“Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” may be a children’s program, but the recent documentary about Fred Rogers and a feature film starring Tom Hanks show that Rogers’ gentle persona and good advice are just as attractive to the adults who grew up watching his show. This former Presbyterian minister and his kind friends are all back in the spotlight at the moment — and marketers can learn a thing or two from Mister Rogers and his crew.
Meet People on Their Level
As you try to sell your product or service, keep in mind that your dream audience reaction really is in your mind. You want people to be interested in your product, but you have to realize that they will basically be on various other levels when you first introduce yourself or your company. You have to show your target market that the product or service can be of benefit to them in exactly the state where they find themselves now.
To use an example from Mister Rogers’ show: If you want to show someone that they can draw (even if they aren’t very good at it), jump in and draw something with them, just for fun. This is exactly what Mister Rogers did during the episode when he drew a simple house and explained that he liked creating something even if he wasn’t very good at it. He never tried to convince little kids that they had to practice and practice and get really good at drawing before trying and enjoying it.
Obviously, you don’t treat your adult clients like children, but the concept of meeting them on their level still holds. In another example, Mister Rogers was called to defend public television in front of the U.S. Senate to secure funding for his and other educational programs. In less than seven minutes, Fred Rogers managed to secure millions in funding by explaining in straightforward terms how his and other kids’ programs presented by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting addressed the senators’ concerns.
No overwrought emotion — just “Here’s something we agree on; here’s what my show does; PBS supports the same goals as yours.”That’s the basic premise for the message you promote to customers: “Here’s something you’ve been looking for, and here’s how my product meets that need.”
A tip: Once you’ve figured out your ideal messaging for all the formats you want it to appear in, store all the versions of your campaign info plus any notes and background work in a secure cloud storage account. That way, team members can access it whenever it’s needed.
Be Candid and Straightforward
Marketing often is full of jargon, which can be a turnoff to potential customers who just want a straight answer to their question. You can help people by being open about what something can or can’t do, instead of making it seem like you’re hiding something underneath flashy graphics or a Pollyanna-like sense that X or Y is nothing to worry about.
Again, you can look to Mister Rogers for an example: the primetime special he created after the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. Rogers created the special mainly for parents as a guide to handling questions they’d get from their children. And Rogers didn’t sugarcoat the scenario. Daniel Tiger asked what “assassination” meant because Rogers knew that children would hear the word, and parents needed to be ready to talk about it.
That may seem like a drastically different situation from a customer asking what the shelf life of a product is, or whether a certain material can be machine-washed. But it’s the same concept. If something can go wrong or make the product unusable, don’t try to avoid the possibility.
Yes, you always present your product in a positive light, but don’t assume your customers won’t ask about any negative aspects. For example, if you work for a bank that offers credit cards, be ready and willing to discuss credit scores with customers, if that’s what prevents them from qualifying for a card. If they know the problem, then they can work on improving their scores instead of being left in the dark. And you can be a part of that solution for them.
Know Your Stance and Take a Stand
It’s almost inevitable now that your company will have to take a stand on a social or political issue at some point. It may not be a huge public deal borne out over social media — it can involve something as small as an employee spat with management, for instance — but you need to establish your company’s stance and be prepared to defend it.
This can be a subtle action; think of Mister Rogers with Officer Clemmons at the pool. At the time the scene was filmed, segregation in public pools was still widespread, and Rogers showed very clearly what he thought of segregation when he asked Officer Clemmons if he’d like to place his feet in the same pool beside Rogers. That single scene showed the world that Rogers was firmly on the side of integration and justice.
Showing that your company cares about social issues is imperative today; potential customers want to know before adhering to your brand. Follow Mister Rogers’ example with your operations and have a game plan in place (e.g., a statement, a policy) before you encounter an altercation regarding someone’s rights or a similar issue.
The magic of Mister Rogers’ message is really all about being authentic, knowing who you are and what you stand for, and never wavering from that position. When you’re marketing a service, product, or company ethos that you can stand behind, it’s an easy example to follow.
About the Author
Laura Gayle is a full-time blogger who is passionate about e-commerce and the ways technology is helping to rejuvenate the American dream. She created Business Woman Guide to be a trusted resource for women trying to start or grow businesses on their own terms.