15 min read

Customer hero journey

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Hell and Heaven Island

Imagine two islands. One island has a fire and your prospect is stuck there. Then there is an island where it is heaven for them. The overall goal is to help move that prospect from hell to Heaven Island in the best way usually through your product. While we of course point out the obvious "heaven" - many times we need to clearly spell out how our product helps people "escape hell island" rather than talk about future pleasure. While you should future pace, most of it should talk about escaping their current pain.

Your Customers' Hero Journey

The storybrand strategy is based on the idea that a clear brand story can help founders connect with their audience and grow their customer base.

Customers don’t tend to buy the best products and services—they buy the products and services that are easiest to understand. Steve Jobs didn’t sell the best computer, phone or music listening device; but he did build the clearest, simplest and most easy-to-understand technology brand. 

Apple does not have the best products HOWEVER they have the best stories.

7 Elements of the Brand Story

  1. A character (Your customer)
  2. With a problem
  3. Meets a guide
  4. Who gives them a plan
  5. And calls them to action
  6. That results in…
  7. (Success or failure)


STEP 1: A Character

Your Brand is not the hero, your customer is

Once we identify who our customer is, we have to ask ourselves what they want as it relates to our brand. The catalyst for any story is that the hero wants something. The rest of the story is a journey about discovering whether the hero will get what they want.

Ask yourself: What do our clients want?/What do they yearn for/What identity do they seek? Everyone is walking around is quite desperation. Our clients are not where they want to be, we must help them transform into that, what is that transformation? Brands that participate in the character transformation of their clients like Apple create brand evangelists. Even when people buy coke they buy into a person of fun, carefree.

Who does your customer want to be as it relates to your brand? 

STEP 2: Has a Problem

If we sell lawn-care products, they’re coming to us because they’re embarrassed about their lawn or they simply don’t have time to do the work. If we sell financial advice, they’re coming to us because they’re worried about their retirement plan. It may not be as dramatic or sexy as James Bond going to Q to grab the latest high-tech spy weapons, but the premise is the same: our customers are in trouble and they need help.

Almost all companies try to sell solutions to external problems, but as we unfold the StoryBrand Framework, you’ll see why customers are much more motivated to resolve their inner frustrations.

STEP 3: And Meets a Guide

Brands that position themselves as heroes unknowingly compete with their potential customers.


The hero is not the strongest character in a story. The strongest character is the guide. The guide is the character who has “been there and done that.” They are usually older, more experienced and wiser. Think of Yoda in Star Wars, Gandalf in Lord of the Rings, Albus Dumbledor in Harry Potter, Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting, and so on. 

We want you to position your brand as a guide.

There are two questions a brand must answer in order for the hero to recognise they’ve found the right guide: 

  1. Empathy: What empathetic statement can your brand make that would help your customers feel understood and listened to? What is that sentence that would create a visceral connection with the audience that says “wow he really gets me”. 
  2. Authority: What testimonials, statistics or brand associations can you make that would help customers trust you because you’re an authority in your field of expertise?...YOU DON’T HAVE TO GO OVERBOARD WITH THIS! PEOPLE ONLY CARE ABOUT THEMSELVES; EMPATHY TRUMPS AUTHORITY.

STEP 4: Who Gives Them a Plan

When the hero meets the guide, they are confused. The job of the guide, then, is to break through the hero’s confusion and give them confidence their life can be better. The plan can be as simple as a paradigm shift - you used to think this way, but I want you to think another way - or as complex as a multi-level strategy that will help the hero win a complicated battle. Regardless, after the hero hears the plan, they must decide whether to take action on the plan they’ve been given.

Check out Obama’s plan, HERE

  • Notice how he acknowledges Mitt Romney's plan and highlights the "hell" it could cause.
  • You need to be able to understand your competitor's value proposition and identify if they are indeed value props OR if they only work in certain situations (Eg. Competitor "A" has fast onboarding BUT unfortunately, this means the data they provide is only 97% effective. Some companies don't mind this BUT if you're a company that needs 100% accuracy then it could mean the end of the business"`  

Here are a couple of examples of an effective plan:

• The “Process Plan”: a simple process you take customers through that clarifies a path• An “Agreement Plan”: an agreement you make with your customers to deliver value

The “Process Plan”:

Imagine wanting to have the carpet in your home steam cleaned. You’re looking online for a local vendor, reading reviews, checking prices, and so on. Then you stumble across the website for a well-reviewed carpet cleaner in your area and right there on their homepage, in large text, you read about their “Four-Step Ultra Clean Checklist.”

It sounds interesting so you read the description. They essentially:
1. Pre-rake the carpet,
2. Stain-treat troubled areas,
3. Vacuum with their dirtlifting power scrubber; then
4. Post-rake the entire house so the carpet dries faster and stays clean longer.

It sounds great. You wonder why other companies don’t go through the same trouble to care for their customers. And these guys aren’t even that much more expensive. So you call and schedule a cleaning.

The reality is, though, the other companies are doing the same thing. It’s called cleaning a carpet. What the company did that got your attention, though, is they turned their normal service into a step-by-step process, clarified it for their customers and gave it a name. What this does in the customer’s mind is take the vague, foggy world of steam cleaning carpet and frame it with some definition. Because people are drawn to clarity, they end up getting more business.

An “Agreement Plan”

An agreement plan is as simple as a promise. If you sell a service, consider listing the ten or fifteen things you deliver and package that list as a value promise. 

CarMax’s 25-point inspection is an agreement plan. A local radio promising a weather update every fifteen minutes is an agreement plan. A pain relief promise from a medicine company is an agreement plan. And on and on it goes. 

Your Agreement Plan doesn’t have to be a money-back guarantee, but it should remove at least some of the customer’s risk, especially if it removes an internal problem the customer experiences within your field of expertise. A dentist offering a pain-free checkup is an example of an agreement plan. 

Is there an agreement you can make with your customers that will lessen their fears? Are you already offering something that alleviates their fears but you haven’t named it yet? What kind of agreement can you make with your customers to help them have confidence in your products and services?

STEP 5: And Calls Them to Action

A call to action involves communicating a clear and direct step our customers can take to overcome their challenges and return to a peaceful life. Without clear calls to action, people will not engage in our brand.

Two types of action

1. Direct Calls to Action 
2. Transitional Calls to Action

Both calls to action should be featured in your branding material. A transitional Call to Action does not necessarily lead to a purchase, but serves to engage potential customers with your brand by offering to educate them about an issue related to your products, deliver more information about your specific product, or give them a free sample. We call these calls to action transitional because they help transition a disinterested customer into a buyer. 

Transitional calls are best used to qualify customers. If a customer downloads a brochure, they’ve shown interest and an e-mail marketing strategy can be employed that later calls them to a direct action. If customers sign up to search real-estate listings in a certain price point, they would then be qualified as a potential home buyer for specific homes or properties in your listings. Transitional calls to action can vary from “call us for a free quote” to “download our informative brochure.” Offering free samples or an in-home demonstration are examples of transitional calls to action. Domino’s Pizza’s “create a pizza profile” feature on their website is a transitional call to action. About once each month, they can email you a special offer and actually feature your favorite pizza in the digital coupon. 

A Direct Call to Action is a straight-forward request for your customer to make a purchase. 

STEP 6: That Helps Them Avoid Failure

You MUST clearly articulate what failure could look like if they don't choose you're product

Brands that help customers avoid some kind of negativity in life (and let their customers know what that negativity is) engage customers for the same reason good stories captivate an audience: they define what’s at stake.

Bad things happen to people in life and if you’re a good brand with good products and services, you’re stopping some of those bad things from happening. Whether it’s helping people achieve financial equality, helping to relieve somebody’s physical pain, keeping somebody’s dream from crashing or providing light in an otherwise dark circumstance, your brand must position itself as a force working to defeat your customers’ fears.

Think of the tragic element in the StoryBrand strategy like salt in a recipe for bread. 

So, what does this look like? Well, it can look anything like titling a blog “Five Ways Your Roses will Survive the Winter Freeze” to “Our New Energy Drink is Guaranteed to Keep You from Bonking on Your Run.” See what we did there? We mentioned a negative consequence but it didn’t sound the least bit manipulative. Why? Because it was all true. Roses really can get damaged in a freeze and sometimes runners bonk in the middle of a run.

STEP 7: And Ends in a Success

You MUST be able to paint the picture of a positive end state clearly!

People need to know that there is a compelling future state that can be achieved.

A simple mention or nod to a happy ending may be the most flammable component to the StoryBrand strategy. If a customer cannot envision how your products and services will take them somewhere good, they will likely wonder why your products or services matter.

The process you’ll want to use to feature happy endings in your brand communication is threefold: first, you’ll want to identify a specific product you sell, then you want to answer what external problem that product solves, then define what positive emotional results a customer may experience if they use the product.

Can you boil down a positive emotional result you’re selling with each product you offer? There will likely be many, of course, but remember the rule of clarity: focus on one result, per product. Customers get confused when you bombard them with too much information. Pick the strongest, positive emotional result and run with it.

What will our customer’s life look like if they use your product or service?


Hunger games

In the Hunger Games movies, Katniss is trying to survive the Games and needs the help of Haymitch. Haymitch gives her confidence and a plan so she can win the Games and survive.

Star Wars

Every story is about a character that wants something and has to overcome conflict to get it. Luke wants to rebel against the Evil Empire, but he also wants to know if he has what it takes to be a Jedi. It’s Yoda that gives him confidence, a plan and training to go out and defeat the enemy. The comedic or happy ending happens when Luke destroys the Death Star.

All State

Allstate acknowledges their customers are winsome, fun and successful. 

Allstate humorously shows “mayhem” to be the problem their customers face. Anything bad can happen at any time. It’s as though they’re asking their customers if they’re ready . 

Allstate’s trustworthy pitchman establishes confidence, calmness and authority when it comes to dealing with mayhem. That said, he’s not the hero, he’s the guide. 

Allstate’s “Value Plan” gives their customers something that breaks through their confusion. Now buying insurance and protecting themselves from mayhem seems easy. The name of the plan also insinuates it’s not expensive and it’s well worth the price. 

On Allstate’s website, there is a single call to action, and that is to get a quote. There’s one box to fill out with your email address. The call to action is simple, clear and obvious.


Allstate released a commercial showing how good life can be when you’re not worried. It’s a beautifully shot commercial about people enjoying life. This is the “successful ending” customers can experience if they buy Allstate insurance. 


Allstate’s mayhem character serves as both the problem and the failure. They cover the tragic ending aspect of the campaign by showing their customers what can happen if they don’t have insurance. This element of their campaign is fun and winsome so as not to come off as fear mongering, a tactic that would certainly backfire on a brand.

Patrick Doyle the CEO of Dominos revival

At one point Dominos was going bankrupt. He said he turned around dominos with three key acts.

Act 1: He went on Television and apologised for the poor-tasting pizzas. “I’m sorry, our pizzas taste awful”. 

Here he introduced a character with a problem. The character was the client and the problem was dominos.

Act 2: He promised they would be better and offered a new range of pizzas.

Act 3: He was successful and even expanded into India, 

After this campaign in 2009 Dominos saw a Q1 bump of 14.3%. At the time this was the largest bump ever recorded by a restaurant chain. The company share price soared by 110%.

Patrick Doyle was named CEO of the year.

Car Max

A prospect that is on a journey to buy a car

Prospect is nervous and fearful of the typical “used car salesman”

The company acts as a guide.

They have a 15-point plan with clients. EG. The price on the car is as is and there is negotiating etc.

Find a car easily.


Have an incredible warranty


No downside.

Bush campaign

At the start Al Gore on paper was going to win, he had a higher approval rating. Al Gore should have run away with this, he was vice president to THE most popular president in history (Bill Clinton), he had a household name, Bush did have a name as well at the time but his dad was a one-term president and his approval rating was nowhere near Gore’s. While it was a close race the fact is that Gore really should have decimated Bush.

He always positioned the American public as the hero. He stated the tax should be in the hands of the people and not the government. Check out this video HERE

He forces you to think about your story and wasn’t narcissistic to talk about his greatness. He is the Yoda that will encourage you to greatness.

The problem he focused on was high taxes. While other candidates usually focused on higher problems they were problems the public didn’t really understand. Bush realised that they can deal with the problems when they get elected but to persuade he had to talk about things that people could easily grasp.

EMPATHY. Even when he went to local baseball games he sat in the crowd and not in the owners box…why? He wanted to convey that he is part of the American people and NOT some hero. He became likeable. 

Tax relief

They have a 15-point plan with clients. EG. The price on the car is as is and there is negotiating etc.

Find a car easily.


More money in your pocket


Taxes will be higher for you

Mitt Romney's failed campaign

He chose the wrong problem. He chose to focus on the “national debt” while it is important voters cannot feel the impact of it. When you buy a Nintendo using debt you are just happy with the entertainment and you don’t feel just how bad the nation is suffering. Voters couldn’t connect on a personal level with the problem. There was an external problem but no internal or philosophical problem for voters.

He lost it on empathy as well when it came to Obama. He was positioned as a hero, and a cut above the rest, he has an elevator for his car, his wife had a horse in the Olympics and Obama used all that to say “You are not like us!” and successfully created a “you vs us approach”.

After these two missed points he lost. 

His plan had Paul Ryan with charts. If your plan is hard to understand you will struggle.

Throughout his campaign, he rarely ever talked about a future state that was better than it is now.

Even when he talked about avoiding a negative future state, he used graphs and complicated math no one understood.


This sentence seems like it is condescending, it seems like he is at the top of the mountain telling the people “I stll believe in you” as if he is a god. This type of messaging is what lost him the election compared to Obama's below.

He is inviting the people to take action and become heroes.

Extra tips

Every story must be clear 

The absolute enemy of a story is clutter. If a scene makes it into a movie that doesn’t serve the plot, that scene has to go, no matter how good it is. A disciplined storyteller knows what to take out and what to leave in. 

The problem with most companies is they keep trying different marketing tactics that work for a while but soon end up with a brand narrative that is inconsistent and confusing. When we don’t have a tight, disciplined BrandScript, customers have trouble figuring out what we offer and why it matters to them.

You must understand the many ways successful brands use this framework to clearly communicate what they offer. Every brand piece we create doesn’t have to tell a complete story, but every brand piece does have to fit within at least one of the seven elements of the framework. If it doesn’t, it has to go.

Avoid the curse of knowledge

You might know your space at a level 10 however if that’s how you communicate with the outside world no will resonate with you. Thus you MUST dumb it down to a 6. However, in advertising, you MUST dumb it down to a level 2, so much so a 8 year old can understand it.

You are going up against thousands of commercial messages a day the ones people remember are the ones that are easy to grasp.

Brand stories at every level

Your company must have one. Each division should have one. Each product should have one.

What not to say

You must be focused. Don’t try and communicate everything right away. It's like a first date, the purpose is to establish you're not a freak. To get to the second date that is what you have to convey. 

The human brain bodes well when it is given 3 choices however when you offer more than three and offer 4 or more that is when buying decreases.

The best communicators know what NOT to say.

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