Metaphors Be With You

BruceRIM 
A post by Mary earlier this month, “Is Toy/Game Innovation Declining?,” generated comments from Global Toy News readers about the reluctance of retailers to carry truly innovative toys and games. As a retailing consultant, I recognize how often retailers are, in fact, reluctant to venture into the unknown, especially in this challenging economic environment.

GreatPuzzleShopNestingDolls At the same time, as a consumer psychologist, I’m thinking about what research says about easing retailers’ reluctance. Two influential tools are the metaphor and the simile. The truly innovative product has a high chance of being the truly unfamiliar. The retailer is saying to the toy or game inventor or marketer, “Please tell me what your toy or game is like that I’m familiar with. I’m saying I am reluctant to take on the unknown. You might assume I mean by ‘unknown’ that I don’t know how well this toy or game will sell. Yes, that’s a major part of it. But by ‘unknown’ I also mean that I don’t know for sure what you’re talking about.”

Is this board game like the comfortable classic game of checkers? Does this toy carry the excitement of a WII along with the portability of an iPhone?


Research findings from Ohio State University indicate that different emphases in the metaphor or simile will appeal to different sorts of retailers. Listen to the retailer to sense which mindset you’re dealing with, and then sculpt the comparison to fit.

  • Retailers who are venturesome innovators say, “I want the latest developments, even if all the problems with the item haven’t been worked out yet.” Present these retailers with comparisons that feature the most surprising things about the toy or game.
  • Respectable early adopters say, “I want a taste of where the world is heading.” Tell these retailers the ways in which the item is an example of what the future holds.
  • The deliberative early majority say, “I’ll buy the item as soon as it has a retail track record.” Use metaphors or similes that play upon the proven reputation of the designers, the sponsors, or other designers and sponsors.
  • The skeptical late majority say, “Let lots of other retailers sell it for a while before I buy from you.” If you choose to make a sales effort with these retailers, your best bet is to use a metaphor that illustrates not the toy or game itself, but rather your faith in the profit potential. “The purchase terms I’m proposing to you are a money back guarantee.” In which case, of course, make sure the purchase terms do fit the claim in the metaphor.
  • Retailers who are tradition-bound laggards avoid innovations. You probably won’t be able to convince them to purchase any new, trendy item. Still, by listening to their reasoning, you might pick up some ideas for selling to the other groups.

Toys and games often serve the consumer as metaphors for larger-stake life experiences. Therefore, I feel safe in assuming that for you as toy or game designers or marketers, talking in metaphors and similes is a piece of cake.

One thought

  1. Thanks for this great post and the thoughtful avenues for approaching retailers about new concepts. This is also applicable to inventors looking to pitch new ideas to manufactures.

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