By Thomas Clifford published October 20, 2011

Hollywood’s Secret Storytelling Sauce: A Template for Marketing Videos

It’s no secret that Hollywood is known for telling some of the world’s greatest stories.

Of course, it’s easy for Hollywood to tell great stories — it has a “secret storytelling sauce.” But Hollywood doesn’t have to be the only one with the formula for telling great stories.

Your marketing videos can have some of that secret sauce too

And here’s the best part: Using Hollywood’s secret sauce is simple.

I’ve used this formula successfully many times in my former career as a marketing and branding filmmaker.

I’m going to show you how you can use it too.

It’s your story that differentiates you from the competition

Story is what differentiates you from your competition. After all, it’s your story — not anyone else’s.

In their book, Managing Content Marketing, authors Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose talk about how important it is for a business to develop and share its story. Specifically, chapter 3, Create the Journey: Developing Your Pillars of Content, shares how businesses can use a classic storytelling model, The Hero’s Journey, to execute on a story-based content marketing strategy.

What is the Hero’s Journey?

Mythologist Joseph Campbell popularized The Hero’s Journey in his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Campbell’s insight told us that powerful stories and narratives share a common structure. At the heart of this structure, there is a hero who goes through several stages. Here’s an overly simplified version:

1. The Journey

The hero experiences a calling — a call to leave the world of comfort behind and discover something greater.

2. The Transformation

Along his quest of discovery, the hero is challenged by many tests and obstacles yet eventually overcomes them.

3. The Return

Having triumphed over the obstacles, the hero returns to share the new-found knowledge with others.

So, back to reality. If you feel this Hero’s Journey stuff is pie-in-the-sky, I hear you. That’s what I thought years ago. Then I started using it in projects. I noticed that using The Hero’s Journey structure:

  • simplifies the interviewing process
  • provides structure in delivering a message
  • deepens the engagement process

Let’s take a look at how can you use this structure in your own video (and audio) projects.

Video is the perfect medium to tell your stories and to differentiate yourself; it captures music, voice, scenic footage, and graphics in one format. (Feel free to use this template to energize your podcasts, as well.)

A simple Hero’s Journey template for marketing videos

Tweaking The Hero’s Journey for video is quite simple. Here’s a structure to get you started.

Let’s say a hospital is announcing a new treatment center. (This could apply to a new program, a new initiative, etc.) We’ll keep this example simple so you can see how it easy it is to customize.

These questions are a starting point; they are not meant to be a complete list.

1. Where are we now? (Problem)

  • Share with us how most treatment centers operate today.
  • Why is this a problem?
  • How did we get here in the first place? Weren’t things fine as they were?
  • How did you get the idea to change the model?

2. Where do we want to be? (Solution)

  • Talk a bit about how the opportunity to change things came about.
  • What are the biggest challenges you are facing?
  • How are customers (internal teams, etc.) reacting to this challenge?

3. What have we learned? (Results)

  • Now that you’ve been through the process, how do you feel?
  • How have your customers (patients, doctors, employees, etc.) responded?
  • Do you have any encouraging words to those watching this video?

4.  What should we do next?

  • What specific action should the viewers of this video do next?

This template can easily be tweaked for ongoing programs or services. You don’t have to wait until products or announcements are final.

Customizing The Hero’s Journey

One of the three key play points for video mentioned in the free eBook, CMI’s Content Marketing Playbook 2011: 42 Ways to Connect with Customers, is this:

Instead of taking a one-shot approach, consider a video series that builds interest, and an audience, over time.

This fits beautifully within The Hero’s Journey structure. Here’s one way to use this idea.

Create one video focusing on one act. Instead of producing one three- or five-minute video, consider breaking the project down into three one-minute videos, four videos, or even five videos.

For an audience with shorter attention spans, breaking one longer video down into several shorter videos can improve the odds your audience will view the videos. For some viewers, seeing a 90-second video is more inviting than seeing the time indicator showing five minutes.

Rinse and repeat for each product, service, or training you offer.

Summary

You may not produce the next Hollywood blockbuster, but that doesn’t mean you can’t add a little of Hollywood’s secret sauce to your marketing videos.

Have an interview coming up? Try sneaking in a few questions using The Hero’s Journey framework. If you like the results, try it again. It’s easy to adjust for many projects.

Over to you

Have you used The Hero’s Journey in any of your projects? If so, we’d love to hear about it.

If not, have you used something similar to The Hero’s Journey?

Do you have a structure (or formula) that works well for capturing content?

Author: Thomas Clifford

Thomas Clifford is a B2B content marketing writer and certified copywriter. He helps companies generate and nurture high quality leads through eNewsletters, blog articles and free special download reports. Tom has 25 years under his belt as an award-winning B2B filmmaker. He's produced hundreds of marketing-branding films and brings his street-level interviewing experience to every project. Tom is featured in the book “Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business." He has also written dozens of articles as an “Expert Blogger” for FastCompany.com. You can follow Tom on Twitter at @ThomasClifford. His blog, "Humanizing Business Communications," is packed with new media business communication tips and writing strategies. His eBook "5 (Ridiculously Simple) Ways to Write Faster, Better, Easier" is free to new subscribers.

Other posts by Thomas Clifford

  • http://www.thewordchef.com Tea Silvestre

    Loved this post, Thomas. As a recovering English major (who had aspirations of being a famous fiction writer), I studied the Hero’s Journey quite a bit. And you’re absolutely right — we can and should be applying the structure to our nonfiction stories in business. Will be sharing this one with my Test Kitchen students during our module on videos.

    • http://twitter.com/ThomasClifford Thomas Clifford

      Hi Tea,

      Glad to see you enjoyed the post. The Hero’s Journey has fascinated me for many years and it continues to do so.

      If you haven’t picked up the new “Managing Content Marketing” book yet, you’ll really enjoy the Hero’s Journey chapter. It develops the journey idea beautifully for content marketers. 

      This reminds me, I’m due to watch “The Power of Myth” with Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell again. :)

  • Paul Davidson

    I’m having a “why didn’t I think of that” moment. Thank you, sir.

    • http://twitter.com/ThomasClifford Thomas Clifford

      Hi Paul-

      You’re welcome. 

      I hear ya—that’s what happened to me when I thought of this framework years ago!

  • http://twitter.com/AirPacInc Tina

    WOWZA!  This is super!  Where have you been all my marketing life?  Thanks for sharing.  Love it!

  • Anonymous

    More and more “the narrative” or story is becoming the most powerful force behind a company’s success. It truly is a valuable asset. You might enjoy this short video, “What is your most important marketing asset?”  at  http://bit.ly/r3BKJi

  • Gorby

    Anyone who appreciates the importance of hero’s journey needs to see Kal Bashir’s work over at http://www.clickok.co.uk/index4.html ; 2000+ stage hero’s journey, lots of free videos…

  • John Nawn

    love the campbell reference. the hero’s journey is such a rich metaphor. thanks for the reminder. 

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5uwoo_Z961k termpaperwriter.org

    “You may not produce the next Hollywood blockbuster” – why not? XD
    Thnx for this post)

  • http://twitter.com/45surf 45SURF

    Love the exaltation of the Hero’s Journey in the context of business / innovation / marketing / entrepreneurship / startups and branding!

    You’ll enjoy the Hero’s Journey Mythology words and videos here:
    http://herosjourneyentrepreneurship.org/

    A vast demand exists for the classical ideals performed in the contemporary context–for honor, integrity, courage, and committment–on Wall Street and Main Street, in Hollywood and the Heartland, in Academia and Government. And thus opportunity abounds for entrepreneurs who keep the higher ideals above the bottom line–for humble heroes in all walks of life.
    The same classical values guiding the rising artistic renaissance will protect the artists’ intellectual property. The immortal ideals which guide the story of blockbuster books and movies such asThe Matrix, Lord of the Rings, Braveheart,The Chronicles of Narnia, and Star Wars, are the very same ideals underlying the United States Constitution. These classic ideals–which pervade Homer, Plato, Shakespeare, and the Bible–are the source of both epic story and property rights, of law and business, of academia and civilization.

    Enjoy!