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Marketing Lessons from our favorite Reindeer

Posted by on Dec 26, 2009 in BLOG, Uncategorized | No Comments

Everyone’s heard the story of Rudolph, the quadruped with the inexplicably bright nose (juvenile alcoholism? Rosacea? Lack of Theraflu?) who rose from the lowly position of “last one picked for reindeer games” to “leading Santa’s sleigh.” It’s a story meant to inspire all of us to dream that one day, we too can leave Loserville and go down in history – giving joy to the world and hope to everyone with an unfortunate name and/or weird facial feature. But what can good ol’ Rudolph tell us about marketing ourselves, our products and our businesses?

Herewith, thecommich guides the sleigh:

Lesson 1: Turn liabilities into assets

The first and most obvious lesson is that being different for ANY reason is good for branding. Rudolph not only turned his name into an alliterative masterpiece (what if he had been named Mike? Not so snappy),  he turned a crappy nose that Fate dealt him into an aircraft guidance system.  You might want to try it with your own crazy name (Adidas is a contraction of its founder’s name, Adi Dassler), business location (witness the movie Fargo, or the “Hello, Wisconsin!” tagline at the end of That 70’s Show), or a particular product quirk.

What’s a product quirk, you ask? Well… In 1969, a scientist named Spencer Silver was trying to make a better, longer-lasting adhesive. Through a series of accidents, he instead produced one that stuck to a surface when light pressure was applied, but was easily removed leaving no residue. Not exactly hitting the nail on the head there…. BUT. Did he cry into his cereal and say “I failed utterly and they’re all gonna laugh at me?” No. He teamed up with fellow scientist Arthur Fry, put the adhesive on a piece of bright yellow paper, sold the idea to 3M, and produced the first Post-It note. Who’s laughing now?

Differences make you memorable, and memorable things are head and shoulders above the competition. In a cultural setting, with the right level of critical mass, differences can change an entire industry. I’ll never forget reading Anthony Bourdain’s book, “Kitchen Confidential,” and coming across this piece of advice for would-be chefs: Knowing Spanish is required. If you don’t know Spanish, you won’t be able to communicate properly with your kitchen crew, who will most likely be composed of immigrants from Mexico, South and Central America.

I wonder if the first poor bodies coming across the border knew the power that their language would have over the world of haute cuisine. Probably not – they were just looking for a job. But because they would not (or could not) let go of what made them different, they ended up making their industry adapt to them. A wonderful lesson, and a case for being proud of your culture. I wonder, if Filipinos would stop being so damn insecure with their own language and insist on speaking broken English over flawless Tagalog, if we could do the same within the seafaring or nursing industry.

Lesson 2: Time it right

Notice in the song that Santa didn’t come for Rudolph until that foggy Christmas Eve, when his nose was the only thing that could help with visibility.  Could he have been an asset on a clear summer day? Maybe. But great performances, products or assets are only fully appreciated (and will only return maximum reward) when they are produced at the right time. To paraphrase the NFL commentator, it’s “executing the big play when the big play is needed.”

If your product is seasonal (Snowshoes, homemade preserves with berries that can only be picked in the summer), then the timing takes care of itself. However, with most things you need to keep your eye out for when your product will be most useful. The aforementioned geniuses at 3M recently came out with an ad for a paper cutter. Obviously we deal with paper everyday, and if you need a cutter, you’ll find one. The genius was that the ad launched in December and featured the product cutting through gift wrapper. “Duh!” Says the Time Strapped Homemaker.  “Of course I need a cutter for my gift wrapping! So much easier than scissors!” Tah-daaaaah.

Ask yourself when people will want or need your product most. Is it a luxury item? Concentrate your marketing around traditional gifting seasons (Valentine’s day, Christmas) so you don’t have to rely on the occasional birthday. Is it a financial planning service? Maybe you should do some emailing around tax time or New Year when people resolve to be better with money.

And though Rudolf had to wait for Santa to ask him to guide his sleigh (reindeer etiquette?), don’t you be afraid to advertise, announce, email and otherwise hawk your product or service to your target markets. Nail down 2-3 benefits each market can gain, and time each campaign wisely. That cute umbrella you just designed can either work for the rainy season, or to shade yourself from the cruel rays of summer. Rainy season campaign = couple kissing in the rain under said umbrella. Summer campaign = cute girl being kept cool and breezy by umbrella while other girls are melting, squinting or sweating.

Lesson 3: Don’t listen to Olaf

Old Filipino joke – Knock knock (Who’s there?). Olaf (Olaf who?). Olaf, the other reindeer…..

Olaf is that a**hole who lacks the imagination that you have, and is perfectly satisfied with the status quo. He may also be a wee bit insecure – hence, at the first sign of difference (which he misconstrues as weakness), he will laugh at you, call you names, and not let you join any games – like Monopoly, or hopscotch.

Sometimes Olaf is the person facing you in the mirror after a particularly bad day of research and development, or after the Nth week with no new clients and the rent due. There is always that nagging feeling that one’s optimism and tenacity are actually delusion and stubbornness in disguise, and that one never should have embarked on the crazy adventure of creating a new product, business, or life for oneself. “Go back to the office,” says the inner Olaf. “You need the insurance and you are never going to get this thing off the ground.”  “You could be in a cubicle right now with 2 weeks of paid vacation and go online shopping when the boss isn’t looking,” et cetera.

If the Olafs in this world had conquered, we’d still be living in mud huts with no electricity or transportation – because, Jeez, whoever heard of people flying in the air like birds? Or pounding something like a wheel out of solid wood to roll things around on? Utterly ridiculous.

Similarly, if my inner Olaf had won, I would be back in my mediocre cubicle existence with health insurance but no job insurance, because as soon as the economy decides to dip, I could very well be once again laid off on my birthday with a fake-smiling stone-cold snake of an HR person ushering me out the door and telling me to have a nice day.

Repeat after me: you deserve your dreams. You deserve much more than a computer station and 2 weeks off that you have to ask permission for. You deserve to let that amazing intellect and imagination wander far afield, so it can bring back new products, ideas and innovations that will make this world a better, easier, more fun place to live in. You deserve the chance to be the next Edison, Wright Brother, Walt Disney.

And when you succeed, you know that Olaf will suddenly love you and shout out with glee, “you’ll go down in history!” Thecommich suggests you tell him to go bite it sideways.