Marketing Lessons from Willy Wonka

One of the side effects of writing this weekly blog is that I sometimes find marketing lessons in unlikely places.   Last week we watched Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the Johnny Depp movie based on the Roald Dahl book (we’re big R.D. fans).  Halfway through the movie I started thinking about the great marketing skills of Willy Wonka (the founder of the chocolate factory).  Here are a few lessons from Willy:

Competition is Fierce –  Willy’s competitors are ruthless.  They steal his formulas and bribe his workers to divulge his manufacturing secrets.   It gets so bad that he fires all his employees and imports Oompa Loompas to run the factory.  The Oompa Loompas love chocolate and Willy keeps the factory very warm to replicate their original tropical habitat.  It also keeps them from contact with competitors in the outside world.

While Willy’s solution won’t work in the real world, we all understand that, regardless of how well we guard secrets, the true life span of “different” is very limited because competitors can usually adjust very quickly.  Which brings us to the second lesson from Willy.

Constantly Innovate – Willy makes a huge investment in research and development.  His products and projects in the movie include an everlasting gobstopper, transmitting a candy bar by television, and a stick of gum that tastes like a three-course meal (one course at a time, fortunately).

The lesson from Willy is to keep innovating because it is the only way to stay ahead of competitors.   If you do not have a plan for improving your current products or services and developing the next game changer in your industry, your competitors probably do.

Think the Big Idea – Willy’s marketing brainstorm is to open his factory and give a lifetime supply of chocolate to five lucky people who find a golden ticket in their Wonka candy.  The secrecy of the factory and the very limited supply of tickets set off a frenzy.   Tremendous buzz is created as each ticket is discovered and people become desperate to find a remaining ticket.

The lesson from Willy is to not be afraid of the big idea that will build sales and create buzz.  You’ll also find your employees are proud to be working for a company that thinks big.

Love What You Market – Willy clearly loves his products.  He runs away from home at an early age because his father (a dentist) won’t let him eat candy.  Willy’s passion is a little obsessive as it seems he has never developed relationships, but that passion has led him to create the best chocolate in the world.  (The story has a happy ending: Willy is “adopted” by Charlie and his family, who give him some perspective on life.)

If you can’t love what you market, you should at least like it.  For most of my career, I have marketed products and services that help companies improve performance, empower people to use their full capabilities, and enable people and companies to protect their hard-earned assets and take manageable risks.  When you are lucky enough to market products and services you believe in, it keeps you engaged, innovating and feeling good about what you do.

 

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