Transformation Marketing: The Hero’s Journey

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Building a Storybrand" by Donald Miller. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is transformation marketing? Is it effective? How can you work it into your brandscript?

Transformation marketing is part of your hero’s journey. Along the way in your brandscript, your hero will learn new ideas and skills that will help transform them to the person who needs your product.

Read more about transformation marketing and how it works.

Transformation Marketing

The previous chapters in Part 2 have each addressed one of the seven elements of the SB7 story arc. Chapter 9 will address one more facet of story: a hero’s longing to transform. While people are motivated by the possibility of success and failure, the number one thing that motivates humans is the desire to change—to become more self-accepting, different, or better.

In narrative, transformation refers to the new skills the hero learns from the guide and facing the conflict. By the end of the book, after she defeats the villain, she’s a different person than she was at the beginning. (Shortform example: In the Disney movie Mulan, at the beginning of the movie, Mulan doesn’t know how to hold a sword. By the end, she’s saved China from an invading army.)

In branding, transformation marketing refers to the potential to take on a new, aspirational identity. The best brands think hard about what kind of people their customers want to be and then show that ownership of their products is a distinguishing characteristic of that identity. (Shortform example: if you sell hand soap, you can show potential customers that your existing customers are clean, healthy people.) Brands that prioritize changing lives tend to sell a lot of products because customers love brands that help them transform. Likewise, transformation marketing is the key to creating brand evangelists: people who swear by your brand and enthusiastically promote it to others. 

Selling More Than a Product

When you make use of aspirational identities, you’re not just selling a product—you’re also selling personal improvements. Transformation marketing adds value to your brand.

For example, Gerber Knives advertises their knives being used by adventurous, tough, fearless people—the kind of people who perform rescues and face down wild animals. This advertising suggests that if you buy a knife, you will become an adventurous, tough, fearless person. Even though the author was well aware of this technique, when he came across a display of Gerber Knives in a Home Depot, he still wanted one.

The author later received a Gerber knife as a gift and he’s never used it to rescue anyone. Did the gift-giver waste their money? The author doesn’t think so. Owning it still makes him feel fearless and tough.

Affirmation

It’s not always obvious that a hero has changed because, throughout most of the story, she’s been doubting herself and struggling. As a result, to emphasize the transformation, many stories feature affirmation scenes in which the guide tells the hero how far she’s come. For example, at the end of The King’s Speech, the king’s speech coach tells the king he’ll do a good job ruling. 

In branding, as you’re the guide, you need to alert the customer when they’ve transformed. For example, Dave Ramsey, a financial advisor, hosts a radio show about personal debt and runs finance courses. Once customers have completed his courses, he invites them to appear on his radio show and shout “I’m debt-free!” Ramsey and his staff then applaud the transformation.

(To learn more about Dave Ramsey, read our summary of his book The Total Money Makeover.)

Writing Your Brandscript

To write your brandscript including transformation marketing:

  1. Return to your StoryBrand BrandScript or sheet of paper. 
  2. Brainstorm aspirational identities for your customers by thinking about how your customers want other people to describe them.
  3. Fill out the “transformation to” section with the top aspirational identities from your brainstorming list.
  4. Fill out the “starting point” section with the opposite of the aspirational i
Transformation Marketing: The Hero’s Journey

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  • Why you should make the consumer the hero of your brand's story
  • The 7 elements that make marketing work

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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