During the time when my mother was juggling life as a 50s housewife and mother of three pre-school kids in La Crosse, Wisconsin, she spotted an ad in the paper for 50¢ watermelons. Since they only had one car, she rushed out one noon hour when my dad was home for lunch to take advantage of this bargain. To her dismay, when she got to the store she found a stack of watermelons with a sign reading “Watermelon $1.50.” So she showed her ad to a clerk, who said, “I’m sorry, but we ran out of the 50¢ watermelons. However, we have a new shipment of watermelons that are priced at $1.50.” Not satisfied, she asked to speak to the store manager, who told her the same thing. Angry, she left the store and never shopped there again. Twenty-some years later, she was accompanying my little sister to a ski race in Vermont and met a Marketing VP from this retail store, which had become national in scale. Chatting with him, she said, “I used to shop at your store when we lived in Spooner and really liked it. I’m so sorry that you don’t have a store in La Crosse.” He looked at her with surprise, “We have two stores in La Crosse,” and described the locations. In a flash of memory, she recalled the watermelon story and shared it. He laughed, “I think I should write off this trip – you just provided me with very meaningful market research. Not only did you stop shopping over a watermelon, you also forgot our store existed. While I don’t have a watermelon to give you, at least let me buy you a drink!” Charmed by his attention she opened her mind to shopping there again and enjoys telling how her victim story eventually led to satisfaction.
Most retailers today honor advertised prices, offer rain checks, and refrain from squabbling with customers over perceived injustices. So, on the surface, this story seems trite and the moral so obvious it’s boring. But if we look at it in the context of brand storytelling principles, we can find some deeper truths.
Sonia Simone, describes “The 5 Things Every (Great) Marketing Story Needs,” in her article on the Copyblogger:
- You need a hero – To tell a compelling marketing story, your customer must be the hero.
- You need a goal – To solve your customers problems, you need to understand where your customer-hero is today and where she wants to go.
- You need an obstacle – Bringing to life the internal and external obstacles your customer must overcome to achieve victory over her goal is what makes the story enticing.
- You need a mentor – If your customer is the hero, your business/brand is the mentor who helps her succeed.
- You need a moral – Connect the dots between the hero, the goal, the obstacles, and how your brand helps her be victorious.
Applying Sonia’s principles to my mom’s watermelon episode, she left feeling like a victim. Her goal as a 50s housewife was to nurture and care for her young family on a limited budget. Being tied down with three small children and limited access to a car, she was time-pressed and on a mission to bring home the prize watermelon. The store dashed her hopes and dreams because they imposed a new, insurmountable obstacle that kept her from achieving her goal – the experience struck a deeper chord because of this underlying narrative. Fast-forward to her next experience with the brand 20+ years later, the Marketing VP played the role of the mentor. By listening to her story, validating her frustrations, and conveying (with humor) the lesson he learned from her story, he reframed the marketing narrative – and made her feel like a hero.