By Joel Pilger
The Movie Trailer Test
Hollywood knows how to move an audience. As the original masters of sight and sound, movie studios produce trailers that elicit emotions, inspiring you into action. You’re inspired to spend 50 bucks or so at your local movie theater... on a regular basis.
Shouldn’t it be the same with television? How does your network communicate with viewers? Like a Hollywood movie trailer, does your network's message emotionally engage audiences? Does it inspire viewers into action or loyalty?
The answer lies in the lesson of a great Hollywood movie trailer: an inspiring story.
If what your brand says doesn’t feel like an inspiring story, it won't make an inspiring brand either.
Communicating Inside Out
Look around and you’ll notice most brands communicate from the outside in: they define themselves in terms of what they do. Does your network speak this way, too? Examples include brand messages that communicate “movies” or “sports” or “news” or “food" or "entertainment."
Look closely at brands that inspire you and your loyalty, and you will find they communicate in quite the opposite way: from the inside out. They speak in terms of why. I credit “Start with Why” author Simon Sinek and his theory of The Golden Circle, which elegantly demonstrates why some leaders and companies inspire us, while others do not. According to Sinek, truly inspiring companies communicate their why, not so much their what.
Turning our attention to some example television brands, notice these network slogans:
History. Made Every Day.
AMC. Story Matters Here.
USA. Characters Welcome.
Fox News. We Report, You Decide.
MSNBC. Lean Forward.
Of course, a network brand is much more than a slogan, but isn't it interesting how a belief is implied in each of these messages? Yet most networks communicate in terms of their what. One example:
CNN. The Worldwide Leader in News.
While I respect CNN, their brand is communicated merely in terms of what. Their why is fuzzy. By contrast, rivals MSNBC and Fox News are clear about their why. The impact? CNN’s recent ratings headlines speak for themselves.
Every viewer out there is bombarded with myriad messages claiming what they do is better, funnier, faster, sexier… you name it. Unfortunately, this means marketers are fighting rampant cynicism. Or, as I like to boil it down: It’s not what people are buying. It’s what they’re buying into. Communicating from your why is one of the best ways to stand out in an authentic and inspiring way.
Inspiring Your Audience
The path to inspiring your audience with why is not for the faint of heart. Here are a few insights to keep in mind on the journey.
Insight 1: Why is Scary
Why is a scandalous little word. Reveal your why and you'll reveal your motives.
But don't you dare punt by asking a focus group to tell you your why. You either know your why and you are proud to own it... or you are afraid of your why and you will run from it.
Insight 2: It Takes Time
Research by “When Growth Stalls” author Steve McKee reveals that successful companies commit to campaigns lasting an average of 2.3 years but "... [companies] that struggle tend to change direction more frequently.”
This can be frustrating because our economic system's insatiable hunger for quarterly earnings puts immense pressure on short-term results. Focus on ratings and that's what you'll get. But that's all. By definition, going after loyal viewers will require perseverance.
Insight 3: Not Inspired? That's a Red Flag
Do you really know why viewers watch your network? Do you watch your network? You see, in our industry we talk about “viewers” so much in the abstract that we forget a simple truth: "viewers" are not subjects in a focus group, they are people just like you and me. And if you are not truly inspired by your network – its brand, its message, its programming – then just be honest and admit neither are your viewers.
Don't fall into the trap of trying to read viewers' minds. Important questions to always ask are, "Do I love it? Am I inspired by this idea? Would I watch this network, show, etc.?"
If the answers are anything other than a resounding "yes," you should stop the overanalyzing and get back in touch with your intuitions.
Insight 4: Emphasize Simplicity Over Choice
At times it will be tempting to speak to your audience by falling back on the old-school shotgun marketing approach of "We've got it all, everything you want, it's all here." Resist. Because it's not really true. Those are the what claims that you just can't credibly own.
Remember the lesson of the Hollywood movie trailer. In a noisy marketplace, viewers crave the inspiring simplicity of your why more than the myriad options of your what. Stick to more narrow positioning, communicate with your audience like an inspiring story does, and never be afraid of spurning transactional viewers in exchange for loyal viewers. Your network's future depends on one but not the other.
Joel Pilger is the president and founder of Impossible TV, a brand-building production company producing moving images that move audiences. Impossible’s creative and strategic expertise spans network branding, promos, commercials and integrations. Serving a client roster that includes the network families of Discovery and Scripps, Sundance Channel, History, DISH Network, Blockbuster, MillerCoors and IBM, among others, Impossible’s award-winning moving images are seen daily on millions of TV screens, computers and mobile devices, and the firm has been recognized with numerous industry accolades including Clio, Emmy, PromaxBDA and Addy Awards.