Maple syrup for your marketing

by Rafael Mael

Think of Your Store as a Pancake

The problem with pancakes is simple: they’re brown and boring. Despite their inherent yumminess, pancakes just don’t have much visual appeal. Next to other breakfast treats -- like waffles, for example -- pancakes just can’t compare.

So how do you make your pancakes truly tempting?

The secret to transforming pancakes from “blah” to “bravo!” is just a matter of toppings. Maple syrup, for sure. A pat of creamy butter. Perhaps some mixed fruit. And with some crushed nuts and powdered sugar on top, your pancakes will be irresistible!

But here’s the thing: the toppings are only needed to get to the first nibble. After that first bite, the deliciousness of the pancakes takes over. The plate will be cleaned and they’ll be asking for more, once they’ve experienced how your pancakes “stack up.”

Your Store is Just Like That

Your store is a reflection of your inspiration, packed with fantastic finds and wonderful surprises. Once a customer begins to browse, they won’t be able to leave empty-handed.

But just like those pancakes, unless you can get customers to come in, they’ll never know what they’re missing.

Just like those pancakes, customers just can’t tell from the outside how great your store is on the inside.

And just like those pancakes, the solution lies in adding the right toppings.

In your store’s case, however, you don’t need maple syrup. Instead, you need a marketing metaphor.

What’s a Metaphor?

If your school days are many years behind you, here’s a little refresher: a metaphor is when you make a comparison between two things.

Now, there’s a difference between metaphors and a similes.  A metaphor makes the comparison directly (“Derek is a teddy bear”). A simile uses a word such as ‘like’ (“Timmy eats like a horse!”). But for this article, we’ll ignore this distinction.

Why Metaphors Matter

Your customers -- and certainly your potential customers -- don’t know what your store is all about. And if they don’t understand who you are or what you carry, why would they possibly come in?

Now, you could try to explain. You could create a big window display or an About Us page on your website that lays it all out: your background, why you opened your store, where you’ve been, how you’ve changed, and what to expect when visiting your store. Or you could keep it simple and provide a list of all the kinds of items your store offers.

But a laundry list of products isn’t too exciting, and a lengthy essay on your store isn’t much better.

Instead, you need a brief, quick metaphor that sums it all up.

Metaphors in Marketing

Chances are you’ve seen plenty of marketing metaphors before. Many brand names are outright metaphors:

  • Red Bull gives you the power of a charging bull
  • Puffs tissues are as soft as a puff of air
  • will have you flying down the river of travel deals

But metaphors can go much deeper than a name. To see a deeper metaphor in action, take a look at this beautifully executed Taiwanese TV ad:

The metaphor here is crystal clear (another metaphor, by the way.) Business is verbal soccer -- and if you don’t have language skills, you’ll lose the game.

Finding Your Metaphor

A good metaphor conveys who you are, what you sell and why people should care. Finding the right metaphor will take some time and experimentation.

To reach the right metaphor, start playing with ideas and words that relate to your vision, your store, your location or your merchandise. Are you a treasure chest? Does your store project a Middle Eastern bazaar? Have you created a little island of luxury? When customers step into your store, do they feel like they’re in handmade heaven?

In the brainstorming stage, there are no wrong ideas. As you develop a list of associations, pick those that make an accurate comparison. Play with these and come up with possible metaphors that speak to you. Then try them out on a few friends and see how they react. The right marketing metaphor packs a lot of meaning into a few words and when you reach the right metaphor, you’ll know it: your customer’s eyes will light up with that glow that says “I get it!

So remember those plain Jane pancakes and how some maple syrup made them shine. A metaphor can do the same for your store. Don’t wait for your customers to figure out who you are -- come up with the right metaphor and invite them in for a taste!


Rafael Mael is a marketing strategist, business adviser and an electrifying professional speaker. He’s the founder of Maelstrom Marketing, focused on helping independent business owners boost sales and streamline operations.

Rafael will be a speaker at the Toronto Gift Fair.