B2B marketers to Hollywood: you’re doing it wrong

B2B has borrowed a lot from Hollywood in recent years. Is there anything we can give back? Emily suggests three things the film industry can learn from us – and they’re all about audience.

B2B video lessons from Hollywood

B2B marketing owes a debt of gratitude to the movie industry.

Hollywood-style casting, storytelling and cinematography are behind the success of campaigns ranging from Volvo Trucks’ “Epic Split” to Adobe’s “Mean Streets” and Sophos’s “Future Self”.

Borrowing from the film industry has served B2B marketers well in terms of brand awareness, engaging audiences and winning shiny awards.

Now it could be time to pay down that debt. Because recent evidence reveals that Hollywood is facing some rather nasty challenges – challenges that B2B marketers will find only too familiar.

In this post I’ll look at three things B2B marketers can teach the movie industry that can help it overcome some of those problems.

Cutting through the noise

A top worry for B2B marketers in recent years has been the volume of other content that their own content needs to compete against:


Now, Hollywood has the same problem. According to The Hollywood Reporter, 2013 saw 622 feature films released worldwide. In 2014, FilmL.A. found the number had surpassed 700.

The audience challenge

Film studios have the same challenges as B2B marketers:  competing against a deluge of other media, getting time in the schedules of busy film-goers, and creating content that appeals to a defined audience.

It’s this last one that’s causing particular problems, according to Benjamin Lee, who writes on film for The Guardian. In a recent article he suggests that a string of Hollywood movies flopped this year  because their audiences were not clearly defined. The film studios involved had not asked themselves one simple question:

Who wants to watch this movie?

Getting to grips with audiences

I recently chatted with screenwriter James Henry – of Smack the Pony, Green Wing and The Delivery Man fame – about how film studios and TV production companies think about audience when developing new concepts.

From that conversation, I’ve identified three things that media producers can learn from B2B marketers.

1. Don’t try to target everyone with a single piece of content

James’s answers suggest that media producers fall into a classic trap that savvy B2B marketers will recognise. When coming up with ideas and writing scripts, he says, he considers that his “theoretical audience” is “everyone”. And that this is an attitude that’s endemic in the entertainment industry.

“Things get focused grouped to death. It’s very weird, they sort of micro manage and then try to macro manage at the same time to such a point where they want everyone to love the film, they want the entire world to love the film and they want every demographic to love the film – and you can’t do that.”

Trying to please everyone is a risky strategy. While some mass appeal films (like Avengers: Age of Ultron) have done well internationally, this year’s Pan, which was made to have a similar wide appeal, cost $150 million to make and has flopped worldwide. The film failed to break even on cinematic release (at the time of writing it had only made back just over $114.5 million).

What Hollywood can learn from B2B: Effective B2B marketers know they can’t appeal to everyone with a single piece of content. The moment they do, the content becomes relevant to nobody; it feels bland and unfocused; and the reader doesn’t feel it’s been created “for them”.

The best results come when content has a clearly-defined audience, and is written with that specific audience – and only that audience – in mind. That way, the reader feels this is something really relevant and useful to them, and is more inclined to read it, remember it and act upon it.

2. Make your content available when and where the audience wants it

There has been a lack of understanding among the film industry – and other mainstream media – about what the internet has meant for content consumption.

While cinematic releases are not going away anytime soon, audiences increasingly want to consume content when they want to. As James told me:

“People will watch what they want to watch through various means.”

The continued piracy of films and TV shows that fail to become readily available on a variety of platforms more than suggests that audiences want convenient access to content. A study this year of piracy in Australia, conducted by CHOICE, found that subscriptions to legal streaming services had gone from 46% to 59% over six months, with piracy dropping 33% to 30%.

What Hollywood can learn from B2B: Good B2B marketers know that time-strapped businesspeople aren’t going to make the effort to hunt down their content. It needs to be available on the right platform, at the right time, for effortless consumption.

Whether it’s a blog post on LinkedIn Pulse, a white paper ready for download from a brand website, or an infographic on Twitter, it must be available wherever and whenever it makes most sense for the audience. (And increasingly, that means making it easy to access on mobile.)

3. Don’t assume that audiences value quantity over quality

Despite 2014 having more films out than in 2004 (which saw 490 films released in the US, 2014 had 563), cinema attendance and revenues were down in the US, seeing their biggest dip in nine years.

Only the movie critics can really say whether the quality of the films was down, the same or up on previous years, but it’s clear that quantity isn’t going to get more bums on seats.

Referring to BBC radio show and podcast Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review, James pointed out that the number of films being released is reaching impossible numbers:

“Do you ever listen to the Mark Kermode film podcast? If he’s away for a week there’s no way he can catch up on the amount of films, because there’s 19-20 films out a week. There’s only so many hours in the day to watch those. So many things are pushed out: there is a glut of films.”

What Hollywood can learn from B2B: We have now reached a point where 88% of B2B marketers are using content marketing. It’s no longer about producing as much content as possible: it’s about producing high quality content that audiences will find useful and engage with.

High quality content is what helps you stand out. In its recent report Tech Heads – The Content Pinch Point, London-based content marketing agency Octopus Group found that B2B tech buyers want quality, targeted content that gets to the point: 38% are turned off by quantity over quality.

The message for B2B marketers: copy Hollywood, but not too much

So while it makes sense to look to Hollywood for storytelling inspiration, B2B marketers shouldn’t assume that everything Hollywood does is right for us. In some ways we have the upper hand, especially when it comes to defining audiences. As James told me towards the end of our discussion:

“It’s entirely possible [B2B marketers] should be doing the opposite of what I’m doing.”

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