Marketing Lessons from the Princess Bride

marketing lessons from princess brideGuest Post, Mike Smith

In The Princess Bride (one of my all-time favorite movies) Inigo Montoya utters one of my favorite lines of all time. After his evil boss, Vizzini, repeatedly cries out, “Inconceivable!” when events don’t match his expectations, the swashbuckling Spanish swordsman replies: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

The Oxford American Dictionary definition of “inconceivable” is: “unable to be imagined, or impossible to believe.” What Vizzini was really saying was: “I can’t believe this is happening to me!” What he said and what he meant were really two different things.

Sometimes I wonder if Vizzini went on to a career in marketing. Many of us—like Vizzini—use words over and over that we think convey a concept clearly. Those who hear or read our words, however, may come way with a completely different understanding of what we’re trying to communicate.

Here’s the problem: Vizzini saw things within his own context. As marketers, we often do the same. We see and talk about things from our context—rather than from the context of the people we’re attempting to reach.

Sometimes we use insider language—special words and phrases that are so ingrained in out corporate or industry culture that we assume everyone understands them. Recently, during a presentation, I used the acronym SEO with no explanation at all (because everyone I associate with knows what it means). But there were people in the audience who had never heard of Search Engine Optimization.

Sometimes our particular business or industry context imbues “normal” words with special meaning. An organization may refer to its constituents as “partners” (and that implies a certain relationship), but members of a law firm or people who go square dancing regularly assign a completely different meaning to that term.

In The Princess Bride, Vizzini had his own agenda. Frankly, he didn’t care what others thought or how they processed his messages. It didn’t endear him to the people around him. Businesses today can’t afford that attitude. We need to frame our messages to fit the context and understanding of our audiences. We need to make sure they understand how our goods or services will help them with their wants and needs and will solve their problems. If we don’t, they will find someone else who will, and they’ll leave us behind.

You may think that’s inconceivable, but maybe that word doesn’t mean what you think it means!