Who’s the Hero of Your Story?

I recently watched a documentary about a South Korean pastor named Mr. Lee. He and his wife, starting about 18 years ago, began opening their home to unwanted children, many of whom are disabled. The couple now essentially runs an orphanage, although they’ve also adopted ten of these children. Mr. Lee even installed what basically amounts to an incubator/mailbox hybrid where infants can be safely and anonymously dropped off.

It’s both a heartbreaking and heart-warming story, but one thing that Mr. Lee says on film has stuck with me since. When the documentarian (rightly) seems to imply that Mr. Lee is a hero for sacrificing his life, time, and home to the plight of these kids, the man corrects him.

“I’m not the hero of these children’s stories,” he says. “They are the heroes.”



Who’s the Hero?


Part of the reason these words have been rolling around in my mind is because it’s an incredible statement. Of course, he’s the hero, right? He’s living a life that (if we’re honest with ourselves) we probably wouldn’t want. It’s a life of total sacrifice. A life lived completely in the service of singlehandedly trying to solve what, if the film is to be believed, a real problem in his culture.

The other reason I keep going back to his words is because, since founding Vinyl Marketing four years ago, I’ve had the same conversation with at least a hundred business and higher education leaders about this exact thing.

Pose the question of “who is The Hero” when it comes to the relationship between an organization and its customers, clients, students, or donors, and the answer always comes back with a rather alarming level of resounding synchronicity.

“We are,” is almost always the reply. “The organization.”

But, here’s the thing (I politely explain), “Nope. You aren’t.”

Instead, when it comes to The Hero of your organization’s story, it’s the customer. Or the client. Or the student. Or the donor.

You aren’t The Hero.

Instead, you are The Guide.

Here’s what I mean.

The Hero’s Journey


We take a lot of our marketing philosophy from two of Joseph Campbell’s classic treatises on comparative myth and storytelling, The Hero with a Thousand Faces and The Hero’s Journey. In these two books, he outlines the structure that undergirds many myths and defines the stages the main characters throughout world literature often take as the story progresses. In film-speak, you’d call these the beats of the story.

What’s amazing is that if you take that structure and adapt it a little and look at it through your trusty marketing glasses, you get a great view of the process through which your customers, clients, donors, or students go through when it comes to making financial decisions. (Note: there have been a few others than us to utilize a similar structure, although ours tends to be a bit more comprehensive.)

Stay with me here.

It breaks down like this…

1. There’s a Hero
This is step one. There’s a person. Maybe his name is, I don’t know… let’s call him “Luke Skywalker.”

2. Ordinary World
This person lives in a particular world and does particular things that for him are normal. For our buddy Luke in this totally-non-copyright-infringing example, he lives on Tatooine and works on a moisture farm. Completely normal.

3. Hero Problems
Our hero has problems. Of course he does. He works outdoors on a gosh darn desert planet. His neighbors are Tuscan Raiders. His only friends are Banthas. Your Hero also has problems, whether they realize it yet or not.

4. The Call to Adventure
This stage is where The Hero, having realized he has a problem, is confronted with new info that’s going to require a choice somewhere in the not-too-distant future. For Luke, this call to adventure happens when he sees the message from Leia and learns about a fun new feature of his universe called The Death Star.

5. Refusal of the Quest
Here’s the choice I was promising before. Your clients, students, or donors could check out what you’ve got to offer. Or, they could not. It could go either way. For Luke, he could go back to the farm. Or he could check out what this Princess lady is all about.

6. Enter the Unknown World
For your Hero, this is the point at which they go ahead in the transactional process. In the business world, this might be imagining their lives after making a purchase. In the world of higher ed, this could be envisioning a future where they’ve cut that hefty check for a new wing on the library. For Luke, this is learning more about The Force and what the Rebel Alliance is up to these days.

7. Meets a Guide
Hey, look! Now you’re in the story. This is you. You are The Guide. You are Obi-Wan Kenobi to your Hero’s Luke.

8. The Plan
This stage involves two things. First, The Plan is the process through which you’re going to guide your Hero. Secondly, there’s The Promise, which is what the Hero’s going to get on the other side. Luke’s going to follow Obi-Wan, they’ll hire the Millennium Falcon, save the princess, not get eaten by that thing in the trash compactor and save the universe. And if he does so, Obi-Wan tells him he will be a rockstar among troubadours. Or, something like that.

9. Call to Action
This stage is where you, as The Guide, are going to ask something of your Hero. It could be anything from setting up a phone call to opening their wallet. For Luke, it’s the moment when he leaves his old life behind for good and answers the call to fulfill his destiny.

10. Tests and The Supreme Ordeal
We don’t live in a perfect world, so things are going to go pear-shaped for your Hero at some point. This is where your guidance and expertise are going to come in very handy. Luke experiences all sorts of tests along with way. Like, that thing in the trash compactor.

The Supreme Ordeal is a very gauche way of describing a problem that’s gotten to the level of existential. It’s what keeps your Hero up at night. For Luke, this is his fear of not being up to the task of not just failing at his mission, but also not fulfilling his destiny with a capital D.

11. Defeat
This stage describes what happens if your Hero doesn’t have their problems solved. For Luke, it quite literally means the end of the universe. Hopefully, your Hero’s stakes are a smidge lower.

12. Reward and Restoration
Your Hero has won. The world is bright, the birds are singing, milk and honey are flowing from every nook and cranny, and all’s well that ends well. And you got your Hero to this point. Nice work. It’s time for a five-minute medal ceremony on some inordinately giant steps.

So, that’s The Hero’s Journey. Or, at least our version of it here at Vinyl.

The critical element of this whole process, of course, is that hopefully you’ve shifted your focus from viewing yourself and your organization as The Hero, and instead now view your role in the proper light—as The Guide.

This shift in perspective has been transformative for our clients. It clarifies their role within their relationship with both students and donors. The idea of The Guide puts them in position to generate even more value for The Heroes in their story.

It’s also a simple idea that can revolutionize your capacity for success, no matter your role—and do so in a way that changes the way you live out your mission going forward.

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