Marketing the audience as the hero of the story

“Our brains are insanely greedy for stories. We spend about a third of our lives daydreaming–our minds are constantly looking for distractions–and the only time we stop flitting from daydream to daydream [or look up from our mobile devices] is when we have a good story in front of us,” writes Rachel Gillett. Creating stories to capture an audience’s attention is a concept that has been gaining traction in the marketing landscape for over a decade. Yet, where do great stories come from? What attributes make a story compelling?

Literary scholar, Joseph Campbell set out on a mission to explore these questions and created concept of the Monomyth, or the Hero’s Journey.

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We can see Campbell’s Hero’s Journey exemplified in the stories of Harry Potter, The Incredibles, Star Wars, and the myths found in the Arthurian Legends.

Dating back to the Greeks we see stories of heroes told on the theatrical stage.  The characters on stage encounter challenges, and we the audience are able to invest in their success and create a bond with the hero’s story on the stage.  By exploring the twelve steps expressed in Campbell’s Hero’s Journey Model, arts marketers can apply these same methods to the audience. Thereby empowering the audience to become the heroes of the organization’s stories.

STEP ONE. Ordinary World

The hero is seen going about her everyday, normal routine in the ordinary world.

It’s essential to research the ordinary world of our hero, what are her likes, dislikes, values and beliefs. No one enjoys hearing someone talk only about themselves, so how can we engage and talk to the hero without knowing something about her? This is where collecting data can be incredibly advantageous, whether we use a good, old fashioned spreadsheet or a robust Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool, such as Sprout Social. Through research, we discover our hero’s behavior patterns and the social trends they respond to, and then use this information to formulate a marketing strategy that finds them where they already feel the most comfortable.

STEP TWO. Call to Adventure

Our hero is shown a unique idea that disrupts the balance of the ordinary world.

In the words of author, and motivational speaker Simon Sinek, “people don’t buy what  do; they buy why you do it. The goal is not to do business with everybody who needs what you have. The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe.” By focusing on the what role arts marketing has in people’s lives we can foster compelling stories that speak to shared values, what your organization stands for, and why it exists. By instilling the why into a call to action we create a message that is engaging and as inspiring as the art we are creating on our stages.

STEP THREE. Refusal of the Call

Our hero may need a succession of calls before deciding to answer our call.

Drawing from Campbell’s Arthurian Knight interpretation of conquering challenges, “the dragon” that often needs to be slayed is psychological: often perceived barriers are the root-cause of why our hero may refuse our “calls to action.”

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The preference to stay home has grown over 20% in the last seven years. By creating a marketing mix we can motivate our audience hero to overcome her  fears, insecurities, and even give up the comforts of her couch to experience something new. The mix, as described in Performing Arts Management, is compiled of various sales methods that allow for the effective use of our organization’s resources to reach our hero such as printed materials, digital advertisements, publicity campaigns and social media messages.

STEP FOUR.  Meeting the Mentor.

The hero meets a mentor to gain confidence, insight, advice, training, or magical gifts to overcome initial fears and cross the threshold of the adventure.

What are ways our organizations can mentor and guide our hero through these perceived barriers? We can create authenticity by providing our hero with endorsements from those that have come before them. In Capacity Interactive’s “CI to Eye” podcast with guest Colleen Dilenschneider we learn that when an endorsement is provided by others the value of that endorsement increases 12.85%  as when compared to when an organization promotes its own work. In building our organization’s brand awareness by cultivating partnerships with influencers, collecting and sharing patron testimonials, as well as referring to critic’s positive reviews of our past events  we are able to exemplify the types of experiences we want our hero to take part in.

We must also speak on the platform that our hero is already using, as she is increasingly using digital channels to experience news and events.

Video Source: The Goldfish Problem

STEP FIVE. Crossing the Threshold

Crossing the Threshold signifies that the Hero has finally committed to the Journey.

In many stories this step in Campbell’s Hero’s Journey marks the the arrival of our hero into a new environment. For Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, it’s the moment when the tornado uproots the house and lands in the mysterious land of Oz. For our hero it’s the moment in which she arrives to our organization’s landing page to seek out making a reservation to our upcoming cultural event.

In a world when purchases are only a click or swipe of your fingerprint away, we need to create a streamlined experience for our hero when she makes reservations to attend our events. Having the ability to swiftly commit to the event values our hero’s time. We can also create a sense of familiarity by having useful information about planning your visit on our website, programming information that incorporates our hero’s language, as well as photos and bios of the performers. Virtual Tours or Seating Chart maps are also helpful so that our hero can get a sense of what we look like on the inside before stepping foot into our front door.

STEP SIX. Tests, Allies, Enemies

The hero learns the rules of her new world. During this time, she endures tests of strength of will, meets friends, and comes face to face with foes.

“If you don’t have a clear articulation of what you want your customer experience to be, how do the people who are delivering it know what to do?”
~ Colin Shaw

Oftentimes our hero may have numerous questions and inquires about visiting a new space for the first time. Before the event occurs arts marketers can share the some valuable insider information to improve our hero’s upcoming experience. For example, are there any discounts or special offers at nearby restaurants that our hero can take advantage of with proof of ticket purchase before or after the event? Or, can we provide the running time of the event, parking pointers, and any notes about what to expect in terms of climate of the space?

At a theatre I used to work for we had a very noisy AC system, so the stage and seating areas were always chilled down before the show and the system would be shut off just before the production began. Signage was posted in the Lobby to let audience know the chilly air would distill once the production commenced. By including a note to new audience members beforehand, we allowed our heroes to decide if they wanted to bring an extra layer for those few minutes before the show got underway.

STEP SEVEN. Approach

Setbacks occur, sometimes causing the hero to try a new approach or adopt new ideas.

WolfBrown’s audience impact study in 2007 hypothesized that  “an individual’s ‘readiness-to-receive’ a performing arts experience influences the nature and extent of impacts received.” When working front of house and box office for an extremely popular cabaret series I experienced firsthand the ways the audience would line up in a stairwell in order to check in or purchase a ticket. The production was renting the space in which the show took place, so when discussions for the next year’s show began, we knew we needed to seek out venues that had a much larger lobby thereby accommodating our audience flow.

By taking into consideration that our hero’s experience is more than just the event inside the theater itself, we infuse additional moments of audience interaction by providing complementary or supplementary products and services. For example, we sold fun merchandise and had beverage stations alongside the ticket line, efforts that increased our sales by 30% annually while simultaneously offering “more” to our hero.


The Ordeal is the central, essential, and magical stage of any journey.

The goal in this step is to inspire our hero and form a deeper connection with her through the live performance. In a conversation with Katy Brown, Associate Artistic Director of Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Virginia, she reflected on how the audience connection to the story is her prime motivation. Katy creates her own hero stories for audience members she observes in the theatre: She pictures an older gentleman with his spouse and imagines that perhaps their marriage has been on rocky ground, and they have come to the theatre hoping for a shared experience that may rekindle their relationship. There’s a moment in the show in which he looks over and sees his partner with new eyes,  – and perhaps he has the courage to reach over and hold her hand. Or there’s “Sally”, a young student who no longer has arts education in her school due to budget and curriculum cuts, and Sally is now getting the opportunity to see her very first play and it’s one about her own cultural heritage. By continually acknowledging our hero’s experience when creating the onstage story it presents an opportunity for shared connections and values to cultivate between our hero and our organization.


After surviving death, the hero earns her reward or accomplishes her goal.

Our hero needs to feel her experience was rewarding in order to choose to share her encounter with others. What elements should be measured in order to know if an experience was rewarding?

In WolfBrown’s study the focus was placed on understanding intrinsic impacts of attending live performing arts events, breaking them down into six target areas.
1) Captivation: To what degree to was our hero engrossed and absorbed in the performance.
2) Intellectual Stimulation: To what extent did the performance make our hero think or provoke questions?
3) Emotional Resonance: Did our hero have an emotional response to the performance and, if so, what was it?
4) Spiritual Value: To what extent was our hero inspired or empowered by the performance?
5) Aesthetic Growth: Was our hero exposed to a new artist’s style and what did they think of it?
6) Social Bonding:  To what extent did the performance provide a connection with our hero to the others in the audience, allow them to celebrate their own  cultural heritage or learn about cultures outside of their life experience, and left them with new insight on human relations?

The findings suggest that arts organizations should first decide what type of impacts they wish to foster with their audience (e.g., intellectual stimulation, social bonding), and then select artists, works of arts and engagement strategies that are most likely to deliver those impacts.

STEP TEN. The Road Back

The hero begins the journey back to her ordinary life.

Our hero’s insight with the touchstones of our organization can awaken and inform our organization: from the call to adventure, to the ticket purchase, to the front of house staff encounters, to the way the show left an impression on her as the final curtain came down.

What are the methods we can collect feedback beyond demographics to captivate and inspire our hero to share it with others? When done well, surveys are a valuable tool in capturing an audience’s impressions that have the ability to lead to a better understanding of our organization’s impact on our hero’s journey. HubSpot provides us with 7 Tips for Getting More Respondents to create a survey that our hero wants to take.

STEP ELEVEN. Resurrection Hero

The hero is reborn or transformed with the attributes of her ordinary self in addition to the lessons and insights from the characters that she has met along the road.

What are the ways we want to engage our hero to join us again? Using email as a communication platform continues to reign as one of the most important and accessible platforms an organization can use. According to the 2018 survey helmed by Adobe, top wishes amongst the survey takers are emails that are less promotional and more informational and emails that are personalized to the recipient’s interests.

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In Capacity Interactive’s CI to Eye podcast with guest Aubrey Bergauer, Executive Director of the California Symphony, she remarks on the ways in which the organization changed their marketing language and created specific direct call to action messages that influence our hero to keep engaging with the organization. These modifications led the Symphony to increase subscription revenue by over 70%, grow their audience size by over 70%, and an increase their contributed revenue by over 40%.

STEP TWELVE. Return with Elixir

The hero brings her knowledge or the “elixir” back to the ordinary world, where she applies it to help all who remain there.

If we think of our social media pages as the ‘elixir of knowledge’ we can provide our hero with content to share her experiences with others she encounters in the Ordinary World. Forbes provides 12 Ways To Optimize Your Posts.

“If you connect personally with your audience, the relationship is a lifelong journey.” In fact, we if dive into the stats, Forbes recorded the top 100 organizations in the world and all other businesses have found when an emphasis is placed on customer empowerment it resulted in 90% growth of customer purchase frequency as well as customers spent 60% more over time.

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In order to foster lifelong journey, Joanne Scheff and Philip Kolter write in Crisis in the Arts: The Marketing Response—  “The essence of art is its communication with the audience member.” It’s vital for us to keep in mind that the hero’s journey is cyclical, it does not have a start and stopping point.  Our journey with our audience is one that must continue to be a source of commitment to the relationships we are developing and to value the strength in the those partnerships so that our arts programming can thrive.

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2 Responses to Marketing the audience as the hero of the story

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, this blog is great. It is really useful and easy to understand. Hope everyone get benefit. Thanks for sharing your Knowledge and experience with us.

  2. Thanks very interested information good work

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