Your Product Isn’t a RomCom, So Why Are You Marketing It Like One?
I just got back from a Value Proposition Workshop and Quick Win Intensive with a not-for-profit trade association. On the plane ride, I watched the Seth Rogen/Charlize Theron movie “Long Shot.” (Thank you, American Airlines app.)
The romcom was a funny and entertaining movie, but it weighed heavily on a strained plot device. The same plot device that so many companies unconsciously use in their marketing. A plot device that kills it in romantic comedies — but when used in marketing, it only kills your conversion rate.
In this article, I’ll briefly refamiliarize you with a term that might sound foreign, but that you probably quickly recognize in practice. And I’ll give you some examples of how you can overcome its use in your marketing.
‘Deus Ex Machina’ Works on the Silver Screen
I won’t give away the end of the film. But I will (spoiler alert) give away the beginning of “Long Shot.” Rogen’s Fred quits his job out of principle and finds himself down on his luck, with no money or job prospects. (Cue shot of empty fridge.) But then, he surprisingly gets hired by the Secretary of State and starts leading a jetsetting lifestyle around the world.
Camryn Bell describes the scene that causes this radical change of state in the Daily Californian:
“Charlotte is vying for the presidency and takes on Fred as a speechwriter after one Deus ex machina-like scene that inexplicably features Boyz II Men.”
Deus ex machina. Its Latin for “G-d from the machine.” It comes from ancient Greek theater, where a Greek god was literally hoisted on the stage with a crane or other type of machine to resolve a plot’s conflict and end the story.
Wikipedia defines Deus ex machina as:
“A plot device, whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem in a story is suddenly and abruptly resolved by an unexpected and seemingly unlikely occurrence, typically so much as to seem contrived.”
When you got to the word contrived in that sentence, you should have instantly seen the parallel to marketing.
Much like the movies, we’re trying to get people to decide to make a quick change of state — from prospects to customers. But when we do it in a contrived way, we lose far more than we gain.
… But Not for Your Product
Some marketers unknowingly take a Deus ex machina approach to their marketing. They build the pain point, and then sell their product as the solution that will swoop in and solve all of the customer’s problems.
However, there is a fundamental difference between a script writer and a copywriter — script writers have suspension of disbelief on their side. People know Superman can’t really fly or that frogs don’t really talk and marry pigs and ride bicycles with their skinny little legs, but moviegoers put that skepticism aside for the two hours they spend in a darkened movie theater.
Suspension of disbelief allows a deus ex machina scene, like the frogs raining from the sky in "Magnolia."
Customers are vastly different.
Amplification of Disbelief
Credibility is crucial in marketing, because customers don’t view your messages in a darkened movie theater; but rather, in the harsh light of day. And they certainly aren’t suspending disbelief when reading or hearing your words. If anything, they’re amplifying that disbelief.
So sure, it’s your landing page. Or the ad you’re spending money to distribute. You feel in control. Technically, you can put almost anything in there.
But the customer is really the one on control. And if you take that Deus ex machina approach — customer has problem, customers buys product, and Voila! Instant solution! — if you take that approach with your landing pages and ads, customers can decide not to believe you.
Here are three ways you can avoid taking that Deus ex machina approach and, in so doing, build customer trust and win more conversions.
1. Avoid Vague Claims
Deus ex machina can be Superman flying so fast around the Earth that he reverses its spin and brings Lois Lane back to life.
Or it can be copy on an HR management company homepage that promises “Through our proprietary approach and systems, our professional expert helps you to be confident and consistent as a decision-maker…”
Flint McGlaughlin, CEO and Managing Director, MECLABS Institute, discusses that example in the below video and teaches you why and how to avoid vague claims (just jump to 39:17 in the video):
You can watch the full session at "Why 80% of the Words on Our Webpages Are Wrong (Part 2): 6 common copywriting errors."
2. Show Your Work
According to research by Harvard’s Michael Norton, people prefer a slower service that shows work being done on their behalf vs. getting the same exact outcome from a faster service that only provides the outcome, without explanation.
If your product or service delivers value to the customer, show them how it does so. Show them the work your company is putting in on their behalf. They will value it more and are more likely to believe it.
One of my favorite examples comes courtesy of Denny Hatch in Target Marketing.
He was skeptical of marketing copy for Bose radio that promised, “Our best all-in-one music system that delivers room filling performance, no matter what you play!”
Those Bose ads were the perfect example of Deus ex machina — this little machine in this big room that was somehow just amazing.
However, when Hatch read how the Bose radio actually worked (in Amar G. Bose’s obituary, of all places), only then was he sold on the product.
3. Don’t Sell Too Early
To get back home from that business trip, I couldn’t just take off in an airplane from the office building’s parking lot once the Value Proposition Workshop and Quick Win Intensive were concluded.
First, I had to take an Uber to the airport. Then, I had to get through airport security. I had to find the gate, wait to board the plane, and even wait a while for the plane to taxi along the runways.
Sounds obvious, I know. We’re so used to physical travel.
However, customers take a similar mental journey when considering whether to purchase our products, and it is all too easy for marketers to overlook that journey. You wouldn’t expect to take off in an airplane from an office parking lot, so why expect customers to buy before they really understand your product?
This lesson is crucial when it comes to your call-to-action (CTA).
For example, a physician’s-only social media tool sent an email with a CTA button that read “Get Started.” It was a complex enough offering that the recipient shouldn’t have just expected to read the email and then — Deus ex machina! "This will solve my problems! I should get started right away!"
And, ironically, the company knew that. The offering wasn’t to get started and buy the product right away. It was just to watch a 30-minute demo to learn how the product worked.
When the MECLABS team ran a split test, the CTA “See How [Product name here] Works” garnered a 104% higher clickthrough rate than “Get Started.”
Your Product Isn't a RomCom, But What Do Your Customers Love About It?
Next time you’re watching a romantic comedy and weep at a Deus ex machina ending (don’t act like you haven’t done it. I admit I certainly have) give a quick thought to your most recent marketing campaign or landing page and challenge yourself — are you inadvertently asking your customers to take the same improbably leap of faith? Because your customers will be viewing that marketing copy with very dry, and very skeptical, eyes.
You can avoid having to resort to far-fetched promises and drive better results when you discover what it is about your business that customers love. Here’s a free step-by-step report to help you do that: "7 Steps to Discovering Your Essential Value Proposition with Simple A/B Tests".
Daniel Burstein is the Senior Director, Content and Marketing at MECLABS Institute. Daniel oversees all content and marketing coming from the MarketingExperiments and MarketingSherpa brands while helping to shape the marketing direction for MECLABS — digging for actionable discoveries while serving as an advocate for the audience.