Mike Henderson from Hendo Design

A couple of week’s ago we had Mike Henderson from Hendo Design on The Active Lifestyle Marketer. You can listen to the episode on iTunes or on our Blog.  Mike is an incredibly talented creative who has worked with some of the biggest names in and outside of the active lifestyle industry, including Wieden + Kennedy, Ziba Design, Instrument, Sockeye, and most recently REI. In our interview with Mike we talked about archetypes in storytelling and how he brought that approach to REI, implementing it in one of the most recognized campaigns in the active lifestyle space, REI’s #OptOutside campaign – “Will you go outside with me?” In this article, I want to expand on some of the things we talked about in Mike’s episode.

Archetypes in Storytelling

The archetypal storytelling approach has many different roots. You can literally tie these storytelling approaches to ancient mythology and stories from the bible, and great brands apply these methods of storytelling every single day. The two books that I’ve found these approaches explained most effectively are “Story Wars” by Jonah Sachs, and “The Hero and the Outlaw” by Margaret Mark and Carol S. Pearson. The latter was a recommendation by Mike Henderson himself.
Many great stories have a singularity and consistency to the story structure called the “heroes journey.” The story of Moses in the bible, Luke Skywalker, and Odysseus all follow similar structures. This structure is not true for all stories, but it’s a great tool that can be used to help tell your brand story allowing your brand to connect with your audience at a human level, at an emotional level. Your brand story structure should be used as a catalyst that carries your beliefs, or your brands why. We’ll touch on that later in this article. Google “heroes journey” and you’ll find plenty of articles explaining the actual structure.

“Your brand story structure should be used as a catalyst that carries your beliefs, or your brands why.”

How can active lifestyle brands apply archetypal storytelling?

So how can an active lifestyle brand apply this structure of storytelling when communicating with their audience? First, we must define the characters in the story. The temptation with the heroes journey is to make your company’s product or service offering the hero. This approach is an outdated marketing tactic and our audience today sees through that traditional message immediately. We’ve all seen the campaigns that read something like, “our product is the best,” “our product will fix your problems,” “our product does this and this and that, and me me me and I I I and…” ugh, it’s a little exhausting, right? This approach is old, outdated, and it’s dying quickly. With the advent of social media, people can now easily see through the crap. Brands must alter the narrative to be successful, and when applying the heroes journey to your brand storytelling, your customer is always the hero.

“Your customer is the hero!”

If your customer is the hero, then your brand is the mentor who guides the hero, who educates the hero, who empowers the hero, and this is where archetypes come into play (I would encourage you to read “The Hero and the Outlaw” for a deeper dive into the different archetypes). At REI, Mike introduced the REI brand as “The Explorer” to their customers in their storytelling. This archetype related to the REI audience well because as Mike mentioned, “The Explorer and REI member are naturally curious, they seek freedom, and they want to find new places. It’s not the guy who goes back to the same campsite year after year.”
This was already engrained in the company belief system to begin with because of the company’s belief that “a life outside is a life well lived.” That core belief then drives and informs the archetype that Mike and his team used to communicate to the REI audience. The result is an ability to tell stories that connect with your ideal audience in a way that speaks directly to that audience emotionally. The result? When Mike and his team applied this storytelling approach, the result was one of the most effective and recognized campaigns in active lifestyle industry history. Mike and his team increased on the success of #OptOutside 1.0 with 1.4 million people engaging, to 6 million people engaging with #OptOutside 2.0. #OptOutside is now synonymous with REI and is engrained as a sub-identity of the brand. In order for all of this to be successful though, there must be a deep understanding of your brand’s core beliefs.

Belief-Based Marketing

In our conversation with Mike, he mentioned that Simon Sinek’s book and Ted Talk, “Start with Why,” was a huge influence early in his career. In that Ted Talk Simon says, “Touch your toes….” I’m a Dad now so I’m allowed to use cheesy Dad jokes. Actually, Simon says, “People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it, and what you do simply proves what you believe.” This is called belief-based marketing and it’s why earlier in this article I said, “Your brand story structure should be used as a catalyst that carries your beliefs.” What you believe, what your company believes, your purpose or your cause, these should drive and inform your archetype(s). People don’t buy products, they buy into belief systems. Now, there’s obviously an argument against that in plenty of circumstances. There are plenty of people who still buy Dell products, but very few people are loyal to Dell and I don’t know anyone who advocates for Dell who isn’t paid to do so. This is why company’s like Patagonia, Apple, Nike, LiveStrong, and now REI are seeing such huge success.
These incredibly popular brands are attracting ideal clients that believe in what these brands stand for because these brands believe and stand for something. Their customers are loyal, and they advocate for these brands because the brand and the customer share consistent beliefs. We’ve all seen this play out time and again with Apple. It doesn’t really matter what Apple sells (phones, mp3 players, tablets… watches? Isn’t Apple a computer company?), their customers will buy their products because they are loyal to the Apple brand.

What does this all mean for an active lifestyle brand?

So, what does this all mean for an active lifestyle brand? Why does it matter? It matters because this approach allows you to attract your ideal customer. It allows you to build a customer base that is loyal. It allows you to build an audience that advocates for your brand. When you believe in something, when your “why” informs your “how” and your “what,” it attracts people with the same beliefs. My favorite example Simon gives is around this idea of friends, and why we have the friends that we have. You can see the full video HERE.
“Just be yourself.” Allow your beliefs to inform and drive all communication. Build a story structure in your communication that is a catalyst for your beliefs. In this story structure, the hero is your audience, and your brand is the mentor established around an archetype that fits most closely with your beliefs. Now go tell great stories. Or, hire us. We can help you tell those great stories.