My letter to you is a little late today because... well, holi-craze.
But now I've sequestered myself in my backyard Tiny House, heat blasting like a jet engine against the Boston winter. I hope that whatever you celebrate this season, you're getting a breather, too.
The beloved American children's classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
was published in 1939 by the Montgomery Ward department store. So it's tempting to think of it—like Green Bean Casserole
—as yet another lasting piece of seasonal content marketing.
is so much more than that. Journalist Roy Peter Clark looks at what he learned about writing and storytelling from Rudolph.
When we look at it through a marketing lens, too, it's also a handy framework for telling our own stories.
(Of course, you can also look it through a woke 2018 lens, because the story of an adolescent deer who was shamed and bullied by his community until he had something everyone wanted is problematic, when you think about it. But that's a story for another newsletter.)
First, a quick recap of the plot for those who don't know the story (or for those of you who need a refresh):
Rudolph is a young buck born in the North Pole with an unusual superpower/value proposition: a glowing red nose. He's mocked by his peers; his flight coach casts him out of the squad; his parents are ashamed. Only a hot young doe named Clarice shows him any kindness.
Yet one Christmas Eve, heavy fog threatens to ground Santa. As an unusually cranky Santa delivers his plan to cancel Christmas, he's annoyed by the glow of Rudolph's bright nose. At which point he realizes that Rudolph is the perfect lead for his reindeer sleigh team.
"Sure," Rudolph says. He saves Christmas for Santa and for children globally.
Rudolph becomes the celebrated hero and gets a song, animated TV special, movie, franchise deal, and verified Instagram account. Just kidding about that last one.
There are other details, that's the gist. So... what's that have to do with marketing?
Well, let's break it down.
🔴 Naming. Santa's reindeer A-team included Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen. "Recite those names and experience a little feast of sound imagery of sound imagery: including alliteration, assonance, meter, and rhyme," points out Clark.
"Rudolph" as a name describes an entirely different creature, Clark writes: "The initial R and final F sounds find no connection with the others. Starting with his name, Rudolph is a creature set apart."
Takeaway: In your own brand story, name your enemy. Name your hero. Give them both a face and real personality. But set each apart from the other.
🔴 The problem. The conflict is Rudolph's terrible, bright, cursed nose. Rudolph is bullied, cast out, excommunicated from the community... err, herd.
Takeaway: Every story needs conflict. What's the problem you need to address?
🔴 No! The actual problem. But wait! It's not the glowed-up nose that's the real problem: It's the fog on Christmas Eve! That is the real, immediate problem—and it's Santa's problem. Not Rudolph's.
Takeaway: Dig deeper on that problem thing. What's the audience's problem? What's an incident that brings the conflict to life? Answer the question: Why now? What makes your story relevant and in need of a solution right here, right now?
🔴 The curse becomes the blessing. From Clark: "In the first 44 lines, the blessing of that wonderful nose becomes the curse of disfigurement and alienation. By the next 44 lines, Rudolph becomes a flying headlamp, the savior of Christmas."
Takeaway: Rudolph is the product solution, of course. But resolution is framed not in how perfect the solution is but in the good it does worldwide.
🔴 The community. Other characters cycle in and out of the story.
The Island of Misfit Toys is Siberia to all the weird and psychologically broken toys that aren't good enough to be delivered by Santa. Herbie is the Christmas elf who wants to buck elf toy-maker genetics and become a dentist. The Abominable Snowman isn't really mean—just misunderstood.
All of those creatures together are a powerful metaphor for tribe, where like-minded people live and thrive. In the story, Rudolph becomes everyone's hero, saving Christmas on behalf of misfits and the misunderstood.
The "savior" mantra is on two levels, in other words: It's not just Rudolph who's set apart, he represents a bigger community of misfits and lovable weirdos. (And of course, we are all weird.)
Takeaway: What's the story you can tell that elevates an entire community? What's a specific story you can tell that chronicles one person or idea, but nonetheless has broader, universal appeal?
🔴 Resolution. Rudolph saves Santa. He saves Christmas. He changes people's minds about scary snowmen and dentists. And Clarice kisses him.
Takeaway: We root for Rudolph the underdog (under-deer?). That's why we need to show the kiss Clarice gives him.
But it's Santa who is the real hero here, from a Marketing POV. Santa gets all the credit for recognizing Rudolph's special skill and tapping it. It's Santa who makes children worldwide happy when they wake up on Christmas morning—once again!
How Can You Apply This Approach to Your Business?
Of course, the "product" here is Rudolph. The "customer" is Santa. The product makes the customer the hero.
How can you apply the Rudolph framework to your business?
- Once upon a time, there was ____________ (your product).
- It has the capacity to _____________ (your product's superpower).
- Some people doubt it because __________ (what the doubters might claim).
- But one day, _________ (something happens).
- Which means __________ (your would-be customer now needs this).
- For _______ (whom does your customer serve?)
- And that matters because ________________ (how your customer becomes the hero).
- Someone gets a kiss.
Try it. Send me what you come up with.
Hit reply, because I want to hear your stories!
* * *
Here are 5 more things + some quickies I thought were worth sharing this week.
My 2018 🎁 Gift Guide
Is it too late for the Handley Ridiculously Useful Holiday Gift Guide? Not if you are a procrastinator, like me. In other words, there's no time like the present. (Sorry.)
Asking for a Friend
I'm pretty excited about my new column in LinkedIn's quarterly print magazine: Think Dear Abby for Marketing. But with puns.
In the first issue, I tackle questions about when executive ghostwriting is OK and when it isn't, how to get C-suite execs become social influencers for a brand, and why I think "amazing" content is overrated. The magazine is print, but you can read my debut column here
Pinterest, the authority for all things new and trendy, just pinned the 100 top trends of 2019. Your customers aren't on Pinterest... so why should you care? Two reasons:
📌 1. Because are you sure about that? You might be surprised to know:
- 250 million people around the world use Pinterest.
- Half of new signups are men, and men make up 30% of the user base.
- 93% of active pinners use Pinterest to plan purchases.
- 40% of users have a household income over $100k.
- Pinterest is the fourth most popular social platform (although it's really more of a search engine), behind YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram.
📌 2. Because your customers are human. Pinterest is a lens on what's hip and trendy and now, which makes it relevant to any marketer looking to tap into the cultural zeitgeist. From Pinterest I learned:
- Surprise vacations are a trend (searches for surprise destination +192%*).
- Elderberries are on the rise thanks to their healthy and anti-inflammatory effects (searches for elderberry recipes +685%).
- More people are thinking about giving up alcohol (searches for sober living +746%).
- Brides are now wearing gold (searches for gold wedding gowns +1,552%).
- Side hustles are strong, even for established professionals (searches for side hustles at home +690%).
- "Godparent proposals" are a thing for parents now (searches for those +152%).
* Percentages signify year-over-year increases calculated using normalized searches on each trend and comparing the periods January-September 2017 + January-September 2018.
The Other Trend of the Line
Speaking of data and trends... my friend and World's Best Data-Driven Marketer Chris Penn looks at search data to predict where marketing is actually headed in 2019—not just where pundits and gurus and influencers speculate it's heading.
"What if, instead of relying solely on gut instinct or experience, we predicted the future using actual data?" he asks. 🤔 And now he shares it with you
. (Reg. required.)
The creativity coming out of public libraries these days is inspiring for those of us with budgets much, much larger. (With constraint comes creativity.)
I wrote in the last issue about how the New York Public Library won Black Friday
. Now, the Milwaukee Public Library system finds a way to show that your local library can provide you with information and entertainment FOR FREE
that you pay for from rival brands—like Amazon, Spotify, Netflix, and others.
📚 The results?
Impressive: Cardholder usage increased 57%, ebook downloads were up 50%, audiobook downloads went up 26%, and new card registration jumped 53%. Read the Christmas miracle
⏩ A Swiss hotel chain is offering a new kind of babysitting
: a "social media sitter" who will take photos of your vacation and post them to your Instagram feed so you don't have to bother. "This is the world we are now all living in."
⏩ Listen, I love conference swag
as much as the next marketer. But I hate the enormous waste of it, too. Some innovative people are trying to solve that problem. Not sure I'd be down with a branded radish. But I like how they're thinking
DEPARTMENT OF SHENANIGANS
Filmmaker Eric Seals tells true stories well. My favorite is about Morgan Ford and his 134-year-old fruitcake. Morgan, who was 92 when he shared the story, has since passed away. (His fruitcake lives on
Hugs for reading,