Brandspeak: A Hero’s Journey—A Storytelling Framework for Business

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Star Wars Luke Skywalker

The following is a guest post by SAP senior director Joe Pantigoso.

I’ve seen many storytelling frameworks for business, but I found this recent seminar by Shane Meeker, Procter & Gamble’s Historian and Corporate storyteller, to be simple to understand, easy to remember and practical to apply.

Given that humans are hardwired for stories—we remember them, we’re compelled by them—storytelling is a powerful way to connect with customers to build brands.

So here’s how this framework works: A hero overcomes an obstacle in pursuit of a treasure aided by a mentor.

The best stories also have a compelling climax and hero transformation, where a change in the hero is evident.

A recipe like this does not guarantee extraordinary results every time, as Shane Meeker noted, but it helps. And the more you do it, the better you get (10,000 hours to achieve mastery, as Malcolm Gladwell says).

So let’s start with the hero. In the world of business, our customers are the hero—not the brand or the company. This was a big “aha” for many in the seminar given everyone was writing stories to build their brands and the natural inclination was to begin with brand benefits or achievements. The listener has to care about the hero.

Next, the hero faces obstacles in pursuit of a treasure. Customers face obstacles every day that can be big or small, like the complexity affecting a business’ performance or the lack of time a parent has to make a family meal. Villains like these keep our hero from reaching his or her treasure—the customer’s goal. The bigger the obstacle, the more powerful the story can be.

And the mentor with his tools and guidance is the brand. Obi-Wan Kenobi gave Luke Skywalker his light saber; Glinda the Good Witch gave Dorothy her shoes; Merlin gave Arthur his sword. And Tide gave me a Stain Pen.

I spill a lot (I’m the hero in this story since I’m the customer). So I often have stains on my shirt that can make me look like a slob and distract folks from what I’m saying (the obstacle). Tide’s To Go Instant Stain Remover Stain Pen (my mentor and obstacle-eliminating tool) gets rid of stains so I can be successful at my job (my treasure).

So, here’s my Tide narrative:

Minutes before I was to give a talk at an industry conference, the event moderator pointed to my brand new, white shirt with a big, brown stain—a fresh leftover from lunch. As the audio-visual guy clipped on my microphone, I considered my choices:

  • I could ignore the stain and hoping that my audience would not see it or tweet about it.
  • I could run to the hotel gift shop and buy a tie to cover it up—but it was Arizona and who wears ties in Arizona?
  • I could make fun of it—admitting my inability to get food in my mouth.
  • I could dash for my Tide pen—which I always carry in my briefcase—risking a late start and the wrath of the event moderator who was already introducing me.

I dashed. 

Now escaping embarrassment with a crowd of branding professionals might not be a compelling story for everyone—not all stories are universally loved and not all stories are great. But it was a happy ending for me and because of that successful presentation, I got invited to speak at another. And my Tide pen helped make it happen. Who needs a light saber?

People don’t always remember facts and figures, but they remember stories.

I hope this storytelling framework helps you in your brand-building efforts. Check out Shane Meeker’s website for more.

Joe Pantigoso / SAP headshot


Joe Pantigoso is a Senior Director in Global Branding at SAP, a leading enterprise software company and top globally ranked brand. Read more from Joe in his series on Brand Tips for Branders.

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