Don’t Be Like Hollywood: Follow Exceptional Marketing With An Exceptional Product

Marketing is important. If you’re reading this article on this magazine then chances are I don’t have to convince you. However, rarely does a conversation about exceptional marketing go hand in hand with a discussion about the need for an exceptional product.

Marketing may be the catalyst for getting customers, but an exceptional product or service is the key to retaining them.

Your products, services, and customer support are all vital to your business and can be the launching ground for future marketing. After all, what is a better way to market your business than to cite existing happy customers?

A case study of exceptional marketing followed by mediocre products can be witnessed in the contemporary film industry. As of this writing, the following summer big budget blockbusters have totaled a loss of close to 140 million dollars: R.I.P.D., Pacific Rim, The Lone Ranger, White House Down, After Earth.

Why would films of this scale with name brand stars fail to break even?

Before, I give you my opinion, first let’s discuss the marketing. Most of these films have something in common; they all exhibited out-of-the-box thinking when it came to the marketing.

R.I.P.D. released an animated prequel on Adult Swim, arguably targeting its core audience.

Pacific Rim released “news reel” style videos documenting attacks around the world and created downloadable blueprints of the heroic robots depicted in the film.

After Earth reportedly spent as much on the marketing of the film as the making of the film. The marketing team developed a very sophisticated web site that allowed for deep interactivity with the film’s protagonist. Also, notable to the marketing was that the director’s name, M. Night Shyamalan, was conspicuously left out.

Each of these films was arguably a household name months before release. Even if you didn’t know what the movie was about, you knew it was “the one with the robots” or “the one with Will Smith and his son” or “The Lone Ranger” remake.

Why then would these features be case studies for how to write off studio losses?

Because of the cat.

Yes, as with all good things about the internet, this story has a cat.

Save the CatIn this case a book called “Save The Cat!” written by Blake Snyder. It is an immensely popular must read tome for screenwriters.

The book is an academic discussion about the structure of film. It breaks down a screenplay into acts and then further into “beats”. It then goes on to refine when a beat should take place and how much time (or pages) should be between beats.

When Snyder published his book in 2005, it was as if an explosion ripped through Hollywood. The book offered something previous screenplay guru tomes didn’t. Instead of a broad overview of how a screen story fits together, his book broke down the three-act structure into a detailed “beat sheet”: 15 key story “beats”—pivotal events that have to happen—and then gave each of those beats a name and a screenplay page number. Given that each page of a screenplay is expected to equal a minute of film, this makes Snyder’s guide essentially a minute-to-minute movie formula.

Snyder, who died in 2009, would almost certainly dispute this characterization. In Save the Cat!, he stresses that his beat sheet is a structure, not a formula, one based in time-tested screen-story principles. It’s a way of making a product that’s likely to work—not a fill-in-the-blanks method of screenwriting.

Excerpt originally published in Slate Magazine, July 19, 2013

Save the Movie! The 2005 screenwriting book that’s taken over Hollywood—and made every movie feel the same.

There’s nothing wrong with the book or its intent. However, the end result seems to be a pattern of lower ticket sales as the consumer becomes more aware of the formulaic process that is being used to churn out films.

So what is the lesson? Don’t buy into formulaic thinking.

The marketing industry doesn’t have an iconic tome as the scriptwriting industry does, but if you look around even casually, you’ll quickly be inundated with kits, webinars and videos that all claim to give you the secret to list building or SEO or link building or social marketing or personal branding or … the list goes on and on.

Are all of these products bad? No. But are all of them good? No again.

For research purposes, I’ve purchased a few here and there and you know what I found? They are mostly the same and offer nothing that you couldn’t find on your own by rolling up your sleeves and doing some good old fashioned research.

The greater problem with these products is that they break you, your business and your services down to action beats. Your business will be a formula. So what does that make your business?

A remake that lacks sustainability.

When it comes to running your marketing, produce the best marketing that you can and don’t strive to pace your competitors; strive to be better. But in that chaos, don’t forget that you still have an obligation to provide your customers with a good product.

If that product is the same old thing they can get anywhere else, or just repeats a formula, then you will have a tough time keeping clients because like today’s moviegoers they may decide to stop buying tickets.