The Hero’s Journey


Luke Skywalker can help your business. Indiana Jones, too. Harry Potter, Katniss Everdeen, Ellie Woods, you name it. Why? Not because all of them were the lead characters in financially successful film franchises, but because they all went through the hero’s journey.

And not just them. Pretty much every lead character in every story ever told has gone through it too, from ancient myths and religious teachings to modern day movies, books and comics. The structure of effective storytelling has not changed in all that time, even if the form has advanced endlessly.

And yet too few businesses make use of the storytelling approach that has engaged our species for millenia, ditching it in favour of bland corporate speak and unengaging attempts to seem perfect. As Forbes Asia columnist Rich Karlgaard writes, most businesses instead “take perfectly good raw material about their customers and turn it into Barbie doll stories, fake and plastic” [1]. But if wielded well, the hero’s journey can be a hugely valuable tool for businesses as well as creative projects. Before we explain how, let’s first delve into what it is.

The hero with a thousand faces

Joseph Campbell was a renowned writer, scholar and mythologist. His seminal work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces [2], was released in 1949. In it, Campbell unveiled a powerful storytelling framework known as the hero’s journey. This concept proposes a universal narrative structure found in myths, legends, books and movies.

Campbell’s contention can be applied to any story you know and is hard to refute once you know what you’re looking for. These days it is not just a theory that scholars like Campbell apply to stories after-the-fact, but rather a tool storytellers use to ensure their work follows a fulfilling structure. Go into any screenwriting, novel writing or storytelling class around the world and it is Campbell’s teachings that will be fed to you.

The traditional hero’s journey can be broken down into three distinct stages:

The hero’s journey is a profound storytelling tool that companies can use as the foundation for any campaign. By following this proven storytelling structure, businesses can offer their target audience compelling stories that resonate. Position the customer as the hero, embarking on a transformative journey with your product or service as the trusty guide.

Implementing the hero’s journey to your campaign

Here’s how companies can leverage the hero’s journey to craft winning marketing strategies:

Identify your customer as the hero

The first step is to understand your target audience’s aspirations and struggles. What are their ordinary worlds? What are the calls to adventure that disrupt their daily lives? Are they yearning for financial freedom, a healthier lifestyle, or improved productivity? By identifying these desires and challenges, companies can position themselves as the mentors who guide customers on their journeys.

Highlight the “Call to Adventure” and pain points

Marketing campaigns should paint a vivid picture of the hero’s (your customer’s) ordinary world and the problems they face. This creates a sense of recognition, allowing customers to connect with the narrative on an emotional level. For instance, a fitness brand might showcase a struggling individual yearning for a healthier lifestyle. By highlighting the pain points associated with an unhealthy lifestyle, the brand sets the stage for their product as the solution.

Showcase your product/service as the trusty guide

Once the call to adventure is established, companies can showcase their product or service as the mentor figure in the hero’s journey. Use compelling visuals and narratives to demonstrate how your offering equips customers to overcome the obstacles they face. A productivity app might showcase features that help users manage their time effectively, conquer their to-do list, and achieve their goals.

Emphasise trials and transformations

The hero’s journey isn’t a walk in the park. Marketing campaigns should portray the trials and tribulations the customer might encounter. This could involve showcasing real-life customers overcoming challenges with the help of your product or service. Testimonials and case studies can be powerful tools for emphasising the transformative power of your offering.The key here is to demonstrate how your product/service empowers customers to navigate the obstacles and emerge victorious.

Celebrate the reward and share the bounty

The culmination of the hero’s journey is the reward. Marketing efforts should emphasise the positive outcomes achieved through using your product or service. Showcasing happy and successful customers who have benefited from your offering strengthens the connection between your brand and the hero’s narrative. Highlight not just the product itself, but the improved life the customer achieves through using it.

The hero’s journey in action

Still not convinced? Try thinking about the major brands that make use of this framework in every story they tell. Nike positions athletes as heroes overcoming physical limitations and achieving peak performance with their innovative footwear and apparel. Apple portrays users as creative individuals empowered by their devices to bring their ideas to life. Headspace positions itself as the guide on a journey towards a calmer and more mindful state of being. And that’s to name just a few.

By harnessing the power of the hero’s journey, companies can craft marketing campaigns that are more than just advertisements. They become engaging narratives that customers can connect with on a personal level. This emotional connection fosters brand loyalty and encourages customers to see your product or service as an essential part of their transformative journeys.

The science behind the hero’s journey

In Harvard Business Review, Paul J. Zak, founding director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies and a professor of economics, psychology, and management at Claremont Graduate University, writes about his research into the power of storytelling, namely around the release of the neurochemical oxytocin. In his words, oxytocin “is produced when we are trusted or shown a kindness, and it motivates cooperation with others. It does this by enhancing the sense of empathy, our ability to experience others’ emotions.” [3]

He and his lab wondered whether they could “hack” the oxytocin system to motivate people to engage in cooperative behaviours through the power of narrative. In subsequent studies, they showed that “in order to motivate a desire to help others, a story must first sustain attention – a scarce resource in the brain – by developing tension during the narrative. If the story is able to create that tension then it is likely that attentive viewers/listeners will come to share the emotions of the characters in it, and after it ends, likely to continue mimicking the feelings and behaviours of those characters.”

This aligns with what Rich Karlgaard noted earlier about “barbie” campaigns. Companies are too keen to make themselves out to be perfect –– to say customers needed X in their lives and so we emerged and gave it to them. It was that simple, no drama, no tension. As such, the message doesn’t land. Showing vulnerability is a strength not a weakness, a feature not a bug.

As Zak says of his research: “My experiments show that character-driven stories with emotional content result in a better understanding of the key points a speaker wishes to make and enable better recall of these points weeks later. In terms of making an impact, this blows the standard PowerPoint presentation to bits. I advise business people to begin every presentation with a compelling, human-scale story. Why should customers or a person on the street care about the project you are proposing? How does it change the world or improve lives? How will people feel when it is complete? These are the components that make information persuasive and memorable.”

Every organisation has its own story, its founding myth. Companies need to lean into that to market themselves to consumers. Don’t be pretty and shiny; be real, relatable and solving a problem.

The hero’s journey

The hero’s journey isn’t just a marketing gimmick –– it’s a storytelling framework rooted in human psychology. By tapping into our innate desire for adventure, transformation, and connection, businesses can craft narratives that resonate deeply. Remember, your customers are the heroes, and your product or service the trusty guide.

Embrace the science behind storytelling. Craft narratives that capture attention, ignite empathy, and celebrate the transformative power of your offering. Don’t shy away from vulnerability –– showcase the challenges your customers face and how you empower them to overcome them.

Ultimately, the hero’s journey is a call to action. It’s a call to businesses to ditch the stale tactics and embrace the power of storytelling. It’s a call to customers to embark on their own journeys, with your company as their trusted companion. By answering this call, businesses can forge deeper connections, build brand loyalty, and ultimately, achieve their own success stories.



[2] APA. Campbell, J. (2012). The hero with a thousand faces (3rd ed.). New World Library