What marketing lessons can we learn from silent movies?

FrodX / / Inbound Marketing

Last weekend, I went to a movie theatre to watch a silent movie. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen one. It was the German black and white classic – Pandora’s box – the charming Louise Brooks was playing the seductive Lulu. I was sitting in my chair, and enjoying the live piano score. Yet after only a few moments, I started fidgeting in my chair and looking around. Something was missing, and it wasn’t only the sound, but the action, dynamic editing, special effects and all the other ingredients of modern high-budget movies.

Quite some time had to pass, before I was able to tell myself that I chose this movie myself, so I was able to recollect my thoughts and concentrate on the on-screen action – the acting, small, almost unnoticeable expressions, flirtatious smiles, interesting directing choices, the story and the script. Everything that makes a movie good – its content.

After more than two hours, I left the movie theatre with a warm feeling inside. I was sure I chose the right movie – I’m going to be thinking about it for at least a couple of days. Since I’m always looking for new topics for the FrodX blog, it didn’t take very long for me to be sitting at my computer, thinking about the lessons that people in modern marketing can learn from silent movies.

It obviously cannot tell us a whole lot if we stick to the old-school definition of marketing that treats marketing and advertising almost as synonyms. This, according to Seth Godin, makes marketing just a tool to create more advertising noise holding on to an at least partially honest and naive hope that this will help us sell more. (Honest because no one doubts that you wish to offer your product or service to as many buyers as possible. Naive because most of your competitors think this way as well and you can be sure there will always be someone that has a bigger advertising budget than you. What will you do then?)

Marketing shouldn’t be a chance for more advertising noise in a world that's too noisy already. Click To Tweet

We cannot learn much from them if we still believe that marketing communication is a one way street, screaming that our offer is the cheapest, the most current, the most exclusive, the most attractive, the sexiest, the fastest, the hottest and simply the best. Modern buyers are turned away by these approaches – they imply that they are ignorant fools if they don’t decide to buy your product or service. You probably don’t want to imply that, do you?

Yet we can learn a lot if we believe in a two-way communication in marketing. We need to ease up on the sweet talk and focus on information that solves the true problems of our customers even before they decide to buy. Buyers are just as intelligent as we are and they have a better understanding of their problems (no matter how hard we try to convince them that we completely understand them), so they will quickly see which content really helps them and which content is just nothing but fancy worded fluff. They will be happier if we let them just study the materials that we prepared for them. Your marketing team will have to work much harder, but the results will be worth it. Just like in silent movies that require audiences to focus, since the dialogs (intertitles) in silent movies are limited to content that cannot be shown through acting and directing.

Marketing communication is a two-way street and helps potential customers solve their true problems. Click To Tweet

Godin wrote years ago that content marketing (or permission marketing as he originally called it) is the only remaining viable marketing type. When I am writing about such marketing, I am focusing on the creative approach to content that benefits potential customers who want to receive such content. This is why I’m comparing movies to marketing instead of cricket for example. This is why your company should consider what to offer as useful content along with your products and services. You probably care about your customers and in a world where marketing approaches are in trouble, your customers will appreciate that you treat them as equals and only bother them when you have something interesting to share. Content that will encourage them to come back to you again and again.

And trust me, I’m going to see another silent movie soon enough.

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