Image: Gil Garcia

The story of how Joe Hader has plunged into the depths of the narrative – and made it a force of connection, communication and empathy in marketing.

Joe Hader loves stories. Stories in themselves – and stories as a force to propel change, evolution, growth, and understanding. His reflections and thoughts are consistently coupled with metaphors and parallels that paint a vivid and relatable picture for the listener. It’s almost as if he can’t avoid them.

There’s a fantastic book about story, by Robert McKee, and he basically says that ‘Stories are like tools for life.’ So kind of this idea of learning from someone else’s mistakes; you get to learn what they went through, and once you understand the journey that they went on, you can take that and put it in your toolbelt. So if you ever find yourself in that situation you’re like ‘I know what to do. I learnt it from someone else.’ And so it’s an opportunity to have a glimpse of living life as another person. 

The empathy this experience entails lies at the heart of storytelling for Joe. He’s mindful of how divided people have been and still are – really since the beginning of human interaction. Stories are a way, for him, to bridge the gap between them. They create a mutual understanding and bring individuals closer together, and so function as a force of affinity that helps break down the negative impacts of tribalism. 

 

Stories are at the core of human experience. It’s how we think. The reason we dream is our brain is like ‘OK, let’s take everything that happened and work it out.’ So we do it internally, and we do it interpersonally – and it’s like this constant evolution towards something better.

 In Joe’s professional field – video content creation for businesses – stories are also making a positive change. They’ve become an essential contributor to the democratisation and decentralisation of company-client interactions. Where people couldn’t have a conversation with the companies they bought from just a decade or so ago, it’s now become a given for consumers, who can access their service providers through social media and other digital interactions.  

Joe Hader, Storytellers magazine

Image: @wolfspiritofthesun (IG)

There’s a paradigm shift that began maybe ten years ago, where it used to be: Corporate voice tells consumers what the deal is. And it was a one-way street. ‘We made our commercial, we invested three million dollars, hired the best celebrities, and it’s in 30 seconds. Here it is, watch it 100 times before we pull it off the air.’

And now the power dynamic is changing, where the consumers – the potential clients, the potential customers – now they have all of the power. And so no longer do you get to just broadcast your message into the airwaves – you now have this back and forth interplay. Which means that, when it comes to storytelling, you can no longer sit in your ivory tower and craft your perfect message and put it out there and expect it to perform. It doesn’t work like that anymore.

According to Joe, it’s pivotal for businesses – big and small – to accept this paradigm shift, and roll with it. They need to understand that being honest and authentic through their storytelling is essential to their survival. They have to be real. If they want to be leaders and gain a mutual empathy between their message and their audience’s reality, it means being brave enough to stand for something. And to communicate that something through powerful narratives. It may mean losing customers – but it also means retaining and gaining a committed audience base. And for Joe, the best way to do that is with authentic video content.

I think the strongest way to tell stories through video is in a documentary style. I mean, working with actors is awesome – I love it – and that has a time and place, especially if you need to craft a story from, essentially, nothing. But what’s almost even better is when you find the story actually happening in front of you, and then you just follow it and capture it (…) Having that open and honest conversation with someone who’s living it, or someone who’s gone through that experience – the nature of what you capture hits home in a completely different way.

While he certainly has a natural flair for storytelling, and incorporates the creativity that it entails into his work, his appreciation for documentary-style content goes to show how important authenticity is to Joe; finding stories in the real world. The best kind of story, however – his favourite ones – is the renowned hero’s journey structure, as coined by Joseph Campbell. Joe’s favourite stories follow it (with three kids, the first thing that springs to mind when asked about his top one is Moana), and he uses the framework strategically and consistently with his clients.

Joe Hader  - The Hero's Journey

 

Storytelling is really the foundation of how I develop messaging. Pretty much any project that I work on, I have a process I call The Message Map, where we basically lay out the painful current state, the ideal customer profile, we understand who the guide is, we map out the plan, we understand the tragedy, and the desired future state (…) It’s a super-distilled version of Joseph Campbell’s work as well as other business leaders. So it’s a combination of, you know, stringently structured storytelling and marketing.

According to Joe, there’s a way to use stories in every single business – to reach every single end consumer. In fact, they are the optimal way of interacting with the ideal customer. By portraying them as the heroes they are, and your business as their guide, you’re already ahead in terms of solidifying an impactful relationship. When you get the narrative right, Joe believes it’s so much more powerful than a transactional message. Instead, it becomes a fully fleshed out story that resonates. 

If you don’t use storytelling, you’re not actually selling the desired future state – you’re selling a commodity; you’re selling, let’s say, a sneaker. And if the only thing people get to compare that to are other sneakers, differentiated solely by price points – why would they buy from you? The power of the story is that no matter how much cheaper that other sneaker is, they’re going to buy from you – because they want to be the hero of the story you’re telling.