What every professional service SME can learn from The King’s Speech

Program Content © UK Film Council / Speaking Film Productions Ltd 2010. Packaging Design © 2011 Alliance Films (UK) Ltd / Momentum Pictures

Professional services SMEs could learn a lot from the way Hollywood markets films, says Friso Buker

Travel down to the London Underground on any given day and you will more likely be surrounded with posters advertising festivals, films, musicals, plays, exhibitions and such. Some of the posters festooned on tunnel walls are works of art in their own right (or at least they try to be), and they all try to attract the attention of the general public in their own way.

And even though all these marketing attempts are offering different experiences, the overwhelming majority of these promotional artworks use the same techniques to convince the potential customer to buy the specific experience they have to offer.

Movie-going as a professional service

From a marketing perspective, paying to go to the cinema is one of the simplest, most transactional professional service purchases you can think of. You pay for your ticket quickly and efficiently. You sit down in a dark room with other people. You all face the same direction with beverages and snacks. You watch the trailers and make a mental note of which films to consider seeing. And you hope or expect to be thoroughly entertained for anywhere between 90 minutes and three hours. Easy.

And how do they promote their films? Film marketing channels are increasing in number all the time, but the basic marketing premise across all the channels essentially remains the same. Let’s analyse one of those channels: the film poster.

Marketing in a nutshell

First of all, here’s a quick marketing primer.

The purpose of marketing is to make it easier to sell more products or services to more people, more often, and at higher prices.

And every single marketing action you have ever seen has been trying to achieve this by attempting to do at least one of just three things:

  • Resonating their product or service in the minds of potential customers.
  • Differentiating their product or service from the competition.
  • Substantiating the value of the product or service to the prospective client.

That’s it. There’s nothing else to it.

Resonate. Differentiate. Substantiate. All professional services firms from every industry should keep those words in mind.

Now let’s consider how marketers attempt all of this with one large sheet of paper stuck to a wall.

How The King’s Speech poster works

For this analysis, we’ll be using The King’s Speech, a phenomenal box-office success which garnered critical acclaim and earned Momentum Pictures over $400 million internationally on a modest budget of $10 million.

Take a look at one of the many versions of their promotional posters above.

Everything you see in this piece of promotional artwork has a specific role. Every element is neither extraneous nor superfluous.

First, the title of the film, which is the most prominent element: with its gold colour, relatively unique typography and the royal flair above one of the letters, the title’s strong resonance made it easy to be remembered and to be spread by word of mouth. Also, the small tagline at the top is a little extra which allowed the emotional depth of the film to resonate as well.

Secondly, you have the differentiation of the film’s genre. Everything about this poster precisely indicated the nature of the film: a drama based on historical events, set in Britain and performed by a select few accomplished actors. In short, this poster differentiated the film genre from practically every other genre on release in 2010.

And then there’s the final step: substantiation. This one’s a slightly tricky issue. Granted, the quality of actors in this film would have been unlikely to result in a bad production. But if you saw this poster shortly after the film’s release, you may not have experienced the necessary “word of mouth” credibility to persuade you to buy a ticket.

That’s where the reviews come in. Much like the title of the film, they’re positioned centrally at the top of the poster. They constitute short, punchy quotes and a visual grading (in gold) of the film’s worth to film enthusiasts.

Why you need all three pillars

And there you have it. The three chair legs attached to the stool of professional services marketing. Moreover, these principles apply to all professional services and the firms that supply them.

Now let’s briefly consider what would happen when we saw one of the legs off.

You’ve substantiated effectively and differentiated honestly, but your resonance is weak to non-existent. You’ve just wasted your ability to both prove your value and show how you’re a better option to fulfil people’s needs. In short, people don’t really know who you are.

Resonating well? Great. Sufficient substantiation? Excellent. But not differentiating yourself means that there is no reason for your prospect to choose you over anybody else. Even worse, they may use your lack of differentiation to put pressure on your fees.

You resonate like a champion, differentiate like a thoroughbred, but your substantiation is sub-standard. This means that prospects may not risk choosing you over someone else. After all, if you can’t provide evidence of the excellent service you provide, why risk it?

Swimming upstream

A great deal has changed in the professional service marketplace over the last few decades. Now that it has become easier than ever to start a small firm, many SMEs are finding it difficult to swim upstream against a tide of competitors. In the hunt for new clients, some firms are even finding themselves up against competitors that they’d never even heard of.

Blame the internet for that.

If small professional service firms fail to resonate, differentiate and substantiate their professional existence using the digital resources available to them, they either risk their growth prospects, or they may even risk becoming irrelevant, ignored or forgotten.

But by understanding the marketing strategies used by so many successful industries (including the film industry) and by applying the right digital tools and techniques to those strategies, even nascent firms can grow and prosper.

Resonate. Differentiate. Substantiate.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to watch The King’s Speech again for the ninth time. Brilliant film.

Friso Buker is the founder of Toma Digital, a digital marketing firm which provides marketing services to the professional service SME community

On October 10, Friso will be holding a seminar in Russell Square, London and is offering free tickets to SME Magazine subscribers. Contact [email protected] to claim your free seat