Every StartUp should start out to alienate someone.

New companies need difference

How Birdman can inspire StartUps

I saw Birdman last night.

It’s fresh. It’s human. It’s believable. It’s also unbelievable. It’s dramatic. And it is inspirational.

It is so distinctive and inventive; I thought there’s got to be some lessons for any ambitious StartUp…

I like to imagine the creative process when I see a film like that. The narrative I create is full of naïve assumptions about how films get made. I assume the director is the leader, the director of a debate and therefore the ‘starter’…or as John Hegarty of BBH used to say of the difference between agency planners and creatives, ‘the first to piss in the pot’. After that, others take their turn.

So a film this good requires everyone to input but also all those who input to agree on the fundamentals, to pull in the same direction, no matter how brave it feels sometimes. The director creates the terms of the debate. Everyone needs to build from that.

Besides the director, in the centre circle there’s the actors, the director of photography, the producers but there are also those with secondary input like the lighting, editing and set design talent, people who can make a big difference to the output and if they get it wrong can undermine the impact.

Which gets you thinking: as it grows, how do you organise a StartUp to maximise everyone’s creative talent? You need to be clear about who is in charge, who is in the centre and who is secondary…but never in a way that blocks creativity. Everyone needs to be free to make sure their bit lives up to the overall ambition. But there does need to be a coherence, an organising theme, a sense of purpose that drives them and leads them all.

The Birdman ensemble agreed to do something different. Often people asks: what do we want the audience to do? But a smarter question sometimes is: what do we want to do to the audience, to the heads, to their hearts?

That subtle shift of emphasis gives you different ideas.

On Birdman, they seemed very clear how they wanted the audience to feel, as opposed to think. In my imaginary fly-on-the-wall documentary, words on the flip chart would include: shock, raw, exhilarate, confound, occasionally lost, amused, thankful, respected.

But the Birdman folk knew not everyone will like this. The knew some people will feel these feelings: annoyed, let-down, condescended, belittled. That’s why on IMBD there are a lot of 10s and a lot of 1s. Most good films are 7/8s.

I believe often better brands come from aiming for the 10 & 1s. A great brand should seek to excite some but also to annoy others. Who and why will people fall into these camps for your brand? Try writing down 20 thoughts on each.

To get to this point of love and alienation, the Birdman ensemble agreed to play with conventions, stretch them, disrupt them. But what I think it interesting is this: the conventions are there. Just played with/stretched/disrupted. They seem to do this knowingly. In that sense, it’s a thought-through, analytical film.

That’s good learning for a StartUp. A great brand concept should be knowing. It should have thought through the conventions and then played with them. It should be very self-aware about what is doing and what it is doing it against.

Another thing that struck me was the immediacy. There was no set-up, no context, no back-story. It’s just there. Like real life.

For example, within the delivery of two or three lines, we completely get Edward Norton’s character. He has a complete sense of his character’s life. When he speaks, we know the personality beneath. He’s distinct. He’s rounded. He’s entirely believable.

That generally only comes because it’s thought through. It’s analysed. It’s constructed.

Immediacy is key to a powerful branded identify. It’s more credible that way. You want a person to get you straight off. It’s more costly to require repeat visits. And people can’t be bothered.

The thing I take away is this. You need something so well thought through that it’s emotional impact is immediate, and in such a way that it forces people apart, so the people who do like you feel they are part of a special club, of like minded people who are just as ……. (insert the most relevant adverb here eg. smart, stylish, savvy, progressive etc) as they are. And the others walk away moaning about you. But it creates a debate. And that makes noise. Which creates fame.

And now you can guess what gets my Oscar vote when then call me.

(Yes, it’s kind of sad that I’m watching great films and thinking about the learning for StartUps. But I’m with friends. You get the all-consuming nature of this.)

7 thoughts on “Every StartUp should start out to alienate someone.”

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