A Case Study: “Merry & Bright”

Have you ever noticed that Hallmark movies are very pro-entrepreneur? So many of the main characters own their own small businesses, and they are always integral members of their communities. (And their communities LOVE Christmas.)

Such is the case in Merry & Bright (2019), starring Cate and her Merry & Bright Candy Cane Company. This business, which Cate reluctantly took over after her grandmother, the founder, passed away, isn’t so small. It’s at least big enough to have a Board who decides to bring in a consultant from NYC to help them identify ways to increase profits. 

And he’s cute. But the CEO and the consultant clash. They have to hate each other for a while before they can love each other…which brings us to marketing lesson #1:

Choose Your Consultant Wisely

Gabe from Empire Corporate Recovery is not just a pretty face. He knows his stuff. He has a successful track record, so it makes sense that the Board chose him. He’s used to working with much bigger clients, and while he’s annoyed to be playing small here in Britewell, OH, he gets right to work. He quickly identifies ways for Merry & Bright to be more profitable: buy cheaper ingredients, cut some staff, be rich. 

Cate: Um, no. 

Cate is not interested in cutting off her long-standing suppliers or laying off employees. Now the consultant is the enemy. 

Gabe’s near-fatal mistake (don’t worry, they work it out) was that he was arrogant. He started with answers instead of questions. He flew in from the big city and started slinging standard solutions without getting to know the CEO and the company. One size does not fit all in business. 

If he had started with questions, he would have discovered the values that drove the company, and frankly, what the CEO was afraid of. She wasn’t opposed to profits. She was committed to her grandmother’s legacy, and she was afraid that if she made changes she would fail at her personal mission: keep her grandmother’s legacy alive.

Which leads to lesson #2:

Know Who You Are

Gabe and Cate were making progress in their business and personal relationships. Gabe starts asking more questions, and Cate starts opening up to new ideas for ways to diversify their product line and create new revenue streams.

But when they fly to New York to pitch Bermax on investing in the company so they could add a new line of candy – chocolates from her grandmother’s recipes – Cate comes face to face with her biggest question of all. The investor accuses Merry & Bright of having an identity crisis. Are you a candy cane company? Or are you a chocolate company? 

“Today’s market has no time for companies with identity issues,” the President of Bermax tells her. “People want a clean, simple, bite-sized story. What’s your story?”

Knowing who you are – and who you aren’t – in the marketplace is crucial. This is why I use the StoryBrand framework when I build marketing campaigns. It pushes you through a series of questions that force you to figure out exactly who you are and who you serve in the marketplace. 

Your business isn’t for everyone and that’s fine. It’s good, actually. The key is figuring out who it is for, and how you serve them. 

The Bermax investor might have seemed tough, but he led Cate to her big realization: Merry & Bright wasn’t a “candy company,” it was a candy cane company. “We do one thing and we do it well,” she declared. 

Then she was ready to expand. Lesson #3:

Think Small, Then Go Big

Once Cate was clear on the boundaries (candy canes), the smaller space accomplished the opposite of limiting her options. It expanded them. Suddenly new ideas and new revenue streams were obvious. 

Cate pulled out her Grandmother’s recipe book and flipped past the chocolate recipes to the huge variety of specialty candy cane recipes her grandmother had tinkered with over the years. Grandma Carol wasn’t such a staunch traditionalist after all! Maybe she was just ahead of her time. These would be candy canes for the next generation of Merry & Bright, handed down from the founder herself. 

This is what “creative constraints” do for us. When everything is an option, nothing is truly available to us. When we try to reach everyone, we reach no one. But when we have clearly defined boundaries to work within, the tight space triggers a different part of our brains – the creative, problem-solving part. 

Cate got clear on what her business was and then she was ready to expand. She sent a fancy box of exotically-flavored candy canes to the Bermax guy to thank him for his time, and to show him the results of his insight. Merry & Bright had a “bite-sized story” and it came in a year-round array of fabulous flavors. He was sold.

Knowing who you are, and holding fiercely to that authentic space, is the key to growing a business you’ll love running.

Are you trying to be all things to all people in your business? Have you gotten distracted by a shiny new idea that could make money, but could also take your business off course? What might be possible if you drilled down to a tightly defined mission statement for your business, and used it as your creative constraint? 

Personal note: This movie pushed me to think about this for my own business. I’m about to start the “Mission Made Simple” course on StoryBrand’s Business Made Simple University platform so I can sort out my thoughts. I’ve spent the last few years serving businesses of all different sizes in a wide variety of industries. I’ve enjoyed all of it, but there is a certain type of client that is emerging as my favorite. There are also certain values and goals that are coming together as guiding principles for me and my business. 

I don’t get any commission on this so this isn’t a sales pitch, but there’s a “buy one get one” special at www.businessmadesimple.com that ends today if you want to check it out. Maybe you can dig in on your mission statement too, and follow along as I blog through it in January. I’m going to need something to do after Hallmark Christmas season ends and I cancel cable!