5 lessons marketers can learn from detective stories

5 lessons marketers can learn from detective stories


There is something very addictive in famous detective stories like Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple and Sherlock Holmes. I’ve literally spent days glued to my couch watching these films, and I still haven’t had enough of them.


What keeps my bottom glued to the couch is the thrill of trying to beat them to it – finding out who the murderer is before the grand finale. After all, I should have plenty of time to do that, these films usually last for 90 minutes or so. And they let you know the clues as they go, so basically I know all that I need to nail that murdering psycho.


And then, five or ten minutes before the show ends, they assemble everyone into a room where the great detective theatrically announces who the murderer is. What annoys me is that I nearly always get it wrong.


Why? Because they don’t let you know everything after all!


There is always a clue that’s not revealed to the audience. Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, Miss loses her Marples and decides to head off to another country for a quick interview with a long lost relative of the deceased. And what’s more – she never lets you know what she found out on her trip until the very end! I couldn’t possibly figure out the murderer could I!


Bottom-gluing marketing?


So one day I got to thinking – isn’t that what us marketers should be doing? I don’t mean murdering anyone, or hiding important clues… I mean basing our marketing efforts on the same elements that these bottom-gluing stories are made of!


After all, I always go back to watching these things no matter how predictable they are… And I always think ”This time I’ll get it right!”.


Watson, come see these shoe prints!


A lesson to learn from our famous detectives:


We should be telling people stories that fit a familiar framework – let’s call that a brand – so people know what to expect from us. And yet still keep the status quo unchanged – we need to keep ourselves mysterious enough so that people return to listen to our ramblings.


Piece of Belgian chocolate cake, right?


Next time you want to create compelling content, take these 5 lessons with you:

1. Introduce your main characters to the audience

There are several main characters to your story: you have your customer, expert, product or service, and a problem your customer has, which your expert can solve with your product or service.

Make sure the audience knows exactly why you’re involving these characters in your story – introduce them properly, but stick to the interesting stuff.

2. A clue here, a clue there

In murder mysteries, some clues are planted there to sidetrack you from the main event – murder. They may reveal another interesting story about your characters, but not necessarily help you catch the big fish. In marketing, these can be referred to as ”You might also be interested in…”.In marketing, always keep your main focus on giving the clues that will help solve the main problem – why your customer should help you make a living. There can never be too many clues on this subject. Keep them coming as long as they fit their purpose.

3. ABS – Always Be Surprising

After a proper introduction, your audience may think they know your characters. Because of your brand, they expect certain things to happen. Don’t let the audience get bored – introduce more details about your characters in the middle of the story.

Surprise people with authenticity. Don’t be afraid of telling the truth, or admitting mistakes. They will give credibility to your characters.

4. Don’t reveal all you know

Share your knowledge even if it scares you. There’s a motto some marketers use that says ”Give more earlier”. It means that the company that gives their customers more information earlier on in the purchasing process, wins the customer over.

But like a good detective, don’t reveal all you know. You know the old saying about teaching a man how to fish? Well, teaching your customer how to purchase is A-OK. But teach them all you know, and they will never come back for advice. When it comes to knowing your product, always maintain your expert status.

5. Own your audience

Finally, when you’ve revealed all the clues and argued your case (a.k.a. done the deal), all that’s left is to remain interesting. Lead the conversation – don’t let them forget about you and what you can offer.

The way to make a lasting impression, however, is more than not letting them forget about you. It’s about you not forgetting about them. Remember who you’ve spoken to, remember why, and remember what you’ve promised.