The art of making your customers the hero of the story

This is a guest post by marketing consultant, speaker, and author John Jantsch. The ideas in this post are drawn from his most recent work, The Commitment Engine — Making Work Worth It. Find more information at

I use the idea of “hero” a fair amount when I talk about marketing stories. I don’t use it in an egotistic way — more aspirational than anything, really. I think aspiring to be a hero to someone is a good thing.

You can substitute leader if you like, but I love the image of hero because I think it paints a much more vivid illustration of the whole package: struggle, denial, acceptance, achievement, and purpose. It’s the story people willingly talk about.

While I think it’s important that you and your business strive to be the hero in somebody’s story, I think it’s equally important that you understand how to position your customer or community as the hero of your story.

Below are some of my thoughts on how you do this, and if you find yourself thinking this sounds a bit like crafting a screenplay, it’s because there’s a bit of that art to it. In fact, there’s a book I would recommend to anyone that takes this idea to heart. It’s called Save the Cat: The Last Book You’ll Ever Need on Screenwriting by Blake Snyder.

Learn their backstory.

Before you can really thrust your customer into the hero’s role, you have know who they are — and you find that out by learning where they came from, what’s bugging them, and what they really would rather have that they don’t.

This kind of information isn’t rentable. You have to dig, and it starts with asking, listening, and paying close attention. I don’t know how you could manage this, but I’ve always thought the greatest marketing research tool you could ever create is a family dinner. You could learn more than you would ever need to about a person by going with them to their parent’s house for dinner one Sunday.

So, short of that, how could you learn what makes them tick? Spend time and earn the right to learn about them outside of your business context. Follow everything they share in social media — it’s a lot like Sunday dinner in there at times.

There is no greater way to earn trust than to demonstrate you understand someone’s story.

Give them an antagonist.

Every great story has a bad guy or girl — it’s what makes us cheer for the good guy or girl.

There are times when you draw your customer closer by simply helping them understand who or what the antagonist is. Sometimes they don’t even realize what the problem is that your business can solve. Many times you have to help them see the extent of the enemy’s grip.

Now, more often than not, the word “antagonist” here is simply a metaphor for a challenge like leaking profit, poor time management, wasted effort, lost opportunity, living in pain, or needless risk — but you have to help them understand what they are up against.

Call them to duty.

In order for someone to be a hero they must be called — they must have an idea to serve.

Your marketing story must give them hope that they have the power to overcome whatever the challenge is. I know this is starting to sound a little dramatic, but that’s the point. A connection to a higher purpose — or at least a meaningful idea — is much stronger than simply trying to convince someone that they need what you have to offer.

In order to create impact in the life of your customer, they need to feel like what you have to offer is hope and empowerment. Those are pretty strong words and you’ve got to believe them if your customer is going to be the center of your story.

Help them persevere.

Once you’ve demonstrated that you know who your customer is, you know what a rough time they’ve endured trying to get results, and you know what the future overcoming their challenges might look like, you’ve got to demonstrate you’ll be there with them until they do overcome.

You can demonstrate this most easily in your sales, service, and follow-up — but it must be a part of the story that your customer understands is a given.

Free them.

Finally, help them understand the results they’ve received. Help them measure just how far they’ve come, how much impact they’re making on your business, and perhaps in the lives of those they now impact.

Since I’m attempting to apply these rather abstract ideas to no particular business I know, some will find this idea a bit confusing at best.

Here’s my suggestion: Grab a piece of marketing copy you currently share with customers and ask yourself this series of questions:

  • Does it demonstrate that we get who they are?
  • Does it paint a picture of the real challenges they face?
  • Does it provide hope for what a future without those challenges could be like?
  • Does it give a solution for how those challenges could be addressed?
  • Does it offer proof that others are indeed experiencing these results?

About John Jantsch

John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker and author. His most recent work is The Commitment Engine – Making Work Worth It. Find more information at

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  1. Tom Ferro

    Really good post, so many ignore the need for a good narrative, and you’ve provided a great framework here…I will test it out very soon and see where it leads! A key element of this is trust and honesty, which benefits everyone. Also the desire to be known. Thanks!

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