It should come as no surprise that I am a fan of the WestWorld series on HBO. I was a fan of the original and think the series is even better. What’s not to love about sentient western robots becoming aware of themselves and laying a trap for the humans in the park – that last scene of them coming out of the forest still gives me chills. I saw a ton of articles being put out on the philosophy behind WestWorld and on some of the complex theories that the show is based on. All of those article got me thinking. Could WestWorld actually teach us something about marketing? You bet it can!
Advertising guru Edward Bernays once said that “Sex sells”, He was right but let me take that a step further and say that all emotional states sell – happiness, anger, sadness,etc. We are emotional beings. Even the most cold of us still have some emotional reaction to various stimuli. Emotions are the “lingua franca of humanity,” the native tongue that every human is born with. Emotional expressions are the same in every culture. People around the world understand what it feels like to laugh, or cry, or worry – and what that means. Because of this, marketing has increasing used emotion as a psychological trigger in their marketing and web design. Think of De Beers focusing on love and happiness, Disney on fun and family and so on, those animal shelter commercials that I have to leave the room on……. Why do you think violent video games are so popular? It’s the feeling they create in the gamer! Back in 1971, the nonprofit Keep America Beautiful used the image of a Native American “Iron Eyes Cody” with a tear rolling down his check in an anti-pollution ad to create an emotional connection with those who viewed the ad- it worked. It worked then and works now- probably even more so. As marketers we need to use emotion to our advantage. We need to create marketing pieces and websites that create an emotional response within the customer. B2B folks this applies to you as well. Now I’m not recommending that we go crazy and put sex and violence on everything but when you are designing your site or next marketing piece remember to try to engage the visitor or person on the other side of your communication emotionally. Use emotional expressions in your design to visualize emotions. A photograph of someone expressing his feelings – for example while using your product – is much clearer and also more convincing than a bunch of descriptive text. Stir up an emotion in them that works to your advantage.
No I’m not talking like Maeve or Clementine would but more along the lines of the Man-In-Black. Even though the rumor mills were crazed with theories as to his identity no one was certain exactly who he was. That’s exactly what made his character appealing to so many despite his obvious flaws. You even see a masterful display of this tactic in season finale. BEWARE SPOILER ALERT –as Maeve, Armistice, Hector and Felix tear up Mesa Hub as part of Maeves’ escape plot, the four end up taking refuge in new area ow haven’t seen before – an area with different logo and instead of poker playing robots we find dueling samurai. What was that about!? The point is that people love teasers. Apple is hands down the master of this. When they make an announcement they give the people just a slight glimpse at what it is but not enough to make a determination. The Dark Knight with Heath Ledger did the same thing. The very first trailer, a teaser no less, was just a black background with the Dark Knight logo and Ledger speaking as the Joker. The crowds went wild.
There are countless examples of this in the marketing and web design world. When unveiling a new product or service or even unveiling a new campaign don’t forget to tease the customer. Get them curious about what you are doing and I guarantee stellar results
The thing about WestWorld and M-I-B says it best. “Its all a game”. Right he is and that’s what people love. That is why gamification is so popular. People want to be engaged and they are tired of the static old content they usually get. There are so many of the same old sites and content out there, make it fun! Say you are sending out a discount promo email. Rather than just sending out the normal emails telling everyone what the discount is make it a game. We did this for one of our clients. Remember the old game shows where a contestant had to pick a door to see what he won? Same concept at work here. This campaign involved giving clients 3 “doors” to choose from, behind each of which were different promotions and whichever door they chose was the promotion they got. People went nuts over it! In WestWorld, William (M-I-B) was convinced that the game we was playing in WestWorld had another,deeper level – the center of the maze, and he went to the extent of scalping and killing who knows how many hosts to get there. Make your site and marketing fun and people will keep coming back. Give your customers their very own maze and they will keep coming back just like the M-I-B did for WestWorld! (Ideally without the murder and scalping).
Actually any face will do really. Though Logan would probably play it down as being a “market-tested” concept. Fact of the matter is that it works and we don’t need any Delos executives to tell us that. Human faces are very powerful. In his book Designing for Emotion (great read by the way), User Experience expert Aarron Walter describes why we are drawn to human faces so much. Aaron explains that we are constantly exploring the world around us by looking for something familiar. Familiarity gives us a feeling of comfort and reassurance so when we see a face, we are automatically triggered to feel something or to empathize with that person. We are hardwired for that response. Since we know ourselves so well, or rather one hopes we do, we psychologically try to relate everything we see to ourselves. Obviously, we do that with other human faces, but we also do the same thing when there are no human features involved. All we have to do is recognize our body’s proportions in a design and that is more than enough for us to perceive the design as being familiar. Think of the headless mannequins you see at the mall. We subconsciously take what is on display and substitute ourselves for the mannequin due to the lack of the human face in the image. So human faces can help you with your web design and marketing by giving your target something that they recognize at a deep subconscious level and give your site and marketing a touch of the human element which some many sites lack today. Law firms, believe it or not, are really good at this. Go to your standard law firm website and in most cases you will be immediately greeted with faces. The confident faces of the attorneys, the relaxed and relieved faces of the clients during a consultation or perhaps the worry, fear and apprehensive face of a person who was just in an accident or the victim of some other unfortunate event that the law firm can help resolve.
K-I-S-S – keep it simple stupid. Timeless words but sadly, often ignored in marketing and web design. In the near decade that I have been doing web design and marketing work, I can’t tell you how many times I have seen a great marketing piece or site ruined by making it too complex or busy. The era of the crowded email templates or homepages burgeoning with ads is long gone. People want simple. Apple is without question the master of this. They take an incredibly complex and technical product and industry and make it simple. A quick look at any Apple marketing campaigns or even the Apple website itself shows the simplicity of the design. Before WestWorld began I would see marketing teasers for the series such as the one below:
Also, the WestWorld website. See the trend? Its simple. There is nothing busy about the site nor the marketing pieces tied to the show. Look at the set itself. The visitor arrival area and changing areas couldn’t be more simply design. This goes back to the tease section above. Being simple leads to a great user experience but it also leaves a lot to the imagination. Even in the park itself a very complex chain of events make up a complete loop. Dolores dropping a can in front of the Mariposa, someone (Usually Teddy or M-I-B) picks it up and it branches out from there as to what occurs. (see Delos narrative). Very complex stuff but for the visitor to WestWorld its simplified to picking up an errant can that Dolores dropped. They see nothing of the complex technology keeping everyone in their “loops” or keeping the park functioning nor should they. Present your site visitors and customers with a simple “loop” by keeping your marketing and user experience front end simplified and you’ll end up with your customers looking at you like Teddy looks at Dolores.
Mesa Hub- WestWorld’s 100+ story control center. Everything WestWorld is, is run from here. From host construction, behavior, narrative and QA its all here and its most systems are automatic with a minimal of human interference. Wherein the premise of WestWorld is simple, the technology to enable that simple experience is not. In the section above I mention that businesses need to keep the front end of their site and all marketing communications simple. Now here you have two routes. One, you can keep everything simple and do everything manually – creating and manually deploying emails, segmenting your customer groups, processing orders on your site, sending leads to the appropriate sales rep. You’ll quickly find that even though you are keeping the front end simple, the back end is not and its incredibly time-consuming manual work – the bane of a marketer’s existence. By doing everything manually you are preventing point 7 from happening. Creating a continuously immersive and consistent experience because that experience is based on when you have time to dens an email, update an order, etc. Things you don’t have time to do. The second option available to you is to establish your very own Mesa Hub. What I mean by that is to consolidate all of your marketing technologies under one roof or as few roofs as possible. This will make your job so much easier. There are many solutions that tie together CMS, CRM, email marketing, programmatic display, social media,etc. What makes this even better is that many of these solutions – such as Hubspot, Marketo and Paradot are automation focused which means your campaigns are deployed based on triggers you set up once which reduces the work you need to do on a day to day basis and allows you to focus on more important strategic matters and data analysis. They also allow you to jump in if the need arises to do something manually so you have the best of both worlds. You can create customer segments based on certain criteria, have form submissions automatically routed to the right rep, send email deployments based on customer behavior, background and interests, schedule social media postings, nuture leads, test your web experiences, display personalized content- all from one hub. If that doesn’t sound like your very own Mesa Hub I don’t know what is. Technological consolidation allows improved efficiency and better user experience when done correctly. I would recommend reviewing all of the marketing technology you currently utilize, the channels you market in and see what solutions out there that would allow you to consolidate those technologies.
Don’t be like poor Teddy in the beginning and lack a backstory. Everyone needs a backstory, even your brand. Look at the backstory of WestWorld. A technologically advanced western-themed theme park with lifelike androids where visitors could engage in every sort of violent, lustful or adventurous act that their minds can imagine. Faced early difficulties due to a conscious effort by one of its founders to keep the park from opening upon discovering the sentience of the robots. Rescued financially by Delos now run by the once good now bad William. After 30 years of success Delos has alternate plans for the park’s IP which brings it into conflict with the Park’s other co-Founder the devious and amazingly awesome Dr. Ford and culminates in more of the robots becoming sentient and laying a trap for the human visitors. Now I don’t recommend you build your brand on that particular backstory but every brand needs one. Some of the world’s top brands are the top brands exactly because of their backstory.
Your brand does not need to have a huge backstory but one that resounds with your customers. If you run a site that sells shoes your backstory can be one of a businessman with a passion for footwear and providing top quality shoes to customers. Of if you are a bakery your backstory can go back to learning how to back from a family member and how you grew that passion into your own business. People love a good backstory so make sure you have one!
The one thing you can say about WestWorld is that it is certainly immersive and consistent. Once you are in the park, all traces of the outside world are gone (except of course for an aged photo found on the Abernathy ranch that causes some real shenanigans). The park is massive in size that you can ride a horse or train for days without coming to the edge of the park. Even Ford says “every blade of grass” was designed. You need your marketing and web presence to be equally immersive and by that I mean every inch must be yours and yours along. I’m talking content, imagery, look, feel, the whole shebang. We live in an era where if I look for a particular product I can find hundreds of web pages that sell that product and 99% of them all look the same and even have the same photo and product description. Not good. Be like WestWorld and create an immersive environment for your visitors. I would saw a good rule of thumb is to pretend there are no other websites like yours and you are starting from scratch. Once again I hate to use the same example over and over again but Apple does this amazingly well. Once you are on their site there is no copied content, no stock images. Once you go to the site you see it really doesn’t compare to others. Its unique and its consistent in that. Tesla Motors also does a great job at this. You can go to the traditional auto maker sites and for the most part they are the same or the same rehashed stuff over and over. Tesla, even though in the same industry, completely reinvented itself to stand apart from the rest. They do that with their marketing as well as with their website. You can almost say they took an eCommerce like simplistic model and applied it to the auto industry. You can even go and buy Tesla accessories from their online store! Their experience is so immersive they even have their own gift shop! You don’t need your own online shop so someone can buy a shirt with your brand on it – if it works for you go for it- but strive to be a unique, one of a kind experience that sucks in your customers and keep that experience consistent across all of your marketing and communication channels. Do that and you’ll be more immersive than 90% of sites out there.
In one of the very first episodes of WestWorld we find a melancholy Dr. Ford sitting in one of the lower levels of the control facility talking to one of the original hosts when he is found by the head of the behavior department at WestWorld – Bernard. During their conversation Ford mentions to Bernard that the hosts were so much more primitive in the beginning. So much so that a simple handshake would give them away among many other faults. Looking at the hosts in the modern WestWorld, however, shows the advancement the park made in host development abet as a cost-cutting measure according to M-I-B but still an improvement nonetheless. The park was able to offer even more lifelike robots, environments and scenarios and expanded beyond the simple Western town we see at the end of the first season to include multiple areas including other towns and even war zones. The moral of the story here is to constantly be improving. This one should be another no brainer but for some reason its also widely ignored. Once businesses hit a certain size they are quite content to stop. Stop growing, stop optimizing their experiences, workflows,etc. I’ve worked with a number of very large ($500M+) companies and for the most part they all fall victim to it. Now it may be because once they hit a certain size revenue or workforce wise that they lose sight of optimization and improvement or it could be because they feel that they are big and bad and no longer have the need to improve things since they are already so much more larger than their competitors. My own personal belief is that a business should constantly be improving itself whether it is a small mom and pop shop or an enterprise with 1000+ employees. There is no end to the path of improvement. Improve your user experience, improve your marketing, improve your product selection. Improve it all and keep doing it. Fortunately on the marketing and web design side there are already a number of amazing tools that can help you continuously improve your web experience and marketing efforts. Optimizely is one great solution as is Adobe’s test and Target. Unbounce allows easy testing of landing pages and many email service providers such as Bronto, Mailchimp, Listrak, etc provide great email marketing testing capabilities. Your website as well as each of your marketing channels should be constantly tested and improved. Only then can you grow your business and keep it growing.
Why should you always be improving and testing? Because it helps to keep you one step ahead of the competition. Think of yourself as Dr. Ford trying to stay ahead of the plans of delos and its nefarious board members. You need to stay equally ahead of your competition though please don’t use androids to kill off the competition. As I have mentioned above, one way you can stay ahead is by testing and making constant improvements your mantra. By doing that you will be offering continuously better experiences and marketing efforts. That’s half the battle there. The other half is making time to do strategic research on your industry. You would not believe how many business owners I have meet over the years that did not keep up with their own industry. It was frightening. Research the latest and greatest goings on in the industry, see what people are saying about the future (ahem AI marketing folks) and see what products your customers want you to expand your offerings to include. As a marketing professional I’m constantly attending tradeshows and expos, pouring through 2-3 dozen marketing websites and talking to other marketers as well as my clients to see what strategic direction we need to go in. You can do the same. Tradeshows are great for industry knowledge and to network with other professionals in your industry which is great for gaining new perspectives. Also don’t forget to talk to your customer base as well. Surveys are a great tool as is picking up the phone and give a call to some of your top customers. Trust me they’ll love the personal touch. Find out what products they like and what ones they don’t and which ones they would like to see in the future. Let your competitor keep offering the same old products that only going to die off in a few years why you are offering the latest product everyone is itching to get. At the end of the day, if you don’t have a grin on your face like Ford does below. You aren’t trying hard enough to be ahead of your competition.