What Is Your Movie Trailer? Five marketing lessons from Hollywood.

I read an article recently in Wired magazine about the importance of movie trailers as a marketing tool for major, and even minor, Hollywood releases.  Movie buffs obsess over trailers and make decisions about which movies to buy or skip based in large part on the trailer.

Are we really so different in the professional services space?  Do not the very people we want to buy our service exhibit the same behavior?  What lessons can we learn from movie trailers about how we should market our companies?

The five lessons

These are the five lessons I’ve learned, as it relates to marketing professional service firms, from watching movie trailers:

  1. Keep it short and to the point.
  2. Always leave them wanting more.
  3. Don’t forget the emotion.
  4. Make it memorable.
  5. Entertain while you educate.

Keep it short and to the point

Movie trailers now come in several flavors and lengths.  Ever heard of a tweaser?  It’s a six-second variety of a movie trailer.  It supports the thirty second trailer which leads to the two minute trailer.

In the old days, we would have called this type of messaging – chunking.  The idea is that you chunk messages to your audience based on their current attention span and desire to engage with your message.

Not everyone is ready to read your 12 page brochure on why your service is perfect for them.  Sometimes, a ten-second pitch is just right.  If you think you cannot pitch a service or your company in ten seconds or less, Hollywood has a lesson for you.  A complex, two-hour movie with multiple characters, story lines, narrative threads and social issues can be “chunked” down to six seconds.  This is far more art than science, but it can be done.

Here is the ten-second tweaser for The Shattuck Group.  “Even in difficult economic times, we accelerate the growth of successful professional service firms, empowering them to acquire the right new clients and increase revenue and profits.”  See, it can be done.

Lessons learned for service marketers: sometimes shorter is better.

Always leave them wanting more

The corollary of chunking is this important point – leave your audience with questions.  A movie trailer is not designed to tell you what the movie is about.  It’s designed to pique your interest and make you want to know more about the movie, maybe do a little research or watch the next longer trailer.  It makes you say, “I wonder what they meant by…”?

This is where we could learn a great deal from Hollywood.  Almost no one these days spends twelve bucks on a movie, or five bucks to rent a DVD or the two hours it takes to watch a movie online or on the plane, without first warming up to the movie.  The commitment to spend money and time on a film usually occurs in several smaller steps.  Maybe we see a trailer that piques our interest, then we read a review and then a friend recommends the movie.

By comparison, most service marketing strategies and tactics assume their audience is ready to watch their movie right now.  How many times have I been in conversations with clients when they say: “but if we say it that way, we miss these important points?”

Lessons learned for service marketers: chunking your messages is not about delivering a complete message in a smaller package.  You must leave out details.  These details are the very source of the questions your audience will ask.  This is what causes them to say: “how do you do that?”  Now that’s a great question.

Don’t forget the emotion

Ethos, pathos and logos are the three modes of persuasion that date back to Aristotle.  Hollywood types who build movie trailers know that it’s all about pathos – the emotion.  Their trailers are designed to elicit strong emotions because this is what grabs people and makes them want to engage.

Most service marketers believe that ethos (your ethics and character) and logos (your intelligence and capabilities) are the most important ingredients in why new prospective clients choose your firm.  But that is wrong.  Flat wrong.

As people watch movie trailers, they find themselves drawn into a relationship with the story, the characters and the narrative structure.  An emotional appeal to the central character’s plight is a very effective strategy, such as in the latest Tom Hanks thriller Captain Phillips.

I’ve written other articles about storytelling and how they produce emotional responses in prospective clients and foster relationships quickly.  Far too many people believe that service marketing should be above emotional appeals – it should be entirely rational.  I’m here to tell you that after 20 plus years in service marketing, there is nothing more powerful than an emotional story told at the right time.  It closes deals faster than anything I’ve ever seen and with higher profits.

Lessons learned for service marketers: if you forget emotion, you leave your strongest player on the bench.  That makes it really tough to win.

Make it memorable

People who make move trailers know that when they release a film there are hundreds if not thousands of other films competing for the attention of their target audience.  These film marketers know that to acquire their desired market share, they must produce a memorable trailer.

Sound familiar?  When you look at the competitive landscape for firms who offer similar services, how memorable is your marketing?  Do you really stand apart?

But that’s probably not the most important lesson here.  And this is where Hollywood films and service marketing are truly different.  Hollywood films have about a six-week lifespan in theaters and then move on to DVD, internet and television distribution.  So there is tremendous pressure to connect with audiences at launch of the film.

By comparison, service firms have no such deadlines – unless you are launching a new service.  But there is another very important implication here.  While Hollywood tries to create demand for a discretionary income purchase – a film – most service firms try to fulfill demand that is created by the market.  This is called the B2B sales funnel.

At any given time, there are potentially thousands of companies who need the services you offer.  Unless you have a huge sales staff, your team is not really aware of when prospective clients enter a buying cycle.  This is why being memorable in your marketing is so critical.

I have been in numerous senior team meetings when decisions are made to move in a specific direction or fund a certain initiative.  This question is immediately asked: who do we know who can help us with this?   If your marketing has been memorable, someone at that table may bring up your name and you will move to the head of the pack.

Lessons learned for service marketers: being memorable puts you on the short list of service providers.  Isn’t that where you want to be?

Entertain while you educate

Movie trailers are sometimes described as eye-candy.  They really don’t tell you anything, but they sure are fun to watch.  In fact, there is a whole sub-culture of movie trailer spoofs that get tremendous acclaim.  Just type in “movie trailer spoofs” on YouTube and you’ll see.  Yes, trailers are often bombastic and over the top.  But if they didn’t work, Hollywood studios would stop paying for them.

This is maybe the biggest, and admittedly, the most controversial lesson.  Most service marketing is boring people.  It’s a real snoozer.  I have tried for years to get my clients to be more evocative and to entertain a little.  But most service firms are deathly afraid of coming off as light-hearted and frivolous.  I understand this.  But…

Service buyers appreciate marketing approaches that entertain while they educate.  Trust me on this.  I have conducted focus groups where people who fit a certain buyer profile are asked to sort through websites, videos, brochures and other marketing messages for the types of services they buy.  After a while, these folks say: “these companies all look and sound the same – boring.  I can’t tell the difference between them.”

This is exactly analogous to what a prospective service buyer encounters when they go looking for a new service provider.  How much more effective could your marketing be if it entertained a little while it educated people about why you’re great?

Lessons learned for service marketers: don’t fear entertainment.  It could very well be the reason a prospective buyer engages you in dialogue versus your competition.

About the author

Randy Shattuck is a senior marketing executive and founder of The Shattuck Group, a full-service marketing firm that specializes in growing professional services firms. You can reach him at randy@theshattuckgroup.com.

One Response to What Is Your Movie Trailer? Five marketing lessons from Hollywood.

  1. Henry October 27, 2013 at 11:22 pm #

    Thanks for sharing the tips. I gained much knowledge while going through it. Keeping on posting some more tips.