What can Yann Martel teach us about marketing

I recently finished reading Yann Martel’s latest novel titled Beatrice & Virgil. (For those less familiar with Martel’s work, he is the award-winning author of four previous books. His second novel, Life of Pi, won the 2002 Man Booker, among other prizes. He lives in Saskatoon.)

Beatrice & Virgil is a brilliant novel, which is why I strongly recommend it to all of my friends and family. In it, one of the chief characters is shown a play that features two characters, Virgil, a howler monkey, and Beatrice, a donkey, who are trying to come to terms with a series of events that happened to them. The detailed dialogues between Beatrice & Virgil are truly inspiring. Here is a short excerpt:

(Virgil and Beatrice are sitting at the foot of the tree.
They are looking out blankly.

VIRGIL: What I’d give for a pear.


VIRGIL: Yes. A ripe and juicy one.

BEATRICE: I’ve never had a pear.


BEATRICE: In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever set my eyes on one.

VIRGIL: How’s that possible? It’s a common fruit.

BEATRICE: My parents were always eating apples and carrots. I guess they didn’t like pears.

VIRGIL: But pears are so good! I bet you there’s a pear tree right around here. (He looks about.)

BEATRICE: Describe a pear for me. What is a pear like?

VIRGIL: (settling back) I can try. Let’s see…To start with, a pear has an unusual shape. It’s round and fat on the bottom, but tapered on top.

BEATRICE: Like a gourd.

VIRGIL: A gourd? You know gourds but you don’t know pears? How odd the things we know and don’t. At any rate, no, a pear is smaller than an average gourd, and its shape is more pleasing to the eye. A pear becomes tapered in a symmetrical way, its upper half sitting straight and centred atop its lower half. Can you see what I mean?

BEATRICE: I think so.

VIRGIL: Let’s start with the bottom half. Can you imagine a fruit that is round and flat?

BEATRICE: Like an apple?

VIRGIL: Not quite. If you look at an apple with your mind’s eye, you will notice that the girth of the apple is at its widest either in the middle of the fruit or in the top third, isn’t that so?

BEATRICE: You are right. A pear is not like this?

VIRGIL: No. You must imagine an apple that is at its widest in the bottom third.

BEATRICE: I can see it.

VIRGIL: But we must not push the comparison too far. The bottom of a pear is not like an apple’s.

(In the novel, the actual dialogue about the pear covers almost eight pages.)

– – –

Rewards are often not in answers but in questions.
If you had to, how would you describe what you’re known for?
How do people describe you? Is that how you describe yourself?
What’s “common” to you may not be “common” to others. Especially your target audience.
Stop educating them at your own risk.

Lesson #1: Will your target audience be as patient as Beatrice was? In business, and in life, attention is a currency that is not easily earned. So what can you do? A lot. The good news is that you are most likely not a novelist, hence you can use pictures. Here are two solid arguments for adding pictures and/or illustrations to your promotional materials:

1. A picture prepares the reader for the text.
By looking at a picture, we can often intuitively understand many facts somehow related to it.
2. It’s often enough to see a picture once.
One of my personal favourite sayings is: To elevate, illustrate.
(Since I practice what I advise, here’s a picture of a pear.)

Lesson #2: How are you at describing your brand’s story on your website or in your brochures? How’s that working for you? Should you consider hiring a professional storyteller?

Lesson #3: Be like a pear. Taste Younique. People will talk.