A brand that positions itself as the hero is destined to lose

In “Building a Story Brand – Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen,” Donald Miller shares the very important, but easy to miss, distinction between heroes and guides. I’ll start off by sharing a story about a company that positioned itself as the hero and failed. Then I’ll talk about how customers are turned off by brands that position themselves as the hero and why. Then I’ll finish by sharing how you can position yourself as a guide instead of a hero.

On March 30, 2015, Jay Z launched the streaming music service Tidal. Tidal differentiated itself from Spotify by stating that the musicians gained a larger share of the revenue from plays on the service. Music super stars Usher, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Madonna, Deadmau5, Kanye West, Jason Aldean, Jack White, Daft Punk, Beyonce and Win Butler joined Jay Z at the press event to announce the service.

At the press conference Jay Z said,

“People are not respecting the music, and devaluing what it really means. People really feel like music is free, but will pay $6 for water. You can drink water free out of the tap and it’s good water. But they’re okay paying for it. It’s just the mindset right now.” – Jay Z

So what happened?

“The crucial mistake: Jay Z failed to answer the one question lingering in the subconscious of every hero customer. How are you helping me win the day? Tidal existed to help the artist win the day, not customers. And so it failed.” – Donald Miller

Making a fine point even finer, Miller states:

“Customers don’t generally care about your story; they care about their own.” – Donald Miller

He goes on to say,

“When we position our customer as the hero and ourselves as the guide, we will be recognized as a trusted resource to help them overcome their challenges.” – Donald Miller

Are you positioning your company or service as the hero? Cut it out. Instead, position yourself as the guide.

“When giving a speech, position yourself as Yoda and your audience as Luke Skywalker. It’s a small but powerful shift that honors the journey of the audience and positions us as a leader providing wisdom, products, and services our audience needs in order to thrive.” – Donald Miller

Why is it so bad to position yourself as the hero? Why do people react so poorly to it? Maybe they see your message as humble bragging? Maybe it turns people off.

“When a brand comes along and positions itself as the hero, customers remain distant. They hear us talking about how great our business is and start wondering if we’re competing with them for scarce resources. Their subconscious thought pattern goes like this: This is another hero, like me. I wish I had more time to hear their story, but right now I’m busy looking for a guide.” – Donald Miller

So how do you position yourself as the guide rather than a hero? Stop tooting your own horn! Instead of talking about how great a company, person, or hero you are, talk about how much your guidance has helped and aided the fights of other heroes. Showcase your successes as a guide and leave the ego medals at home.

“A brand that positions itself as the hero is destined to lose.” – Donald Miller

In the next post I’ll discuss how important stories are to win customers. Contact me if you have any questions.


Author: David Neely

Professional Software Developer. Technology and Web Coordinator at the University of Hawaii's Manoa Career Center.