In today’s crowded markets with buyers who will engage only on their terms, in their context, and on their timeline, B2B marketers must find a way to break through a cacophony of noise and clutter. Many of us barely rise above the noise because we fail to matter beyond our features and benefits. We fail to have meaning.
A powerful way to do this is by tapping into the customer’s context by telling a story that makes the customer the hero, and casts our solution as the magic power they need to succeed. Published in 1949, Joseph Campbell’s groundbreaking and highly influential book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, outlined his now famous “Hero’s Journey.” Campbell showed how all of our classic tales, from the Odyssey to the biblical Exodus, the stories of the Buddha, Jesus, Prometheus and more followed a similar storyline Campbell calls the “monomyth.” Campbell summarized the Hero’s Journey like this:
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.
Campbell’s work has influenced scores of modern storytellers such as George Lucas, Stanley Kubrick, and J.K. Rowling, and stories as varied as Disney’s Aladdin to Watership Down to the television series Lost.
With a little bit of work, we can apply Campbell’s framework to our messaging and storytelling, tap into our customer’s reality, and take them on a hero’s journey by bestowing the magical power of our solution on them.
Customers live in their reality, not ours. Market leaders start and end their stories in the customer’s reality, not their own. As an “outsider” to their world, we are in perfect position to help them see their world in a different light. By doing so, we can then gently pull them down into the pits of despair. After that, we show them the magical power of our solution on them and enable them to visualize the boon they can deliver to their organization, transforming it into a new reality.
While Campbell’s prototype journey has 12 steps, we can adapt and simplify Campbell’s story framework for our purposes to 4 steps, or acts, which take our customer, our hero, through this journey. They are:
Our hero, the customer, is living in a new reality. They may not fully realize it, but their world has changed. In this act, our hero is jolted from their state of normality into a new reality. To do this requires an in-depth understanding of the micro and macro trends in their reality.
In the second part of our story, the hero faces seemingly insurmountable challenges in this new world, sinking into depths of despair. Applying known solutions and approaches to their problems simply leaves them in pain or missing out on opportunities.
Next, in the monomyth, the hero is granted a magical power. For our solution to be magic, we must convince the customer that we have taken a different approach, a different mindset, and delivered a set of innovations that are unique and magical.
Lastly, our hero returns home and transforms it with the magical power they have been granted. He or she is the hero in their organization.
This story framework is depicted in the figure below, which I call the Viewpoint Story Wheel.
Copyright: Ken Rutsky
Building your Viewpoint Story Wheel is a four-stage process that mirrors the four acts described above:
Stage 1: ‘STEEP’ Into The Customer’s New Reality
What are the Societal, Technological, Economic, Environmental and Political/Regulatory trends effecting your target audience? Find the 2-3 most important ones that are relevant to your value, and build Act 1 from there.
Stage 2: Build The Pain/Gain Gap
For the broad problem you solve, what are the biggest pains that the customer is left with? What are the most significant missed opportunities, or gains, they are leaving on the table when they use the expected approaches to solving this problem? The trick is tying these gaps to the changes that you highlight in Stage 1.
Stage 3: ‘AIM’ To A New Solution
It might seem trivial and simple to express what is re-imagined and unexpected about our product or service. In fact, that’s why we love our product. Some of the best products in the world were built by people who had a problem with the current reality and could not solve it with the usual solutions available. However, to be magical, we must rise above our normal ways of expressing value of feature, function, benefit, and move to the more powerful language of AIM – Approach, Innovation, and Mindset.
Stage 4: Define The Future State
We now come full circle back the customer’s world and describe for them how that world has now changed, due to the magical power they can now possess.
In its most generic form, our four-act story now looks like this:
One or more things in your world have changed and left you in today’s new reality.
If you depend on the expected solutions X and Y, which were built for the old reality, you will be left with unmet needs and/or missed opportunities.
What if you had an unexpected approach to X that was a re-imagined solution for today’s reality and was built with this approach, innovation, and mindset?
Then you would end up in a transformed future state where you would solve problems and capture opportunities in today’s new reality.
Cybersecurity leader FireEye declared “Next Generation Malware” threats at a time when customers were increasingly fearful of loss. They named, led and leveraged this context to a successful IPO. Other examples include Salesforce.com with the “End of Software” and Virgin America’s “Making Flying Fun Again.” Walter Kelly’s cartoon character Pogo said it well: “To be a leader, find a parade and get in front of it.” Find your customer’s parade and lead them to success; this is what true market leaders do.
It’s not only a great idea to make our customer (not our product) the hero, but it’s our responsibility. When we tell the Viewpoint Story, we have the chance to do just that. And by casting our solution as the magical power, we become indispensable in the journey of our customer.
And here’s the double bonus. The Viewpoint Story can be that magical power that transforms you and your team into masterful marketing storytellers, changing your messaging from me-too to unique and powerful. With the Viewpoint Story, you can be a hero too, changing your company’s reality from status quo to market leader.