5 more brand strategy lessons from “The Princess Bride”

Thanks to you readers for all the re-tweets, price comments, and forwards on last week’s 10 Brand Strategy Lessons from the Princess Bride. It seems to have hit a nerve with branders across the board – from mental health charities to romance novelists (see the comments below). It also generated a lot of suggestions for quotes we missed. So, because we know a good thing when we see it, we present five more brand strategy lessons – and please feel free to suggest more.

If you've got 'em, don't stab 'em (see Lesson #15)
If you've got 'em, don't stab 'em (see Lesson #15)

Branding lesson 11: Go boldly into that fire swamp young pirate.

Buttercup: “We’ll never make it out alive”
Westley: “Nonsense. You’re just saying that because no one ever has.”

David Harvey pointed out this one as one of his favourites – highlighting the importance of courage, audacity, persistence. All true, and “never-say-die” is one of the battle cries of successful brands.

But I’d like to add one more important quality to his list: constructive ignorance.

If you’ve never read Malcolm Gladwell’s David vs. Goliath article check it out. Among the many truths in it, you’ll learn that underdogs can win, and even most of the time if they defy the commonly understood conventions in their “fire swamp”. That is, it often helps to be ignorant of, or at least to consciously ignore, the accepted “truths” in your market. That’s where true strategic innovation comes from.

Oh, and a stout heart, a sharp sword, and dogged determination don’t hurt either.

Branding lesson 12: Avoid land wars in Asia

Vizzini: You fell victim to one of the classic blunders. The most famous is: “Never get involved in a land war in Asia.” But, only slightly less well known is this: “Never go in against a Sicilian, when death is on the line!” (he laughs, then suddenly falls over dead)

Vizzini was (dead) wrong about the Sicilian bit. But he’s right about the other bit. Getting yourself involved in a protracted “land war”, where your brand is going up against entrenched opponents who know the landscape better than you do is a poisoned chalice – particularly if they’re willing to outwork, outmanoeuvre, and outlast you.

I won’t make any reference to recent geopolitical examples. You can fill in the blanks for yourself there. But if you didn’t read the Gladwell article before, read it now about Lawrence of Arabia against the Ottoman turks.

Branding Lesson 13: Always answer customer wishes (but then show them a better way).

Westley: As you Wish!

Pop quiz: is this a) an answer to customer wishes, or b) a land war in Asia?
Pop quiz: is this a) an answer to customer wishes, or b) a land war in Asia?

Jess Joss commented that “When branding for clients, I guess, we might have to add in the lesson encapsulated in the line: “As you wish.” True. Customer wishes need to be fulfilled.

On the surface, I might seem to be saying that “the customer is always right” here. But I’m not. Because they’re not. As a matter of fact, one of the ironies of traditional marketing research is that customers are often spectacularly wrong.

The New Coke debacle is the classic example of this. Executives at Coca-Cola weren’t guilty of not listening to customers. They actually talked to thousands of cola drinkers, and in blind taste tests, customers said they like the new formula much better.

But just as Buttercup couldn’t truly love Westley until she saw him as more than a farm boy, smart branders understand that meeting customer wishes involves more than hearing what they say; it’s about the art of figuring out what they really wish – that is, meeting their expectations consistently (i.e. keep the old Coke), plus surprising and delighting them with new adventures they never dared to expect (maybe test the new formula as a line extension in smaller markets?).

Branding Lesson 14: What to do if you weren’t hired for your brains.

Vizzini: Am I going mad, or did the word “think” escape your lips? You were not hired for your brains, you hippopotamic land mass.

And speaking of giants, my point about this line spoken to the character of Fezzik – played by the late great Andre the Giant – is pretty simple. If any client, customer, or boss calls you a “hippopotamic land mass”, and tells you not to use your brains in your work: just fire them.

Branding Lesson 15: Take a deep breath and turn around.

Westley: (as Buttercup is about to plunge the dagger into her heart) There’s a shortage of perfect breasts in this world. ‘Twould be a pity to damage yours.

There are about a dozen ways I could get into trouble with this last one, so I’ll be brief: don’t skewer your brand equity by panicking when things seem to be going badly (see the New Coke example above). Take that moment to look around instead. You might find your true love there behind you – who isn’t “all dead” after all.

Thanks for all the suggestions. If we get a few more, I’m sure we’d have enough material for another post. But only if you think we should dear readers: “As you wish”

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