Putting Reflectors On Your Elephant and the Hum-Ho Hole-In-One

I scour the world’s news pages for any information that could make you a better marketer.  Here’s an article verbatim from The Age, a Melbourne, Australia daily:

Elephants to Glow in the Dark

February 28 2003
New Delhi

Reflectors will be attached to captive elephants in New Delhi to ensure they are visible to drivers at night to prevent collisions, a report said yesterday.

The Hindu newspaper reported the project, launched by the Wildlife Trust of India and Britain’s Blackpool Zoo, will aim to provide the specially modified reflectors to about 30 captive elephants in the city.

The move follows frequent collisions between elephants and vehicles in New Delhi. WTI rescue teams have responded to five such accidents in the past six months, the worst of which involved a water tanker hitting a female jumbo.

The elephants are mostly used during marriages and religious ceremonies. This often requires the animals to return home late at night or early in the morning, when they are not clearly visible.

This, combined with high-speed traffic on the roads, results in risky conditions for the animals, wildlife experts said.

What Does This Have to Do with Marketing?

Who would have ever thought that an elephant would need reflectors to be seen? I mean, I’ve been to the zoo.  Those suckers are huge! And those tusks, and funny trunks, and those gigantic legs and flanks.  Be honest: if you were riding around on an elephant, wouldn’t you just sort of assume that other people could see it?

Yet they are being smacked by water tankers and cars at the rate of nearly one per month.  What’s going on here?

The same thing that’s probably going on in your business.

Your business is an elephant returning from a wedding in the New Delhi dawn. Just because it weighs six tons and is the size of a house, it doesn’t mean that anyone else can see it.  If you’re going to avoid a serious business accident, you’ve got to put reflectors on your elephant.

You sell a product or service of which you are justifiably proud. You know the ins and outs of what you provide. You see the quality, the workmanship, the commitment to satisfaction, the ethics, the expertise. It’s so obvious to you that you naturally assume that everyone else can see it too.

But they can’t and they don’t.

No matter how obvious the quality of your product or service to you, your prospect will miss it. I was talking with a prospect who sells yard signs – the kind that realtors and political candidates use in people’s front lawns.  His signs were different from anybody else’s, he explained.  Yet when I went to the web site to take a look, I couldn’t spot the difference. Neither could my realtor friends – his market. My prospect felt the difference was so obvious he didn’t even have to mention it – the picture said it all.

Putting Reflectors on Your Business Elephant

Remember that your elephant is made up of features: facts about your business.  And that nobody cares about these things. People care only about how those features will bring them pleasure and help them avoid pain. In order to put reflectors on effectively, you have to know what your prospects are trying to achieve and trying to avoid.

Once you know that, you choose your biggest, most outstanding, most differentiating features and reflect back to your prospects how those features will give them the benefits they desire.

An Example from the Client Files

I’m working with a personal chef who wants to target well-off, health conscious families in Princeton, New Jersey. Parents who want to eat well and especially want their kids to eat well, who want to reclaim the dinner hour with sit-down meals, and who maybe have special diets (no dairy, vegetarian, low-carb, no M&Ms until the kids are asleep, etc.)

What’s her elephant, and where should she place the reflectors?

She’s worried that because she’s not a trained Cordon Bleu chef, people won’t hire her. That fact has prevented her from trying to make her company a big deal. Yet that’s exactly where I had her hang the biggest reflector.

The marketing message goes like this:

You’re tired of eating take-out, of not being prepared to serve a healthy meal to your family at the end of the day.  You long for the kind of sit-down family dinners you had as a kid, yet you realize that times have changed and there’s no one home all day to cook it for you. You want healthy meals that support your beliefs and you want your kids to eat good food without fussing or fighting (a hidden Beatles lyric always works).

What are your options?  You can quit your job and do it yourself. Or you can hire someone to do it for you. But there are two problems with a "personal chef." One is, who can afford it? And the second is, most trained chefs know a lot more about using tons of butter, salt and brandy than about nutrition. They just don’t learn how to create heart-healthy meals. They don’t know how to give kids good eating habits that will last a lifetime. And they have no training in special diets.

I’m not a trained chef. I’m just a really good cook who understands nutrition, pantry management, how to shop, and how to get kids to eat healthy and love it. If you’re a great cook and you love cooking but you just don’t have time to get all the shopping and food prep done, think of me as the person who will provide your family with the same quality of food that you would. And I do all the shopping and leave your kitchen cleaner than when I found it.

And because I don’t need to pay off student loans from years of cooking school, I don’t need to charge exorbitant fees for my services. In fact, if you eat out a lot now, you’ll probably save money by using me.

I’m using a number of classic copywriting techniques here: "Reason Why," "Damaging Admission," "Itching, Burning, Swelling," and some others.  (I’m working on a copywriting reference manual and toolkit for business owners – if you’re interested in buying a beta version for a huge discount in exchange for a half hour conversation in which you give me tons of useful feedback, reply to this email and let me know.  But I digress.)  The one I want to highlight is the Reflecting Elephant. The crux of my client’s marketing message is her key differentiator that makes the biggest difference to her clients: SHE CAN GET YOUR PICKY KIDS TO EAT HEALTHY WITHOUT WHINING.

Another Cool Story to Make the Point

Your marketing message has to work harder than you think.  Just stating the really big differentiating feature isn’t enough.  You must lead your prospect by the hand and show how that feature will give them results.  Don’t assume that anyone understands the significance of the things that make you great.

In March 1893, The Country Club of Brookline Massachusetts installed one of the first golf courses in the US.  They bought sand, grass seed, and tin cans for holes.  A small crowd of curious onlookers watched as Arthur Hunnewell drove the first shot 90 yards onto the green and straight into the cup.  Hole in one!  What a miraculous and auspicious beginning for this course!

Nobody cheered.  Nobody clapped. Nobody murmured.  Instead, the spectators, who had been told that the point of the game was to hit the ball into the cup, nodded their heads in understanding.  So that’s golf.  Seems quite easy, really.

Hunnewell played for another 30 years and never shot another hole in one. Yet the uneducated spectators had no reason to believe they’d witnessed a remarkable event.  They had no frame of reference, no basis for comparison. (Story from "The Greatest Game Ever Played," by Mark Frost.)

And neither do your prospects or clients. No matter how amazing your game or how big your elephant, you must educate your market to understand, appreciate, and value what you do.


Noise proves nothing. Often a hen who has merely laid an egg cackles as if she had laid an asteroid.

– Mark Twain

If you don’t blow your own horn, somebody else will use it as a spitoon.

– Esther Dyson

There are two golden rules for an orchestra: start together and finish together. The public doesn’t give a damn what goes on in between.

– Sir Thomas Beecham

Nature’s great masterpiece, an Elephant. The only harmless great thing; the giant of beasts.

– John Donne

Marketing Motivators on Reflecting Elephants

1. What’s your hidden elephant? What’s the biggest difference between you and the rest? What’s the most important thing (to your customer!) about your business? See if you can write it in one sentence.

2. What is the most important thing your customers get as a result of your elephant? Complete the sentence, "Because [insert your elephant here], my customers can achieve [insert the top results here].

3. Think about your favorite store, restaurant, or professional service provider. What makes them great, in your eyes? Give them a call and ask if they can guess why they’re your favorite. If they can’t, help them out.  Tell them why you’re a fan.\


Bonus Quotes

Outside of the killings, Washington has one of the lowest crime rates in the country.

– Mayor Marion Barry, Washington, D.C.

I’m not going to vacuum ’til Sears makes one you can ride on.

– Roseanne

He that falls in love with himself will have no rivals.

– Benjamin Franklin


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