Crafting Compelling Customer Stories: The Theory Every Good Marketer Needs to Know-thumbnail

As marketers, we spend a significant amount of time, money, and brainpower to understand the customer journey. We create personas, maps, funnels, and more, all in an effort to understand the buying process and become better, more customer-centric marketing professionals.

How we use the information once we have it is where the rubber meets the road.

One of the most effective ways of utilizing customer insights is to create well-crafted stories in which you present your customers as heroes, thus transforming customer journeys into hero journeys.

Hang with me as I take you on a short swing through the Philosophy and English Departments to explain how you can tell more impactful customer success stories.

Why content marketers should replace case studies with hero journeys

The concept of the hero’s journey is the story model most often employed by fiction writers. Why? Because it represents an idea known as the monomyth.

Think of the monomyth as the Ring of Power in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings saga. The monomyth is the one ring that rules all others; it’s the one story that rules all other stories. The monomyth is the story of us, of humanity; it is universal and it is timeless.

If you believe in the monomyth, you believe that we have been telling each other the same tale since Og and Zog sat around an open fire, roasting mammoth on a stick. It can be summed up thusly: shit happens; it happens to all of us. And if there is any chance for us to find happiness and fulfillment on this adventure called life, we’re going to have to deal with the bad things that come our way, confident that once we’ve wiped the muck off our faces, we will have grown in ways not possible if life were one big happy-dance.


Case study title: How sticks and bows increased the cave people’s productivity 1,000%

The hero’s journey monomyth is not an original idea of mine, but that of American mythologist, Joseph Campbell. (Campbell’s theory is more complex and elegant than I have stated above, and I encourage those of you who are interested to explore it more in detail.)

Over the course of my own hero’s journey as a writer, I have added a philosophical twist to Campbell’s formulation by combining the general framework of the hero’s journey monomyth with the Hegelian concept of becoming.

During the late 18th and early 19th century, German philosopher, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel argued that there is never a finished self. Rather, we are forever becoming—striving to reach a higher level of selfhood through self-reflexive thought. (Take a deep breath, you’re doing great!)

Now, how exactly does a self become? It’s a never-ending three-step process of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. I have reduced Hegel’s theory of becoming to its most simplistic formulation for clarity and brevity.

  • Thesis represents the self’s current way of thinking. (I am afraid of dogs.)
  • Antithesis challenges the self’s current way of thinking. (Jill’s dog is very sweet. I have no reason to fear Jill’s dog.)
  • Synthesis is the self’s discovery of a new thesis based upon experience and self-referential thought. (I am less afraid of dogs now than I was before I met Jill’s dog. Perhaps I should not be afraid of all dogs. In fact, I want to meet more dogs like Jill’s.)

Layering the Hegelian notion of becoming on top of the hero’s journey monomyth is a power of the combination. The monomyth is the unfinished story of our universal becoming.

The diagram below presents a graphical representation of what I call the Hegelian Hero’s Journey in which I augment Joseph Campbell’s formulation with Hegel’s concept of becoming.


Applying the hero’s journey framework to marketing stories

So how does my Hegelian Hero’s Journey relate to telling better marketing stories?

Here’s a few ways you can apply these learnings to your next case study:

1. Change your focus

Before you put pen to paper and begin writing your next marketing piece, think about the story you want to tell. Is it a human story, or a story about your product? I argue that your story should always be about the human, not about the thing you are selling.

Stories that tug on an audience’s emotional strings are very effective because they connect with the monomyth at a subconscious level via empathy. Our deep-seated, primordial link with the monomyth creates a desire to see ourselves reflected in the stories of others.

2. Find and empower your heroes

Since stories need a hero, assign this role to your customer.

To find your heroes, you must talk to your customers, and more importantly, listen to your customers. Flat out ask them to tell you their story—or ask them to write it out and then work collaboratively to create a content piece.

A good place to look for potential heroes is your among your most vocal customer advocates. I use our advocate community, The WileyPLUS studio, to keep my content pipeline full. I scout for content contributors, pose discussion questions from which I can mine stories, and then promote the great work these advocates have done within the program to create a virtuous cycle of customer information sharing.

Uncovering these real customer stories will make your content more authentic, and provide a great opportunity to build brand loyalty and future acts of advocacy by shining the spotlight on a living, breathing customer.

3. Dive into your hero’s journey

If you’re not sure how to tell these types of stories, start by looking at your customer personas and journey maps to sketch out a story arc like the one I have above. (Check with your Market Research or Insight Team, or ask your product marketers if they’ve already created these before starting from scratch.)

When you’re ready to talk to your hero, ask the following questions:

    1. What’s the customer/hero’s starting point? Are they happy? Are they struggling? Are they misguided or operating from a point of misunderstanding? (This is Stage 1 on the above arcs.)
    2. What is getting in the customer/hero’s way? What are the challenges they need to confront? (This is the path from Stage 1 to Stage 2.)
    3. What is it that the customer/hero needs to consider to conquer the challenges? To start thinking about their circumstances through a different lens?
    4. What steps will the customer/hero need to take after reframing their challenges? Do they need more info about your product or service? Do they need to try it out to realize the product or service’s benefits? (Here you are moving from Stage 2 through to Stage 3.)
    5. Finally, how has the customer/hero changed or grown now that they are using your product or service? Is the hero’s life better? Why?

You’ll create more authentic stories by listening to your customers and by featuring real people. There’s little need to create fiction if you’re communicating with your customers and asking them the questions listed above—you would phrase them differently.

For instance, Question A becomes, “What was your experience prior to using our product?” Question B becomes, “What challenges did you face that forced you to reframe your view regarding the status quo?

Building up your heroes

If we see our organizations and ourselves as engaged in a noble purpose, then we should desire to see our customers’ lives change for the better.

We should also want to assist our hero/customers in becoming as they pursue their journey. Enabling customers to tell their stories is one of the most meaningful ways you can empower them and build advocacy.

My hope in sharing my thoughts with you is that, through them, you will continue to grow and become as a person and as a marketer.

Inspiring Customers To Create Content For You: A Marketer's Guide
Read now