On the verge of the “Hero’s Journey Economy”

Mike Bruening
May 8 · 6 min read
Photo by Mesut Kaya on Unsplash

There is a rogue wave about to rock the $40 trillion global consumer-based economy, and the first industry to feel the impact is travel.

The lessons learned by the travel industry provide consumer goods and retail with warning signs and guideposts on the implications and opportunities of this new economy.

Over the last two decades, we have moved from a product economy to an experience-based economy. The focus has shifted from having things to having experiences.

This experience economy is now evolving into something new with significant implications for marketers. As companies reach to offer more over-the-top experiences, people are feeling less satisfied with these experiences. These excessive experiences in an overly abundant world are causing many to be bored and restless with the latest new thing, event, or happening.

This existential fidgeting is triggering a fundamental shift. Consumers now want to live a life with more significant accomplishments and meaning. People are longing for purpose, and this quest for personal transformation will be the basis of this next market era called the Hero’s Journey Economy™.


The Hero’s Journey

In the bestseller The Hero With A Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell points out that from the earliest cave drawings to Star Wars, we have told ourselves that we can be more than what we appear. Campbell writes that this transformational journey runs deep in the heart of all cultures. The names of the main characters and other details of the missions are different, but the themes are amazingly similar across the globe.

The story of the hero’s journey is one of an average person drawn into a situation where he or she encounters overwhelming opposing forces. This character is often injured, damaged, or scarred in the struggle, but they still rise to the challenge. It’s also not uncommon for the person to get help from some like-minded friends. Together they overcome their trial, and through the process, they are transformed.

We are now moving from an experience-based marketplace to a Hero’s Journey Economy where consumers will spend ever-increasing dollars on changing themselves and the world around them. The first industry to be impacted by this emerging economy is travel.


Transformational Travel Experiences

Many travelers are no longer satiated snoozing by the infinity pool or propelling down a 40-foot water slide. They want their journey to have meaning, and they want to return home changed, improved, and enhanced for the better.

The challenge for the travel industry is that a genuinely transformational experience is not always pleasurable. Some of the best transformational experiences not only take people out of their comfort zones, but also push people to their limits. In stories, the hero often has to reach an all-is-lost moment before their transformation occurs.

National Geographic June/July 2018

Transformational experiences in the travel industry include:

  • The growth in silent meditation retreats across all religions and spiritual pursuits.
  • The creation of physical conditioning resorts based on SEAL training, and the popularity of destination races that offer extreme obstacles and tests of endurance.
  • The emergence of companies such as Nomad Hill, GeoEX, and Pure Life offering experiences that allow travelers to stretch and grow by taking them out of their comfort zones.
  • A spike in trips to the Amazon for Ayahuasca healing sessions that claim to be able to cure mental and physical illness.

The interest in transformation has become so widespread that the industry has created The Transformation Travel Council, which fosters the growing Hero’s Journey Economy.


Transformation in Consumer Goods and Retail

So what do these occurrences in travel have to do with consumer goods and retail? These adventures in personal and societal change will soon expand across all consumer purchases and industries. Most of these personal transformations will not take place in exotic locales such as Machu Pichu, Tibet, or Big Sur. For many consumers, these journeys for improvement and change will be more subtle and part of their everyday lives with their routine purchases and experiences.

Some early signs of the Hero’s Journey Economy taking hold in consumers goods and retail include:

  • Marathon Brewing — Launched a new beer last month brewed with Himalayan sea salt and coriander specifically designed for runners to help with recovery.
  • Lululemon — In addition to seeing tremendous sales growth over the past decade, the activewear company encourages employees to set and post 10 personal goals in the back room of stores. Lululemon also pays for personal growth seminars after the employee’s nine-month anniversary.
  • Halo Top — The high protein low sugar ice cream saw its sales grow by 2500% in 2016.
  • Headspace — The meditation app has 31 million downloads in 190 countries.
  • Kombucha Tea -Sales are growing 25% annually for the last three years.
  • Loop — A circular shopping platform that transforms the packaging on everyday essentials from single-use disposable to durable, feature-packed designs.
  • Magic Spoon — A new fruity kids-like cereal for adults that is keto-friendly, non-GMO, free from gluten, grain, wheat, soy, and artificial sweeteners. It also has zero glycemic impact.

These innovations are just a short sample of what is coming to meet the growing consumer desire to transform themselves and their world. Not since JFK’s impact on the hat industry will we see such a rapid shift of consumer spending. However, this trend will impact consumer behavior across all commerce. With three–five billion people in the developing world coming online within the next four years, this Hero’s Journey Economy will be a global phenomenon.


How the Transformational Economy Will Shift Spending

This new transformational economy will provide opportunities for a whole host of new products and brands designed to assist consumers with their change. Marketers will also need to be schooled on the influencers of this market, and they’ll need to be familiar with the likes of Brown, Pressfield, Ferris, Willink, and both Dan and Sam Harris. Ingredients and labeling will become even more significant for consumers. Items that are not authentic in their claims and aligned to the consumer’s journey will not make it into their basket.

Transformative experiences will be multifaceted, so brands will need to expand or build alliances into areas outside their base products. For example, Lululemon is launching a self-care beauty line designed for post-workout skin care. Divestitures of stagnating products and acquisitions of improvement-oriented brands will be swift and deliberate. Existing brands not perceived to be in support of the hero’s journey will need to pivot to remain relevant. If they don’t, they’ll be tossed aside for “cheat days” or not purchased at all.

A common question consumers will ask in this new era is: Will this purchase help me reach my goals in this journey or is this purchase an indulgent reward/distraction?

Marketers must understand where their brands fit in this binary decision process and where the dollars are going to flow in their category. As noted above, marketers in categories like beer and ice cream are racing to introduce new products, so they are positioned to have distinct offerings on both sides of this purchasing choice.

Consumers will look at brands and experiences that provide support on their personal journeys as trusted companions. Many brands that are not in a position to support some personal transformation will, unfortunately, be left behind in this coming Hero’s Journey Economy.

Better Marketing

Advice & case studies

Mike Bruening

Written by

Keynote Speaker, Writer and Podcast Host mike@theherosjourneyeconomy.com

Better Marketing

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