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Posted: May 04, 2012

Inspiring your audience with “why”

Part 1: A little word can make a world of difference

Joel Pilger

Hollywood really knows how to move an audience. As the masters of sight and sound, notice how a great movie trailer elicits emotions which inspire you into action. Like inspiring you to spend 50 or so dollars on a Sunday afternoon at the movies with your family. And afterwards, even though you have nothing to show for it, you actually feel good about yourdecision.

By comparison, consider how your brand is marketed. How do you speak to your audience? Like a Hollywood movie trailer, does your brand emotionally engage your audience? Does it inspire action?

Some Brands Have It, Some Don’t

Everywhere you look, there are well-known brands with which millions of people associate, interact, even advocate. You probably have your own personal list of favorite brands. We all do. Great brands are important to us, they offer simplicity and add meaning to our lives. But why do some brands inspire action and devotion while others hardly get our attention?

The answer lies in the lesson of Hollywood movie trailers: if what you say about your brand doesn’t feel like an exciting story, it won't make an exciting brand, either.

What’s Really Behind Human Decisions

Look up the root of the word “emotion” and you’ll discover a curious French word:Esmovoir: to set in motion, to move the feelings. I was taught humans are rational beings. But as I've gotten older, I've come to learn that humans are emotional, not rational, creatures. At first, this concept bothered me. But as I see it demonstrated over and over again, I’m increasingly comfortable with it.

You see, as humans we encounter the world around us and it makes us feel a certain way. Depending on how those feelings line up with – or conflict with – our desires, we take action.

For example, imagine yourself test driving a shiny new vehicle. At some point you think toyourself: This car is fantastic! But you are determined to make a smart, objective decision. So you carefully confirm the car has all the features you need. Then you negotiate a good price. Then you buy the car.

Surprisingly, you are not making a rational decision to buy the car. You are making an emotional decision. Your objective reasons (features, benefits, price, etc.) simply provide you with the justification you need so you can do what you feel like doing, i.e. buy the car.

Esmovoir. Move the feelings, move the person.

Nobody Cares What You Do

Most companies express their brands in terms of what they do. For example, let’s imagine Company XYZ, which claims to be one of the following:

  • The reliable airline with the best on-time record...
  • The luxury hotel with the most luxurious rooms...
  • The electronics company with the most state-of-the-art technology...
  • The real estate company with the most exclusive properties...
  • The service company with the most attentive, personalized service...

These branding statements ignore the lesson from Hollywood. Because no matter how much you try to differentiate your positioning based on what you do, it will not inspire action. Certainly not devotion. And let’s be honest, most of these claims cannot be defended. There is always someone out there that is more, better, bigger, faster, friendlier, etc.

Here is a positioning statement I recently came across (I’ve changed the name to protect the innocent) that focuses squarely on the what:

Company XYZ is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of industrial products, systems and components with operations in over 40 countries.

This seems respectable enough. But step back and ask yourself, do you want to know more about this company? Are you motivated to buy their products? Are you inspired to get behind their corporate mission? Me neither.

Why do most brands speak this way? I believe it’s because they don’t know any better, or they are afraid of a very little word: why.

Joel Pilger is president and founder of Impossible, a creative agency that produces moving images for television networks and corporate clients alike. His passion is helping his clients’ brands emotionally engage with their audiences. Sign up for Impossible’s newsletter or read Joel’s insights. For more information about Impossible, visit

Enjoy this article? Sign up to get ColoradoBiz Exclusives. The opinions expressed in this article are solely that of the author and do not represent ColoradoBiz magazine. Comments on articles will be removed if they include personal attacks.

Readers Respond

Love the movie trailer analogy, Joel! Trailers also start in the middle of the action, at the most interesting part - which usually has an emotional hook to it. A good rule of thumb for sales and branding. Get to the good! By Julie Hansen on 2012 05 07
Hi Gale, Absolutely agree. You may find the full-length article more helpful, take a look at Best, Joel By Joel Pilger on 2012 05 04
Hi Joel - I think you make a very good point. But I'd love to see examples of brands, in your opinion, that have the "Hollywood trailer" mentality. Thanks for writing. By Gale Dunlap on 2012 05 04
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