One nice thing about being a small, founder-led business is that telling your “story” isn’t that hard. It’s by nature authentic, because it happened to you and you’re telling it, and it’s probably going to be at least somewhat interesting because you started your business to solve some sort of problem that nobody had thought to solve yet. (If you’re still struggling with whole to get your “story” down to a 3 minute spiel, I highly recommend taking General Assembly’s “Storytelling for Entrepreneurs” class).
Telling an authentic brand story for a larger, more established brand can be trickier. Often times, the brand has evolved to a much different place from where it started and the origin story hardly makes sense anymore. Other times, the brand was cooked up in a marketing meeting just to capture more market share, which isn’t the type of story that inspires loyalty, so brands don’t want to tell it.
Back when I worked as a design strategist at Webb deVlam, l led workshops for our large clients, like P&G brands Tide and Always, to help them write their brand story. We used Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero’s Journey” as a template, which is a narrative arc for the “hero” of a story that just about all myths and classic narrative stories follow. This journey, often referred to as the Monomyth, is often visualized like this:
What I liked about this structure was that it acknowledges that the hero does not have “what it takes” at the onset of the journey; the hero is only able to complete the journey by overcoming hardships and receiving mentorship and/or a talisman. When working with multimillion dollar brands, they are often under great pressure to appear like they have their act together and that everything is perfect, and always will be. But Campbell’s work teaches us that stories that resonate and that are remembered feature heroes that are much more human and imperfect.
Now that I am on my own entrepreneurial journey, I find that it does mimic the Hero’s Journey in many ways. There are the battles that spotlight your weaknesses, but leave you with new tools or weapons for moving forward, there are the people you meet who give you strength for your next conflict, and there definitely is the sense of transformation from being in this kind of supernatural realm where so much is unfamiliar, shape-shifty, and surprising, in that if feels like anything (good or bad) can happen at any time.
Referring back to the journey diagram above, I would say that I’m at the “Death & Rebirth” stage in my own entrepreneurial journey after emerging from last year’s crucible. At this stage, the hero takes possession of a treasure won by facing death. What is the treasure that I now possess?
Well, one treasure would be newfound confidence from facing death and not dying. But the real treasure is clarity of purpose, which I found with help from a mentor.
The Hero’s Journey has eight character archetypes, one of which is the “mentor”. I never had a mentor with Po Campo. I have lots of people willing to give me advice, but nobody like Gandalf and his Fellowship. In Campbell’s Monomyth, the mentor is someone to impart wisdom and empower the hero to embark or continue on his journey. This person often appears out of nowhere and isn’t someone that the hero knew beforehand.
A couple of weeks ago I was chatting on the phone to a potential new wholesale customer, doing my typical Po Campo song-and-dance. We began talking more about the business in general, and then also about the market trends, and how we both see the city bicycling market as a huge opportunity. Then he started talking about his background in leadership training for nonprofits and asked if I would like some help with crafting a vision statement. And just like that, I had a mentor.
After many conversations and exercises, I have realized that what I really want to do is build a community of women who love to use their bike to get around. So simple, but I am driven to do it. I have an image in my head of the world I want to create. And with this newfound sense of purpose, I am ready to continue on my journey.