The third of our 5 principles to using story as strategy is using story patterns we instinctively understand.

Cognitive psychologists such as Larry L. Jacoby have studied the effects of familiarity on our perception of truth – the more familiar information feels the more we are likely to perceive it as true. Entrepreneurs can use this cognitive bias to their advantage by telling the story of their business using familiar story patterns.

The most familiar story pattern you can use is known as the ‘Hero’s Journey’. It was presented as ‘the monomyth’ – the story pattern behind all our most compelling and enduring stories – by mythologist and lecturer Joseph Campbell in his famous book The Hero with a Thousand Faces.  

While Campbell studied religious, spiritual, mythological and literary classics; this pattern can be observed in everything, from the latest Hollywood blockbusters, to the stories of Clean Growth unicorns. It is a deeply familiar story pattern; perfectly evolved to bring an audience on a journey of change.

Our Lean Story Canvas helps you apply the ‘Hero’s Journey’ pattern to the story of your business. It should be taken as a framework rather than a formula for success; knowing the pattern can increase the odds of you telling a stronger story, but it doesn’t guarantee it –  most screenwriters know the Hero’s Journey but not everyone writes an Oscar winner!

Rather you should think of each step as a tool that can be optimised and deployed to make your story more effective. Some parts of your story might be more compelling than others; but if you understand what it is that makes them compelling, you can practice and perfect your story to unlock the support you need. 

  1. Everyday Hero

Why this step is important?

In order to tell a story that successfully brings an audience on a journey of change, you need to know who your story is for and work with the stories they’re already telling themselves.

You can use the Lean Story Canvas to map out a journey of change for a funder, investor, customer, collaborator, potential recruit or employee. If you only have time to map out your story for one of these audiences, focus on the customer. Funders, investors, customers, collaborators, journalists and potential recruits are all interested in businesses that understand a clear customer need.

Useful questions:

  • Who is your target audience? Can you describe them?
  • What do they want? Think of ‘wants’ as the tangible, more measurable things your audience is consciously after; e.g. a promotion, shorter response times or higher profits.
  • What do they need? ‘Needs’ are less tangible, harder to measurable things your audience is unconsciously after; e.g. being seen as innovative, feeling like their work makes a difference, or leaving a legacy. 
  • What motivates them? Pat Dade’s Values Modes Typology, is a useful tool for thinking about motivations. It divides people by values, identifying three core groups: Pioneers, Prospectors and Settlers
    • Pioneers are inner-directed, meaning they are motivated by self-realisation; seeking internal fulfilment rather than the esteem of others.
    • Prospectors are outer-directed, meaning they are driven by the esteem of others. They are motivated by success, status and recognition.
    • Settlers are sustenance-driven, meaning they are motivated by resources and by fear of perceived threats. They’re driven by immediate issues the day-to-day security of them, their business or their family.
  • What are the stories that they are already telling themselves? This involves mapping out the narratives in their cultures of control.

Clean Growth examples:

  1. Octopus Energy builds its story around environmentally concerned customers who are frustrated with the ‘pricing trickery and poor customer service’ of the Big Six energy providers; regardless of whether they’re household or business customers. Discovering a mindset common to all its customers means Octopus Energy can focus on the 20 to 30 percent of energy customers who will generate 70 to 80 percent of their profits.  
  2. Neoen understands that energy infrastructure commissioners, not only want to produce competitively-priced renewable energy on a large scale. They need a trusted partner who can deliver value throughout the entire project life cycle. Ultimately, as large scale infrastructure is usually procured by governments, these decision-makers need to ensure the project is perceived as a success by voters. In order to sell change to this risk-averse audience the Neoen story is brilliantly engineered to create trust.
  3. Impossible Foods knows two things about its customers, whether they are B2C or B2B:
    1. They love meat, not just for the taste, but also because it is part of rituals like weekend barbeques.
    2. They worry about the environmental impact of their lifestyles or businesses.

Discovering a mindset common to all its customers, whether they are B2C or B2B, means that Impossible Foods can be incredibly consistent in how it tells its story.  

  1. Ordinary World

Why this step is important?

Going on a journey of change is hard because it can make people feel like they aren’t in control. Reminding your target audience of their growing frustrations with business as usual, their lifestyle, or current inadequate solutions, helps to prime them for change.

Priming is an effect, demonstrated by psychological research, where our decisions are often hugely affected by context. People are much more likely to embrace change is they feel unhappy with where they are currently.

Useful questions:

  • What is making them doubt they can go on with business as usual, their lifestyle or current inadequate solutions?
  • What external evidence shows the emerging flaws or cracks in their beliefs about how they currently do things?
  • What are they aware of that’s priming them for change?

Clean Growth examples:

  1. Octopus Energy focuses on the broken energy suppliers market created by the Big Six. The cracks in ‘business as usual’ for its potential customers are further deepened by their awareness of climate breakdown and biodiversity from the media. Octopus Energy is unafraid of calling out the broken energy supplier market in their communications; which is powerful in reinforcing this Ordinary World and priming their target customers for change. 
  2. Neoen knows that energy infrastructure commissioners in OECD countries are likely to have government set targets for renewable energy, in response to public pressure and market dynamics. Understanding that the outer world needed to go on a journey of change allows Neoen to focus on markets where it will have the most success with its story about trust.
  3. Impossible Foods understands that both its B2C and B2B audiences are aware of the negative environmental impacts of animal agriculture – from the media, the rapid growth in veganism or flexitarianism, and in the case of business customers the pressure to make more meaningful sustainability commitments. It primes this audience for change, by playing back this information to its customers – showing the growing cracks in their current actions being compatible with their concerns about the environment.
  1. Compelling Villain

Why this step is important?

Our storytelling brains are constantly alert of unexpected change, because it brings with it opportunities and dangers. This is why all good stories are journeys of change – it grabs and holds our attention.

Our brains are subconsciously on high alert for changes we need to react to immediately; filtering out any that don’t present an urgent opportunity or danger.  

While your audience is becoming increasingly frustrated with their Ordinary World, to date they’ve been able to tolerate these frustrations. The Compelling Villain in your story needs to present them missed opportunities or dangers that require immediate action.

You can’t sell a solution to someone, if they’re happy to with ‘business as usual’. By introducing an urgent problem, you can nudge them out of being relatively happy with the status quo.

Useful questions:

  • What is preventing them from growing faster right now?
  • What is causing their business trouble today?
  • What is exposing them to disruption from competitors?
  • Is there a selfish behaviour that is preventing them from getting what they want and need?

Clean Growth examples:

  1. Octopus Energy makes the general broken system of an energy market dominated by the ‘Big Six’ an immediate and pressing concern for their customers by showing that ‘pricing trickery and poor customer service’ is costing them time and money today. The heroes in our stories have always been those who selflessly put the needs of the tribe above their own, and the villains have always embodied selfishness. Referring to the Big Six as ‘a handful of complacent dinosaurs’ instantly makes us side with the plucky, unselfish underdog in the market. 
  2. Neoen, unlike many market disruptors, doesn’t directly point out the Villain in its story – but it does imply it. Most of the positive elements of its story suggest reasons why competitors might be guilty of short-term thinking in the delivery of energy infrastructure; from fragmented delivery throughout a projects lifecycle to a lack of ‘skin in the game’ prevents many partners from taking a long-term view. Directly attacking competitors can work in some markets; but Neoen knows that it doesn’t create the impression of being the ‘safe pair of hands’, that their target audience is after.  
  3. Impossible Foods doesn’t make meat the Villain in its story; it’s the ‘prehistoric and destructive technology’ used to produce meat that is the urgent problem. It’s often useful to identify a specific problem in the system that doesn’t blame your target audience for its past actions. This also primes the audience with the idea that better technology can be found to produce meat.
  1. Call to Adventure

Why this step is important?

Because humans find change hard, we need to be persuaded to embrace a journey of change. The Call To Adventure is the part of your story that will persuade your target audience to take the first step.

It can feature ‘pushes’ (reminders of what is at risk if they don’t embrace change) and ‘pulls’ (the opportunities if they do).

To persuade people, an effective tactic is to cause them to experience what is known as ‘cognitive dissonance’ (where two of the stories they believe or their ‘cultures of control’ come into conflict) and then quickly offer your solution as a way to resolve the discomfort this makes them feel.  

It is important to keep your Call To Adventure simple and memorable. Simple language makes you seem more intelligent and credible; using complex jargon often has the opposite effect. Phrases that are memorable are more likely to be taken as truth; e.g. if they are catchy, rhyming, or alliterative.

Useful questions:

  • What dangers or opportunities have I already used to prime them for change? How can I use these as a push or pull to take action?
  • Does my audience have two clashing stories they believe and can my solution help them resolve this?
  • Are my target audiences Pioneers, Prospectors or Settlers and how can I create a Call To Adventure that fits their motivations?  
  • Have I kept my Call To Adventure simple and made it memorable?

Clean Growth examples:

  1. Octopus Energy’s simple and memorable Call To Adventure, reflects the fact that being ‘sustainable’ and a ‘smart consumer’ aren’t always aligned – sometimes getting a good deal, means not making the best choice for the planet. They quickly resolve this, by telling you that with them, you can be both sustainable and smart.
  2. Neoen’s Call To Adventure is all about delivering projects on time and on budget but not at the expense of long-term regional economic and local community outcomes. Again implying that competitors might not offer this same long-term view.
  3. Impossible Foods’ marketing materials are filled with slogan-style Calls To Adventure relevant to its consumer and business audiences, such as Eat a burger. Save the world (B2C) and Grill burgers. Not the planet (B2B). The single Call To Adventure that best sums up its story is To save meat. And Earth – brilliantly reconciling its audiences’ love of meat with their concern about environmental impact – who doesn’t want to have their cake (or burger) and eat it?
  1. Crossing the Threshold

Why this step is important?

Change is hard, so you need to try to make taking the first step as easy as possible. 

This is where incentives, norms, defaults and commitments can be powerful in your customer journey:

Incentives – our responses to incentives are shaped by predictable mental shortcuts such as strongly avoiding losses. 
Norms – we are strongly influenced by what others do. 
Defaults – we ‘go with the flow’ when given pre-set options.
Commitments – we seek to be consistent with our public promises and reciprocate acts. 

Useful questions:

  • How can I make taking the first step towards being a customer as easy as possible?
  • What incentives can I offer to get my audience to Cross The Threshold right now?
  • How can I use endorsements from current customers to convert more potential customers?
  • Can I offer a menu of next steps, so people choose to move forwards rather than opt-out?
  • How can I make taking the next step seem consistent with other public actions they’ve taken?
  • Can I give them anything of value that they will feel the need to reciprocate by taking the next step? 

Clean Growth examples:

  1. Octopus Energy makes the first step towards becoming a customer simple – entering your postcode on the homepage of their website. It also uses endorsements from Allies throughout the journey to becoming a customer; e.g. it has 5-star ratings for customer service on Trustpilot.   
  2. Neoen knows that for energy infrastructure commissioners Crossing The Threshold would be starting a procurement process. This moment is so key in their customer’s journey, that Neoen focuses part of its story around being able to help in the procurement process.
  3. Impossible Foodswebsite allows you to quickly find, buy, learn to cook, or sell its products.
  1. Three Challenges

Why this step is important?

As a journey of change is hard, potential customers will usually face three key challenges along the way. These tend to be trying the change, making the change work and living the change.

For a B2B customer these three challenges usually take the form of selling the change to other decisionmakers in their organisation:

  1. The User Buyer – Is this easy or better for our people to use?
  2. The Systems Buyer – How well does this integration with how we do things currently?
  3. The Economic Buyer – How will this solution provide a return on our investment?

Being aware of the Three Challenges potential customers face, means the Gifts you provide as the Mentor on their journey of change, can help them overcome these hurdles.

Useful questions:

  • What three steps will my audience face on their journey to becoming a happy customer?
  • What concerns will my audience have about adopting my solution?
  • Who else will they have to convince to come on this journey and what concerns will these other people have?

Clean Growth examples:

  1. Octopus Energy’s customers want a good deal without having to constantly switch; great customer service to help when things go wrong; to move to electricity powered by renewables; and potentially upgrade to carbon-neutral energy including gas.
  2. Neoen’s target audience needs to overcome the following three hurdles: getting development and design right while raising finance; finding construction that delivers long-term and local value as well as on time and on budget; and optimising the management of the asset once it’s in place.
  3. Impossible Foods customers face these three challenges: believing the products taste good; knowing where to buy them or how to cook with them; and understanding why it is a better option than traditional meat.  
  1. Mentor & Gifts

Why this step is important?

Every hero needs a guide on their journey of change. With your target customers as the Heroes in your story this is the role your business must play as their Mentor.

There are three factors that position you as the right Mentor for your target audience, scarcity, credibility and liking:

Scarcity – People want things more when they feel scarce. Businesses often create this feeling of scarcity (even when others have similar innovations) through projecting a unique viewpoint on the Hero’s problem.
Credibility – People will only come on a journey of change with you if they trust you. This is where CEOs and Founders focus on a life experience, piece of research or ‘aha moment’ that will add credibility to your unique take on the problem.
Liking – People prefer to say ‘yes’ to people they like. Often this means seeing their values, views or experiences reflected back in the companies they work with. 

Once you have positioned yourself as the right Mentor for your customer, you need to show that you have gifts that can help them with the Three Challenges they will face on their journey of change. 

Useful questions:

  • Scarcity – Do you have a unique viewpoint on the Hero’s problem that can move a market, change a category or challenge the status quo?
  • Credibility – Is there a life experience, piece of research or an ‘aha moment’ that will add credibility to your unique take on their problem?
  • Liking – How can you show shared similarities with your target audience?
  • Gifts – What gifts can you offer them that will help them overcome their Three Challenges (and make them feel more in control of their journey of change)?

Clean Growth examples:

  1. Octopus Energy creates scarcity by ‘bringing the same kind of platform that brought prices down and service up in retail, to the energy market’. Credibility for this unique viewpoint is established by having a team with an e-commerce background. Octopus Energy also establishes similarity, by taking every opportunity to tell you that it’s as fed up with the Big Six as you are. The key messages about it’s Kraken platform deliver gifts that perfectly match the Three Challenges their Heroes face: ‘Fair prices for everyone’ – over the past year, the difference between our fixed and standard price was less than 1%; ‘We won’t leave you hanging’ – we’ve answered your calls within 2 minutes on average over the past year; and ‘100% green’ – all our electricity comes from 100% renewable sources (and tariffs that overset gas consumption).
  2. Neoen really nails the reason to trust it over short-sighted competitors with its unique ‘develop to own’ business model. By telling commissioners it owns 89% of the plants it builds, operating them in its own name; they trust Neoen will guarantee quality and performance in the long-term. Neoen aligns the gifts it offers as a Mentor with the Three Challenges that customers will face throughout an asset’s lifecycle.
    1. Development, Design & Finance: Surveys of potential, soil and environmental and biodiversity impact and local party consultations to create designs according to the site. We finance the vast majority of our projects through a combination of our own investment capability, equity capital and long-term loans (usually with local financial institutions).
    2. Construction Project Management: Directly involved in construction work of plants we operate – ensuring a sustainable asset, with a life span of several decades. As far as possible, we use the services of local industry.
    3. Operations: Supervision and maintenance are undertaken on-site, in real-time. To add credibility to its claims Neoen also points to a track record of landmark projects.
  3. Impossible Foods unique viewpoint is “discovering what makes meat taste like meat – an iron-containing molecule called heme. Then figuring out how to make meat from plants – plant-based heme via fermentation”. Impossible Foods uses the fact that its CEO & Founder, Patrick O. Brown, was a professor of biochemistry at Stanford University to create credibility and trust. Throughout its marketing materials, Impossible Foods shows it is run by people who (like the target audience) love the taste of meat – it’s just how it is currently produced that’s the problem. Impossible Food’s key messages about its products deliver against the Three Challenges potential customers face: all the flavour, aroma, and beefiness of meat from cows; now available in more than 8,000 restaurants and 5,000 grocery stores and anything you make with ground meat you can make with Impossible Burger; 96% less land, 87% less water and 89% fewer greenhouse gas emissions and it can increase revenue and drive traffic for restaurants.
  1. Allies & Gifts

Why this step is important?

When they’re uncertain, people will look to the actions and behaviours of others to determine their own. Seeing the positive experience of current customers, credible partners and investors, and the experts who’ve chosen to join your team, will all have an impact on your target audience’s decision to buy your solution.

Useful questions:

  • Am I using customer endorsements effectively to convert new potential customers?
  • Which partners and investors have really helped us strengthen our offering to our customers? Which ones add the most credibility to our solution? 
  • Do I really bring to life why we have the right team to help with their Three Challenges?

Clean Growth examples:

  1. Octopus Energy shows endorsements from Allies throughout the journey to becoming a customer. It shows potential customers that it is picking up 30,000 customers a month; that is rated 5 stars for customer service from 31,071 reviews on Trustpilot; that it is Which? Recommended Provider – Energy Companies 2020, 2019, and 2018; that it is Uswitch Supplier of the Year 2020; that it’s The Association for Renewable Energy & Clean Technology’s Company of the Year winner 2019. Putting endorsements that reinforce trust, at key decision points, is powerful in securing customers.
  2. Neoen shows that it’s trusted by other commissioners; pointing to the 3.5 GW it has in operation, under construction or awarded across 4 continents and 14 countries. It also demonstrates this trust through examples of landmark large-scale projects it has been commissioned to deliver: Cestas – largest solar park in Europe, Hornsdale Power Reserve – largest lithium-ion battery worldwide, El Llano – most competitive solar project in Mexico.
  3. Impossible Foods uses endorsements from consumers and businesses to enhance belief in its products: reviews from customers and the media; Burger King serving its burger in all 7,200 stores; 9,000 grocery stores across the US, including Walmart Supercenter, Neighborhood Market, Kroger, Albertsons, Fred Meyer, Gelson’s, Publix, Safeway, Trader Joes, Vons, and Wegmans stocking Impossible Foods; and celebrity investors who are influencers to its target customers, such as Jay-Z, Katy Perry and Serena Williams. 
  1. Better World

Why this step is important?

Finally, to go on a journey of change the destination has to be worth the journey. To do this you need to paint a picture about how buying a product or service can improve a customer’s life. How your innovation will help customers companies ‘get ahead’, ‘get along’ and ‘get meaning’.

Get ahead – advancing our status in our tribe(s).
Get along – advancing our connections within our tribe(s).
Get meaning – advancing our purpose in life (or at least for this chapter in our life). This doesn’t have to be world-changing – depending on your personality your purpose can be equally rewarding whether it benefits one other person or the whole world.

You have to show this Better World to your customers; you can’t just hope that they’ll figure out how your product or service will make their lives better.

Useful questions:

  • Get ahead – How will my solution help my customers advance their status in their organisation, profession or social circle? How does it meet the ‘wants’ I described in the Everyday Hero section of the Story Canvas?
  • Get along – How will my innovation help my customers advance their connections within their organisation, profession or social circle?
  • Get meaning – How will my product or service help my customers advance their purpose in life (or at least for this chapter in our life)? How does it meet the ‘needs’ I described in the Everyday Hero section of the Story Canvas?

Clean Growth examples:

  1. Octopus Energy: Get ahead – saving time and money. Get along – telling people who care (friends, children, customers, employees) that I’m ‘a good person’. Get meaning – together with other Octopus energy ‘members’, I’m fighting against climate change.
  2. Neoen: Get ahead – delivering large scale projects successfully. Get along – large scale projects that are perceived as a good investment by voters. Get meaning – leaving a sustainable infrastructure legacy for the future. Again these reinforce that if you trust Neoen, you will get much more than ‘on time and on budget’ in return.
  3. Impossible Foods: Get ahead – enjoying meat without the guilt (and with greater sales, traffic and revenue for businesses). Get along – showing others that you care about your impact. Get meaning – ending the prehistoric and destructive technology of animal agriculture – playing your part in saving the planet.