yellow umbrella in a sea of black umbrellas
March 7, 2016
Marketing  |  7 min read

Why You Need a Small Business Metaphor

Created with Sketch.
Ellis Friedman

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

How does one devise a metaphor? It helps if you’re provided a category. For example, when TechnologyAdvice’s Josh Bland and Cameron Council asked our product marketing specialist Justin Topliff what Infusionsoft would be were it a fruit, Topliff replied that we would be an avocado (yes, it’s a fruit).

Take a moment to think about your business and its corresponding fruit. An easy way to wade into thinking abstractly is to think of a fruit that is the same color as your company’s logo and/or official colors.

Then think about the way that clients and potential clients use and approach your product or service. If it’s very straightforward, perhaps your business is a fruit that requires no peeling or seeding, like an apple or pear. Perhaps your product or service takes a bit of work to master before clients really reap rewards; in that case, you might be akin to a mangosteen or a rambutan. Or it could be that there’s a bit of work, but not too much, and you’re an orange or a banana. 

How exactly did our esteemed colleague arrive at his conclusion that Infusionsoft is an avocado? In the video interview, Topliff likened the Infusionsoft green with that of the fruit’s silky innards, as well as its versatility in cooking and, of course, “the giant seed in the middle that symbolizes the growth that business owners will achieve from using Infusionsoft.”

Here are some other facets to think about when you’re abstractly conceptualizing your business:

Your impact on customers’ lives

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 your metaphor. 

Your values

Your company’s values should come heavily 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? Maybe you’re 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 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. What they do want to hear is that your service that provides a forum for restaurant reviews that disappear after seconds is Yelp-meets-Snapchat.

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. These stares do not grow business. Your 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 metaphor

Discovering your something-meets-something-else metaphor requires research and creativity. Since you’ve already done you fruit or 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 and keep the ones that are both successful and which accurately describe you.

Then 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? 

Of course, all this metaphor talk is not what our colleague Topliff was there to talk about with TechnologyAdvice—he provided high-level but detailed information about our company’s origin, how our people and our software help small businesses succeed and who our customers are. 

For those who aren’t as familiar with our product, that can be an introductory video, but if you know all about it, consider the video an impetus to help you think abstractly about your business.

2017 Strategic Planning Kit - Download Now

Was this post helpful?

Subscribe to our newsletter

Fresh small business insights and ideas delivered weekly to your inbox, gratis.

You may also like

Content Marketing | 2 min read

How to Think Outside the Box for Video
SEO illustration

Marketing | 28 min read

SEO 101: Killer Tips for Beginners
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter!

What you'll get from it:

As a thank you for subscribing, we'll send you a copy of our 2018 Small Business Marketing Trends Report with insights from over 1,000 surveyed business owners. The gifts just keep on coming.

4 Reasons to Subscribe:
  • Weekly tips to dominate sales and marketing

  • Expert small business resources that cost you zero dollars

  • We're focused 100 percent on small business success

  • Righteous GIFs

    GIF of Ferris Bueler principal's assistant

P.S. We'll never give out your information. We'll only use it to send you awesome content and resources, if you're cool with that.