03/27/2013 05:47 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Positioning: Why Argo Didn't Need a Fat Guy in a Bikini to Win an Oscar

There was once a time when creating something novel was all it took to get people to notice you. I like to call it the "fat guy in a bikini" approach, and while it may draw some initial intention, it rarely leads to any deeper engagement. These days, we are so overwhelmed by the sheer amount of content that novel doesn't work anymore as a technique. Today, it is all about creating value. Why else do you think so many advertising groups have invested in capturing customer data and leveraging analytics to figure out a target audience? Unless you are in the business of selling bikinis to overweight men, you've got to engage with value.

I think Hollywood provides an incredibly interesting space to explore this concept. It is no secret that the film industry is a tough one to break into, and part of this is because of the sheer amount of participants already playing in it. Think of how many movie ideas must come across the desks of film executives every day. A very small percentage of pitches actually make their way to the big screen, and even then their success (measured via the box office) is still in the hands of the audience. Given the (outrageous) price of movie tickets these days, those in the industry have to literally sell a film to you far in advance to its release. You may think it starts with the previews, but before it even gets there, it starts with an effective logline.

The most successful movies out there have a logline that looks to engage an audience through value, not novelty. Consider the following two films and their loglines:

  • The Cabin in the Woods -- "Five friends go for a break at a remote cabin in the woods, where they get more than they bargained for. Together, they must discover the truth behind the cabin in the woods."
  • Argo -- "A dramatization of the 1980 joint CIA-Canadian secret operation to extract six fugitive American diplomatic personnel out of revolutionary Iran."

I don't really have a clue what might happen in The Cabin in the Woods given that logline, and in retrospect I think a lot of people who saw it left feeling like they still weren't sure what happened. Argo, however, very clearly speaks to what the film will be about. There isn't really much in the way of novelty (given that the event has already taken place), but it does orient itself as being a valuable story in the context of today's political situations (key terms being CIA, American, revolutionary, Iran).

One of the loglines relies completely on intrigue and mystery, the other on clarity and value. One of the above films won an Oscar for best picture of the year, while the other was named one of 2012's biggest flops. I think you get my point.

In marketing, there is a concept similar to a logline referred to as a positioning statement. And as you prepare to market your offer, you better have a corresponding statement to go along with it. Take a lesson from Hollywood, though. Don't fake it till you make it, riding on the coattails of intrigue by employing a fat guy in a bikini strategy and chasing after anyone who might have taken notice. Write your statement well enough and you will automatically attract your best prospects. A good positioning statement, like a successful logline, should:

1. Be concise and memorable.
2.Clarify the value.
3. Be compelling.

In distilling the value of what you bring into a single simple phrase, you force yourself to be razor sharp in communicating your offer. And the sharper you are in refining that value, the easier it is to engage your target market.

It isn't about convincing people to accept your offer anymore. It's now about enabling them to want to buy in, whether that be through time, money, or energy. How does this influence the way you write about and think about your offer?

It seems insane to even suggest this, but too often I hear positioning statements which are impossible to understand or don't connote real value to the market to which they are selling. Watch the video below to ensure that you don't make the same mistake, and feel free to share in the comments section your own powerful logline. After all, Hollywood is always looking for the next big idea!

Positioning - Easy to Understand from Peter Sheahan on Vimeo.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and Peter Sheahan on the topic of Making It Happen in Small Business, focused on turning those with the ideas into those with the influence. To see all of the posts in the series, click here.