Why Your Marketing Needs a Controlling Idea

One of the biggest problems with modern marketing is that the majority of it is one-sided, technology-driven sales funnel messages that slam into the “target” like the ocean waves hitting the rocks. And the intent is the same — wear you down so eventually, you will succumb and buy—or leave the beach entirely.

To paraphrase The Mandalorian“This ISN’T the way.”  

As we know, marketing is a three-phase process by which the marketing organization makes a potential customer curious leading to the customer wanting some enlightenment and finally a commitment. To do this, your marketing really needs a controlling idea — just like a novel or a movie.  

So what is a controlling idea?  I like how Hollywood scriptwriters (sorry about the strike) talk about it. They say “the controlling idea is a one-sentence statement of the story’s ultimate meaning expressed through the action and aesthetic emotion of the last act’s climax. More specifically, a controlling idea is the main takeaway from the film or show, expressed through the action and aesthetic emotion of the last act’s climax.”

Now, what marketing have you seen recently that really does that well? Not much, because most marketers are far too busy pushing out content about themselves or sending you coupons or deals—instead of doing real marketing.  

Let’s look a few famous controlling ideas —

  • Romeo and Juliet — True love is worth dying for
  • Star Wars — Hope survives the relentless pursuit of power and control
  • The Avengers — Heroes may not be perfect, but they are still heroes

You want to know the controlling idea? Fast forward to the end of the movie where everyone is gathered around and usually everything is finally ok and then someone sometimes says it (just to make sure). So the controlling idea of YOUR marketing can be the same thing. Think about your customer’s hero’s journey and what it looks like at the end (the successful end not the negative one because that just wouldn’t make as good of a climatic scene).

Let’s do a few

  • Dentist  — Your smile is everything. — Happy, smiling patient knowing their teeth are gonna be ok — and showing off that smile
  • Financial Planner — You will feel great when your wealth is protected. — Happy family, secure knowing their wealth is protected from scammers and risk
  • Marketing company — Your marketing can enrich your customers’ lives — Happy client seeing their business grow and feeling GREAT about the marketing they are doing.

You might say — wow, the controlling idea sounds a lot like a tagline. Yep — some of the best taglines are designed to help you MEMORIZE a company and its offer and often that short form is foreshadowing that important climatic scene. A great tagline does all of that, but THE most important aspect is the memorization.  

So when you know the ideal climatic scene you’re aiming for — make your marketing message about how they GET there and how GREAT it could be for them. When you run out of things to say on social media — use your controlling idea again and get back to the story. There are a million ways to do this effectively, but sadly most commercial social feeds are boring, self-centered and WAY too sales-driven.  

Try experimenting with controlling ideas and real storytelling in your marketing. It works for books and movies—and it will work for you. And I’m always happy to jump on a call and help with this. Go get ‘em.