What elements define a hero

The basic recipe for successful storytelling

Storytelling is one of the biggest buzzwords in marketing recently, especially in online marketing. #heimkommen by Edeka, the jump from space supported by Red Bull - great examples of ingenious, but unfortunately extremely expensive storytelling.

What does storytelling actually mean?

Tell stories. So far so good. But which story fits the manufacturer of coffee to go cups, the roofer around the corner, the new banking app? And how does the story fit into the marketing mix?

Alaura Weaver recently published a very detailed article on storytelling with extensive background information on copyhackers.com. In this article, we'll focus on the recipe for successful stories: The 11 Basic Elements Every Story Needs.

This recipe also clearly shows that storytelling does not have to be a stand-alone campaign, but ideally should run through all communication measures and channels. Storytelling can also be the overarching story, the common thread that determines your marketing.

The classic story is the hero story. The hero is confronted with a problem, he goes on an adventurous journey to solve it. On the way he is constantly faced with new obstacles until he finally finds the solution. A fantastic example of this hero's journey is ‘Lord of the Rings’.

Element 1: Every story needs a hero

Whether a Hollywood film, bedtime story or marketing stunt: every good story has a hero. A hero with whom the viewer, listener or reader can identify, with whom they sympathize and whom they absolutely want to see win.

This hero is clearly defined in marketing: Not the company, the customer is the hero. Your company only plays the role of supporter in its heroic story. Like Gandalf in Lord of the Rings.

Successful storytelling is only possible if you know your target group in detail and what concerns them. You need the buyer persona to bring the hero of your story to life.

In individual cases, the entrepreneur can be the hero himself and tell his own story: if he belongs to his target group himself and was confronted with the same problem and developed a product or offer precisely for this.

Element 2: the hero's world

The world in which your hero travels determines whether the target group identifies with the story. Lord of the Rings would hardly have been so well received by the audience if the story had taken place in a small Swedish town of our time.

In marketing, design, tone and the subject of the content determine the ‘world’.

In his book identifiziert Dream Society ’, Rolf Jensen identifies six emotional market groups that can also help you here:

  • Thirst for adventure
  • togetherness
  • Compassion, concern
  • Trust & familiarity
  • Self-actualization
  • justice

These motivations determine the trigger words that emotionally charge the content. The target group of Lord of the Rings can be clearly classified as "adventurous". The world in which the story takes place is created accordingly, as are the characters and their living conditions.

Element 3: The overall goal

The hero needs a goal that is extremely important for emotional motivation. The target group must be able to identify with this goal.

People don't like salespeople. People like people who listen to them and understand them

>> What's in it for me?

Marketing is about what your company can do to help the hero (your customer) achieve their goal. Prizes and discounts are just a nice bonus, but not the overall goal of the customer.

A good way to put this into practice is to use the following trick:

Complete the sentence: I want to help you reach [XXX].

GoPro is a great example of successful storytelling. GoPro isn't just a camera manufacturer, GoPro sells dreams. Even on the home page you won't see any features or data about the products, it's all about the result, the promise of what you can achieve with these products.

GoPro users are adventurous and this is exactly what the marketing reflects. On the website, on social media, everywhere.

The Google search result for GoPro doesn't even mention the word camera.

The original heroic story is that of the founder, who just couldn't find a good way to take his camera everywhere and share his experiences with friends.

GoPro is now telling the heroic stories of its customers who experience adventures and, thanks to GoPro, can share them with the world.

Element 4: The Nightmare Scenario

A story without consequences is not a real story. Imagine Lord of the Rings without the world ending if Frodo doesn't reach the mountain in time.

What is your target audience's nightmare scenario?

Be careful not to immediately put off your target audience. Many a nightmare scenario that works fantastically in America just seems exaggerated in this country. The bigger the promise your company makes, the more doubt your target audience will be. You can package such scenarios in real hero stories of your customers.

The nightmare scenario of every (professional) footballer is injuries and the following failure. The Dutch brand Knap’man produces sports compression clothing, primarily for (male) football players, which prevents muscle injuries or helps to recover from such injuries more quickly.

This target group is not interested in material or other product details. But that professional players could continue playing despite a groin injury? Or that they can show their full commitment again despite old injuries, because the products protect them from renewed injuries?

Of course, top athletes have always been used for marketing purposes. But this is primarily about an everyday problem, a nightmare scenario that every soccer player would like to avoid.

Element 5: Every hero needs a team (your company)

"People don't buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe ”- Simon Sinek, Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action

A brilliant helper is someone who has helped previous heroes. The more experienced the team, the greater the hero's chance of success. Which football team is already trained by beginners?

Testimonials from previous customers will help you demonstrate this very experience.

Each team consists of different roles. What helper role does your company play? Mentor, assistant, companion, best friend?

The new accounting software would be the ideal assistant. The business consultant? Definitely a mentor.

Your appearance and your brand voice will be different depending on your helper role. The best friend communicates differently than the experienced mentor.

Element 6: A story needs a magical element (your offer)

The product is never the hero (we already have that). It is exactly what the hero needs to achieve his goal.

How does your product fit into your hero's story as a necessary aid?

As soon as the hero understands how your product can help them achieve their goal, their brain becomes preoccupied with the possibilities that this goal promises.

Element 7: The first hurdle

The first hurdle is the first moment the hero has to enter the new world. He can still turn back.

In marketing, the first hurdle is the call-to-action button. The potential customer has to decide for the first time whether they want to accept your help or not (and prefer to live with the consequences instead).

Element 8: The first steps on the hero's journey

After the hero gets his magical element, he must learn to use it.

In marketing, this means onboarding or lead nurturing. After the first call-to-action, the customer should learn to use the help offered. He is continuously accompanied by you and confirmed to continue his journey.

Email marketing can be a powerful tool along the way. Software as a service products use onboarding to familiarize customers with their product. The hero in this story can only achieve his goal (for example correct bookkeeping in a few minutes per week) if he learns to use the offered support (the tool) correctly (travel).

The customer chose you in their team to achieve their goal. Your job is to support him on this path, to check whether he is going in the right direction and to intervene if necessary.

Element 9: Conflicts and Misunderstandings

In every good story there is conflict between the hero and his helpers. Only when these are cleared can the hero accept the support and use it sensibly.

This also applies to marketing. Campaigns, emails and landing pages are rarely perfect from the start. Split tests help to find the right path. Find out which content and in which form best reach your customers.

Element 10: And if they haven't died ...

A good story ends with a happy hero. What is the happy life of your customers like when they have achieved their goal?

Your customer doesn't come to you because they want to buy a product, but because they want to achieve this happy life.

In her article, Weaver describes examples of successful US copywriters who like to roll up stories from the back: "Imagine if you could [XXX]." The differentiation to aggressive clickbaiting à la Buzzfeed is often difficult here. Traditionally less optimistic German heroes are easily put off by this.

Nevertheless, this form of ‘future prospects’ also works in this country if it is used carefully. Almost everyone strives for certain goals and wants solutions to their problems. Testimonials and real customer stories are a great way to show the new customer that these solutions do exist.

As long as such stories have a hero with whom the new customer can identify, in the sense of: “If he can do it, I can do it too”.

Element 11: The Return

The hero comes back and acts as a mentor for future heroes. In real life, after reaching their goal with your help, the customer becomes an ambassador for you.

He tells his story, on social media and in real life, helping new heroes find their own way.


Storytelling is not an independent element, but in the best case provides the red thread for your marketing, from the initial interest to long-term customer loyalty.

Individual elements of this basic recipe can be used in a variety of ways. Testimonials can be turned into independent stories that can be played out and even made tangible across multiple platforms, perhaps even in different sequences (more on this in this article on visual storytelling).

Every company with a strong "why" and enthusiastic customers already has the most important ingredients for successful storytelling. What is necessary, however, is a constant main story that the target group can identify with. If GoPro suddenly focused on hours of documentation, their target group would at least be irritated.

Stefanie Schröer helps entrepreneurs and marketers to use online marketing profitably step by step in order to win enthusiastic customers. After several years as a senior consultant in Dutch agencies, she is now concentrating on the essentials: "Marketing that customers want" and writes on her own page, spiderwebmarketing.de, about topics from practice.