Learning from Hollywood: The importance of the screenplay (and construction marketing) formulas

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How could a World War II tank movie appeal to a 17-year-old?
Canvassing in columbus
Canvassing in Columbus with a former hockey player — a memorable experience

Yesterday afternoon, my 17-year-old son and I went to see a second-world-war tank battle story, The Fury. We both enjoyed the film — notable, since while World War II has some historical relevance, it certainly would be a distant event for a teenager. My wife probably wouldn’t have enjoyed the movie, but she had tickets to an orchestra concert starring Michael Feinstein singing Frank Sinatra songs. Our son would have been bored out of his tree (and he much preferred watching a NHL hockey game on TV at a friend’s house.) The entertainer and hockey correlated in that Goldstein hails from Columbus, Ohio, the team the Ottawa Senators were playing, the source for this posting about door-to-door canvassing in action.

In all three situations, the storyline revolves around formulas, standards and expectations. Sure, there is exceptional talent — in a diversity of skills — to achieve these entertainment successes, but you don’t get to the major leagues, the orchestrated concert tour or Hollywood without following and succeeding at some basic formulas. And even if you do, your story/model won’t appeal to everyone, nor should it.

Screenwriting instructors watch for adherence to the Hollywood storytelling formula and instantly bounce anything that doesn’t conform. The reason: even if there is plenty of creativity and talent behind the scenes or in front of the camera, you’ll be throwing good money after bad if you forget the basic rules. Same for entertainment and sporting events. Sometimes (rarely) you can test/redefine the formula — consider the Moneyball story behind the low-budget Oakland As — but generally, if you want to get ahead, you really stack the odds against you by defying the standards.

How could a World War II tank movie appeal to a 17-year-old?
How could a World War II tank movie appeal to a 17-year-old?

Sure, then, but what are the marketing standards?

Focus your niche

You shouldn’t try to appeal to “everyone” — but define your audience/market with your interests, skills and profitability.  If you wish to stretch out of your niche (in some cases reasonable), consider structuring the new market as a separate business, or at least “business front.”

Test, evaluate, compare, and set your benchmarks for improvement

This is easier to do when the sales cycle and market volume are greater than small.  Google carries the testing practices to an incredible degree in assessing advertising style or method formulas, but it has massive numbers of data points.  You might say this is harder to do for AEC professional services, but there is increasing evidence that correlating time with relationship and lead development (speaking at events, meeting off-project with current and potential clients) matters, and the these “unbillable” hours can indeed be measured on most AEC practices’ time-tracking/management software systems, so you can indeed gather the necessary data.

Michael Feinstein (pr photo from his website)
Michael Feinstein (pr photo from his website)

Build out from (enhance) your existing client experience

See yesterday’s blog posting. You can spend a small (wasted) fortune in trying to attract new clients, but if your existing client experience doesn’t satisfy your customers, you won’t get far in a sustainable business.

Finally, your story needs to relate (and that isn’t a problem if it matches your client/demographics, but you can’t be everything to everyone, all the time)

These formulas will help you on the way — but won’t guarantee you success. There are some intangibles and creativity certainly has a place in the picture. Just remember that if your marketing story fails to understand/correlate and implement the standards, you probably will fail. And you don’t want that to happen, do you?

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