Consumer Archetypes: Is this a hero's journey? (1/8)

By Phumulani Mngomezulu

Phumulani Mngomezulu is a Brand Strategist and an award-winning business author whose thought leadership work has been highly  recommended by business, marketing, brand and psychology experts across Africa and successful brands in Africa. Phumulani’s strategy and thought leadership work focuses on sustainable brand building and branding for purpose-led/impact entrepreneurial development.  

In this Article Series, Phumulani explores a framework for creating consumer archetypes/profiles for consumer segmentation and building the case for a purpose-driven entrepreneurial brand story.

I define a purpose-driven entrepreneurial brand as a brand that is obsessed and focused on innovating from real consumer insights. This brand understands that its purpose and its case for growth is rooted in not just knowing its consumer, but on how much it knows its consumer. The more you know about your consumer, the more you can differentiate your offering and provide more value that can make a significant impact on your consumer’s life because you actually know a lot about them. The question is, how do you get to that stage where you know a lot about a consumer, and also what kind of strategic framework should one use to try and collect insights on consumers?

In my sessions with entrepreneurs, one of the ways that I explore this exercise in consumer archetypes, is by borrowing from the rules of archetypal storytelling. When I look at the psychological ways of how stories are made either by a fictional book, a movie or even drawings, it moves me to discover how one can unearth new meaning for what happens in the consumer journey.

An Aristotelian Lens

I use an Aristotle philosophical lens to posit the notion that a story has three parts/acts. In each story there is a point of Crisis, Struggle and Resolution and each of these three points are crucial moments in a story that drive the drama of the plot, where The plot is driven by the protagonist. The hero. The main character.

Crisis

A story starts and we meet the protagonist. Our hero. We are introduced to their reality and their surroundings (where they live, the job they do, their family life, and so on). We get to know who this person is and the kind of life they have built for themselves. The point of Crisis is when an unexpected event happens to threaten the comfort of the protagonist’s life. The protagonist is used to living life in a particular way and all of a sudden, this unexpected event threatens that and they are now in a moment of change. They’ve lost control. What we usually see is that this change affects the protagonist in two levels. The first level happens on the surface where the change and loss of control is made evident in their day-to-day reality (e.g. in the job they do, their family life, or a catastrophic event happening in the city that they live in). The second level happens below the surface. It is how this change and loss of control affects the protagonist’s feelings and so because of this, what we often see is that it is not really the events of story that bring meaning to the story, but the drama when the plot and the character meet to unearth that emotional significance. How do those specific events, as they occur, strike the character’s emotionality? How does it make them feel? And why do they feel that way? From thereon, up until the end, the story continues to play at these two levels. As the plot or series of events unfold, each of those events carry emotional significance. We see the spark in the story when the character meets that emotional significance. This then ignites the point of Struggle.

Struggle

Struggle is the journey that the protagonist will take to deal with the change that caused the Crisis and because this change has struck both their external reality and internal reality, the struggle journey will also happen in two layers. There will be the surface layer where they are dealing with the day-to-day change in reality and the layer below the surface, where they are dealing with the emotional change internally. At this point, the protagonist is usually active in the story and they are mustering all kinds of resources to deal with their crisis. It could be that they need to have conversations with certain people, visit certain places, rescue someone or they need to gather certain tools. As they do these things, these various interactions and the new surroundings they find themselves in are also affecting their emotional state and their feeling about their crisis. If you are reading the story, this is the point where you cannot stop turning the pages. If you are watching the movie or series, this is the point where you just cannot take your eyes off the screen because essentially you want to know – What is going to happen next?

The transition between Crisis and Struggle is the heart of character development. As the character identifies their crisis and the journey they take to solve it, the questions that we ask are: How is this story going to end? And at the end of the story, where is this character going to end up? Are they going to survive this or are they going to die? These are questions that seek for Resolution, which is the final point of story. Resolution is the prize our character is going to get for the journey they took in Struggle and it is where we draw meaning to why the Crisis happened and This is where we can finally end the story.

Resolution

There are essentially two ways that stories end:

  1. The crisis that occurred in the protagonist’s life puts them in a process of death, humiliation or ostracization and the story ends in tragedy
  2. The crisis occurred to put the protagonist in a process of healing and victory and the story has a happy ending.

What usually determines how the protagonist will arrive at resolution or how the story will end, is how the protagonist has struggled. During their process of Struggle, the way they are going to approach or deal with their crisis (those series of choices and actions) will either lead to their healing or victory or it will lead to their death or humiliation. As a result, we say the character develops. They do not end the story as the same people they were in the beginning. The struggle changed them.

Implications for Brand Building?

I look at the brand building process just the same way as I look at storytelling. In brand building, our hero is our consumer and the way that I see it, consumers also undertake a journey of Crisis, Struggle and Resolution. In the sense that, when we meet our consumer, they too are dealing with a crisis/ problem/pain in their life. The case is that their reality has been disrupted, their comfort has been discharged and they are experiencing incredible frustration as a result of what happened. Therefore, that problem or frustration is also happening in two layers in their lives. The first layer being at the surface (visible in their day-to-day external reality) and the second layer being below the surface (occurring in their emotional realm, where the problem is striking their emotional state in negative ways).

We meet our consumer in their own journey of struggle. There are certain decisions that they are taking and they are engaged in certain behaviours, because they are trying to find Resolution to their Crisis that occurs both in external reality and deep in their emotional reality.

By virtue of being entrepreneurs, we know that our mandate is to create solutions that solve the consumer’s problems. In this context, I propose that we look at it as creating Resolution to their Crisis, and If we adopt this mindset, that means our solutions have to come with the rules of Resolution – they must give our consumer their prize or reward for their struggle, in the two ways that we’ve discerned above.

Using this lens, I declare with the greatest conviction that as a purpose-driven entrepreneur that is building a purpose-led brand, your role in the story is to write the story. You are the author, the script writer and the director. The question is: What story are you writing?

This Aristotelian approach suggests that there cannot be a story without a protagonist and that essentially, all stories are driven by character.  This implicates that you need to start by identifying your protagonist – your consumer, and then you pose the dramatic question of story by asking yourself, Who is this person? as an effort to understand their reality. You want to know what makes them who they are and how they lead their lives. As we have explored, you have to look at that in two ways – their external reality and their internal (emotional) reality. I know that it is difficult to have a view of people’s internal realities but what we have learned from psychology and neuroscience is that people’s internal reality is not that different from their external reality. This then gives us a case of where to start. We start with what we can see. You start with what your consumer is already showing you in public about their lives. In this artilce series, we will explore that.

After studying their reality, you want to know what crisis has emerged that your product can solve, bearing in mind that this Crisis is an unexpected event in their lives that is literally changing a part of their reality or surroundings, and it’s incredibly frustrating them. You want to know how this Crisis affects both their external reality and their internal (emotional) reality. Why does it frustrate them so much? Why is it so painful that they are going through this? Knowing that would give you a case on the role that your product needs to play in their lives. We will also explore that in this season. Why are problems so painful to people?

Lastly,  if they can manage to beat this Crisis.  Where is it that they want to end up? What kind of people do they want to be after the crisis? What does resolution mean to them? This would give you a sense of the type of reward that your product must create for them. Both the rewards in external reality and internal reality should be an emotional type of reward.

What we know is that Resolution always has two outcomes – a happy resolution or a tragic one. However, it may be wise to keep in mind that not everyone defines happy and tragic in the same way. What may be a happy ending for some people can be absolutely tragic for others, and this shade of meaning is what we want to find as well.

I write this to provoke the thought that perhaps the consumer journey is similar to the hero’s journey? Can we look at the consumer in the same way that we look at a character in a plot? and to make the case that these are the nuances of resolution that purpose-driven entrepreneurial brands can explore towards building the case for a compelling brand narrative. We will unpack these throughout this article series.

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