When developing content to market customer programs, there are several options for energy company marketers and communicators.
One approach is straightforward, fact-based and quantitative: “You will save about $250 per year if you enroll in this program.”
Another is the lifestyle pitch: “You can shift your energy use to off-peak periods of the day and you won’t even notice it.”
A third way is peer pressure, sometimes leavened with eco guilt: “Your friends and neighbors are participating in this program because it protects the environment and they are concerned for the next generation.”
I’m not knocking any of those approaches. At various times and different situations, I have used all of them when writing marketing content for clients.
But there’s another approach, one I think is compelling and deserves consideration: the customer as a hero who triumphs over obstacles large and small to achieve their goals for energy and water use.
MARKETING THE HERO’S JOURNEY OF A WATER CUSTOMER
Rather than writing yet another fact-based, quantitative customer newsletter article on the new water-efficiency rebates, we could create a hero’s journey where a customer, Jean, is shaken out of her comfort zone and takes action after receiving a really high water bill.
Jean finds herself in an unfamiliar situation, never having thought about her water usage or the bill, but she embarks on a journey to find ways to lower that bill. That could include talking to neighbors, visiting a DIY store or contacting her water provider.
On her journey, Jean overcomes obstacles, installs more-efficient technology, changes her behavior and emerges victorious over high water bills.
She’ll have to pay a price, of course, probably in the form of spending time and effort, and maybe money, on something that doesn’t particularly interest her.
But she’ll be rewarded when she receives a rebate from her water provider and her bills go down. Maybe she’ll even become an advocate for her water provider’s efficiency programs and tell her friend Sally, who has just received her own high-water bill.
MARKETING THE HERO’S JOURNEY OF AN ELECTRIC CUSTOMER
Here’s a fresh approach to telling an increasingly common story: the residential customer who enrolls in a community solar program.
Jim, a young environmentally minded customer, lives in an apartment. Because of that, and since he’s still paying off his college loans, he can’t install solar panels on his rooftop. So he coasts along, somewhat unsatisfied but more or less accepting his situation.
Then, suddenly, Jim is jarred out of his comfort zone when a friend tells him about his energy company’s community solar program. New possibilities emerge! His interest in solar reawakened, he plunges into the exotic world of community solar.
After a little research on his energy company’s website, or maybe a call to the customer contact center,
Jim finds an offering that fits his budget, enrolls in it and feels better about doing something to help the environment.
He pays a price, first the initial frustration, then the time researching community solar and then the monthly fee, but his journey changes him in any number of ways. Maybe Jim changes careers and joins a solar company. Perhaps he marries the person who enrolled him in the community solar program, they start a family and everyone lives happily ever after.
REBOOT YOUR MARKETING USING THE HERO’S JOURNEY NARRATIVE
The structure of those stories closely follows a narrative technique known as “Hero’s Journey,” summarized long ago by Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Campbell conducted a long-term cross-cultural analysis of powerful, enduring stories that transcended era, locale, language and culture. Here’s how Campbell summarized the Hero’s Journey plot structure:
A hero (the main character) ventures forth from the world of the familiar into unfamiliar territory, where he encounters powerful forces and wins a decisive victory. The hero pays a price for his venture. He returns home changed in some fundamental way and often tells his story to others.
If you read enough books or newspapers, or watch enough movies, you may notice that the Hero’s Journey remains a widely used approach to telling stories, both in fiction and journalism.
At a high level, movies in the Star Wars franchise share a common plot structure with The Lion King, the latest thriller from David Baldacci and ancient works like the Bible, Homer’s Odyssey and Virgil’s Aeneid. It’s all about overcoming obstacles and achieving a goal.
If you want to do a deep dive on this, here’s how screenwriter Dan Harmon illustrated Campbell’s hero’s journey.
Armed with this awareness, it is easy to see the many stories about health-care workers treating patients infected with COVID-19 follow a variant of the Hero’s Journey approach. Doctors, nurses and emergency-room technicians face overwhelming odds — too many patients, not enough personal protective equipment, exhaustion, and fears of contracting the illness — as they work valiantly to save patients.
Sadly, not every battle with the pandemic can be won, but those that are illustrate the Hero’s Journey narrative. Whether told from the perspective of the health-care workers or the overjoyed family that welcomes a relative back after weeks of hospitalization, triumph over adversity is the essence of the story.
Communications tip of the month: You could use the Hero’s Journey story structure to make your customer communications more colorful and engaging. People respond to stories because they can identify with the character who overcomes obstacles and achieves a goal.
As more energy companies try to understand their customer’s experience, they are engaging in journey mapping. Telling stories using the Hero’s Journey narrative is a great way to support your customer experience strategy.
CREATE YOUR OWN HEROES!
Conscious use of the Hero’s Journey paradigm can lead to more effective marketing content that would engage your readers far more than a rebate table with a lot of small print containing the rules for participating in your company’s community solar program.
You could even test the proposition that stories sell better than facts. Do what is called an A/B test with marketing collateral: Send a traditional, fact-laden piece of marketing material to a group of customers (the “A” group) and send a different piece using the Hero’s Journey to a different group of customer (the “B” group). Tabulate the results — which approach resulted in more program enrollments? That group has the higher return on investment (ROI).
You don’t want to become too formulaic: if overused, the Hero’s Journey plot structure could become stale and lose its impact. But with a working knowledge of what the Hero’s Journey approach is, and a dash of creativity, you could make your customer communications, well, heroic.
WPPI Energy Case Study
Find out how one energy organization used the Hero’s Journey approach to storytelling in its annual report.Learn more