I’ll try to keep this clean—although Tarantino wouldn’t. This is, after all, a corporate blog, and there might be children reading.
Although Tarantino has only directed 17 titles (one of them — Love Birds in Bondage — unfinished, and another — Kill Bill: Vol. 3 — not yet released, there isn’t a movie buff in the world who doesn’t revere his name. What transferable principles can we take from his cult success, and apply to your marketing?
I think at least five:
1. Don’t just pay lip-service to quality
When Tarantino releases a new film, people see it for the same reason they watch and rewatch his old films: he crafts them with great care.
This is how he has developed a cult following instead of just a loose group of people who enjoy his work—and it is how you can do the same. What you create must be genuinely excellent; which means you must genuinely care about it being excellent. The quality of your work and the quality of your fans is directly proportional.
There’s an inverse correlation here too. You may have noticed that quality and quantity tend to be mutually exclusive. The more you try to appeal to the widest audience, the better your chances of producing rubbish. Look at Twilight as a perfect case study. Similarly, hoping to produce something good as a matter of averages by simply producing as much as possible is also a poor strategy. Take Hollywood as a prime example.
Indeed, this is why the term “cult following” exists in the first place. Content producers have always known that a small number of religiously fanatical followers is better than a large number of consumers who find you only mildly entertaining. It’s not just that strong, narrow appeal is a good indicator of high-quality content—although if you’re crafting something truly excellent it will not appeal to everyone.
It’s also a matter of money. If you have one thousand fans who love you so much they’ll pay for everything you produce, you can make a decent living—whether you’re selling web apps or pottery. 1,000 people who will spend even just $100 on you every year makes for a decent income if you’re a solopreneur. Compare that to having 100,000 lukewarm followers who will mostly spend $0 on you. By my calculations, 100,000 × 0 = $0 a year.
I’m sure you’re sold on quality—no one reading this blog really wants to produce crap, I don’t think. But aside from the general advice to not feel bad about having a skinnier content lineup than your bulk-minded competitors, what can you do to ensure you are crafting the finest content you can?
2. Figure out what your customers actually want, and give it to them
Tarantino consistently gives his audience stories about antiheroes, badassery, and stone-cold killers finding redemption by taking on an even colder world. In the words of Nathan Ford, sometimes bad guys make the best good guys.
What do Tarantino’s customers actually want? They might say they just want an entertaining flick. But that’s just because people don’t really think through their underlying motivations and desires. At a more basic level, they want to feel involved in particular kinds of stories and characters. Not just any entertaining flick will do. And going deeper, we might discover they want to feel like bigger badasses than they really are. They might find Tarantino’s movies a way to vicariously escape their frustratingly tame lives for a couple of hours. To feel the coolness of expertly wielding a pistol—or the F-word.
What Tarantino gives them is more than an entertaining flick. He gives them something they want on a much more subliminal emotional level. Which is exactly what you must to for your customers as well.
This might sound friggin’ obvious, but if it is, why do so few businesses do it?
I think it’s because it is so hard.
It’s easy to know what our customers say they want. To take a classic example, if you sell drills your customers will probably say they want…drills. It’s also easy to imagine what your customers want. If you sell web designs, you might imagine your customers want online presences they can feel proud about. But in my experience, people don’t want drills—they want holes. And they don’t want online presences—they want more leads and sales.
But even that is simplistic. Drill buyers don’t really want holes — they want to hang a dartboard, which will be a gathering point at their next party, which will give them kudos from their friends. And web design clients don’t want leads or sales. They want to increase their income to the point where they can hire someone to run the business for them, so they can spend more time playing badminton.
What people want comes down to fairly straightforward emotional desires or fears. Unfortunately, figuring out just exactly what these are can be pretty time-consuming and difficult—since we so seldom understand them in ourselves, how much harder is it to understand them in others. So most people don’t bother.
But if you take the time and effort to do it, you get an infallible foundation on which to base all your marketing. What you say is guaranteed to be interesting, rather than hit-and-miss. People will want to hear it every time.
3. Give them a lot of it
Let’s be honest — Kill Bill wasn’t such a long, complicated story that it had to be told in two movies spanning 247 minutes. But to say Tarantino wasted a lot of film on unneeded scenes or excessively long cuts would miss the point in a fairly impressive way.
He takes his time telling the story because he knows we want to take our time being told it. We savor the small details. We love to linger in his fantasy and revel in both how outrageous and how mundane it is. We’d be disappointed if he didn’t take the time to really let his world work its way into us; if he didn’t exhaust every second so the story could completely seep into our psyches.
The same is true of any content you create. Once you know what your audience wants, don’t be afraid to give them a lot of it.
Not all at once — you must accommodate your message to the medium. People will happily sit in a dark room and watch a 2-hour movie because there’s nothing else to do; but they won’t spend two hours reading an email, or even watching an online video. But if you understand how they do like to consume their content, and give it to them in that way, you’ll find it hard to create more than they want.
For example, one of the questions I get asked most often about email marketing is to do with frequency. Should you send your emails weekly or monthly? To which I can only reply: if you are saying something your customers want to hear, then say it every day. In some markets, twice a day is not too much (weight loss, for example). Remember, they want it. So why hold back? Give them what they want!
(Now, if you are not saying something your customers want to hear, you should stop sending them anything at all. Once a week or once a month is still too often. Refer to point #2, and try again.)
4. Then take it over the top
No Tarantino fan ever complained that the Inglourious Basterds were too violent, that their Nazi victims were too evil, or that Hitler didn’t really die that way. Neither did anyone grumble about how unrealistic an amount of blood Beatrix managed to extract from the Crazy 88, or how unlikely it was she could fight so many people at once. The whole point of Tarantino’s films is not only that he gives his audience what they want, and not only that he gives them a lot of it, but that he gives it in such an improbably exaggerated way.
How does this work in marketing? Well that will depend on you—but notice it does not mean over-hyping anything or exaggerating your claims. There’s no expectation of realism here. What’s going on is more stylistic than that—it’s more branding-oriented.
For a small business, one of the best ways to take things over the top is to develop some kind of motif or persona your audience enjoys or identifies strongly with. And then go to the nth degree with it. Don’t be half-hearted, limp-wristed, or embarrassed about it. Have some gusto.
A great example is MailChimp. They don’t just have the chimp as their logo. They have him as their mascot. Everything is monkeys, monkeys, monkeys. When they develop new products, they give them names like Mandrill (mandrills are the best monkeys), and Hairball. And there’s a chimp in their dashboard who comes out with a new quip or funny YouTube video every time you log in.
5. Cultivate a love-affair with the sound of language
This last point is a bit different. It has to do with the way in which Tarantino keeps his films moving. They are very dialog-heavy. He’s kind of like the nemesis of Michael Bay or George Lucas, who use dialog only when they can’t convey something with expertly-crafted CGI.
People love to watch Tarantino’s films because they love to listen to his characters speak. They love the lilt of the excessive obscenities, perfect timing, and honed vocabulary. They love Bill’s gravelly timbre, the musical stoccato of Col. Landa’s Italian, the broad American accent of Lt. Raine’s nonplussed “grazie”. When Jules Winnfield speaks, it is like a lesson in comedy and poetry at the same time. People make typographical videos of it. All of Tarantino’s films are carried on the strength of their dialog.
You might thing the transferable principle for you is to practice your writing. Be a good writer. But that isn’t quite it.
Tarantino isn’t a good writer. He is a good listener. His genius with words isn’t a result of having a feel for how they look on the page, or how to put them together logically, or how to be economical with them—qualities writers tend to focus on. Rather, his genius is in knowing how they will sound when spoken.
If you want to create content that is truly engaging, authentic, even captivating, then this is an indispensable quality. Go ahead and treat this as a professional justification for rewatching Pulp Fiction or Inglourious Basterds or Reservoir Dogs. Don’t forget other great movies or shows which capture the humor and poetry of language too. Firefly is another, but you may have your own favorites. And when people talk, start really listening. Especially if they’re your prospects, and they speak well. Concentrate on the words they choose, when they pause (and for how long), the inflections they use. And definitely stop being a snob about dialects and accents. There’s nothing better for learning to be a great writer than developing a studied appreciation of hillbillies and Australians. (And there’s nothing better for marketing than being a great writer.)
How are you applying these principles?
Do you know what your customers want above everything else? Have you found a good way of giving it to them—and of giving them as much as they can handle? Do you take things over the top—and if so, what successes have you had, or what hurdles have you encountered? And what’s your favorite bit of Tarantino dialog? Share your insights and opinions with myself and other readers, below.
About the Author: Bnonn is the author of the free email micro-course 5 Sales-Spiking Website Tweaks Web Designers & IM Gurus Don’t Know. It’s one quick lesson per day, each with a tested conversion-boosting tip you can implement on your site in 30 minutes or less (and none of them are about narrative forms).