Robert L. May’s dream was to be a novelist. Instead, he ended up being a marketer.
Between carrying debt at the age of 35 and paying for his dying wife’s cancer treatment, May had no choice but to remain pragmatic in his career choices.
But it was through his career as a marketer that May became one of the most well-known storytellers to date.
He’s the author of Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, a holiday classic that was first published in 1939. The book came to life after May was handed an assignment by his boss at Montgomery Ward, a department store in Chicago.
May was asked to write a cheery book that inspired people to go shopping at the department store.
Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer was never about Montgomery Ward. It was about creating joy for the customer and helping them feel engaged through storytelling.
As content marketers we need to remember that our products should not be our story. Our stories are about people, specifically the audiences we cater to.
No corporate centric messaging needed. Yet many companies do this because they’re excited about the products and things they sell. But again, our stories are not about our products. The subject of our stories is the customer, the audience. They are who we need to centre our stories around.
This is why Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer is an exceptional piece of content marketing. It caters to the emotions and needs of the customer. When the book was first published in 1939, World War II was just beginning. The world was in a dark place.
But Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer offered audiences an escape from the harsh reality of a global war and subsequently served Ward Montgomery the department store.
For those who don’t know the story of Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, it’s about a deer who is born with a nose that glows red. Other reindeers would make fun of Rudolph, leaving the young buck in a state of disillusion.
But it was this bright nose that help Santa navigate his sleigh through a foggy night, in turn, saving Christmas.
As Ann Handley pointed out during her keynote talk at Content Marketing World 2021, we should view the story through a content marketing lens. In doing so, we can create a guide on how companies can bring to life their own stories. Here’s an outline Handley created as seen through the example of Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer.
1. Once about a time there was (your product) RUDOLPH
2. It has the capacity to (your product’s superpower) LIGHT UP A ROOM
3. Some people doubt it because (what detractors claim) HE’S NOT LIKE OTHERS
4. But one day, (why now) THERE WAS A HEAVY AND DANGEROUS FOG
5. Which means (people now need this) SANTA NEEDED HIM
6. To help (whom does your customer serve?) SANTA DELIVERS GIFTS TO CHILDREN
7. And that matters because (how your customer becomes the hero) CHRISTMAS WOULD OTHERWISE BE CANCELLED
8. Which brings together (the larger market you serve) A COMMUNITY OF MISFITS AND NORTH POLE ELVES
This is a great way for you to understand your organization’s story. Handley recommends sharing this rubric with everyone throughout your company so they can get a better handle of your company’s story.
The lesson in all this is that stories add context and value to your organization. And that marketers can also be great novelists.
I help companies grow by telling their stories.