Storytelling Inspiration

The Hero’s Journey: How to Create Protagonist-Centric Brand Content

Justin Lafferty By Justin Lafferty July 19, 2016

Summer marks the kickoff to blockbuster season, as moviegoers throughout the country pack theaters in hopes of seeing the hero defeat evil and save the day.

You can borrow a page from Hollywood’s script, putting a protagonist at the center of your brand content and giving your fans someone to cheer for.

Whether the focus is your CEO, a plucky animated character or one of your devoted customers with an eye-catching story, you can create content that tells a hero’s story.

Start at the Top

In addition to its bright magenta dominant color, T-Mobile puts its CEO at the forefront of its story. Whereas many CEOs are afraid of a social media mishap or fear they’re not expressive enough to be a storyteller, T-Mobile’s John Legere doesn’t shy away.

T-Mobile has differentiated itself as the rebel brand compared to its competitors like Verizon, Sprint and AT&T. A heavy part of this narrative is Legere, the swashbuckling CEO here to save you from the shackles of other carriers.

Unlike many CEOs, whose Tweets are surely vetted and planned to showcase the company in the most positive manner, T-Mobile has Legere punching and jabbing competitors and showing why the company is the ultimate “uncarrier.”

One of the simplest ways to create protagonist-centric content is to look at the talent already on your roster. While your CEO doesn’t need to be a Legere or Mark Cuban-type iconoclast, they can still tell a story that relates with your target audience. Dollar Shave Club is another example of a brand putting its founder as the protagonist, showing people that there’s a better and more affordable way to shave.

Your CEO can be the human face of your company, and his or her story can be one that connects with your fans and customers.

It doesn’t always have to be the CEO, a superstar spokesmodel or one of your employees at the forefront.

Make Your Customers Heroes

Nike, the company that refers to executives as “corporate storytellers,” excels at putting not only its athletes, but its customers into the protagonist role. In a 2015 ad, “Ripple,” Nike is the platform for an inspiring story. A young boy grows up watching golf with wide-eyed awe. He practices long hours and late nights, keeping an eye on heroes like Tiger Woods. Soon enough, that young boy grows into Woods’ competitor — Rory McIlroy.

Telling a story where the customer is the hero works wonders, as the viewer can imagine herself using your product.

Airbnb’s latest campaign has been another big hit, catering to those who want to go deeper into a city than a big bus tour and familiar hotel can provide. Airbnb has positioned itself as a resource for serious travelers who want to not only stay in a city, but live as the locals do.

The company’s newest slogan: “Don’t go there. Live there.”

Airbnb’s story paints you as the savvy jetsetter who knows the real best restaurant isn’t the one with a long line of tourists, but the locals’ spot across town.

“The number one reason people chose to travel on Airbnb is they want to live like a local. They don’t want to be tourists stuck in long lines, fighting with the crowds to see the same thing as everyone else,” Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky said in a press release. “Today is the start of an exciting journey to help people not just go somewhere, but truly live there.”

Google has also excelled at making its end consumer the focus.

Instead of putting your product at the forefront, show how your company can help the consumer overcome an obstacle.

Put It All Together

Now that you have a hero and a defined target audience in mind, it’s time to start composing your story.

To do this requires a little bit of old-school storyboarding. What is the major conflict that your hero will face? This is crucial when writing a protagonist-driven story — figuring out how your brand will helps the hero solve a dilemma or save the day. Create a world where your brand fits seamlessly.

If you’re a local bakery, maybe your hero is a mom who didn’t have time to make a birthday cake, so she can swing by your shop to pick one up. If your company is in something a little drier, think about the end result of what your product does. What brings customers to your brand?

Once you have the hero, the start of the story and the major conflict, you can focus on the denouement and conclusion. For that bakery, it could be the smile from her daughter when she sees the most amazing Frozen cake.

In T-Mobile’s example, the journey is ongoing. For Rory McIlroy and Nike, the journey came to a happy conclusion when Rory and Tiger approached the links as equals.

Your customers love a great story — be the one to take them on a journey.

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