December 19, 2016 pwilhide

The Hero of Your Business Story

The other day, I was minding my business on the subway when a teenage boy no older than fifteen walked into the car and started telling a story. Being a very familiar scene for any New Yorker, most times I simply tune out, reach into my pocket, and turn the music up in my headphones, careful that they don’t see me and think I’m reaching for money (I know this makes me seem heartless, and I swear I’m not).

When this boy started talking, though, I turned my music down and honed in on his story.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I’m sorry to interrupt your ride,” he started, “but my sister has Cerebral Palsy, and I’m saving up to buy her a new wheelchair.”

This was a new one for me. He wasn’t selling candy, he wasn’t looking for food or a place to stay. His ask was completely selfless.

He continued, “so if you can spare anything, anything at all, it would help my sister out a lot, and we would both greatly appreciate it.”

Now, who’s to say whether is was true or not. But his story sparked something in me, and in the other train passengers. They pulled out bills (not coins…BILLS) to give to the young boy.

The Hero's Journey Chart

Image courtesy of

As a marketer, this situation made me ask myself “why did these people give? What triggered them emotionally to the point of reaching into their pockets for spare dollar bills?”

And it brought me back to the classic hero’s journey from grade school English class. Image courtesy of:

To refresh your memory, the hero’s journey follows a protagonist through a series of events that facilitate him/her experiencing some sort of transformation or significant change. That’s the key: the protagonist always returns a changed person.

When we apply that archetypal model to the subway example, the hero of that story isn’t the boy and it isn’t his sister: it’s the person that gave money. THAT’S where the transformation in this story occurred. These people had their headphones in and their books to read; they didn’t want to be bothered. That day, the boy’s story took each subway passenger through their own personal hero’s journey.

Now let’s circle back to your business story.

In your business story, you are not the hero.

Let me repeat that one more time.

YOU ARE NOT THE HERO of your own business: the audience is the hero. And when you make the audience the hero, you give them the power to do something good for themselves and for the world.

Your job is to move your audience to the point of transformation so they are willing and excited to take part in your story. It’s a simple shift you have to make in telling your business story, but I promise it will make a major impact on how your audience relates to you and how you help them through their own transformation.

So do that right now. Rewrite (or just write) your business story. Make your reader the hero. And leave a comment about how it works for you.