We all want to make sure the stories that we tell are taking full advantage of the potential they hold to move and inspire those that we hope to serve. In order to do that, we need a structure that’s proven to unlock that potential.
So many of the stories that we know and love have such a structure. It applies to everything from ancient mythology to modern movies. Joseph Campbell defined the structure in what he calls the Hero’s Journey from his 1949 book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. He summarized it this way:
A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.
This is the structure of some of the most compelling stories in human history. As such, it’s worth looking to for guidance. While we won’t use the 17 stages of the hero’s journey that Campbell outlines, it is worth pulling out the major components from his summarization:
- The hero
- The unfulfilled need or desire of the hero
- The hero’s quest
- The victory
- The transformation
Those sound pretty epic. Which can make it feel rather daunting to define each. Don’t let it intimidate you. We already have these components identified if we have done our positioning work (which we absolutely should do before we attempt to write our stories). By returning to our positioning statement, we can pull out these components in order to build our stories. Remember, that statement structure reads like this:
For (THE INDIVIDUALS WE HOPE TO SERVE)
Who are looking for (THEIR UNMET NEED)
Our organization (HOW WE MEET THAT UNMET NEED)
Unlike (COMPETITIVE ALTERNATIVES)
Ours is the only organization that offers (FUNCTIONAL ATTRIBUTES)
That deliver (EMOTIONAL BENEFIT)
So that we can fulfill (OUR BIG AUDACIOUS MEANING)
The story components
Let’s look at how we use our positioning to refine the components of our own epic tale.
Who is the hero of this story we are creating? Is it our organization? After all, it is the story we are creating. We should be the hero of our story, right?
This is where a shockingly large number of organizations go wrong. How many times have we encountered an organization intent on telling us the story of who they are, what they do, and why they’re special? It’s as if they believe that we will be held in rapture by the story of their triumphs. Let’s be honest. Nobody wants to listen to that. We want to be swept up into something that invites us to imagine ourselves inside the story. Something that captures our desires and absolutely captivates us. That’s not the story of what you do or how you do it, or even why you think you’re special.
Before we begin any story, we should go to the beginning of our positioning statement. There, before anything else, is the answer to the question, “Who is our hero?” It is the individuals we hope to serve. When we make them the hero, we create a very different story from the inward-focused, self-serving story too many organizations tell.
The unfulfilled need or desire of the hero
What is it that those we hope to serve want or desire? In our positioning statement, we characterized this as the unmet need. Go back and review it. It’s not unusual that it may feel a little clinical (remember, the positioning statement can feel clinical by nature). Is there a way to make it feel even more human? Is there a way to amplify the emotion? Perhaps we empathize with their struggle. Think about those who we hope to serve. What would you say to capture that need or desire? Find a way of characterizing this that stops them in their tracks and helps them think, “That’s exactly what I’m dealing with!”
The hero’s quest
This is our hero’s journey to enlightenment. It is how they discover the way they can fulfill their need or desire. It’s also how we begin to enter their story. After all, we have those things that will help them accomplish their quest. This includes our sage guidance and our tools. Once again looking back to our positioning statement, these are expressed in how we help them meet that unmet need and our rational attributes. Look at how we might portray these in relation to that emotional need or desire. Think about how these combine into an enticing idea. Let that guide how we make this part of the story compelling.
How does our hero win? Can we help him or her imagine what life would be like when that happens? Go back to the positioning statement and look at the emotional benefit. This points us to that idealized end to the hero’s quest. It captures how our hero will feel. More importantly, it offers the elusive enlightenment that all our heroes seek. That is powerful. Make sure the language we use here does not underplay the magnitude of this victory. Make sure it does everything it can to lift up and amplify our hero’s newfound sense of hope.
The victory is personal for our hero. Now, what are the larger implications? How does this victory translate into a greater good that spreads into the world? This insight is found at the end of our positioning statement in our Big Audacious Meaning. This is an idea that is inspiring and irresistible in the possibilities that it ignites in our heroes’ imagination. After all, this is how we will help them be part of something larger than themselves. Something that can make a profound difference in a life, a community, or even the world. Make sure the language expresses this transformational idea.
With these elements identified and expressed, we can build awesome stories. Stories with real meaning for those we hope to serve. Stories that are magnetic, moving, and inspiring. It’s an irresistible formula.
Dan is an expert brand strategist and author of the forthcoming book Big Audacious Meaning — Unleashing Your Purpose-Driven Story. He is a founder at Will & Grail — a brand innovation company, helping organizations find their unique, undeniable and unshakable sense of purpose and create innovative experiences that bring it to life. He regularly shares his insight here, on Linkedin, and at dansalva.com.