Caleb receives a notification on his work computer.
He has won something.
Elated, he texts his friends and family about the news. And is flooded with replies like “OMG! Take me, take me!”.
This is the opening sequence of Ex Machina – a movie about artificial intelligence (I’d recommend to any fans of Black Mirror).
In the next shot, Caleb, wearing a suit, is helicoptering over a mountainous paradise (think Jurassic Park, without the soundtrack).
Two lines of dialogue are exchanged between Caleb and the pilot:
“How long until we get to his estate?”
“We’ve been flying over his estate for the past two hours.”
Aaaaaaand, I’m hooked.
It’s the Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, playing out in front of our eyes (again). Just like we watched in The Matrix and Lord of the Rings (amongst thousands of others).
A Brief Introduction to The Hero’s Journey
There are 17 stages in the journey, according to Campbell.
For the purpose of this post, let’s focus on the first three …
- The Ordinary World
- The Call to Adventure
Caleb’s prize notification.
Trinity’s message to Neo on his computer.
Frodo’s discovery of the ring.
- Refusal of the Call
Caleb’s hesitation to sign a contract that means his employer can monitor his every move and conversation.
Neo’s reluctance to follow the guidance of Morpheus on that Nokia phone, resulting in his capture by the agents.
Frodo’s attempt to give the ring back to Gandalf when the Ringwraiths attack the Shire.
Caleb signs the contract – thanks to the persuasion of Nathan.
Neo swallows the red pill – thanks to the persuasion of Morpheus.
Frodo leaves the Shire – thanks to the persuasion of Gandalf.
In marketing terms, I think of these moments as the “conversion” in your customer’s journey.
As the brand, you are Nathan, Gandalf, Morpheus, Obi Wan, Mr. Miagi, Hagrid, the mother of Achilles, Moana’s crazy grandma.
And it’s your job to do the persuading.
Let’s look at how each of our fictional role models manage to do it …
A Brief Look into the Mind of Master Persuaders
Nathan uses the fear of missing out to convince Caleb:
“What can I tell you, Caleb? You don’t have to sign it. You know, we can spend the next few days just shooting pool, getting drunk together. Bonding. And when you discover what you’ve missed out on, in about a year, you’re gonna regret it for the rest of your life.”
Morpheus follows suit:
“Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself. You take the blue pill and the story ends. You wake in your bed and you believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill and you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”
Further into the first LOTR movie, Gandalf uses a slightly different tactic to convince almost everybody, including Frodo, that the ring must be destroyed – by highlighting the consequences of not taking action:
“Do you not understand? While we bicker among ourselves, Sauron’s power grows. No one will escape it. You will all be destroyed, your homes burnt and your families put to the sword!”
And just to bring in another example, the mother of Achilles presents two opposing arguments – allowing Achilles to make his own clear decision about going to war or not:
“If you stay in Lrisa, you will find peace. You will find a wonderful woman. You will have sons and daughters, and they will have children. And they will love you. When you are gone, they will remember you. But when your children are dead and their children after them, your name will be lost. If you go to Troy, glory will be yours. They will write stories about your victories for thousands of years. The world will remember your name. But if you go to Troy, you will never come home. For your glory walks hand in hand with your doom. And I shall never see you again.”
Now, you could ignore this concept altogether, click the back button, and go about your day as normal – never changing.
Or, you could keep reading, learn how to apply this idea of the Hero’s Journey to your marketing, and become known for your ability to increase conversions on any given piece of creative …
A Brief Example of the Hero’s Journey Method in Marketing
Almost every podcast I listen to has an advert, or shout-out, to Squarespace.
Squarespace is a platform that allows anybody to build their own website with ease.
Their ads place you, the customer, as the hero. And they, the brand, as the mentor.
They don’t sell “a website building platform”. They sell the new world ahead of you.
Their homepage copy reads: “Look like an expert from the start”.
They also highlight a consequence of not taking action, in their Superbowl advert featuring John Malkovich: “Get your domain before it’s gone.”
And subtly underline the fear of missing out by showcasing the success of others who have succeeded with their own website (see an example in this case study video about girlboss.com).
A Brief Way to Get Started
I loved Ex Machina.
I loved The Matrix.
I loved Lord of the Rings.
Yes, they all use the same Hero’s Journey. But every story is unique.
And yours is unique, too.
Copying Squarespace isn’t going to boost your conversions overnight.
So, to get started, pick an important landing page on your website, and try rewriting the copy after asking yourself the following questions:
- What is my customer’s “ordinary world”?
- How does my product/service change that world for the better?
- What are all the excuses my customer could use to not take action?
- What are the reassurances I could give to counter each of these excuses?
(i.e. if the customer doesn’t trust your product, yet – then make a big deal of your free trial/money back guarantee)
- What are the possible consequences of my customer not taking action?
We only covered a few of the 17 stages to the Hero’s Journey today.
If you’d like to explore more and how they apply to marketing, please let me know in the comments and we can look at them together.
Here’s the full list:
The Call to Adventure
Refusal of the Call
Crossing the First Threshold
Belly of the Whale
The Road of Trials
The Meeting with the Goddess
Woman as Temptress
Atonement with the Father
The Ultimate Boon
Refusal of the Return
The Magic Flight
Rescue from Without
The Crossing of the Return Threshold
Master of Two Worlds
Freedom to Live