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Many startups, entrepreneurs and small businesses struggle with defining their brand. It’s a difficult thing to communicate the value of what you do in a clear and concise way. Most of the time, when talking about our business or our work, we spout out a lot of insubstantial and technical details about what we do. As a result, we often fail to connect with the people who could use our help the most.
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Our brand is ultimately what we’re remembered for — it’s the thoughts, feelings and qualities that people associate with us — but most of us avoid putting in the work to understand and create our brand like a trip to the dentist.
Yet we ignore our brand at our own peril. It’s something we create whether we’re intentional about it or not. If we don’t actively cultivate the story of our brand, we leave it up to others to interpret and tell our story for us.
Why it’s hard to tell our own story
We’re often too close to the work we do to really see the value of it. We do what comes naturally to us, and try to build a story around it later. This means we miss the true “gems” of who we are and what we do.
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Gregory Diehl sums up this problem in his book Brand Identity Breakthrough:
“When they’ve been doing things one way for a certain amount of time, and have had some success with it, they will get often trapped in that particular pattern of thinking. There’s a lot of emotional and intellectual inertia that needs to be overcome when someone voluntarily changes their mindset.”
Frameworks to the rescue
Frameworks and mental models are excellent tools for problems like this. They help us take new perspectives and new paths of thought which help us to escape from the common mental ruts we find ourselves in.
There are two frameworks that are well suited to help us understand our story and tell it to our audience in a way that resonates with them: The Hero’s Journey and The Buyer’s Journey. Once we explore both of these frameworks, I’ll show you how to combine them into one simple formula that you can use to craft a powerful brand story, which I call “The Crossroads Formula.”
The Hero’s Journey
The Hero’s Journey is the model for the popular stories throughout history. You can see the Hero’s Journey play out in your favorite movies, plays and TV shows, as well as talks, webinars and sales letters. The Hero’s Journey has all the elements of a story that we as humans can’t help but become immersed in.
- Conflict and uncertainty – Conflict and the tension it brings is one of the key elements that keeps us hooked.
- Risk and reward – What good is an adventure without some treasure to find?
- Transformation – The adventure is a process of transformation — a process we all undergo regularly in our own lives.
The Hero’s Journey is usually divided up into 12 stages and is represented as a cycle on a clock face. We’ll describe the stages in more detail later in the post, but for now, here’s a video that does a great job at illustrating the process.
In many cases you can also map out the Hero’s Journey on a graph, with the vertical and horizontal axes representing good (or bad) fortune and time. Here’s how the Cinderella story looks as a graph.
This framework is so powerful and effective because we as humans are wired for storytelling. Our powerful imagination not only follows stories, but puts ourselves in the shoes of the hero — their problems, ideas and goals become ours. This is why you start screaming at the television when your favorite character is about to make a bad decision.
While the Hero’s Journey is excellent at helping to create an emotional and relatable experience for our customers, it does little to illustrate the logic of a buying decision. Without addressing the crucial questions your audience has before making a purchase, you’ll inspire good feelings, but no action.
The Buyer’s Journey
Marketers use a term called “The Buyer’s Journey” as a way to visualize the decision-making process a customer goes through to make a purchase. This journey has four phases: “Know”, “Like”, “Trust” and “Delight”.
Each phase requires you to overcome a certain set of challenges or obstacles in your reader’s mind to persuade them to move forward. You can create content that is optimized to target each of these goals, instead of trying to create something that does all of them. This helps us home in on exactly what to create.
- Know – Your customer needs to be aware you exist and what problem you solve.
- Like – They need to know why you’re different than everyone else that solves this problem.
- Trust – They need to know that you’re a good fit for the problem they have, and that you can deliver the result they want.
- Delight – The journey does not stop at the purchase; your customers need to be reminded of the value you add to them even after the purchase. This inspires loyalty, future purchases and advocacy for your business.
The Buyer’s Journey is a powerful way to map out and plan marketing campaigns, sales funnels and content, but if we only target the “logical” side of the brain of our audience, then our message will fall flat. We won’t create that emotional connection and drive to get people to take action.
The Crossroads Of The Hero’s Journey And The Buyer’s Journey
Both of these “journeys” are powerful mental frameworks, but only when they’re combined do they tell the story of our business in a meaningful way that drives growth.
The interesting part about these frameworks is that they outline different perspectives of the same process. The Hero’s Journey maps out how your customer is experiencing and engaging with your brand, while The Buyer’s Journey maps out the “logical” decision-making process that is happening in tandem with the experience. By using them both together we can outline a brand storyline that emotionally engages our audience and provides them with everything they need to make a buying decision.
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By combining the experience of the Hero’s Journey with the decision points of the Buyer’s Journey, we get a checklist that helps us better tell the story of our brand in a way that naturally resonates with our ideal customers. Since it’s the crossing of two different “journeys,” I call this “The Crossroads Formula”.
The Crossroads Formula breaks up the 4 stages of the Buyer’s Journey into 12 questions, and then matches those questions to the different stages of the Hero’s Journey. This allows you to both inspire the question and lead them to an answer within the story. This connects key emotions and decisions in a way that inspires action with your audience.
Best of all, the crossroads formula can scale — it can guide your “About Me” page, create a story for a new product launch or even lay the foundations of your brand storyline.
The Crossroads Formula
Before we start going through “The Hero’s Journey,” it’s important to understand the different perspectives we can examine our hero from:
- The hero as the protagonist – The hero is the central focus of the story you’re telling. Your audience experiences your story as the hero. They share the pain of loss and the thrill of victory with your hero.
- The “buyer” as the customer – The questions your audience asks when deciding to buy from you drives the direction of the story and your hero provides the answers within the story. They look to the hero for cues on how to feel and what to do next. With empathy for our audience at each stage of the Buyer’s Journey we weave a story that helps them make decisions.
Understanding the dual role of the hero in our story helps us create a story that speaks right to the heart of the challenge our audience is feeling and guide them to a solution that works for them.
Let’s examine the different stages of the Hero’s Journey, and look at the key question that must be answered at each stage to move the story forward.
The beginning of the hero’s story. Everything’s normal in the world, but there’s a sense of dissatisfaction to it. There’s a problem holding the hero back, or life is just not as good as it could be.
Is there a problem? – Stories are driven by conflict. Open your story by introducing the world and drawing attention to an imperfection or problem.
Call to adventure
There’s a desire or an invitation for something more, something better. This could also be a problem that is bothering the hero, and it forces them out of their comfort zone. This desire or problem should resonate with your audience and what they desire as well.
Is this a problem I want to solve? – To get your audience to join you on this adventure, they need to know why they should care about this problem.
The hero gets some help or guidance to help set them on their path. This could be a mentor giving them guidance on what to do next or giving them a tool that will help them on their journey.
Who can help me solve this problem? – The mentor figure in the story needs to point to the solution that you want your audience to choose.
The hero leaves the comfort of the familiar world to set off on a new adventure. They get some early wins and a boost of confidence, maybe even a little hubris.
What’s a small first step I can take to solve this problem? – How can you provide your audience with a “quick tip” or an “easy win” that helps them to take some action and get some results? This will help them feel empowered and encouraged to move forward.
This is where the struggle begins. The thrill of those early wins has vanished and it’s not so easy anymore. The hero hits some unexpected setbacks.
How hard is it to solve this problem? – At this point your audience is ready to invest more time and energy into this problem, and is ready to learn more. Start to educate them on the details and complex challenges of this problem.
Things are getting harder. The hero is losing momentum, and experiencing doubts. The big monster that they must confront is on the horizon. The hero is experiencing the fears that your audience wants to avoid.
What does it cost me if I don’t solve this problem? – Your audience is weighing this problem against other challenges they’re currently facing and deciding whether they need to wait or take action right away. This is where you want to create a sense of urgency for your customer, and show them that this problem can’t wait any longer.
Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse… it did. The hero hits rock bottom. They experience painful emotions, and start thinking about the long-term consequences and ramifications of not solving this problem. The hero is about to give up…
Do I want to solve this problem alone? – At this point your audience is feeling the weight and pain of this problem. Solving this problem on their own will take too much time, energy or resources that they don’t have, or they realize they don’t know how to solve the problem. Either way, they know they need help.
The hero finds the thing that can turn it all around. Maybe it’s an idea, maybe it’s a tool, a new way of looking at things, a new person or a process.
What solutions are available to fix this problem? – At this point, people are looking for solutions. Here is where you can present your product or service as the key to overcoming this challenge.
The hero takes action, and uses this newfound treasure to solve the big problem they’re experiencing. The rewards and results that the hero has been hoping for since the beginning of their journey are finally within reach.
What kind of ROI can I expect from this solution? – Your audience wants to know what kind of results they are going to get from this. Help them understand (in specific numbers if possible) what they can expect to get from overcoming this challenge.
The hero returns to their ordinary world stronger and wiser than before. They reflect on the long road it’s been to get here and are grateful for the adventure.
How is my life better now? – At this point, your audience has become a customer and purchased from you, but they still need to be reminded of how much better their life is and what kind of value you continue to provide them.
With the new perspective and new life, the hero sees new options and opportunities. With the big challenge overcome, new doors open up that they didn’t notice before.
How can I keep a good thing going? – Your audience has become a customer and is happy with what they purchased. What opportunities can you present them to go deeper with you, and get more of the good results you provide? Do you have upsells, other products or loyalty programs?
Free from the challenges and fears that once threatened them, the hero is now free to live the life they’ve wanted. Now they must figure out how to share the wisdom they’ve gained with the rest of the world.
Who else can I tell about this? – At this point, you have a delighted customer. How can you provide them with opportunities to share your story with others? Can they become an affiliate? Or a case study?
How to apply the Crossroads Formula in your business
Define your brand
With this formula, you can map out the experience of working with you to help create a storyline for your product or service. This will help you articulate the value of what you do in precisely the way your audience needs to hear at that particular time.
Write a talk or a webinar
Use this storytelling formula as a template to create a great talk or webinar that hits both the emotional and logical sides of the mind of your audience.
Map out blog content
Depending on your product or service, the Buyer’s Journey can last weeks or months in some cases, so you’ll want to cultivate a relationship over time with them. You can map out content to create to address each part of the Crossroads Formula. This means you will always have a piece of content for the questions and objections your audience will have through their Buyer’s Journey.
Though it’s a difficult thing to define and understand your brand, it’s one of the most critical aspects of your business. I hope that this framework helps you better understand your own value and the experience you create in your business, and I hope it makes it easier for you to tell your story.
If you are interested in using The Crossroads Formula to map out the content you want to create, I have a simple system that will help you easily create content.
When it comes to content marketing, entrepreneurs and startups run a similar risk of investing a tremendous amount of time and money into content before they see any results. The “Minimum Viable Blog” or MVB strategy helps you plan out the the content you need to get results faster.
A Minimum Viable Blog is the least amount of content necessary for your audience to know, like and trust you.
Want help building out your own MVB? Download the Minimum Viable Blog Cheatsheet with winning recipes to help you plan out content and tell your story in a way that connects with the hearts and minds of your audience.