I learned a very expensive lesson over the last few months.
I was getting ready to market my new book and was paying close attention to recent book launches that had caught my eye.
I learned a lot of great lessons by watching these guys.
But the most expensive lesson was this: you can’t beat Tim Ferriss at his own game!
It Started With the 4-Hour Body…
One of the commonalities that I noticed was the amazing use of video trailers.
I mean, seriously – have you seen Tim’s trailer for the 4-Hour Body?
It’s awesome – it gets your blood pumping, and leaves you excited about all the things that you’ll learn how to do (appealing to a very specific target market that I just happen to be a part of, of course).
Just in case you haven’t seen it, it’s embedded here below – it’s only 60-seconds long, and you should really watch it before you keep reading:
Powerful stuff, right?
(Jonathan Fields also had a very powerful video trailer, in a very different style, but it wasn’t released to the public until well into my story.)
A lot of my success has been by virtue of paying attention to what other people have done well, and applying their strategies to my own projects. So I decided to create a trailer like Tim’s.
Was I setting myself up for failure?
Maybe – I read somewhere that Tim’s trailer had a production budget of about $12,000, and I didn’t have anywhere near that kind of money to invest.
But I was going to give it a shot.
Creating My Own Trailer
I started by reverse-engineering Tim’s 4-Hour Body trailer.
I watched it about forty times, transcribed the text, and marked down the timestamps. I noted down what the music was doing to my emotions as I watched it. Then I wrote a script for my own trailer.
Shooting custom footage was beyond my budget, so I trolled royalty-free video sites like iStockPhoto, Pond5, and eClip for videos that were appropriate to each section of the trailer (actually, a lot of that was done by my talented assistant).
I bought the stock videos, assembled them all in the video editing suite, and created a working “prototype” of the video – it still needed a lot of work, but it had the timings about right, so I could take it to an audio designer to have music composed.
While the incredibly talented audio designer worked on the soundtrack, I finished up the video.
All in all, this trailer cost over $1,000, plus a huge amount of my time and attention for several months. Here is the end product (also less than a minute long):
Is it good? Yes, it is.
Is it as good as Tim Ferriss’s trailer? No, it isn’t.
Some Free Advice from Mitch Joel
Around the time that my trailer was in post-production, I got on the phone with Mitch Joel to talk about book marketing (Mitch is one of the contributors to the book, and very kindly agreed to give me some advice).
The conversation turned to trailers and videos, and he suggested that I focus on creating something useful – something that actually provided some valuable information to my audience.
It was too late to change directions on the trailer, and I was too attached to my vision for it, but I decided to compromise, and throw together a second video.
I created a slideshow of key lessons from the book, bought a $30 music track from iStockPhoto, and threw it all into my $40/month Animoto account.
The whole thing took less than an afternoon, and here is the result:
Is it just me, or is this video better than the trailer? :S
The Difference between Copying and Reverse-Engineering
I learned an expensive and valuable lesson from this experience (you get what you pay for, I guess), and the lesson is that copying and reverse-engineering aren’t the same thing.
Copying is trying to recreate the deliverables that someone else uses, whereas reverse-engineering is about trying to understand what made those deliverables effective in the first place.
I reverse-engineered Tim’s trailer – I made careful note of the story arc, emotional implications, the effect of the music, etc.
But I didn’t reverse-engineer his strategy – I just tried to copy a piece of it, without taking the time to think through how it really fit into, and contributed to, his overall goals.
The technical term for this is: FAIL! 😉
You Can’t Out-Tim-Ferriss Tim Ferriss
Can I do great work on a tight budget? You bet I can.
But can I do better work than a professional production team on less than 10% of their budget? No, clearly I can’t.
And more importantly, did I need a Tim Ferriss-esque video trailer to achieve my goals? No, I probably didn’t.
If I really needed a trailer like Tim’s, then I could (should) have found a professional team, and either paid them to do it, or bartered services to get the job done. That’s what Marcus Sheridan did, and his branding video is amazing.
But I didn’t really need a trailer like Tim’s.
Instead of reverse-engineering the trailer, I should have reverse-engineered his strategy and success. How did he get to where he is today? How did he get so many people to buy and share his books?
my situation, and my goals.
In hindsight, I’m pretty sure that very little of it had to do with the trailer…
What do you think? Which video is better – the $1,000+ trailer, or the $70 video that I put together in an afternoon? Have you had an experience of trying to copy-and-paste someone else’s tactics onto your situation, and not understood why they didn’t work?
Danny Iny (@DannyIny) is the co-founder of Firepole Marketing, the “Freddy Krueger of Blogging”, and the co-author (with Guy Kawasaki, Brian Clark, and many others) of Engagement from Scratch! (available on Amazon, or as a free download). The latest and greatest thing you can get from him (for free, of course) is his Naked Marketing Manifesto, about marketing that really works!