No matter how old you may be or where you grew up, you’ve probably heard of Sesame Street. With its iconic theme song and an endless list of memorable characters, skits, educational and life lessons, Sesame Street has been educating children for nearly 50 years.
Sesame Street figured out the secret to creating a long-running and impactful series. What has made this show able to stand the test of time for decades isn’t only its educational purpose but a focus on constantly evolving to reflect what’s happening in society. The show and its characters consistently meet the needs of the audience while retaining their core values and messaging.
While we can all probably think of a lesson (or ten!) we remember from Sesame Street as a kid, some of what they’ve been teaching all these years has a much broader application in life — and in business.
Here are five lessons that small business marketers can learn from Sesame Street.
People commonly associate the basics (like learning the alphabet or how to count) with Sesame Street. Both of these lessons taught the same concept but using different approaches to appeal to the widest audience of learners.
When you think of how Sesame Street taught us to count, you probably pictured The Count. In addition to having a character dedicated to this one concept, the function of counting was presented in other memorable ways.
♫ One-two-three-four-FIVE-six-seven-eight-nine-TEN-eleven-tweeeeeeelve ♫
Everyone loved the pinball machine because not only was it a great visual, but the tune was catchy and would stay with you for hours (or even days) to come. And let’s not forget the ladybug picnic.
The same concept can be applied to the content you create for your business. You don’t need to start fresh every time you want to share information and educate your audience via social media, your blog or email.
Your content can be repurposed in different ways, providing you with the opportunity to take a concept or lesson and present it differently to appeal to a broader audience and varied styles of learning and processing.
Let’s say you have a great customer case study on your website. That same case study could be repurposed and shared in an infographic, a social media post, a blog post told from the business’ perspective and in a video. Using multiple formats makes it easier for your audience to consume and helps reinforce your message.
A key lesson that Sesame Street has imparted to us over their decades on TV is that being part of a community is important.
No matter what happens, the crew on Sesame Street sticks together and supports each other through the good and the bad. If you’re a little bit older, you probably remember when Mr. Hooper died unexpectedly. When that occurred, the entire community of Sesame Street banded together to support each other through the loss.
One of the key concepts on Sesame Street comes through the various characters — both human and puppet — looking for advice or support from the people in their community.
This is an excellent reminder that as a business owner, you don’t have to run your SMB alone. The truth is that asking for help enables us to solve problems and create a support system that we can rely on.
As business owners and entrepreneurs, we often feel like we need to do everything and often have a hard time asking for help. By building a community for yourself and your customers, you’re ensuring that everyone knows they DON’T have to do it alone and help is there if they just ask.
The same lesson applies to your customers. As a small business, you’re able to act as a support system to your customers, ideally creating a community around your brand. This helps to create brand loyalty and establishes trust, which is a critical component when it comes to consumers choosing to do business with you.
There are many different ways you can support your community as an SMB. A popular way to do so is with a Facebook group.
Elsie Escobar and Jessica Kupferman are long-time podcasters and own a small business that focuses on podcasting education and support for women. Five years ago, they discovered that female podcasters needed a community to support one another and created a Facebook group called She Podcasts. Since its inception, the group has grown to over 13,000 members with a high level of support. The duo is hosting their first live conference in late 2019.
As a business owner, surrounding yourself with like-minded people is one of the most powerful ways to get support. This can be done by joining a mastermind group of your peers where you meet regularly and share your challenges and successes. Another option is joining a locally-based network for businesses, such as a chamber of commerce or even an association for your specific industry.
For example, if you’re a realtor, you may want to join your local real estate board, the chamber of commerce or business improvement association and the National Association of Realtors.
Finally, to broaden impact, many small businesses make a point to give back to their communities in other ways. Whether it's donating a portion of your profits to a charity, supporting a charity run happening in your neighborhood or volunteering hours towards a local cause, you’re signaling that your business is committed to bettering the community. People invest in those who invest in them, and this can have many positive side effects for both you personally and in your business.
Although Sesame Street has evolved to reflect what is happening in society, the core value of education and inclusivity have remained for over five decades.
Even if you watched the show 20, 30 or 40 years ago, you’d immediately recognize familiar characters and the iconic sets that are on the show today. While the look may have evolved, the core lessons they are teaching still say the same — math, reading, life skills, inclusivity and embracing diversity.
Cookie Monster may have promoted healthy eating, but he’s still all about the cookies.
Just like Sesame Street, when you run a business, your customers want you to be steady and consistent. They want to know they can trust you and that doing business with you is going to be reliable.
If you’re constantly changing your messaging, your branding or even your staff, customers may wonder how stable your business is and if they should trust you. Your goal should be to find the balance between updating things to stay relevant (which is completely necessary) and not completely overdoing it.
Focus on creating a consistent, cohesive brand across all of your marketing — both online and in-person — to show customers that, no matter what, your brand is solid and will be there when they need you.
Finally, don’t forget to take measures to ensure your employees are happy and to invest in employee retention efforts. You may not have a big budget for employee development or recognition, but small acts such as team outings, opportunities for growth and gifts or incentives can go a long way.
Embracing diversity and being inclusive is a beautiful thing and this is one area where Sesame Street has always excelled.
Cookie Monster is a compulsive cookie eater, but that’s okay. Oscar is grouchy and surly, but everyone still loves him. Big Bird has an imaginary friend and it’s no big deal. Everyone’s accepted as exactly as they are.
From having a disabled child show how her wheelchair works, having children with Down Syndrome as part of the cast to the introduction of a puppet with autism, the show has consistently shown that differences should not only be accepted but embraced.
When you run a business, potential clients want to know there’s a place for them too. They want to know that your business sees them for who they are and are invested in helping them in whatever way they need.
By creating marketing and messaging that’s inclusive and targets the most inclusive audience possible, you’re showing your audience you see them. Consumers increasingly do business with brands that are authentic and genuine, and a good way to show that you are is by sharing your brand’s values when you communicate with them.
You can showcase inclusivity in your business through your website and marketing content, brand images and more. You can also use case studies or testimonials to highlight your diverse clientele.
When you think about a kid’s show with puppets, you wouldn’t automatically think there would be a grumpy green puppet living in a garbage can but Oscar the Grouch is exactly the type of character you get on Sesame Street.
Even though Oscar is different from a lot of the other puppets, he doesn’t feel the need to change who he is. No one living on Sesame Street alienates him for being unapologetically himself.
The differences between the puppets and characters are celebrated and accepted — no matter what. Think about Bert and Ernie. They couldn’t be more different, yet they’ve been roommates for nearly 50 years, and they find a way to make those differences work for them.
As an SMB, not everyone may love your brand, message or product, but being authentic and true to yourself is critical. Trying to mold your business to be how you “think” it should be, instead of having it be a reflection of you and your values, can make it fall flat with the audience.
Don’t be afraid to embrace who you are as a business owner and share it with your customers. If you’re funny or quirky, you can make that part of your branding. Or if you’re into extreme sports, you can share images on your social media feed. It’s okay to add a personal element to your business as it’ll help make you memorable.
Speaking coach and creator of the Three Word Rebellion, Dr. Michelle Mazur has incorporated her love of pop culture and superheroes into her brand and frequently showcases her collection of Funko figures in her photos. It’s a subtle way to connect with her audience on something accessible and less intimidating than speaking.
Keep in mind that customers choose to do business with people they like, so the more you share who you are, the most they’ll get to know and like you.
Reflecting on these lessons from Sesame Street reminds us that there are countless ways we can apply basic life lessons to how we run our small businesses. It also shows us how we need to evolve to meet the needs and interests of our customers, just like Sesame Street has for the past 50 years.
If you want your SMB to stand the test of time, focusing on simple, proven lessons that reflect your values and resonate with people is always sure to be a winning strategy.