalf provides a contract, a group of dwarfs and the promise of magical support. 

You need to give your prospects a plan for how you will solve their problems.

And the mentor calls the character to adventure

There is always a call to adventure in a hero’s journey; this is the call to move out of the normal world and into the special world to become a hero.  The call to adventure can move around in a story, but in a brand story, your call to adventure is your call to action. 

This is a clear opportunity for your audience to step into the special world where you make things work for them.  

The character takes action and receives a reward

Once a character takes action he or she will go through the adventure overcome the villain and receive a reward.

Luke destroys the Deathstar and earns a medal, Bilbo slays a dragon (well, causes it to be slain anyway) and receives friendship, gold, and status. 

In brand stories, the reward is the fulfilling of your prospects' desires.  They overcome the villain, avoid disaster and defeat to accomplish their goals. 

This is an essential part of the brand story because attaining the reward is what motivates your audience to take action and work with you or buy your product. 

And the character emerges transformed.

In the end, the character emerges transformed, they are different for having gone on the adventure.  They come back to their life with their reward, and the rest of their life may continue to exist as it was, but they are transformed.  They are bigger, or better, or stronger or more informed. 

Luke is forever a Rebel and a Jedi, Bilbo returns an adventurer who is no longer entirely in sync with the hobbit world. 

Your customers will end up smarter, better, stronger and more confident in their world as a result of working with you. 

They become the hero in their world.

The hero’s journey is a compelling narrative that we can see continuously in movies, stories, and advertisements.  Humans have been using it to communicate and connect for thousands of years.  It works because it is a reflection of how our brains work, it is encoded in our DNA. 

By applying it to marketing, we can tie into this biological predisposition to create an inspiring connection that motivates our audience to take the adventure we offer. 


StoryJeff LoehrComment