The Amazing Analogy

Last month I wrote about the work the American Littoral Society did with the grant they received. As we were getting to know them for the project, there was one thing that really jumped out to me about their marketing—they do a really good job using analogies to help people understand difficult concepts.

Consider this infographic telling people that they’ve helped recycle 64,015 pounds of shells since their program started. That’s a lot of shells. But can you really wrap your mind around 64,015 pounds? Well, it’s a little easier when you know that it’s the equivalent of the weight of a humpback whale!

What exactly are analogies?

Analogies relate one thing to another based on some similarity between them. They typically use something that’s familiar to explain something that’s unfamiliar. You’ll find them in literature, science, marketing and elsewhere to help people understand complex ideas, new products, and more.

Some of you may remember this famous one from the Just Say No campaign of the 1980s?

Or more recently you may have seen this New York Times article that explains climate change in terms of running a fever.

Now, your memories from your school years might be setting off sirens in your head “They used ‘like’ or ‘as’ – must be a simile!” or “That’s a metaphor!” It’s true that analogies may make use of similes and metaphors to make a point. But what sets an analogy apart is its intention to explain or to prompt the reader to draw deeper conclusions. Think about when we relate an unexpected change of plans to being thrown a curveball.

Why use analogies?

When people ask me how they can get their audience to donate or their tribe to take action, I always say it’s like getting a child to do something. A child and your audience both have their own thoughts, preferences and motivations. So, it’s going to take some work to move them toward the action you want them to take, whether that action is getting ready for bed or signing a petition. (Notice I’m using an analogy myself, here?)

Analogies are incredibly useful for creating the understanding your audience needs with just a few words, images, or seconds of footage. It sets them on the path I call “Think-Feel-Do” that takes them from a prospect to someone who takes action. (More about Think-Feel-Do next month!)

Where can you find inspiration for creating your own analogies?

Start by listening to how you and your colleagues explain what your organization does. There’s a good chance you’re already using analogies that you can expand upon, refine and incorporate more intentionally into your marketing materials.

Keep your eyes and ears open for sparks of inspiration in your day-to-day activities. Watch others explain aspects of your organization and look for the moment when it clicks for the listener. Ask your community to explain what you do and see what analogies they use.

Getting people to understand your work, its importance, and why it should matter them is the first step towards getting them to taking action. Stay tuned for more about the Think-Feel-Do path next month!

In the meantime, give us a call at 267-468-7949 or drop us a line at to discuss your organization’s marketing needs!