It can be said at just about any time in our history, and at any point in each of our business career’s arc; “we live in interesting times.” At various points, economies have been impacted by wars (both on domestic soil as well as overseas), technological changes that completely wiped out industries (automation, computers, and many more) and created new ones, diseases and famines (Potato Famine all the way through to HIV and now Covid-19); and yet – the most nimble business owners and entrepreneurs are able to see opportunity by recognizing what the market needs – often before the market even knows itself (the iPod by Steve Jobs being one salient example). As hard as it may be to be a participant in our current economy; and at the same time serve as analyst, observer of trends, and futurist; Michael Bruening is providing that insight through his website, The Hero’s Journey Economy. In his website, he provides articles, podcasts, and interpretations of how the environment we compete and collaborate in economically is quickly changing.
I recently had a conversation with Mike about his initiative, and am sharing some highlights of that discussion below:
- Your website references author Joseph Campbell and the concept of, The Hero’s Journey. Can you explain the concept and the relevance to businesses?
Joseph Campbell was a professor of Literature and in his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, he observed mythical tales of the Hero’s Journey were prevalent in many different cultures throughout time. The Hero’s Journey is a story of transformation, where an average person is pulled into a call to action that begins a journey of difficult challenges that test a person’s ability to their limit. Through that effort, the person comes through the trials transformed.
We have moved from a product-based economy (buying a teddy bear) to an experience-based economy (going to a build-a-bear party) in a relative short period of time. We are now moving to an economy based on personal change and transformation. An example of this is we once purchased Pokémon cards, more recently we played the augmented reality game Pokémon Go. Soon Pokémon is launching a game that will help improve sleep. Industries from Travel to beer are looking at how to aid people in their hero’s journey of transformation.
- If I were to be an entrepreneur or managing a small team, how could I incorporate the concept into my strategy or business planning?
Entrepreneurs should think how their product or service can aid in a person’s journey of transformation. Some businesses like health clubs and diet centers naturally lend themselves to personal change. Others like a furniture store or burger place are more difficult to see how they can be part of a journey.
[David Zahn Note:] Though, perhaps the burger could be transformative in terms of; health benefits if made from plants, introducing new taste/seasonings/condiments, may be a status symbol displaying how sophisticated/attuned to societal issues/etc. the person consuming the burger is to others.
- How would you recommend businesses build this approach into their culture?
In this new economy, the individual will be the product, and branded products and services will play a supporting role. Journey takers often need sidekicks and mentors along their journey. One person who studied Joseph Campbell’s works was George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars. The characters of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda epitomize the mentor role. Han Solo and R2D2 were classic sidekicks. One approach businesses should think about is how can they play of mentor or sidekick in someone’s personal journey of transformation.
4. What are the tools or resources a business can employ to achieve this transformation?
It’s not unusual for these offerings to carve out entirely new markets that previously did not exist. Often times these products have journey support tools and resources. Peloton offers the ability for their bikers to track their progress on their goals with a host of metrics and allows the user to compete with others online.
Nike was surprised when their app showed a tremendous amount of female runners were running in the dark and offered safety advice and other resources based on this learning.
5. How can a business measure progress or identify success in this effort? What are the metrics?
Products and services that aid in the hero’s journey have an intimate relationship with consumers and evoke loyalty and can compel premium prices. Lululemon, Nike, Harley Davidson and Tesla all play a strong role in individual journeys. Their brands have a unique brand devotion and high retention from consumers and sales growth often comes from passionate word of mouth endorsement.
- Are there exemplars or models of companies or individuals doing this well that people can reference?
Athletic Brewing Company – Based in Stratford CT makes a non-alcoholic craft beer marketed to consumers with active life styles aggressive physical fitness goals. Non-alcoholic is now one of the fastest going segments for beer.
Apple – offers apps for Meditation, Wellness, Fitness, Goal Tracking, Nutrition, Sleep monitoring and continuous learning.
Transformational Travel Council — Supports the growing interest in challenging vacations and focuses on areas that drive life-changing experiences.
Tom Brady’s TB!2 clothing line offers mineral lined pajamas that help with recovery and circulation during sleep.
For many, COVID 19 and the recent protests will be their call to action and to enter their own hero’s journey. Brands that can help in this journey will take on a unique personal relationship as a trusted advisor and lifelong companion to individuals. Products and services not in this inner circle may find themselves as a less relevant commodity or may not be needed at all.
There is no doubt that much is changing in how companies, brands and products are assessed and evaluated by consumers. Perhaps it is time for all businesses to identify what their own “super-power is” and become the hero to the market that is being sought by prospects and shoppers in search of products and services.