If you’re old enough, you might remember the 1967 movie, “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.” Well… you don’t really need to be old enough. The movie’s before my time and I’ve watched it.
In the movie, window washer J. Pierpont Finch, reads a book titled the same as the movie, and takes it to heart. Shortly after starting to read the book, he talks his way into a mailroom job. Within hours, he’s manipulated and bumbled his way upstairs and eventually lands a coveted corner office without, as the title suggests, really trying. At least, he didn’t really try working for his success. He did try a lot of manipulation, fast talking, and subversion.
Despite the name, the point of the movie wasn’t to instruct, but rather to ridicule the corporate establishment of the day. In 1967, there was a lot of ridicule directed at the establishment. Most was from the outside, but this one was from the inside. The main character is clean shaven, with short hair and wore a three-button suit.
On the streets, in the real world of 1967, ridicule and rebellion came from unshaven hippies and flower children. The movie seemed to pretend that the real world didn’t exist. By doing so, it snuck its way into the heart of enemy territory – its audience, and object of ridicule, were both squarely the establishment.
Another 1967 movie set in pretend-land was “The Graduate.” “The Graduate” was also very much an anti-establishment movie, yet rebellion in this fantasy world meant failing to dress properly for dinner. The Berkeley campus, as portrayed in “The Graduate”, had nothing in common with what was really going on in 1967 on campus. In the movie, the students were clean and wore sweaters and smoking jackets.
The interesting thing about both of those movies is the way they used a side door in to present their message of change and revolt, to an audience that would never have allowed a more direct version in. Both movies used surface images of the establishment so they would be accepted by the establishment, and, once safely inside, they jabbed and twisted the knife.
To succeed in marketing, don’t follow the message as scripted in the movies. Rather, follow the technique used by the movie writers and producers. That technique is to speak in the language of your intended audience. Those movies wanted to take on the hypocrisy of big business, and of the upper class, and they wanted to do so in front of the people driving the hypocrisy. What they did was speak in the language of the establishment, and demonstrate rather than state their point.
If your audience is a group of engineers, speak in a language that engineers find familiar. If it’s accountants, speak finance. Don’t tell your audience that you’re good, show them you are. Show them what you do that makes you good. Then, follow through with performance and service.
As far as succeeding without really trying goes, you can’t. The title’s a bit of click-bait.