Hi, Jingle Bell.
It's the holiday season! Do you know what that means?
Planning...? Parties...? Pretending to work while you run down the clock...?
Not today, friend!
It's time for the second annual retelling of the Marketing Holiday Classic, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Brand Storytelling Edition.
The beloved American children's classic was published in 1939 by the Montgomery Ward department store. So it's tempting to think of it—like Campbell's Green Bean Casserole
—as yet another lasting example of seasonal content marketing.
(Of course, you can also look at it through a woke 2019 lens: 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.)
Why do I say it's the perfect brand storytelling framework?
In the story, Rudolph's crazy-bright red nose is the problem.
Or is it?
It turns out... it's not: The problem is something much, much more threatening.
The simple framework of the story helps you understand the actual problem you and your business solves for you customers—not the one you *think* you solve. Also, someone gets a kiss in the end.
Gather 'round. Here we go...
A Brand Storytelling Framework from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
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 attribute ("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 young doe named Clarice isn't a total jerk to him.
Rudolph runs away and in exile finds a new community of misfit toys and other psychologically broken people/creatures.
Then one Christmas Eve, heavy fog threatens to ground Santa. As a 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's "problem" is actually a solution: Rudolph is the perfect lead for Santa's reindeer sleigh team.
"Sure," Rudolph says. (A little too willingly?) He saves Christmas for Santa (and globally for all children who celebrate it).
Rudolph is a hero! He gets a song, animated TV special, movie, franchise deal... and viral TikTok presence + a verified Instagram account. (Kidding on those last two.)
There are other details, but that's the gist.
So... what's that have to do with Marketing?
Let's break it down.
🔴 NAME YOUR HERO + ENEMY.
Santa's reindeer A-team is Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen. "Recite those names and experience a little feast of sound imagery: including alliteration, assonance, meter, and rhyme," says 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 for your own brand story: Name your enemy and your hero. Give them both a face and real personality. Set each apart from the other.
🔴 NAME THE PROBLEM.
The source of conflict is Rudolph's terrible, bright, cursed nose. Rudolph is bullied, cast out, excommunicated from the squad/community/herd.
🔴 NO! NAME THE ACTUAL PROBLEM FOR YOUR CUSTOMERS.
It's not the glowed-up nose that's the real problem here: It's the fog on Christmas Eve that's the real, immediate problem. And it's Santa's problem. Not Rudolph's.
Takeaway: Every story needs a problem to resolve—a conflict. What's the problem you need to address? Dig deeper, though: What's the audience's problem... not your company's?
🔴 NAME THE INCIDENT.
What's the incident that brings the problem to the forefront? What's your foggy Christmas Eve? What makes you and the story relevant for those in need of a solution right here, right now?
Takeaway: Answer the question: "Why now?"
🔴 FRAME THE PRODUCT SOLUTION ON A BIGGER CANVAS.
In the story, the cursed nose 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.
🔴 REPRESENT AND SERVE A LIKE-MINDED COMMUNITY.
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.... Hermey is the Christmas elf who wants to ignore his toy-maker genetics and become a dentist... The Abominable Snowman is terrifying (and misunderstood).
All of those creatures together are a powerful metaphor for tribe, wherein like-minded people live and thrive. In the story, Rudolph becomes their rep, and he serves both Santa AND 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 your community? What's a specific story you can tell that chronicles one person or idea... but also has broader, universal appeal?
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.
🔴 HOW DOES YOUR STORY NEVER END?
In the original 1964 ending, Rudolph doesn't make good on his promise to return to the Island of Misfit Toys and rescue them. He's helped Santa, but he ditched his community.
By 1965, the show's producers fixed that problematic issue, and Rudolph and Santa rescue the toys. His community is what fuels the ongoing narrative by making it less about the reindeer and more about galvanizing a group of like-minded people.
Takeaway: Your story doesn't end; it evolves. Keeping adding chapters. (H/T to my friend Tamsen Webster for her perspective on "story" vs. "narrative," which we discussed last week over a Christmas cocktail, the smell of cinnamon wafting across the hotel lobby from a life-sized gingerbread house.)
* * *
From a Marketing POV, Santa is the real hero here. Santa gets 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. It's Santa who rescues the Misfits.
The product makes the customer the hero.
And the narrative unites a community.
The "product" is Rudolph.
The "customer" is Santa.
The "community" is the Misfit Toys and other weirdos.
Apply the Rudolph Framework to your Business
- Once upon a time, there was ____________ (your product).
- It has the capacity to _____________ (your product's unique power).
- Some people doubt it because __________ (what the doubters might claim).
- But one day, _____________ (something happens).
- Which means __________ (how your would-be customer now needs your product).
- To help ___________ (the people your customer serves).
- And that matters because _____________ (how you help your customer become the hero).
- In the process, you help coalesce a community of _____________ (the larger market of those whom your product serves and brings together).
- Someone gets a kiss.
Try it. Send me what you come up with.
Hit reply, because I want to hear your stories!
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