man on a journey walking in the mountains overlooking a sunset

The User Journey: This Way for Adventure

Welcome to adventure and the world of marketing.

Maybe my son has been watching it too much lately, but as I write this, I can help but think about Sesame Street. So in true analogous fashion: “The word on the street is Monomyth.” Today we’ll be looking at your company’s user journey using the monomyth model.

The term monomyth – coined by the late and world reknowned mythol­o­gist Joseph Camp­bell – is a word used to describe the tendency for literary epics to have congruent story arcs. For our purposes, think of it as the uncommon hero’s common jour­ney. It’s a spe­cific nar­ra­tive pat­tern found time after time in the sto­ries of cul­tures span­ning every con­ti­nent and cen­turies. Think Odysseus, Gilgamesh, Hercules.

They all go through similar yearning, reluctance, acceptance, embarkation, evaluation, and often repetition.

Mar­keters can use the mon­o­myth nar­ra­tive for every­thing from craft­ing brand mes­sag­ing to design­ing user flows, traffic patterns and lead generation.

“The User with a Thousand Faces”

The hero’s jour­ney struc­ture is so famil­iar most of us don’t even notice it. Spiderman, Luke Sky­walker, Nemo, and Kat­niss all under­take the hero’s jour­ney; and so can your audi­ence. In the words of Camp­bell himself:

hero ven­tures forth from the world of com­mon day into a region of super­nat­ural won­der: fab­u­lous forces are there encoun­tered and a deci­sive vic­tory is won: the hero comes back from this mys­te­ri­ous adven­ture with the power to bestow boons on his fel­low man.

Camp­bell calls this uni­ver­sal story “the hero with a thou­sand faces.” When faced with the chal­lenge of cre­at­ing com­pelling cus­tomer expe­ri­ences, remem­ber that your users have a thou­sand faces too. The hero’s jour­ney isn’t about tak­ing a one-size-fits-all approach to con­ver­sion paths; it’s about tak­ing a deeply res­o­nant nar­ra­tive and uniquely apply­ing it to each user segment.

Have your User’s Choose Their Own Journey.

Neil Patrick Harris, of “Doogie Howser, MD” lore (and many acclaimed roles since) has recently published an autobiography in which his readers can choose their own path through the story of his life. In this interactive age full of mobile apps, video games, and subscriptions to streaming movies, what a genius way to encourage engagement with something as mundane as a plain ol’ book.  The subtle irony is that almost all of the prepublication marketing was done by offering advertisements online. It fed fans multiple interactive ad experiences and trailers. Through this variety of enticement, a broader audience was able to be reach, assuredly impacting book sales (even if it is the digital kind).

Opti­miz­ing mul­ti­ple, unique user flows is an exer­cise in big pic­ture think­ing. You’ll drill down into the end­less details of test­ing land­ing page graph­ics, reg­is­tra­tion form word­ing, email tim­ing, and call-to-action place­ment later. First you need to put your­self in your users’ shoes and map out the unique journeys to be found within your marketing.

The goal of con­ver­sion opti­miza­tion is to move vis­i­tors from their first point of con­tact (might be an email link or land­ing page) to pur­chase, sub­scrip­tion, or mem­ber­ship. To trans­late this into the lan­guage of the hero’s jour­ney, we want to move them from their first “call to adven­ture” to a tri­umphant return.

How can you put vis­i­tors in charge of their jour­neys (i.e., their paths through your site) so they become deeply invested in your company story?

Three Stages of the User’s Journey

The stages of the hero’s jour­ney as outlined by Joseph Campbell have strik­ing par­al­lels to the con­ver­sion cycle. I will intro­duce the three stages today.

“Call to Adventure”

In the hero’s journey, the main character is living a seemingly ordinary life when suddenly an event happens to the hero, or he or she receives new information that changes everything.  This infor­ma­tion is a calling our hero to set out into the unknown in search of some­thing more. (Think Luke Skywalker when he comes back to his Aunt and Uncle’s farm to find it destroyed, and his family murdered.)

As dig­i­tal mar­keters, it is our goal to issue a call to action that would change how your cus­tomers see your brand.

Here’s a tangible example: For Mother’s Day, RedEn­ve­lope cre­ated a #What­MomWants cam­paign and part­nered with blog­gers to write spon­sored posts fea­tur­ing $500 gift card give­aways. Blog read­ers were asked to leave com­ments, fol­low RedEn­ve­lope on social media accounts, tweet with the hash­tag, and visit the company’s web­site. This call to action offered strong incen­tive for a sim­ple first step from vis­i­tors, and acti­vated a whole net­work of pop­u­lar lifestyle blog­gers to rep the brand. Fol­low­ers of Whoorl trust her take on every­thing from beauty to par­ent­ing, and the #What­MomWants cam­paign got the blog­ger to help shape how peo­ple see RedEnvelope.

When vis­i­tors encounter your brand for the first time, your con­tent should attempt to cast their lives and needs in a new light, com­ing almost like a rev­e­la­tion, and not merely infor­ma­tion. The user may refuse your call at first, but if you can strike them with a bit of insight, or intro­duce them to a new solu­tion, your mes­sage will stick with them.


After the hero accepts the call to adventure, they are commonly challenged by a journey of trials. These tests often initiate the hero, and annoint him/her, through new experiences, in a new version of their identity.

This may seem counter intuitive for my analogy, because no marketer has aspirations of challenging their customers. In fact, it is sort of our job description to minimize the challenges of connecting with our brands. Nevertheless, in this case, we as marketers are not actually installing those challenges because all visitors already bring their own with them on their journey. Cautious users may need you to help them overcome a per­ceived risk in the con­ver­sion process. Oth­er users may have long­stand­ing rela­tion­ships with your competitors and may need to be persuaded away. Still oth­ers may even debat­e the value of your prod­uct or ser­vice with themselves or with another decision maker in the household or company.

An AWESOME Example: XAPP Media developed an inno­v­a­tive way to help dig­i­tal radio lis­ten­ers over­come the con­ver­sion fric­tion in audio ads. Typically, when you hear a radio ad, you have to stop what you’re doing and get to a store or com­puter to take a next step. With Web radio, you may even see a pop-up link to click on the radio station’s site. But the challenge is: most peo­ple are lis­ten­ing through head­phones con­nected to their smart­phones, which are likely in their pock­ets. Solution? XAPP cre­ated “voice clicks.” When an ad plays, the lis­tener can say a prompted phrase and be imme­di­ately con­nected to a down­load, coupon, call, or purchase—hands free.

Use various chal­lenges as an oppor­tu­nity for ini­ti­a­tion. If you suc­cess­fully assist your cus­tomer on this journey, you will win their loyalty. This means you need to anticipate user challenges, and step in when they need you most.

“Tri­umphant Return”

After dis­cov­er­ing a greater knowl­edge and the success and joy that comes with that discovery, the hero often returns from the jour­ney to the place of origin. By returning, entirely changed, back to their ordinary life, they can share the lessons and rewards with oth­ers. Basic point here: Give your cus­tomers an expe­ri­ence so awesome, they’ll want to share it with their friends.

The tri­umphant return is an impor­tant part of EVERY user’s jour­ney. Online, your users should ALWAYS have an opportunity to review their experience, send you feedback, share a promotion with connections, post to social platforms, and more. In this phase, users become your nenw-world word-of-mouth; effectively ini­ti­at­ing new customers into jour­neys of their own.

Sharing Epic Jour­neys Lead to Truly Fruitful Bonds

When strategizing and mapping possible user jour­neys, try each jour­ney your­self. Start with where exposure to your brand starts, and attempt to experience those first doubts or chal­lenges through the eyes of your user. End with the reward. Users’ expe­ri­ences should cul­mi­nate in some­thing meaningful and worth sharing with their friends. Take vis­i­tors on an adven­ture narrative, from start to fin­ish, and you’ll certainly forge a deep bond with them.

In the following few posts I’ll explore the smaller (though just as impor­tant) details that hap­pen within each stage of the user’s journey.