Your Brand's Hero's Journey

These are the worst of times and the best of times. The question is are individuals, organizations and media willing to shed light on what’s truly not working. Thank you Dunlavey for this fun visual that is one take on Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey.

First a primer on the Hero’s Journey: it is the foundation of every single classic story/film from Star Wars, The Matrix, and Harry Potter. They all follow these 3 core steps: Separation, Initiation and Return. This process is true for individuals–be it your career, your relationships, or aspirations in life. It plays out with brands just as powerfully from the launch and rebirth of a product–it’s all the same stuff.

Here’s my take on a brands Hero’s Journey, with The Matrix as our classic story example and Xbox as our brand story:

SEPARATION: Market conditions dictate breaking out of the old and into new paradigms. Some see the horizon (and few over the horizon) faster than others. From disintermediation of so many categories lately (e.g. travel agents to online travel booking) there is constant separation occurring. Let’s call this a battle to shake the old/current way of doing things and being open to new ways of tackling human problems and aspirations.

In The Matrix, Neo was numb. He was less than happy at work and didn’t have anything he was truly excited about. Then he receives a phone call that leads to meeting with Morpheus. During the meeting Neo has the epic moment to choose between the red and blue pill. To refresh your memory (or if you haven’t seen the movie), the red and blue pill are symbols representing the choice between the blissful ignorance of illusion (blue) and embracing the sometimes painful truth of reality (red). He chose the red pill. Naturally, Neo chooses the red pill.

For brands, the blue pill translates to staying ignorant to change, refusing to recognize the shift occurring and its impact on your brand. The red pill for a brand would be choosing to step out into the likely unknown territory, to explore, learn and grow into new frontiers.

Let's look at Xbox's Hero's Journey. Microsoft’s strength is B2B with amazing successes in enterprise selling. Xbox was the first true big-bet into a consumer offering. It took the courage and audacity to venture into this new territory with formidable opponents (particularly one—Nintendo at the time). That was the separation.

Ask yourself, as stewards of a brand (and I contend we are all stewards of the brand we represent), are you willing to recognize the true cycle (beyond buzz word “life cycle”) of your brand? Is it time to shake things up? As Seth Godin says, is it time to “Poke the Box?”

INITIATION: The next phase is initiation, assuming you listen to the call. It is to move into change, to poke beyond your comfort zone. In the beginning it’s painful and full of strong emotions. Yet once you are in the midst of the “battle” (almost always internal), there is no turning back.

Neo could not go back once he chose the red pill. Neither can a brand once you’ve put a strategy in motion. It’s not just about the financial and other investment of resources but it’s about seeing it through. It’s human nature to not quit even when the going is tough.

Xbox’s initiation was long and continuous for five plus years. They asked to be left alone to create a unique culture needed to innovate in a totally new space. They definitely failed many times before scoring the big win. They were a big financial drain on Microsoft. While they were busy inventing and iterating, competitors were busy launching new versions of their gaming consoles. The list of obstacles is endless. The point is, every brand goes through it’s challenges—it’s initiation toward maturing, toward growing up to be the best it can be.

Now think of your biggest challenge for your brand and your team? What needs to happen for you to step through that challenge? I bet a dose of courage and confidence would help in most cases. Do you have a leader who has set a clear vision and course toward a North Star? Is the leader bringing the team along on the journey, reminding them that there will be many hurdles along the path? Does the leader relentlessly believe in the vision to stand up against all opponents and protect the team?

RETURN: Assuming you make it through separation and initiation, now comes the true Gift, or as it’s known in the Hero’s Journey model, the Return. It’s the true realization that we are all brilliant and have great contributions to make. It’s about personal (internal) excellence, not externally imposed or accepted excellence. This is truly about breaking out of the norm into completely new paradigms. This is about doing the impossible. It can be simple, though not easy.

For Neo, there were many moments of the recognition of his role in the story. My favorite moment is his meeting the Oracle. She is a mysterious but powerful figure, incongruously depicted as a cheerful old lady who smokes cigarettes and bakes cookies. Later, she is revealed to be a sapient program (perhaps God) who is integral to the very nature of the Matrix itself. In this recognition is also the implied reality of our individual power in our own matrix, the world we live in.

For Xbox the return in terms of bottom line success continues to play out. The return to celebrates accomplishing the arduous task of doing the impossible and forging new ground and continuously improving upon it. Having said that, I’m simply illustrating one product brand for now. Remember, the cycle of the Hero's Journey continues. It's a new chapter each time with new challenges to overcome. That's why the movie industry has sequels.

Regardless of how you define success (a “happy ending” that we all expect in a story) there is always a completion of the cycle. Hopefully there is always a community, a team that is willing and able to receive you back into the fold. For a brand, one part of that community are your loyal customers that believe in you, trust you and keep coming back. Or not. Remember your customer has her own Hero's Journey and each one is different. Your brand can unite your community when you find that common connection that resonates.

In closing, for those brand stewards that believe in and are striving toward “winning the heart and minds of customers” ask yourself: are you clear about your brands Hero’s Journey? Are you intimately clear about your customer’s current stage in their Hero’s Journey? Have you invited your internal and external stakeholders along on your Hero’s Journey?

These are amazing times of opportunity. The social media revolution has little to do with technology (that’s simply an enabler) and everything to do with the heart and desires of humanity. Stay awake with curiosity, get clear about your brands journey consciously and have fun along the way.

Please comment here or contact me directly to share the Hero’s Journey of your brand. I am here to listen, learn and contribute to your growth.  Sign-up for my newsletter.

brandingBobby BakshiComment