Be the guide, not the hero

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I need to be reminded of a principle or concept I learned long ago but somewhere along the line either forgot, ignored or simply set aside while pursuing other things. Recently I was reminded of an important branding principle that hasn’t been as top of mind for me as it should.

The reminder came while reading the book Building a StoryBrand, by Donald Miller. Miller understands the power of a compelling story for brand-building, and (spoiler alert) his book builds on Joseph Campbell’s power of myth theory but repackages it for marketers, brand managers, entrepreneurs, or anyone trying to sell a product or service. Building a StoryBrand breaks down the mythological hero’s journey into a step-by-step formula that can help any brand achieve success.

Even if you’ve never studied Greek mythology, you’ve encountered the hero’s journey somewhere along the way in your own life’s journey. If you caught “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” over the holidays, you saw the hero’s journey play out on the big screen. Without giving away the movie’s plot line or the premise for Miller’s book, I’ll say that just about every blockbuster movie in recent years plays on this hero’s journey concept: a protagonist, haunted by self-doubt and uncertainty, is called to a greater purpose and encounters a guide along the way to help.

Many of us in the world of branding may cast ourselves in the role of hero. (It’s only natural to want to be the star of your own movie, right?) We too are plagued with uncertainty about our product or service, even though we know that our product or service can change the world if only …

Wait. Scratch that.

Your customer is the hero, not your brand

If you think your brand is the hero of the story it’s cast in, think again. The hero is your customer. You (your brand) are the guide helping your customer achieve success.

Put another way: Your customer is Luke Skywalker (the hero). Your brand is Yoda (the guide).

Or: Your customer is Harry Potter and you are Dumbledore. Your customer is Pinocchio and you are the Blue Fairy. Your customer is Frodo and you are Aragorn. Your customer is Michael Corleone and you are Clemenza.

OK, that last one might be a move toward a ethically questionable direction. But you get the point. But just in case you’re still not with me, this tweet from Tim Nekritz might help:

The point, Miller writes, is this: “When we position our customer as the hero and ourselves as the guide, we will be recognized as a trusted resource to help them overcome their challenges.”

Brands that position themselves as the hero — rather than the guide — make a  big mistake, Miller says.

Branding is not about us (the brand). It’s about our hero, the customer.

As Miller writes:

The story must always be focused on the hero, and if a storyteller (or business leader) forgets this, the audience will get confused about who the story is really about and they will lose interest. This is true in business, in politics, and even in your own family. People are looking for a guide to help them, not another hero.

Higher ed: positioned to guide

Few sectors are as poised to be guides to their hero-customers as is higher education.

Think about it. Our heroes the prospective students, uncertain of their future, look to us to guide them along the right path.

Our heroic potential donors, seeking to make a difference in the world with their charitable gifts, also look to us for guidance.

Our soon-to-be graduates, looking for that first job out of college, consult our career services staff to guide them.

Whoever our many customer/heroes may be and wherever they may be on their journey, we should position ourselves as the authority, guide and mentor that will help them on their way.

As Tina Turner sang in the theme song to that classic heroic tale “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome” (Mad Max the hero, the tribe of children his guides): “We don’t need another hero.”

We already have plenty of heroes in our higher education brand story. It’s up to us, as guides, to make sure our heroes succeed.

Image via Max Pixel.


Author: andrewcareaga

Higher ed PR and marketing guy. Communications director for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) in Rolla, Missouri, USA. Slow runner, mediocre guitarist, lover of music and puns, and an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan. I blog and Tweet about #highered, #music, #gocards and #random stuff.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s