5 Things B2B Marketers Can Learn From Film Directors

by Katy French

One of the best things about our Best Story Wins podcast is the opportunity to sit down with great marketers to find out what inspires them—and how that inspiration influences the way they approach marketing. That’s why it was a delight to chat with Drew Hoffman, VP of brand at SentinelOne, who surprised us when he said that he draws his marketing inspiration from an unexpected source: film directors. 

Over the course of our conversation, Hoffman referenced his favorite directors—George Lucas, Ridley Scott, and David Fincher—explaining that the way directors approach storytelling for their audience is, in many ways, similar to the way marketers approach storytelling for their customers. Ultimately, both directors and marketers need to bring together many things to deliver that story effectively. The more we thought about this concept, the more we realized we wholeheartedly agree. So what can us marketers really learn from the titans of film? Grab your popcorn and take a seat.

5 Things Marketers Can Learn From Directors

Spoiler alert: There are many traits that make a good director and marketer. As you move through your day (and your next quarter of planning), think about ways to adopt this wisdom to get better results from your work. 

1) Develop your own style. 

Take a cue from Wes Anderson, whose visual aesthetic is so distinctive because it is so different than other directors’ work. His color palettes, symmetry, and blocking are so recognizable you only need to see a single movie still to know it’s an Anderson film. Anderson is also known for his intricate attention to detail. You won’t find a single prop out of place in a frame because he knows that each element contributes to the larger scene. 

If you want to stand out in your market, you too need a clear, distinct brand voice and visual identity that differentiates your brand from the competition. Think about the way your competition speaks, the colors they use, and the content they make. What are the ways you can zig where they zag?

Tip: Pay attention to the small details along your buyer journey, as they contribute to your larger brand experience. Infusing small things like CTAs and emails with your brand voice is a great way to add personality and better connect with the people you’re trying to reach. 

2) Be flexible and adaptable. 

Great directors are great storytellers because they know how to bring every element together—even when unexpected challenges arise. (In filmmaking, it’s almost a given that something will go wrong.) If a shot or a line isn’t working, directors need to improvise. If they’re running over budget, they may need to shoot in clever ways. Martin Scorcese is known for his ability to instantly problem-solve in the moment and, often, come out with a better product for it.

This skill requires a high level of adaptability—and a deep understanding of the true story you’re trying to tell. But it’s something that good marketers can cultivate too. When something isn’t working, or when a project experiences an unexpected hiccup, look for opportunities to work within your constraints and do something new or creative.

Tip: Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. Try new messaging, test new formats, and experiment with different campaigns if you want to make your storytelling stand out from your competition. If you need some fresh ideas, download our free template to brainstorm 30 ideas in an hour.

3) Let the pros do their jobs. 

It takes a lot of moving parts to make a film—and a lot of people. From costumes to props, each department knows what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, and why they’re doing it. The best directors collaborate effectively to let each department contribute to the overall storytelling. 

Marketing is no different. You’re working with a team of experts, so you need to let them exercise their expertise (translation: let designers design and copywriters write). Although be warned: If you work them too hard, they may rebel. Steven Spielberg famously was not present for the final shot of JAWS for fear the prop department would throw him in the water.

Keep in mind that when there are too many cooks in the kitchen, content becomes more and more diluted and loses its impact. That said, it is important to understand what people do and how they think. This can help you collaborate more effectively on every project. 

Tip: Identify your team’s different thinking styles to understand their unique strengths, and find out how marketers can think more like designers.

4) Don’t look at your competition for inspiration. 

When you’re looking for creative inspiration, it’s important to look outside your short view. For example, director David Lynch reportedly doesn’t watch a lot of movies. He is inspired by painting instead.

Hoffman says he doesn’t get inspiration from Pinterest or design sites because it only continues the cycle of insular marketing. While it’s important to know what’s going on in your industry, it’s easy to get sucked into that keeping-up-with-the-Joneses mentality, especially in marketing. This is an industry where things move quickly, trends come and go, and there is more and more pressure to perform. But being reductive will not help you stand out in the crowd. 

That said, there is one specific reason that it can be helpful to look at your competition: to find out what they’re not doing. In this case, use our guide to conduct a competitor content audit to identify messaging gaps and ways that you can serve your audience the content your competitors aren’t.

Tip: If you’re feeling creatively blocked lately, try some of our team’s favorite tips to get unstuck.

5) Get different perspectives. 

Director Ava DuVernay has a reputation for being a highly collaborative director, bringing in an array of voices and perspectives both in front and behind the camera. This strengthens her storytelling, and this same approach can strengthen your marketing as well. When you’re out of ideas or your content has become stale, getting different perspectives inside your organization can help you uncover great stories you didn’t even realize you could tell. 

Tip: Reach out to people outside of the marketing department to get inspiration. Ask a product developer about the creative challenges they’re trying to solve. Ask a sales rep about the most common feedback from customers. These interesting conversations can become content themselves (e.g., Q&As, articles, or tips) or generate story ideas you may have never thought of. If you’re one of the many marketers who are being asked to do more with less, find out how to turn your fellow team members into content creators themselves. 

Lastly, on the note of getting different perspectives, we know that hearing others’ perspectives on marketing can transform the way you think about things too (case in point: the article you’re reading).  

If you want more marketing tips and expert takes, listen and subscribe to the Best Story Wins podcast. You can start with Hoffman’s episode, where he talks about how he overcomes outdated cliches in the cybersecurity industry, how to capture the right emotion in your brand storytelling, and more. 

And, of course, if you need a co-director in your life, we’d be happy to help you bring any story to life. Take a look at how we’ve helped other brands tell their stories, check out our content strategy FAQs to find out what it’s like to work with us, or reach out directly. We’d love to turn your next campaign into your biggest blockbuster yet.

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