This ridiculous and clever, slapstick and intelligent, goofy and hilarious story is probably the last place you’d look for a brilliant marketing lesson.
Yet there’s a hidden gem too good to miss.
If you don’t know “The Princess Bride” (book published in 1973; movie debuted in 1987), it has thoroughly earned its fanatical cult following. The movie has an all-star cast, and they do a magnificent job of bringing to life this plot line: Peasant boy overcomes numerous obstacles on a quest to rescue princess from evil prince and achieve true love.
Here’s the scene all marketers should adore. In this scene, Westley (blond dude and the story’s hero) is just brought back from the brink of death by a pill from Miracle Max, and then Westley is immediately tasked with figuring out how to storm a heavily guarded castle.
Here’s the line that matters: “Why didn’t you list that among our assets in the first place?”
See, in problem solving, it’s human nature to reach for the tools we know best and the ones most commonly employed for that job. It doesn’t occur to Inigo Montoya to list “wheelbarrow” or “holocaust cloak” among the available assets. He envisions the solution to as a typical one: Three men storm the castle using their own personal strengths to fight their way inside.
His version of problem-solving has this anchor: We use the tools we know and hope for the best, even if there’s only a 50/50 chance of success.
Westley’s version of problem-solving is: What’s a solution that will definitely work, and then how do I acquire the tools to make it happen?
Here’s why marketers often solve problems more like Inigo than Westley:
- We’ve made assumptions that certain tools aren’t right for us, even if we know very little about them.
- We’re unaware of the existence of tools that could be useful to us, because we’re not always on the hunt to learn about new things.
- We’re in a hurry, so we choose the easy (known) path instead of taking time to apply strategic thought and creativity to pursue possibly unfamiliar options.
- We are wary of risk-taking—and we prefer to do things we’re good at because it’s unsettling to act with uncertainty.
As a marketer, you must regularly inject a bit of Westley-like thinking into your approach.
This doesn’t just mean embracing new tools. (True, a TikTok strategy may not be the right fit for your brand, but how do you know that unless you understand how it works and how other brands like yours are using it?) It also means looking beyond the traditional approach and usual tools.
Launching a new restaurant and want to get the locals to become regulars?
Inigo’s toolbox: Buy local newspaper/online/radio ads. Start an Instagram/Facebook/Twitter feed. Send a press release.
Westley’s toolbox: Go door to door at local businesses with baskets of free food and special offers. Send personal invitations to individuals in the community for complimentary tastings. Offer a different item on the menu free each night for the first month of opening.
Do those things cost money? Yes. Is that just a different way to spend your marketing budget? Yes. Still, in certain circumstances, such initiatives might be a more effective way to reach your goals. At the very least, they’re worth considering.
Traditional and familiar tools will always have their uses, so don’t throw them away entirely. Just remind yourself to look beyond them continually and learn more about what you don’t know. Then you, too, can find true love in marketing and live happily ever after.