A few years ago I attended Content Marketing World in Cleveland where they featured a keynote from Mark Hamill, who (as you know) played mythic hero Luke Skywalker in Star Wars.
Before the event I asked myself “WTF does Mark Hamill know about Content Marketing?
Well I actually met the man in person. (TRULY mazing moment for me!) And his answer really shouldn’t be a surprise. In short, he said that content marketing is just brand storytelling. And it can only succeed when we make our audience the hero of our content.
Mark Hamill explained to 4,000 content marketers how the force could be with their content marketing. And so I’m re-publishing this article on May the fourth, so his storytelling powers can be learned by you. No matter where you are in the galaxy.
But first a quick back story . . .
The Power of The Force
Return of The Jedi came out in 1983. And in the small town of Mt. Penn, PA where I grew up, we could actually walk to one of those old movie theaters that had a balcony.
Return of The Jedi was the first movie I was allowed to go see without my parents. My older brother and I walked to the theater. We bought some popcorn, a soda, and of course some pop rocks. No we didn’t mix the two. Because, you know, certain death!
And then we sat there in awe as the final installment of the original Star Wars unfolded.
The epic hero, Luke Skywalker, conquers evil against overwhelming odds. The tragic villain, Darth Vader, returns to the good side. And the evil emperor is vanquished.
The Power of Myth
In 1989, I went off to college and studied English Literature. After watching Joseph Campbell’s “The Power of Myth” television series on PBS the previous year, and then reading the book, I came to believe what Campbell explained. I actually believed it wad the most amazing insight I had ever heard.
That there was a common theme to all the greatest stories ever told. He called it the “Monomyth” or “The Hero’s Journey.” Now while you likely have heard this, have you ever consider how optimistic an idea it really is?
The hero’s journey: An unlikely hero emerges from a humble background. They hesitantly go on a journey. They face threats, trials, and existential challenges that help them learn of their true nature and strength. They overcome evil and return home forever changed.
The Hero’s Journey is so powerful because it evokes the dreams and wishes everyone feels. That we are somehow unique and special. That there is a surprising hidden power deep inside us. That we have important work to do. Work that has meaning and impact on the world around us.
Luke Skywalker’s Hero Journey
Luke Skywalker fulfills a number of the characteristics that you see in all mythic heroes. A royal lineage that he grows up ignorant about. That he has special powers and abilities that are brought out by a series of teachers.
He reluctantly leaves home on a quest that takes him over a supernatural threshold into a strange land. He is guided by a wise teacher, compelled by love for his sister, and pushed by the seemingly selfish co-hero Han Solo.
Ultimately, the hero must stand on his own, face the darkness and conquer it before returning to reality, stronger and wiser.
Luke and Han both evolve from self-centered people into crusaders against the forces of evil that threaten the entire universe.
What Mark Hamill Believes Is The Force of Content Marketing?
Mark believes in the optimism on the hero’s journey. Not in the happy ending. But in the way that great stories unite us all around common fears and desires.
And his advice to all of us in content marketing, is to push back against the evil empires of blatant promotion, and ego-driven campaigns, to talk to people’s fears and desires. I’ve always called this “marinating in the pain.”
Every good story spends an ungodly amount of time on the pain of the journey. Because that’s what reels us in. We start to root for the hero because we see ourselves in them!
I also think there are a number of brand storytelling lessons we can learn from his character and the Star Wars mythology overall:
1. Start with Reality
Star Wars begins on a dry and sandy planet that doesn’t seem very appealing.
Darth Vader is introduced to us on the Death Star. A very dark and ominous place. The Millennium Falcon is a tired and beat up space ship that Han Solo gets started by banging on a panel with wires hanging out of it.
Star Wars starts with the way the world can feel sometimes. Old, tired, dirty, and scary. As Great content starts with the storytelling elements of “what is” before moving on to “what could be.”
2. Contrasts Are Important
Han Solo starts out as kind of a jerk. But he shows great affection for his friend Chewbacca, and serious interest in Princess Leia. He’s the tough guy, been around the block contrast to Luke’s boyish naivety.
He says he only cares about getting a reward, yet he keeps showing up in key places when he is needed.
Han Solo provides a contrast to Luke’s own journey from selfishness to selflessness. Great content considers opposing points of view. But not as opposites. As complements.
Should you start your content marketing program on a social channel or on your own website? Should you promote yourself in your content marketing? These are important contrasts to consider.
“Luke, I am your Father” is one of the greatest “holy crap” lines in a movie ever. I named by 4th child after that line!
This puts Luke Skywalker on a path of redemption to love the very thing he hates the most. And it begins the journey for Darth Vader to be redeemed as well.
But what can content marketing save?
Let’s start with marketing itself. All marketers are on a path of redemption.
- If marketing has a marketing problem, then content marketing is the solution.
- If banner ads are evil (Ok fine being dramatic. They are just useless), then content marketing is the savior.
- Maybe Content marketers are the heroes in the story of marketing. So make your team the hero of your story!
Know anyone that likes boring and promotional ads? Content marketing focuses on making your customers the hero. Content marketing focuses on turning your promotions and interruptions into valuable messages that people actually want and need.
Does your company have employees who are real people with passions, pains, families and stress, dreams and desires bigger than just talking about what their company sells? Content marketing allows your employees, and partners, and influencers to share their passions and fears authentically with an audience who shares similar interests.
An audience that might become your next customer, employee, investor, or partner.
And Content marketing provides a measurable return on your marketing investment. So it’s got that whole: “let’s do stuff that works” thing going for it.
May The Fourth Be With Your Content Marketing!
Looking for some inspiration? Here are some brand storytelling examples we love. Here are some of our favorite content marketing examples. And some of the most inspiring content marketers.
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