GET EXPERIENTIAL MARKETING RIGHT.
This isn’t rocket science.
But it isn’t a Jackson Pollock painting either. This is marketing. There are real, measureable strategies you can use to get the most out of that Flash Mob or Youtube Surprise. Publicity stunts are becoming more and more sophisticated with the amount of video shares happening online now. Don’t miss out on a great opportunity to expand your audience—but don’t be slap-dash about it either. Here are 4 strategies to help wrap your mind around creating a real, relevant brand stunt.
Clearly connect the story with your brand.
You have a great idea that you're sure will go viral. Don't forget—the center of that idea should be your brand story. A stunt can easily go viral without adding much value. Remember when Oprah gave away a car to everyone in her audience? Do you remember which car that was? Yeah, neither do we. It was a Pontiac G6. There was a lot of attention paid to the screaming men and women on-camera, but not so much for Pontiac. Oprah isn’t inherently associated with cars, and a lack of strategy to connect Oprah to the brand meant not much traction for the brand.
Make it clear and easy to interact.
This is the stage where egos need to be left at the door. Test it. Yes, make your co-workers and cousins walk through your stunt in a dry run. There is no better way to work out murky instructions or faulty systems than to have a good ol’ fashioned fire drill. After each round, adjust and evolve the idea so it’s as clear and compelling as a Wes Anderson film. Stunts work best when they involve interaction from unsuspecting people, and the more work you’re willing to put in, the more likely you’ll get interactive value in return.
The gold is in the details: location and logistics.
Be sure to ideate where and how you’re going to pull this off. Don’t be lazy with your brainstorming: if you think you’ve found the perfect spot, there is probably an even better place to pull off your stunt. Don’t forget accessibility, relevance, safety, and ease. As a rule, I like to avoid pools. Place a producer in charge of operations, scheduling and planning—right down to transportation and parking for your team.
What happens tomorrow?
This may seem like a no-brainer, but choose your timing carefully. Beyond clashing with events like the Super Bowl, there may be other brand stories or world moments that will compete with your message. Timing is always key, and there’s no reason to take a shot in the dark.
Follow up. Don’t expect your audience to take this thing viral overnight. It pays to have a social strategy timeline set up far in advance, and really stick to it. Spontaneity works best within a well-defined structure.
Set goals and measure them. Don’t view your stunt as a one-time event. Use it for learning, and compare its success with more than numbers. Perhaps take a poll on-site, or monitor closely the engagement via analytics. Whatever you do, take notes so your next event can add even more value to your brand.
Oh, is that all?
Use this list to get your brain juices flowing about how your brand will pull off its next stunt. And by all means, be sure to let me know how it goes.
Let’s first acknowledge that writing in the digital age is not black and white. This is an art form, but one that derives great value if you apply a scientific approach.
We've hit a groove with technological advancements, and 2016 will certainly reveal new and improved ways of sharing information through video, social interaction, and infographics. Still, writing is not going anywhere. Words are still the way information is organized and consumed online.
The following guide will help you avoid clutter in your campaigns and truly add value to your brand.
The Golden Rule:
If you take only one thing away from this article, let it be this: your brand doesn’t exist to serve itself. Every post/sentence should be through a lens of service to your consumer. There’s no excuse to deviate—don’t post pics of your expensive dinner in Italy to show off how well your company is doing. If it isn’t serving your audience, it’s doing even less for your brand.
Once you've nailed the golden rule, there are ten others that will help build your brand, maintain a consistent voice, and get more attention for every one of your posts.
10 Rules For Writing Online In 2016
You can’t be everything to everybody. Focus on the strengths of your brand, and avoid its weaknesses. If the topic or post you’re about to publish doesn’t directly relate to your product or service, skip it. Seriously.
You are not the news.
Unless you are. But trust me, you aren’t—that is for ESPN to focus on. Your consumers are getting their news, scores, and headlines from other sources. So what worth are you adding? Legitimate insight or inspiration coupled with a headline? Okay, go for it.
Compliment others, not yourselves.
I know it seems like a good idea to ‘pat yourself on the back’ once in a while, but in digital form, it’s not. The cool guys at the party don’t self-congratulate. Reply to consumers with humble thanks and further inspiration. Be judicious with retweeting compliments. This isn’t a show about your brand—as always, keep the focus on your audience.
Do not pander or promise.
Asking for retweets, likes or shares damages your image. Your consumers are smarter than this. Your brand is better than this. You can feature user-generated content without having to beg or ask for it. Encourage involvement—invite it. But don’t force it.
Speak in second person.
You want to engage your audience. You want to include them. Don’t just talk about yourself. If you must, use first person plural: We are a brand. We are in this together. We’re glad you are reading this.
Use active tense.
Your audience is reading this right now, so let’s make your words reflect that. Active words are more likely to strike relevant images in the readers’ mind. The past tense reads like a news article—and you’re not the news, remember?
No exclamation points.
Say it straight forward, direct and with conviction. There is no need to raise your voice. And quite frankly, it appears amateurish.
One of the best services you can provide an audience is to anticipate and answer questions they might have. This could be anything from what’s upcoming in the week, to what your product or service is all about.
Avoid generic and overused phrases. Challenge yourself to say it smarter, or twist a common phrase to match your brand. Start with greatness, then look for ways to raise the bar with your writing.
Proofreed. Proufread. Proofread.
Seems like a no-brainer, but please, for your own sake—don’t be the only set of eyes on any given media. Luckily, I have a lot of writer friends through twitter, and they’ve let me know when a post of mine has a typo. Thank God for the edit button.
More than anything, write something—anything. Don’t let long lists like this stop you or slow you down. I’d encourage you to audit and write your own rules for your digital writing—this list is a good place to start, of course.
I get this question a lot—possibly even more than "are you single?"—and my answer has evolved over the years (in both cases). Since I can't remember a time when I wasn't writing screenplays, I’ve distilled my answer down to one book, one workflow, and one secret weapon that will set you back a cool $2.36.
Save the Cat! by the late Blake Snyder.
Before you pick up that pen—okay, laptop—pick up this piece of genius from your local library. Or better yet—on Amazon right now. This book is hands-down the most comprehensive beginning-to-end screenwriting how-to I’ve read. Trust me—I’ve read a lot of screenwriting how-to’s.
Blake, who authored dozens of scripts, including Disney's "Blank Check" serves up a proper amount of humor throughout the chapters. It's a bullshit-free look at the industry, the format, and how to make a story work on film.
Ten years ago, I experienced a multitude of ah-hah moments perusing this masterpiece. To this day, I keep it literally in my bedside table and return to its many advices when I'm feeling stuck in a story.
As a second recommendation, Save the Cat! Strikes Back (incidentally, the third book in the series and published post-mortem) goes even further, with more scene-by-scene tips and one very useful chart outlining how characters become heroes through transformation.
Ideate, Logline, Outline, Treatment, Script.
This proven workflow follows the standard of many of the great screenwriters, going back a hundred years. Who am I to be original? I’m just a writer.
Ah, the filterless! The fearless! The raw creation of new stories! Any time you have even a glimpse of an idea—something that compels you—get in the habit of jotting it down ASAP. Even if it seems stupid at the time, it might connect with another partial idea and be your next nugget of gold when returning for review. I use my iPhone notes because they automatically synch with the cloud and I can’t lose any work. I use a pen and paper when I’m sitting down later and ready to expand.
Once you’ve got that perfect idea, hit it with a logline—one or two sentences explaining what the story is. If you can’t say it in a sentence or two, go back and re-think. Your idea may be too broad or convoluted. A good longline might read like this:
A street-kid-turned famous contemporary artist struggles to reconnect with his manipulative, dumpster-diving family. Omar the Artist
Don’t use that one though—it’s a script I’m working on. Also, don’t worry if your longline eventually changes. It will. Change is part of the natural flow of original work. At the same time, if you don’t start with a concise direction, you’ll get nowhere fast.
This is often the toughest part for me. For help, Snyder brilliantly explains how to fill in the missing scenes that weren’t part of your original idea in Save The Cat! to complete your outline. Some outlines look like sentences stacked on top of one another, detailing what happens in each scene, others are just a flow of words connecting the ideas swimming in your head with how you envision things playing out. You can always extrapolate and expand later. Don’t edit whatsoever during this time. If it’s flowing, keep going.
You’ll know you have a complete outline when you see the formation of a beginning, middle, and satisfying (and always the most difficult) end.
Treatments usually read like present-tense short stories, with each new scene being summed up in a paragraph or two. Don’t limit yourself by trying to hit a certain word count. Treatments usually end up between 10 and 40 pages long.
Okay. The treatment is fleshed out, now it’s time to throw in those present-tense action lines, character descriptions, and dialogue. Congrats, you’ve made it further than 99% of most script ideas!
Still, try to edit as little as possible during this step. Make sure to skip around, starting with the scenes that excite you the most. Writing a script is mostly in the re-writing, anyway—save that work for later. Keep this first draft as a raw, horrible mess. This way, you won’t pre-judge any magical new ideas that might come through your brilliant little noggin as you go—those details that really make your story special.
When I am at my best, I’ll look back at a first draft and and be truly surprised. “Hey who wrote this?”
One Secret Weapon
Blank index cards.
You’ve probably heard this before. They can’t be over-utilized. Some writers prefer sticky notes, or cards they can tack to a cork board. The point is, it’s something small and rearrangeable. Each card represents a scene in your film, so you can take a look at the entire story at a glance. See where it drags, see where you lose characters, find loopholes, etc. It’s far and away the number one most consistent tool that has helped me follow through and complete each of my screenplays. They’re most helpful for me whilst developing my treatments, wherein I outline each and every scene chronologically. Pictured is a recent layout of mine.
My personal method involves laying cards blank-side out on a table or floor—separated between acts one, two and three—and using a short word or phrase that reminds me quickly what happens in each scene. Now, I can immediately see when I’ve got a long first act (happens all the time), a foreshadow that I don’t pay off, or a character that disappears with a loose end.
Let me know when you start your process, and tell me how it goes! Maybe you’ll discover a new secret weapon I haven’t thought of. I shared my secrets with you, and I fully expect you’ll reciprocate!
I Love Karaoke
Really—not being ironic. I love the bad songs, the worse voices, the even worser on-sreen lyrical mistakes—all of it. So, when I was invited to my friend Brook's karaoke birthday party, I was game. I clicked that RSVP like a millennial on a Buzzfeed article with numbers in the title.
It was a chilly, rainy mid-October evening in Koreatown, Los Angeles. Nah it was probably warm—I don't remember. Point is, I was wearing a jacket. I looked pretty good. I was ready to sing.
Perhaps I was a little tired already, showing up to a 10 'o clock birthday party. It was at one of those private rooms you pay $50 an hour for—you know, so you only have to make a fool of yourself in front of people you know. I stepped in, bought a cool $5 can of Hike and plopped into a chatty group of girls. They were watching their friends defile Beastie Boys or something equally misogynist. The mood in the room was energetic. I knew moments after I arrived, I would rather be in bed.
I drove all the way there, I thought—I may as well try to have fun. I'd put in a song. One song. None of these women have heard me sing, anyway—I was going to blow their minds.
It had been a karaoke go-to of mine for a long time: The Backstreet Boys 1999 hit "I Want It That Way". One song, and then I'd be between my comfy sheets.
Well, as it turns out, these 12 girls had put in 1,200 songs before I'd arrived. I waited for what felt like 45 minutes before my song finally came up. But hey, I was really looking forward to this—I love karaoke, remember?
I walk up humbly. These people didn't know what kind of magic was about to come at them. The song started smoothly, there were a couple cheers, and I could tell they were going to get into it.
Then something happened that changed everything.
Tell Me Why
Some guy that must have been a long-distance friend of Brook's popped into the room. She and the other girls immediately swarmed around him to say hello. I continued to sing, relatively unfazed. I was determined to make these people remember me.
Well, it just so happened that Brook handed this new guy the second microphone—in the middle of my song. And he begins to sing it with me! Well, you can imagine how I felt. My natural response was to sing LOUDER than this fool. Seriously, who did he think he was jumping into my song? The one I had waited all night to sing?
Luckily, he wasn't that good, and was happy to be relegated to all the harmony and background parts. "Tell me why...ain't nothin' but a mistake..."
We get through the song. It was a hit. I hid how upset I was, and all the girls cheered like crazy. I had done it! I had blown their...wait. Now they're swarming this dude again. Hugs, cheers, photos...ladies, he was singing harmony! Your hugs and cheers are misdirected. These people didn't seem the least bit interested in me, so I chugged the rest of my beer and took off, chalking it up to 'it's probably her brother who just surprised her coming home early from Iraq' or something. I decided not to take it personally.
Okay—I was not pleased. But I was happy to finally be in bed.
As It Turns Out
That long-distance friend of Brook's? Yeah, he didn't even know her. Hell, he wasn't invited to the party! His wife just happened to hear that song as they walked by the room, and she pushed him inside. To sing it for them. To steal my song...
It was Howie from the Backstreet Boys.
No regrets about out-singing him, though. I sounded great.
So what do you do? LA folks are infamous for asking the worst question possible at the beginning of an introduction. Even outside that rat race, the question inevitably comes up. I finally found an answer for myself—and it didn’t take much searching to come up with it.
I think too many people are eager to categorize others. I’ve been put in so many boxes—“Oh, you’re writing a film? I thought you were an actor.” Yes, I was an actor—but the only way I was getting to act was to write my own damn material. Which bizarrely led to something-of-a-career in brands and advertising.
This desire to categorize makes sense—our fear-based economy depends on certainty to thrive.
The thing is, you’ve done a LOT of different jobs—perhaps developed a lot of skills without perfecting a single one. What’s the solution? Are we to define ourselves solely by how we make that paycheck? I’d know exactly how to introduce myself:
“Hi, I’m Jesse—I’m a waiter/host/nanny/chauffeur/landscaper/cashier/copywriter/project coordinator/wedding videographer/video editor/cinematographer/producer/musician/singer/composer/tour guide/pianist/transcriptionist/telemarketer/assistant/actor/social media consultant/sandwich artist/photographer/photograph re-toucher/underwear model. Do I have your permission to add you on LinkedIn?”
I know an easier way: define who you are now, then spend your time doing that.
Simple, right? Maybe you’re a film writer—you already spend your time doing that. You’ll do it even before you’ve stepped into that amazing/perfect career role. As often as possible. And when you can’t do it, you’ll write about it. And when you can’t write about it, you’ll talk about it. Eventually, you will earn someone’s respect enough to offer to pay you to do that thing. And then, everyone will feel comfortable saying you are exactly what-it-is you’ve been telling them this entire damn time.
So, I am a writer.
I came to terms with that label long before I was handed a dollar for doing it. I am also a filmmaker. And a performer. And a poet. And a piano composer. I don’t force these labels into other people’s mouths—I just embrace them for myself. They’re how I define a large part of the time I spend—in other words, ‘what I do’.
Yes, technically, I do make my living with writing. But, I’ve always been a writer—writing when I was 18 no less than I do today. And yet, others weren’t comfortable putting me in that particular box until I earned a paycheck from it. That’s on them … not me.
Hi. I’m Jesse.
I’m a writer. And that’s a fine label … for now.