A leaf out of Adam Sandler’s book: How to tell your brand’s story

hero's journey Adam Sandler

When I think of Hollywood greats, Adam Sandler doesn’t come to mind. Yet his career has lasted much longer than more talented actors, and his films, while often bordering on horrendous, keep getting made.

Look through the catalogue of films he has starred in and you’ll see a consistent theme: they make money because people watch them. (Even Don’t Mess with the Zohan made almost $200 million at the box office — a more than 100% ROI).

The popularity of his films seems silly, almost unfair even, but he is successful for a reason. The directors, producers and film studios he’s worked with know how moviegoers want their entertainment — they understand the power of the ‘hero’s journey’ story. 

The hero’s journey is nothing new in movies and is an emerging trend in content (particularly in cold email nurturing). It’s the perfect vehicle to explain your journey to business and why you’re best placed to solve the pain points experienced by your ideal customers. 

Here’s how to use the 12 elements of the hero’s journey in your content.

1. Introduce the hero

Like Sandler, this is the main person in the story, and chances are, that’s you. There was a reason you decided to take the plunge and start out on your own, but have you ever communicated that to your market? It’s doubtful they truly remember or understand your point of difference and why they should choose you over the current standard in your industry. 

Answer these three questions when introducing the hero.

  1. Who are you?
  2. Why are you different?
  3. What’s driving you to succeed? 

2. Set up your circumstance 

Sandler was a sad wedding singer with nothing going for him. Unlike in that movie, I’m sure you have plenty happening, but in order for your ideal customers to learn about you, you need to set it up for them so there’s no confusion. 

Answer these three questions when setting up your circumstance.

  1. What triggered you to start your business journey?
  2. What’s the state of your current industry?
  3. What do you want out of starting your journey? 

3. Create empathy for yourself 

Every good story has a hero that the audience (in this case, your ideal customers) want to like. The current trend of egotistical, brash posting on social media won’t work here. To create empathy, you must be humble and human. 

Answer these three questions when creating empathy.

  1. Have you experienced misfortune? 
  2. What dangers do you face in business and life? 
  3. Why would the audience have sympathy for your journey? 

4. Explain your opportunity

Almost all successful business people saw an opportunity in the market to offer something better, new or more exciting. Assumingly you did too. Now you must detail what the opportunity is and what led you to realise it. 

Answer these three questions when explaining your opportunity.

  1. Where did your opportunity evolve from? 
  2. Can you explain the events behind realising your opportunity? 
  3. How did you realise your opportunity was worth pursuing?

5. Detail the new situation you’ve been thrust into

Up to this point, you’re yet to articulate what you want to achieve in your journey. Now is the time to introduce the goals you want to hit and the elements that drive you to keep focused when things don’t go right. 

Answer these three questions when explaining your new situation.

  1. What motivates you to keep going? 
  2. What goals are you trying to reach? 
  3. How have your goals been set? 

6. The pursuit of your opportunity

Happy Gilmour was a failed ice-hockey player with an amazing slapshot (whatever that is). Through the pursuit of needing to make money to save his grandmother’s house, Gilmour turns to golf. Here you need to focus on your dogged pursuit of the plan that will launch your business, product or service.   

Answer these three questions to outline your pursuit.

  1. What is your plan?
  2. Is your plan achievable? 
  3. How will it be measured? 

7. Introduce conflict into your journey

No story is complete without a curveball and, in business, we’ve all had at least one. In your hero’s journey, this is the primary source of emotion and has the ability to really grip your audience, particularly if it’s a cold email. 

Answer these three questions when introducing conflict.

  1. What obstacles and objections do you face? 
  2. Is your conflict with a person, situation or industry? 
  3. Is your conflict similar to your audiences (will they understand it)? 

8. Your support network

Listen to any successful business person and they will tell you that to succeed you need support. Here’s where you can introduce yours into your story. These are the people who are helping you achieve your goals. 

Answer these three questions when identifying your support network.

  1. Who is providing beneficial support?
  2. What are they doing for you? 
  3. What are the results of what they’ve done for you? 

9. Your transformation

Every journey in business will transform you as a person and professional — it can either be good or bad. Let’s assume for you it’s positive and this is your chance to articulate the transformation you’ve undertaken. 

Answer these three questions to explain your transformation.

  1. How have you changed since the beginning of your career or business journey (assuming you’ve been in business for a while)? 
  2. What transformation have others noticed in you? 
  3. How has it changed your perception of life? 

10. Build to a climax

In 50 First Dates you know what happens before it starts — despite the conflict, eventually, the audience gets what they want, which is a positive ending. Don’t be ambiguous about this. Your readers, listeners or viewers must get the same otherwise they will feel cheated. 

Answer these three questions when building to a climax.

  1. What does the audience want (make sure it’s clear to you first)? 
  2. What event/situation enables your story to build to a climax? 
  3. Unlike many movies, is your climax easy to follow and understand? 

11. The aftermath

If you get your business idea right, there are some great rewards at the end (such as financial rewards, more time with the family, and the list goes on). This is your chance to explain how your life has changed since embarking on your hero’s journey. 

Answer these three questions when detailing your aftermath.

  1. What’s your reward for completing your journey? 
  2. How has your life changed? 
  3. How is this relatable to your audience? 

12. The theme

As much as your hero’s journey is about you, you need to draw your audience in by ensuring there’s something tangible in your story for them. Otherwise, they’ve invested in you for no real result.

If your story doesn’t allow your audience to learn, apply what you’ve suggested, or challenge them, you’re missing a huge opportunity to convert your audience into loyal customers. This is what’s called a call to action (CTA). 

Answer these three questions to guide your CTA.

  1. What action/s do you want your audience to take? 
  2. How does your journey solve the pain points faced by your audience? 
  3. Do you need different subject matter to address multiple customer/buyer personas?

These 12 steps above are Hollywood magic — and it’s enabled film studios to retell the same story across thousands of films spanning many generations. Much can be learnt by how this industry engages an audience through the power of storytelling. 

But it’s not exclusive to them. It’s a communication tool you can use to your advantage. 

If you apply these steps in your content it will help boost your personal or business profile, increase branding, entertain your audience and most importantly, shorten the sales cycles because you’ve built familiarity among your ideal customers. 

The hero’s journey is not limited to any one form of content. Each step could form the basis of a 12 blog post or podcast series or the steps could be segmented throughout a six email nurture sequence. 

NOW READ: The pitch: Four ways to craft a company story so people listen

NOW READ: The story of Scrub Daddy: How this sponge business became the most successful Shark Tank company ever


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