Business takeaways from fictional marketing geniuses: President Business - Heart Internet Blog - Focusing on all aspects of the web

The first part in this series covered practical business tips from Willy Wonka, and this second instalment looks at what you can learn about promoting your business from The Lego Movie’s very own President Business.

President Business’s success lies largely in the perception of his brand, which he develops using a wide range of different mediums. Like Willy Wonka, everything is developed around control and a fundamental, consistent message. Whilst we strongly recommend you use these tips for good practice rather than evil dictatorship, there’s no doubt that there’s a surprising amount to be learned from how President Business created his fictional empire…and the things he got wrong.

1. Make processes clear (“Let’s take extra care to follow the instructions”)

Everything President Business does is an exaggeration of his dictatorship, but in a toned-down form, a lot of his actions are surprisingly practical. At the beginning of the film, Emmet works from one of many ‘How to’ instruction guides. Whilst this guide is a kind of parody Lego self-help document, it has the effect of setting out expectations and making the process of being a ‘good’ citizen in Bricksburg clear.

If your business offers complex products or set ups, it’s a good idea to have clear explanatory documentation to support it. Not only does it save your time, it prevents your customers getting frustrated and feeling overwhelmed. Even if your business is pretty straightforward, guides that outline common FAQs, terms and conditions, account management etc., can help. Step-by-step guides also help to establish expectations and boundaries for communication with your customers. For example, creating a guide to outline the process for getting support from you and when ensures everyone is on the same page from the start.

Keep guides simple, practical, and genuinely helpful, and revisit them regularly to make sure they’re still relevant and factually accurate.

2. Be positive (“I love everyone in this room…Keep it up guys!”)

Even if you feel like putting your evil overlord boots on, maintaining a positive public persona goes a long way. Unlike President Business, be genuine. If sentiment doesn’t come naturally to you, find a different channel to show appreciation and respect. You don’t need to spend money or perform huge unrelated gestures to make people happier: listening and actioning goes a lot further.

The most important thing is to be realistically positive in front of staff and customers, or you run the risk of them feeling ignored or not understood. Provide an outlet for feedback and take time to listen to all customers equally, regardless of how much they spend or who they are.

3. Keep redefining your goals (“Let’s rebuild that roof to be even higher!”)

During The Lego Movie, one of President Business’s minions reports “Coffee sales are through the roof, sir’” to him. He replies, “Great to hear it, let’s rebuild that roof to be even higher!” Take some time to acknowledge and celebrate your achievements before redefining your goals and working towards your next aim. Set quarterly and yearly goals for your business and website, whether they’re as specific as ‘Increase sales by X%’ or as vague as ‘Get more traffic’, they’ll give you something concrete to work towards.

4. Use a wide variety of media (“Where are my pants?”)

President Business has tight control over all media and advertising mechanisms, and he utilises everything from TV to music for promoting himself and his brand. President Business’s Octan corporation appears numerous times throughout the movie, mimicking real-life product placement techniques and also showing how pervasive the brand is across every aspect of Legoland life.

Adapt this in a realistic way by expanding the media and formats you use to market your own business. There are dozens of different things you can do, ranging from paid advertising campaigns to infographics to local radio adverts and guest posts. Try something you haven’t tried before, and run some different campaigns backed by testing to see which are the most successful and give you the most return on your money.

5. Know your customers (“Just answer this one simple question: Who wants a taco?”)

In the film, President Business’s success is largely due to the fact that he knows his citizens extremely well and gets their attention and support by appealing to their interests, through schemes such as Taco Tuesday and trashy TV like ‘Where’s my pants?’

Wildstyle quizzes Emmet on his favourite things:

“What’s your favourite restaurant?”

“Any chain?”

“Favourite TV show?”

“’Where are my pants?’”

“Favourite song?”

“’Everything is awesome’”.

His answers exasperate her as she knows it means Emmet is a fully indoctrinated ‘ordinary’ citizen loyal to President Business. However, it also shows how the standard citizen can be profiled. Many businesses work solely on data: they know their customers by what products they have or how much they spend. However, you can target your customers much more effectively by knowing their interests, lifestyles, and likely behaviour. Social media is a great tool for getting to know your customers really well. Not only does it help communicate effectively with your customers, getting an idea of what tone to use and what’s interesting to them, but it creates good feeling and your customers will feel understood and appreciated. However, unlike President Business, you’re not moulding them to behave how you want them to behave; it’s understanding where they’re coming from and what they need from you.

Later on, President Business takes things a step further by attaching a tracking device to Emmet in order to monitor where he is. Do the less creepy and more legal virtual version of this with cookies so you can remarket/retarget your visitors.

6. Offer customer freebies and discounts (“Every citizen gets a free taco and my love”)

The idea of free tacos on Taco Tuesday is something that goes down well with the residents of Bricksburg, and it’s easily applied to pretty much any business through free stuff and discounts. We run offers for both new and existing customers so that there’s something for everyone, and we also have contests and free swag on a regular basis. Again, it’s about knowing what appeals to your customers and having purpose behind it.

7. Be organised (“President Business was confused by all the chaos…”)

One of the reasons President Business was motivated to build his empire in the first place is because he wanted consistency and uniformity. Whilst his ultimate plan of gluing everything in place is extreme, the general principle of good organisation and elimination of chaos is essential for any business. This covers everything from making sure you have the right tools and resources to using them correctly and effectively. For example, having a strict process for using and formatting information in your project management software helps maintain focus and makes everything easier in the long term. Spend a little extra time when you perform key admin tasks so you only need to do them once.

8. Team work is an ongoing task (“Everything is cool when you’re part of a team”)

The most well-known aspect of the film is the title song “Everything is awesome”. The emphasis on team work is repeated by Emmet towards the end: “You’re all talented, and imaginative. But you can’t work together as a team. I’m just a construction worker. But when I had a plan, and we were all working together we could build a skyscraper.”

Whilst creativity and individuality are important, this needs balancing with effective teamwork to really grow your business successfully. Even if you’re a team of one, anyone that you work with in any respect is part of your team. The key to a successful team lies in clear roles and open communication. Strengthen your team by analysing the strongest and weakest elements of it on a regular basis and setting specific goals to improve key areas.

9. Be a positive problem-solver (“I have a way to fix that…”)

“People everywhere are always messing with my stuff! But I have a way to fix that…”

President Business literally tries to ‘fix’ things using glue, but being an effective problem-solver is key to pretty much everything in life. Half of that is simply your attitude towards a problem: anger is an instinctive emotion, but it can very quickly turn detrimental. Approaching an issue with a proactive ‘let’s fix it’ attitude generally means you’re already a good way in to getting it resolved. If it’s becoming overwhelming or counter-productive, put it on a list and do something easier, then go back to it later with a clear mind.

10. Have high standards (“All I’m asking for is total perfection”)…but be flexible and realistic

The Lego Movie leads up to the outcome of President Business being disappointed because he can never achieve the complete control and perfection he craves. However, there’s still a get out – by doing number three and redefining your goals. President Business is told, “You still can change everything” by Emmet right at the end of the film, and he changes his approach. Whilst you need to have a strong, clear vision for your marketing and every aspect of your business, you also need to be ready to change as needed, whether that’s a different direction or supplier or service you’re offering.

11. Perception is everything (“He’s such a cool guy”)

Just like Willy Wonka, President Business is a strong – if mini – figure with a publicly consistent personality. Unlike Willy Wonka, his public and private sides are polar opposites (Good Cop Bad Cop style), and it’s the public perception of him that people are attracted to; Emmet says early on, “Man, he’s such a cool guy. I always want to hear more”.

The perception of you and your business is – for marketing purposes at least – usually more important than the truth. Always be consistent with your branding, tone, and project the way you want to be seen. At the end of the day, there’s a world of difference between the perceptions and implications of Lego as “small plastic blocks” vs. “a highly sophisticated interlocking brick system”, and whilst physically and literally there’s no difference between the two descriptions, how you describe yourself and your products affects the way people perceive them, think about them, and even use them.

12. Persevere (“I never got a trophy just for showing up”)

Even the most successful people have had times where things haven’t gone right and they’ve felt like giving up. The only way you truly fail is when you fail to try, and in many ways this is one of the most important recurring messages throughout the film. Emmet is encouraged throughout the film to keep trying (“You must use the instructions inside your mind” “Use your instincts”), and because he does, he succeeds in saving the world from President Business.

Fundamentally this is what Lego – and life – is all about. You have some basic instructions, but the rest is up to you. Now more than ever, thanks to the web, social media, and continually expanding opportunities for small businesses, you have a lot of the same tools as the most successful brands in the world. They are the real-world Lego building blocks of business: everyone has access to the same pieces, it’s how you use them that makes the difference.

The next part in our Fictional Marketing Geniuses series looks at the infamous Turbo Man action figure from cult Arnie film Jingle All The Way, so check back next week for more tips!

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