Rocky has been revered as one of the greatest films of all time. Not only did it receive nine Oscar nominations (which were well-earned), it spawned even more films and spin-offs, cementing Stallone as a Hollywood great.
It’s a story we all love: An underdog struggling to balance his life while trying to pursue his dreams and is one day given the chance to change his luck and succeed beyond his imagination.
Even though we’ve heard this story before, it never gets old. We support the character through their struggle, feel the tension of their conflict, and celebrate when they emerge victorious. It’s clear that this type of storytelling works.
In 2019, the global box office made $43 billion with the U.S and Canadian film industry earning a sizable chunk of that global sum (a humble $11.4 billion), yet most of the movies produced follow the same structure of storytelling that Rocky does.
That’s why the Hero’s Journey works, not just for Hollywood but for you too.
As a small business owner, a lot can be learnt from the Rocky franchise (even Adam Sandler movies) about how to take your audience on an inspiring journey of opportunity, failure, conflict and ultimately success.
What is the Hero’s Journey?
The Hero’s Journey is a narrative archetype most commonly recognised in works of fiction but dates back as far as the Greek epics.
In short, it starts by establishing a protagonist (or hero) the audience resonates with who is faced with conflict. The hero must then leave their safe, ordinary world and venture into something new, it might require travelling to a new location, or undertaking a seemingly impossible task. Finally, after the climax of the story, they return home triumphant, but significantly changed for the better.
Throughout the story the audience learns more about the hero and their circumstances. That leads to moments where the hero becomes vulnerable and the audience becomes attached to them, feeling sad if they suffer and feeling happy if they prosper.
The Hero’s Journey is a way for us to draw similarities to a character because we also experience our fair share of adversity and return to our day-to-day lives transformed after these experiences. We feel for the hero because, sometimes, we are them.
Why the Hero’s Journey works in your content
When it comes to your content, a small business owner must utilise the Hero’s Journey narrative to tell their story.
Your Hero’s Journey doesn’t have to be a novel (though it could be) or a three-hour film, but it is a natural fit in your blogs, podcasts, in eNewsletters, videos, and eBooks.
Your Hero’s Journey story is unique because it belongs solely to you. It’s your experiences told in your voice so it can’t be replicated. Aside from a great story, your Hero’s Journey is awesome for your SEO ranking because search engines favour unique stories.
By positioning you as a (non-egotistical) hero and recounting your epic adventure, you and your brand become more human to readers. Audiences like to engage with other people (as opposed to cold, emotionless corporations) and seeing the person behind the business can help audiences become loyal customers.
Your audience will warm to you because they see that you’re not a faceless, money-motivated company, but a human being who has experienced adversity just trying to do something you’re passionate about. They will relate to you and become invested in your narrative and will remember your story more than any statistic about your business, keeping you top of mind.
The 12 stages of your Hero’s Journey to use in your content
The Hero’s Journey follows a proven 12 step storytelling formula. If you use it, you’ll win hearts and no doubt new customers too.
Here’s what you need to do to tell your Hero’s Journey:
1. Introduce yourself as the hero
The audience needs to know who you are in relation to your business. You have to address how you’re different, what motivates you to succeed, and other pertinent details that will make the audience realise that your story is one they want to hear.
This is where your audience will get to know you and understand you. It establishes you as a person and people want to relate to other people more than just a disembodied voice.
Make sure you only include what’s important to your story. Details are good but you can easily overshare and include too much about yourself, running the risk of being irrelevant or egocentric. Maybe Rocky enjoyed holidaying in the Maldives—but that has nothing to do with his boxing career so it has no place in the story.
2. Set up your circumstance
In fiction, we get to see what kind of life the protagonist is living and what their everyday life is like. By setting up the hero’s daily routine or circumstances, the inciting incident where they have to depart from that routine will be all the more jarring, making for a more exciting story.
When it comes to your business, you need to establish what your industry looks like, what your business is striving to achieve, and how you started out.
3. Create empathy for yourself
Here you introduce your struggle. It’s easy to display your victories and the things you got right along the way. But what will really hook an audience is opening up about the challenges you experienced starting out, no matter how embarrassing you may find them to be.
Everyone can empathise with someone who has had to overcome adversity because everyone has. It makes you seem more approachable and humble, especially since no one likes a show-off. By sharing your struggles, the audience will support you more.
4. Explain your opportunity
After establishing the situation and struggles you’ve faced, talk about the opportunity you saw in your industry. In stories, this is where the protagonist encounters a chance to break away from the monotony and prepares them for the departure into the outside world.
Explain how the opportunity came about. Maybe you had a bad experience with another business and you thought you could do better. Or you were granted a loan you needed in order to jumpstart a new product or service. Whatever it was, detail your thought process and how you came to the conclusion that this opportunity was worth the risk.
5. Detail the new situation you’ve been thrust into
This is where you discuss the new things you encountered being in the changed situation you entered into. Talk about your goals and what you aim to accomplish with the opportunity you’ve been given.
It’s important to flesh this out because you’re showing how different the situation is compared to what it used to be. Like your readers, you’re venturing into alien territory so it comes with a lot of excitement and anxiety.
6. The pursuit of your opportunity
To best show your grit and passion, you need to talk about how you chased those goals you mentioned earlier. Be honest about any mistakes you made along the way and what you learned in order to refine your pursuit.
Detail the plan you put together in order to best achieve what you set out to do. Your key performance indicators (KPIs) should be clearly set so you can accurately measure whether or not you’re reaching your goals. If your plan seems too far-fetched after you revisit it, it may be time to reassess and find something more achievable first.
7. Introduce conflict into your journey
There must have been a moment when things took a sudden turn in your business. This isn’t just a small mistake or error along the way. It could be a crossroads you suddenly had to face or a big blunder that seemed impossible to recover from. This is a big point of tension in your story, one that will have audiences gripped to find out more.
Address the biggest obstacle you faced or even the build-up of smaller ones. How did they deter you or threaten the new routine you’d gotten into? While not every story necessarily needs an antagonist, what would be the stand-in for that role in your journey?
The antagonist figure doesn’t always have to be a person either. They can be a situation or an event out of your control.
8. Your support network
Typically a hero will find support along the way, people who have their back. Now it’s time to talk about your support network and what they did to help you achieve your goal. Who are they in relation to your story? Were they family or friends and what did they do to uplift or console you when you needed it? Or were they referral partners or business networks?
Talk about how they helped you handle the challenges you faced. Be grateful but don’t make it a dedication page. Mention only the relevant people.
9. Your transformation
Comparing how you are now after that change in your routine, you should observe a significant difference. Maybe you’re more humble or more focused. Whatever the situation, you’re not the same person you were at the beginning, showing that you’ve developed.
10. Build to a climax
This is your big bang. Bring all of the elements together for the most exciting part of the story. You have to take into consideration this is your Hero’s Journey, one where you came out on top. So despite any low moments, an audience expects a good, satisfying ending.
If there are no indications that you’ve arrived at this point yet, maybe it’s not time to write your journey just now, wait until you have come to a winning ending for this chapter of your business.
It’s important to include this critical point of the business journey because it shows how you handled your obstacles and paves the way for the next cycle of your journey (because of course there will be future growth).
11. The aftermath
What results did you achieve after your journey? Was it increased profit? A thriving online presence? Or fantastic engagement socially? Whatever it was there must have been new skills and additions to the business that ultimately help you out in your new situation.
You also need to talk about the ways your life changed after each event in your story. Audiences will be able to resonate with this because you’ve been changed and they can feel proud of you because of how invested they’ve become in your journey.
12. The theme (or message)
Make sure that your audience has something they can learn from your story. Imparting them with any kind of knowledge or expertise as you narrate can keep your story alive and bring more people into the fold when your audience shares it and spreads the word.
In order to challenge your audience to overcome their own challenges, you need a call to action (CTA) to engage with them and encourage them to become your customers. Your journey should touch on their own pain points and be able to supply answers to equip them to get their own win through your discoveries.
The Hero’s Journey narrative works in any form of content
You can package your story in any way, shape, or form you like. These five are just some examples of how to use the Hero’s Journey narrative in your online content.
Blogs are the most common since they use the same format of well-known stories, from fairy tales to classic fiction. You can opt to create a series of 12 blogs that highlight one stage each or one long-form blog that has the adventure documented from start to finish with each of the stages included.
The first option will build suspense and entice readers to wait for the next instalment while the second option offers instant gratification. So depending on your type of audience, one or the other might suit them better.
Similar to blogs, you can choose to break down podcasts into 12 different episodes or dedicate a long episode to talking about every stage.
Whether you want to narrate your own story or have a guest recount theirs while you host and interview them is up to you.
Podcasts can be a good option for audiences who don’t like to sit down and read long-form content. They can just listen as they do other things, making them an accessible form of storytelling.
You can record 12 different videos and release them on different dates to give people something to look forward to or a long-form video showing how each stage unfolded.
The great thing about videos is that more and more people are tuning into them because of how easy they are to watch. It also showcases the faces of the people speaking (most of the time) and offers a more human element in voice inflexion and even body language if they’re on-screen.
Social media can be a little tricky but by using different mediums and posting them to the right platforms, they can attract the attention of your target audience.
One example is our short-form video series explaining our Content Directors’ Hero’s Journey. Luke Buesnel talks about what led him to business, how he discovered a love for storytelling, and what he did about it.
Social media has a wider reach than just your website or your email database, making it easier to reach a new audience. You can choose to create snippets or sneak peeks and entice the audience to find out more on your official handles and website.
Email nurture sequence
An email nurture sequence is a series of emails explaining a concept, one message at a time, to keep readers hooked on what you’re trying to say. It’s not just a one-and-done email that details everything in your blog or video, but small snippets that reveal a little more each time.
Think of it as a breadcrumb trail, luring your readers to the real main event. While it’s no house made of candy, it can still be a valuable, information-rich piece of content that can solve their problems.
You can create 12 different emails all leading up to the big moments of your career, making it seem like you’re sharing more and more as time goes by. But 12 is a big commitment, so two steps in each email might work better, totalling six emails.
The Hero’s Journey has proven successful not just in Hollywood, but with the everyday person.
Why else would we share posts from Humans of New York or continue to be awed by Turia Pitt, the brave woman who had to be lifted via helicopter out of a gorge amidst a grassfire and still continues to inspire today? We can connect with these complete strangers with empathy and see them as something bigger than just manufactured characters because we feel like we know them and cheer for their success.
Are you ready to become the hero of your story?