Marketing / Branding

Why You Need Your Small Business Metaphor

Ellis Friedman

Updated: Apr 16, 2019 · 4 min read

yellow umbrella in a sea of black umbrellas

We know: thinking up your small business metaphor is probably not the most pressing issue you’re facing today. But a little abstract thinking can strengthen your business marketing strategies and also help potential clients conceptualize what your company embodies.

But how does one devise a metaphor to describe your business? Read on.

Building your business metaphor

Is your product or service something that improves the lives of your customers, or is it a little luxury that makes them feel comforted? If it’s the former, you might liken your business to a fruit or vegetable, since they’re synonymous with nutrition. If you’re more on the luxury side, consider likening your business to a dessert, which will encourage potential clients to treat themselves.

Your market status

Is your business focused on reliability, safety, flash, or eco-friendliness? Then maybe if your business were a car, you’d be a Toyota, a Volvo, a Corvette, or a hybrid. This can be a bit aspirational, but it should also be in line with your vision. Sure, you and everybody else would love to be a Mercedes. If you’ve got a higher-end good, that’s fine; but if you’re providing a product or service that’s aimed at being accessible, you might have to recalibrate the metaphor that describes your business. 

Your company’s values should heavily come into play in your metaphor. Think deeper about other businesses or people who embody what you do or want to embody. Do you mentor and nurture lots of customers? Maybe you’re an Angelina Jolie. Is your company a serious contender for being the best in your field and for really immersing yourself in the industry? You might be a Daniel Day-Lewis.

Why your metaphor helps you

Once you get your simpler metaphorical groove on, you can move into more in-depth and helpful business growth metaphors. Movie executives, book publishers, and investors in general love to hear that a product is “Something-meets-something-else.” They don’t want to hear that you’re a Honda-meets-Banana.

Here’s why.

Metaphors provide context

People need to know what you’re talking about, whether they’re a potential investor or potential customer. This isn’t an earth-shattering revelation, but a lot of people don’t know how to provide context to people outside their bubbles.

Think about the times you speak with people in science, mathematics, programming, or any highly technical or specialized field. Often, when they try to explain what they do, they receive confused, blank stares in return. You do not want to receive these stares—they don't grow business. Your business metaphor can help ward off these stares.

Metaphors prove previous success

When you can describe your service or product as a hybrid of two existing services or models, it sets a precedent for your success. If you wrote a book about a post-apocalyptic southern belle who fought a Battle Royale-style Civil War alongside Clark Gable, that might get you those aforementioned stares. But tell people you wrote Hunger Games-meets-Gone With the Wind, and people might say, “Hey, cool, I want to read that.”

That’s what a metaphor can get you: interest and understanding.

Metaphors distinguish you

If your product or service is well understood and/or very common, metaphors are less vital for obtaining buy-in but can be excellent marketing tools. Say you’re a life coach; describing yourself as “Yoda-meets-Judge-Judy” can help distinguish you from others in your field by positioning you as a wise yet firm hybrid of two known dispensers of wisdom.

How to find your business metaphor

Discovering your something-meets-something-else metaphor requires research and creativity. Since you’ve already done your car exercise above, you should be in the right mindset.

First, break down your business model or product into its most basic parts. Using as few words as possible, write down what product or service you provide.

Then go find other people or companies that provide the same or very similar products or services. List everything you can find, then cull together and keep the ones that are both successful and accurately describe you.

Lastly, think outside the business box a bit. Is there a movie or book character who does approximately what you do? Or is there a pop culture icon who is similarly positioned in their industry as you are in yours?

With the info listed above, discovering a metaphor that describes your business will be easier than you think.

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