Yes, a bold statement and promise. But it’s true: A blockbuster movie and a winning control do have a lot in common in the way they are developed and in the way that they succeed.
Both the film director and direct marketer adhere to a structure if they want their prospect/moviegoer to be so caught up in what they’re seeing on the screen (or in reading a sales letter) that they have no choice but to be moved to action: In a movie it’s tears, laughter (and word-of-mouth advertising), and in a DM piece it’s “Cha-Ching,” ordering your product or service.
The hook of a blockbuster movie is its USP. In Hollywood, it’s called high concept. This means that in one sentence you get immediately what the film is about and you know whether you want to spend your hard-earned money on it. In “Independence Day,” aliens invade Earth! Ka-boom! It gets your attention and imagination going at mach four.
You’re hoping there’s a compelling story and great special effects. Naturally, your headline also should have a compelling offer (8 Simple Ways to Get FREE Publicity) or inspire such curiosity that the prospect thinks, “OK, I’m piqued with interest. What do you got?” In a screenplay (the blueprint of a film), the first 10 pages are the most crucial. It must grab the readers and keep them interested as to what’ll happen next. In Tinseltown, it’s called a “page turner.”
Just like a James Bond film needing a stupendous opening action sequence (its lead) to hook the moviegoer into watching the rest of the film, so must your sales lead draw the reader in so you have a “page turner.” In a movie/sales letter there’s a continuing courtship where you’re stroking your prospect/audience’s wants, needs and desires with strategically placed hot buttons.
Your “hero” must succeed! In the beginning of a film, we must immediately root for the protagonist/hero. Even with his flaws, we have empathy for his plight. If we feel for him, we go on the journey to see whether he can accomplish his difficult task. In a movie, “our hero” gets up a tree (his one major obstacle to overcome), and then we want to see how he gets down (usually the second act.) In “Titanic,” it’s our ill-fated lovers who battle the antagonist who wants to keep them apart and the sea that spells their doom. Now our luckless film hero doesn’t know how to complete his mission. He just knows that he has to take action to take away his pain!
So who’s the protagonist in your sales letter? Well, your prospect, of course! He has a predicament, and you — the marketer, his ally — are there to solve it. And your sales letter is the vehicle to deliver that remedy.
If it doesn’t, then your hero will be stuck up the tree with no way to get down. Hopefully your product or service is going to give your hero the solution he craves (help him get thinner, healthier or sexier). Now in a blockbuster movie, we know who the enemy is. But in a sales letter the marketer is dealing with an adversary, too: his prospect’s attention span, his baggage and doubts about whether you can really help him (not to mention your competitor).
And so to accomplish his goal, the marketer must realize that he’s in a high-stakes poker game with lots of obstacles ahead of him — one where he must never show his hand … too early. Just as a movie has twists and turns, so should a sales letter, one with as many layers as possible to keep your hero off guard.
If the prospect suspects that this is the “the same old, same old,” he will chuck your letter and go feed his fish. So how do you keep your prospect mesmerized with your offer? The same as is done in a movie: with plot points. These are little landmines that pop up and send our hero on another path that alters his life.
Each new idea is a new scene in your sales piece. In the Jack Nicholson film “Something’s Gotta Give,” everything is going grand in Jack’s character’s life. He’s a playboy and enjoys the company of younger women. Then tragedy occurs — he suffers a heart attack. And his journey goes on a new path. So swipe from Hollywood using this same technique.
Just when your prospect starts to figure out where you’re going with your offer, you introduce another problem that he’s clueless about or another tremendous benefit for him. Keep him off guard. One way to accomplish this is to think of your subheads as scene introductions and always try to …
Take your prospect on a journey with your sales letter. Your goal is to place as many layers in your DM piece as you can so your prospect unwraps your offer like a child opens a gift on Christmas Eve. You want your hero to not feel that he’s reading a sales letter, but that instead he’s on a journey to where his crisis will be solved. A strong movie uses suspension of disbelief exponentially, and you want the same result in your campaign.
But tread carefully. Ever watch a film and have that one big scene not ring true and think to yourself, “Sorry, I don’t buy it. That would never happen. You’ve lost me” (usually a third-act failure). Once it occurs, there’s a strong chance the film’s a letdown for the audience.
That’s why structure and the right amount of ingredients are so important to a movie and a DM piece’s success. If one component’s off, then stick a fork in your customer. He’s done. In a film, we invest time with our hero to see him/her succeed at the climax. If they don’t, we feel cheated. And in your sales letter, you must make your prospect feel “complete” with his decision to buy your widget (the climax of your sales piece).
Watch as many films as you can. Look for the nuances and the hidden structure that holds (or doesn’t hold) the flick together. Notice what twists and turns the filmmaker used to keep you hooked on his story, and kept you there. Every line of action and dialogue in a film propels the story forward.
Does every sentence in your sales piece do the same with your prospect right up to the call to action? Have you built enough trust with your prospect so that he could become a lifetime customer? A successful movie is never linear, and so your sales letter should never be so if you want a strong ROI. And right there is a real cliffhanger, but it’s one ending you have to get right if you want a blockbuster control. Fade to black.