I recently watched the 1994 version of “Miracle on 34th St.”, and other than being sad I was dissecting a holiday movie for marketing lessons, I was way too happy to discover no-less-than six top-notch marketing insights packed into this Christmas classic. For those not familiar with the movie, a brief synopsis will help. For those who are ready, follow along as I unwrap these. . .
Six Marketing Lessons From “Miracle On 34th St.”
1) Uncover Resources by Changing Perception
They could see Santa was drunk. The special events director for the annual Cole’s (Elizabeth Perkins) Thanksgiving Parade needed to find a replacement Santa ASAP. So seeing a man that fit the part in Kris Kringle, (Richard Attenborough) she saw an opportunity present itself. Disaster had forced her to see things differently, see the hidden opportunities in the calamity.
That she “resourcefully” picked the ACTUAL Santa Claus is not important here, what’s important is that resources can present themselves if we decide to see things differently. Or when fake Santa gets drunk. But being scrappy and resourceful isn’t just for Elizabeth Perkins.
Marketing strategist Nick Westergaard beats the resourceful drum hard and loud in his book “Get Scrappy.“ By focusing on core competencies, simplifying processes, and taking the customer experience into account, Westergaard shows that our strongest resources can be found when we focus on customers. When we focus on the Allison Janney in front of our face.
Lesson One – in the chimney.
2) Listen To Your Customers, ALL THE WAY
Later in the movie, the Cole’s marketing director is on the floor of the department store, watching the new Santa knock it out of the park. He’s approached by a customer (Allison Janney). She informs him that Santa is sending folks AWAY from Cole’s, to other stores where the toys are cheaper. He starts to walk away to confront/fire Santa, and as he does, the woman says,
“Tell Santa he made me a Cole’s shopper. I’m coming here for everything but toilet paper. Any store that puts the parent ahead of the buck at Christmas deserves my business. Tell Mr. Cole his Santa Claus ought to get a raise.”
The marketing director, rather than admonish Santa for sending customers out their door, chose to listen to his customer, all the way. He ingeniously ascertained from some very direct feedback, that customers want to do business with a company that can help them “get a job done,” not just push product. By sending people to places where they could get the job done, Cole’s marketing director was creating loyalty – and by saving the customer money, there’s more for them to spend loyally at your store. Happily, the “jobs to be done” framework is not just for the miraculous.
Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen and his team have built several successful business strategies using the “jobs to be done” framework. Here is a brief explanation of their work, that mirrors the Miracle on 34th marketing metaphor magically –
“The jobs-to-be-done framework is a tool for evaluating the circumstances that arise in customers’ lives. Customers rarely make buying decisions around what the ‘average’ customer in their category may do—but they often buy things because they find themselves with a problem they would like to solve. With an understanding of the ‘job’ for which customers find themselves ‘hiring’ a product or service, companies can more accurately develop and market products well-tailored to what customers are already trying to do.”
I highly suggest you get amongst Clayton Christensen’s tasty work HERE.
Lesson Two – Good for you = Good for me.
3) Narrow Your Focus
Once Cole’s realized they were dedicated to helping the customers find the best deals, the latest communication tools were made available for every employee to fulfill the current selling model. In 1994 – these tools were phonebooks.
Goods, services, price points, angles, coupons, deals, size, packaging – Rather than focusing on multiple ways to differentiate their company’s assets, the marketing department of Cole’s listened to customers and focused in on one thing – helping their customers “get the job done.” Once they narrowed their focus, they had a collective mindset to sell from, reaching across the entire company, providing a unified vision that every employee could easily understand. The store had differentiated in a powerful way. Once Cole’s concentrated on serving the actual needs of their customers, and narrowed their focus, Cole’s business boomed and the competition couldn’t hang. And this isn’t just restricted to 1994 NYC – this can work in your world too.
In his book “X: The Experience When Business Meets Design,” Brian Solis demonstrates the powerful impact of creating easily understood, company-wide selling strategies. By visually mapping out the experiences of their sales process, businesses were able to see the focus of their sales strategies – providing a clear-cut concept to everyone in the company. One they can easily understand, and use in whatever job capacity they have within that company. “X” is a great, beautiful book on marketing and design, and I suggest it.
Oh, Lesson Three – Oh, Lesson Three – Thy leaves are so unchanging.
4) Crush Competition Through Focus and Service
Cole’s is not without their competitors. Right across 34th St., the greedy mega-chain store Shoppers Express sits like a snake in the grass! Their attempts to thwart Cole’s is made apparent at the beginning of the movie, when we discover that, due to slow sales, Cole’s will be bought by Shopper’s Express at the end of the year. But the competition, who sells the SAME thing you do, who buys the SAME ad spaces you do, who uses the SAME selling strategies, is not prepared for the subtle, two-sided-knife of focus and service.
By embracing this Service-Based Anti-Selling Model sourced straight from Santa’s laptop, and by focusing on solving specific problems based on actual insights from the customers, the idea of competition on a product level or a price level became a secondary concern to Cole’s. How did they do it? To stand out – use your resources, listen to your customers, and use their feedback to narrow your focus on solving specific problems and being super useful – and it works in even the most competitive verticals. And this isn’t just for Santa to slay with…
David Ogilivy, arguably the Father of Advertising, embraced the idea of focusing in on specific unmet needs and then using those to differentiate from competition. He also made sure salesmen didn’t bad mouth competitors – Even if your product or service is far superior, no one wants to listen to you bad-mouth the competition. Focus your sales conversations on your customers’ unmet needs, instead of your competitors’ faults. Here are other ground-breaking sales tips from Ogilvy’s 1935 book on selling Aga stoves.
Lesson Four – There’s More In Store
5) Communication IS Experience
By far one of the most touching moments in the movie, is when a mother places her daughter on Santa’s lap and tells him that she is deaf, and just would like to look at him. Santa takes pause, inhales, and then begins signing to the little girl. She lights up and begins eagerly speaking with him, and tells him what she wants for Christmas. I’m getting a little emotional right now as I write this, because this is the soul of the world; successful communication with others. The allegory here is deep – even when you think someone can’t hear you, or you’re unable to speak – always strive for understanding and connection.
Luckily, the human takeaway is similar to the marketer’s – every point of communication you have with your customer creates the customer’s experience of your brand – and experience is everything. When you clearly communicate with your customers, you create experiences full of value and meaning. And experiences aren’t just for the silver screen….
In “Experiences: The Seventh Era of Marketing,” Robert Rose and Carla Johnson emphasize the coming importance of content-rich experiences. Businesses that can create cohesive experiences across the brand that communicate value to the customer, and communicate it well, are the businesses that are positioned to succeed.
Lesson Five – Create The Vibe, Know The Jive
6) Belief Creates Reality
Throughout this whole movie, the themes of belief, faith, and disillusionment are omnipresent; struggles that affect every character in someway. When he realizes that Dorey doubts his true identity, Santa Claus explains that there’s more to the red suit than she is willing to see.
“I’m not just a whimsical figure who wears a charming suit and affects a jolly demeanor. You know, I’m a symbol. I’m a symbol of the human ability to be able to suppress the selfish and hateful tendencies that rule the major part of our lives. If you can’t believe, if you can’t accept anything on faith, then you’re doomed for a life dominated by doubt.”
The message here is powerful and poetic – Santa Claus becomes real when we choose to believe and have faith in the intangible qualities he represents. We make him real when we believe in the best of mankind. Stuff that in your stocking. So what’s the final marketing lesson?
The sixth marketing lesson of Miracle on 34th St. is that you have to believe in something to make it real – and belief is a choice. When we launch our content initiatives, when we roll-out our new designs, when we reach out for customer insight – we have to consciously choose to believe in the intangible benefits we’re providing. And this ethical-jive-talk ain’t just for the North Pole…
In “Marketing As An Act of Faith,” marketing consultant Pat Sullivan brings this lesson home for in this quote from a well-known book, The Bible – “…faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Sullivan continues…“Marketing requires faith in our products or services. If we can’t have faith in them, it’s either time to reshape each product or service so we deeply respect it and can affirm its value — or it’s time to offer other products and services that are more ethical, meaningful and useful.”
Let’s quickly review the six marketing lessons in Miracle on 34th St. –
1) Get Scrappy to Find Resources – See the opportunities in front of your face!
2) Listen To Your Customers – Find the hidden gold in customer feedback!
3) Narrow Your Focus – Use customer insights to find their “jobs to be done.”
4) Crush Competition Through Focused Service – Serve solutions, and slay.
5) Communication is Experience – Create valuable experiences through thoughtful communication.
6) Belief Creates Reality – Believe in the value your product or service offers – otherwise the gig is up.
And that’s it.