21 Sep 2016

Luke Skywalker? No, Your Brand Needs To Be More Like Yoda

My son recently graduated from watching animated features to Star Wars. As one of the world’s great examples of archetype-based storytelling, there are many lessons a brand can take from the movie series. But I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the role of a hero and how you bring people into the story.

Most people and brands want to be the hero. They crave the central role, along with the attention, rewards and adulation that come with it. My son wants to be Darth Vader, but that’s a story for another blog post.

When we move from motivation to marketing, this desire to be the hero drives a bunch of bad decisions and ultimately, poor results.

Brands should acknowledge that their marketing stories are not swashbuckling fantasies set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. If you choose to speak in a dry and corporate manner as a brand, casting yourself as the hero without context comes across as chest-beating or just plain irrelevant.

There are two obvious routes out of this conundrum.

First, you could hire George Lucas and spend a blockbuster budget on improving the quality of content you produce to market your brand as the hero. You’ll need to be sure that you have a good feel for what makes audiences engage because you don’t want to end up wasting vast sums of money on a movie no one ends up watching.

The safer bet is option two. Look for ways to make your audience the heroes of the stories you create. Communicate why the product, deal or acquisition is important to them. How will it help them vanquish their Darth Vader?

“Heroing” the things your clients do with your products through case studies is the shallow end of this approach. You can (and should) go further. Create the tools that will lead them towards solutions that include your businesses. You can even “hero” the need that requires your solution instead of the audience – digital transformation, social good.

Most companies I work with talk about a desire to develop executives into thought leaders in their space. When we get into this discussion, it almost always confirms that they’re really looking for recognition as a subject matter expert, sometimes only on their product or service.

True thought leadership requires stepping beyond your business or product to become a hero for an entire industry, or at least tackling a subset of the biggest issues facing that industry. Gaining recognition demands this and, as a reward, builds the right to occasionally talk about yourself and what you do.

If marketing is about creating audience connections that can be monetised at some point, it’s time to give up the hero’s role of the story. Instead of trying to be Luke Skywalker, become your customer’s Yoda and teach them the ways of the Force.

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