The following is the 12th chapter from Peter Nevland’s book, Wiener Dog Marketing. His interview with Roy Williams about the business lessons from the Buda Wiener Dog Races continues from where it left off in Chapter 11.
Peter: You know, Roy, the hundred meters at the Olympics are the biggest spectacle of the track and field community. The final lasts for less than ten seconds.
Peter: But whoever wins that final rises to legendary status. “For less than ten seconds I can run faster than anybody else.” Wiener dogs take that idea, and they expand it. It’s not just someone you expect to be super strong and powerful running really fast. It’s the opposite of that. It’s ridiculous running as fast as its possible little wiggly body can move itself, right. And then you have, where the trainer of the hundred meter dash champion is invisible, the trainer of the wiener dog champion is absolutely visible. And they’re just as entertaining to watch as the wiener dog themselves while the wiener dog is racing.
Roy: I agree. What you’re saying, and what I’m saying is this, “the wiener dog is going to be a wiener dog no matter what. And they’re going to be funny and entertaining no matter what…
Roy: …because they’re not a natural athlete.
Peter: No. That’s right.
Roy: This is, you basically have all Davids. There are no Goliaths.
Peter: That’s right.
Roy: The Goliaths have exited the field.
Roy: These are all the Davids competing.
Roy: These are all the people who, none of them ever had a chance.
Roy: These are the losers of the losers of the losers of the losers. These are the shortest legged dog. These are the slowest dogs in the world
Peter: (laughing heartily) That’s right.
Roy: And the fact that these dogs, who ought not to be able to walk, they shouldn’t even be able to walk, and they’re going to have this race… that’s just amazing.
Peter: That’s right.
Roy: And it’s like, “you know what, none of them, these are not, these are not fast dogs. And so these dogs, it’s not their natural skill, they don’t have a superpower of being fast. It is totally against everything they are. But they’re going to try to rise above themselves.
Peter: Right, right.
Roy: They’re going to rise above themselves, and they’re going to do something that they were never born to do. They were never meant to do this.
Think about the movies and books you watch and read over and over and over. You know what’s going to happen, but you love hanging out with the characters. It’s because psychologists tell us that we use television, movie and novel characters as our surrogate friends. People will read a book or watch a movie to the end if it has an interesting enough plot. But people will read or watch it again and again if it has truly interesting characters.
Now let’s apply that to your business. People will do business with you once if they like your product or service. But they’ll do business with you again and again if they like who you are.
Avis won people over by saying “We try harder”, not, “we’ll get you the best car at the best price with the least hassle. Here’s how.” Apple got people to buy iPods not by showing their features and benefits but by showing silhouettes of people dancing like crazy while wearing iPods. Old Spice became relevant again when they stopped talking about how long their deodorant lasted and had a handsome, shirtless man say, “Look at me, ladies. Now back to your man, now back to me, now back at your man, now back at me. Sadly, he isn’t me, but he could smell like me if he stopped using ladies’ scented body wash and switched to Old Spice he could smell like me… …I’m on a horse.”
So why is it that most of your marketing focuses on the features and benefits of your products and services? I’m not saying you should never talk about the features and benefits of doing business with you. I’m saying that if you want people to bond with your business long term, you’re going to have to show them who you are, not just what you do.
Roy recognized that wiener dog races feature a dog that will always be entertaining to watch. And as their sidekick, wiener dog owners are almost as entertaining to watch. Wiener dog races highlight all the characteristics we love about wiener dogs while forcing them and their owners into a situation they were never meant for. I want to show you how the technique to apply this concept to your business and your advertising.
Character Diamond Technique
More than a decade ago a man by the name of David Freeman visited Wizard Academy. He taught Hollywood scriptwriters (from the movies Good Will Hunting, Chariots of Fire, Parenthood, The Simpsons, Sling Blade, 12 Monkeys, Married With Children, E.R. and a host of other TV shows and movies) how to make their characters and scripts interesting using a technique he called the Character Diamond. The essence of it is in pairing contrasting core characteristics so that the human brain is always entertained. The more these characteristics don’t fit, but belong, the more interesting the character.
I should note that in order for something to qualify as a core characteristic, it needs to affect the way the character acts, thinks and views the world. So something like, wears a brown shirt, or, likes to play with a rubik’s cube, would not be a core characteristic, while something like, watched his parents die, or, incredibly short, would.
The easiest way to represent this technique is with something that looks like a baseball diamond. Starting at the top you have the North Star or the obvious core characteristic. Going to the opposite corner, you would place the Counter star, or surprise characteristic. This vertical axis of the diamond represents the external characteristics most notable in a character. On the left corner you place a vulnerability, weakness or flaw. On the right corner you place the Core Identity of the character, the thing they always will be or guard at all costs. This horizontal axis represents the internal motivations of the character.
Before we look at a wiener dog’s character diamond, let’s consider a couple examples, so you understand how it works. We’ll start with Sherlock Holmes, since most everyone is familiar with him as a character. Starting at the top, we go with his obvious superpower, his crime-solving genius. Opposite to that we find his drug addiction. It boggles our minds how someone so smart and who does so much to catch bad guys is engaged in illicit behavior himself. If we look a little closer, we see that he constantly breaks the rules in order to achieve his ends. That brings us to his weakness, his flaw, on the left corner: his anti-social behavior and disregard for relationships with people. But at his core identity he’s incredibly loyal and will give his life for the sake of his close friends: Dr. Watson, his landlady and perhaps 1 or 2 more.
There have been several dozen movies, TV series and additional books about our most famous fictional detective ever. And nearly all of them have been popular, with the exception of the ones that strayed from this character diamond. Think of the series “Elementary”. They took away Holmes’ rule breaking and anti-social behavior, and we’re left with a smart, nice guy who solves crimes and is loyal to his family. Lame and not a very successful show.
Now let’s look at another familiar character, although, as the years pass, he’s becoming less well-known. House M.D. featured Hugh Laurie as a cantankerous doctor who solved medical mysteries as his obvious superpower. As a surprise he was addicted to painkillers and constantly broke into houses or went around his hospital’s procedures to achieve his ends. As his vulnerability, he exhibited anti-social behavior and disregard for relationships with people. But at his core identity he’s incredibly loyal and will give his life for the sake of his close friends: Dr. Watson, and Dr. Cuddy, plus perhaps 1 or 2 more. Same character diamond, different setting. He even lives at 221B Baker Street! All the creators of the show did was repurpose the proven, lovable character of Sherlock Holmes into a modern, medical hit TV series. And no one accused them of plagiarism.
The beauty of this concept is how it provides boundaries and freedom for a character to develop over time. Look at Frodo and Gollum, from the Lord of the Rings books and movies. Frodo is a short, little Hobbit, who goes on Heroic adventures. He struggles with inner demons, but will ultimately do what is right. Gollum was a short, little Fisher folk individual who went on tenacious adventures (the dark side of heroic adventures) in pursuit of the ring which caused him to wrestle with and succumb to his inner demons. His core identity of loyalty and doing what is right is replaced with a twisted version of that, caused by his schizophrenia. He’s basically the dark version of Frodo.
Now let’s look at the character diamond of a wiener dog and its owner. It’s a short-legged slow dog, which, because of the races, taps into its heroic racing heart. It’s vulnerability is that it’s easily distracted. Its core identity is that it runs for the love of its master. It’s the true underdog. Who doesn’t love cheering for an underdog? And as Roy pointed out, all the contestants in the race are underdogs.
The obvious characteristic of the owner is that they are normal people who are in no way performers. This is contrasted by their over the top and ridiculous cheering on of their wiener dog. They go nuts trying to get their dog to the finish line. Their vulnerability is their lack of experience and general distrust of the rules and the setup. Opposite of that is the unconditional love they give their dogs, whether they win or lose. You have the perfect caretaker of this underdog racer. There’s no way an audience doesn’t enjoy watching this spectacle again and again and again.
Let’s apply this to a business. One of my own clients, Richie and Marty, own a One Hour Heating and Air Conditioning franchise in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Richie is a great owner. He’s loved by his team, his family, his friends. If you met him, you’d like him. He’s young, has lots of energy, likes movies, good speaker, inspirational. You dream bigger when you meet him. There’s a sparkle in his eye. He loves providing free maintenance to veterans. He’s got stories about his dad and grandfather. It wasn’t hard to see success in his future.
Marty is Richie’s right hand guy. While Richie is the visionary, the maverick, the jokester, the risk taker, Marty manages the numbers. He cleans up the messes, guards the fort, crosses the t’s and dots the i’s. He makes sure their teams get great reviews for how they serve people. They show up on time. They fulfill their promises to their Comfort Club members and veterans. Sounds like a pretty good company to invite to your home, right?
In our initial consultation with them, we saw something we thought was gold. Maybe it wasn’t exact, but Richie and Marty’s relational dynamic looked a lot like the Odd Couple. That play/show/movie had captivated the world’s attention and generated millions of dollars in entertainment revenue. My team agreed that the same setup would captivate the attention of their trade area. Let’s look at their character diamonds…
Richie’s obvious power is his passionate and inspirational leadership. The surprise is that he’s very relaxed and laid back. He can occasionally come across as an insensitive jokester who has trouble admitting he’s wrong. But directly opposite from that is his huge heart that loves and would die for his family and team.
Marty’s obvious power is his intellectual bent for the details, for excellence. His surprise is that he’s a former LSU football player, manly man. His weakness shows up in his fear of new things, but it’s balanced by his never ending loyalty, especially to Richie.
Now look at the character diamonds of Oscar and Felix, the Odd Couple. You can see that despite not being perfect matches, they’re pretty close. The only way to screw this up would be to try cramming all that in one radio or TV ad.
Jacob Harrison is far too talented and experienced a writer to do that. Each ad is about only one thing. And sometimes we don’t even include both characters. He’s done a great job entertaining, revealing their personalities little by little and still managing to talk about boring things like heating and air conditioning. Check it out in a couple of their ads.
(music up and under)RICHIE: Hi I’m Richie!MARTY: And I’m Marty, from One Hour Heating and Air!RICHIE: Where we’re NOT, “all about Air conditioning,
RICHIE: -Because we’re not IN the quote unquote, “Air, Conditioning, BUSINESS.”-
MARTY: No-no! Stop!
DAVE: (over booth intercom) Ok cuuut! (music scratches)
RICHIE: –Marty what’erya doin?-
MARTY: -Me!? -you just told everyone we’re NOT “IN the air conditioning business!”
RICHIE: (chuckle) Well. We’re not in the air conditioning business, Marty. We’re in the people business; We just happen to be great at fixing, and installing, air conditioners!
MARTY: …(scoff) Why not just SAY that!?-
RICHIE: -I was trying to!-
MARTY: -Cause THAT was very confusing. (elevated voice, to booth guy) …Right!?
DAVE: (over intercom) It WAS a bit weird-
MARTY: We ARE all about A/C excellence!
RICHIE: Yes, but the reason people call us is because they know: we’re going to show up on time. We’re going to honor our upfront price. And we’re gonna honestly do what’s right, for them! THAT’S the HEART of what we do.
MARTY: (sigh) There’s that “heart” talk again.
RICHIE: (chuckle) Well, there IS no excellence, without heart, Marty.
MARTY: (begrudgingly) … OK, let’s… try it again.
DAVE: (over intercom) One Hour! “Heart and Excellence!” take 2!
(music back up)
DEVIN: A/C problem? Go to One Hour MMMAGIC! -dotcom! (then quickly) -Independently owned and operated.
MARTY: Hi! I’m Marty!RICHIE: And I’m Richie! -at One Hour Heating and Air!MARTY: Independently owned and operated-RICHIE: –And now, check out this (laughing) SONG Marty sang the other day about our Comfort Club, (tape winding) that his WIFE secretly recorded!
MARTY: What!?(tape deck click. We hear recording of Marty in the shower, singing dramatically)
MARTY SINGING: “You get your sys-tem Rejuuuvenaaated, eeevery single yeeeear,
MARTY: What the-
MARTY SINGING: -And you get Same Day Priority Serrrviiiice, ne-ver feeeeaaaaar-
MARTY: (interrupting) OK, stop… STOP IT! (tape click song stops) My WIFE!? Recorded me!?
RICHIE: (laughing) I’m tellin’ you, we GOTTA put this in a radio ad, for our Comfort Club!
MARTY: WHAT? (tape winding)
MARTY: No! No-no it’s not!- (click)
MARTY SINGING: -Your comfort WILL go uuuup! / and your ENERGY BILL GOES DOOWWWWN, (lower voice) Waaayyy dooowwwn-
MARTY: STOP TAPE. It’s so embarrassing-
RICHIE: –TOTALLY. And I also love when you start RAPPING, at the end! (tape winding)
MARTY: Oh no… no don’t- (tape winding, click)
MARTY SINGING: Errabody in our CLUUUB’s gettin’ COMFORT!! / ERRABODY in our CLUUB’S getting COMFORT, Woo!
RICHIE: (laughs, then repeats) WOO! (tape click stops, laughing) Oh man. PRICELESS.
MARTY: No-no, let’s just encourage people, to join the club with the most COMFORTABLE members in town!
RICHIE: OK but can you sing that?
MARTY: NO. Let’s just SAY: for Comfort Club details? -just go online, to One Hour MAGIC, dotcom!
RICHIE: Sammy was a ‘fix it’ type ‘a kid. He could fix ANYTHIING. And he did. It’s what he loved.Through the Great Depression, he’d fix farmers’ equipment and neighbor’s appliances, often free of charge. Later he joined the Army and helped us through a world war. Then worked oil rigs from Alaska to the Gulf, to his humble appliance repair shop in Myrtle Beach. Sammy just kept on fixing things for people.His belief was simple: Serve your fellow man. Always do what’s right.When someone needed a repair but didn’t have quite enough money? -they’d call Sammy.When I was his 6 year old little helper, he taught me: when you focus on doing good work, making someone else’s life better? -at the end of the day, you win... Well you were right, Grandpa.At One Hour Heating and Air, we believe success comes from serving you WELL. Doing it RIGHT. And doin’ it from the HEART.Sammy is definitely up there somewhere… I like to think he’s smilingANNCR: Call One Hour Heating and Air. Online at One Hour Mmmmagic, dotcom.
As for results, they grew 42.4% in 2019, from $10.5M to $15.2 million. In 2018 they grew 11.6%. 2020 was the 4th year that my team of Wizard of Ads Partners have worked with them, and they were up 21.6% from last year, even with the COVID pandemic. In 2021 they just keep growing. Why the momentum? Why is it growing significantly year after year?
Yes, we occasionally run install specials. Yes, we advertise our much better version of a tune-up. Those specials account for about 40%, give or take, of our advertising (like the research of Binet and Fields suggests is best). But we’re not just seeing spikes in revenue from our specials. We see a broad rise in revenue that continues even when their specials end. That happens when you have a wiener dog business owner, and a great story that’s true to the core characteristics that make him likable.
I’d like to contend that you, as a business owner, have an interesting character diamond, whether you realize it or not. And your business has a character diamond as well, whether you are aware of it or not. Your success depends on knowing these core characteristics, telling a great story that showcases them and staying true to them. And it takes the heart of a wiener dog to do that.
Most business owners are hesitant to share anything remotely vulnerable through their advertising. But wiener dogs have no fear of looking ridiculous. Their owners have no fear of looking ridiculous. And everyone loves them. My (and Roy’s) experience with business after business has shown us that if a business owner is willing to be vulnerable and perhaps even a little bit ridiculous, they capture the attention of the public, causing people to like and trust them before they ever need them. Over time, this leads to unstoppable momentum that grows their bank account year after year after year. The only thing that can stop this is straying from the core characteristics that people love. Don’t hide what makes you different. Be who you are openly. It’s the gunpowder that sparks explosive growth.
Read the rest of the series:
- An Introduction to Wiener Dog Marketing
- Wiener Dog Marketing: For the Love of Wiener Dogs
- Body of a Sausage: The Way Things Are vs. The Way Things Ought to Be
- The Wiener Dog Question: What Can You Count On Not Changing?
- Wiener Dog Focus: Helping the Customer vs. Helping Yourself
- Wiener Dogs on the Wrong Track: Having the Qualities of Success Without Being a Success
- Embrace Your Wiener Dog: Identity, Purpose and Adventure
- Becoming a Wiener Dog: What it Takes to Have Enduring Success
- Magical Wiener Dogs and Storytellers
- Follow the Wiener Dog: How Employees Become Wiener Dogs
- Once a Wiener… Repurposing the Proven
- The Heart of a Wiener Dog: Character Diamonds
- Wiener Dogs Forever: The Power of Crowd Promotion
- Are You A Wiener Dog? Last Chance to Commit