close up of bowling ball in front of bowling alley
PHOTO: shutterstock

The cardinal rule of method acting is total identification with the role. Marketers would do well to embrace some of the techniques of method acting in their interactions with customers.

Method acting is an approach to acting in which an actor aspires to complete identification with a role. With method acting, actors may live for months at a time as the characters they are portraying. Why? To find the zone, so they can deliver sincere and emotionally expressive performances.

Contemporary actors like Robert De Niro, Christian Bale, Meryl Streep and Leonardo DiCaprio have embraced method acting, but the technique’s origins date back to the 1800s, when an innovative Russian theater practitioner named Konstantin Stanislavski originated the practice. 

Stanislavski initially formulated a production technique that planned out in detail the interpretation, movements and interactions of every role in advance. He had success with that approach, but he was not satisfied. 

He went on to create a system called the Stanislavski method, a set of techniques that actors use in an effort to portray real emotions on stage by putting themselves in their characters’ places and seeing and experiencing the world as their characters would. By focusing on experiencing their characters’ existences, actors no longer feel distinctions between themselves and their roles when they reach the stage.

Related Article: Use Design Thinking to Put Yourself in Your Customers' Shoes

Become the Ball, Become the Customer

We can see this technique reflected in sports metaphors. (And yes, my examples are from decidedly atypical sports sources.) Consider Sheldon Cooper on the Big Bang Theory Wheaton Recurrence episode, who can bowl expertly because, as he proclaims, “I am the ball.” Or the advice that Ty Webb gives to Danny Noonan in Caddyshack: to harness the forces of the universe in order to golf expertly, simply “be the ball.”

As marketers, we can find lessons from method acting that apply to our profession. Perhaps we won’t ever become the ball — or even aspire to that — but we can and should try to become the customer.

Here are three lessons from method acting to help marketers become the customer — to think, feel and act like the customer.

Rule 1. Realize It’s Not About You — Bots Do

Identifying with the people in your audience means thinking the way they think. For prospective customers embarking on a journey with your brand, what’s important is not how great your product or service is; rather it’s their view of the promised benefits they will derive from your product or service. You should try to understand that mindset, and all of your marketing messages and customer interactions should be crafted with an eye toward delivering on that promise.

Technology might be able to help you do that because, ironically, bots and artificial intelligence (AI) may be doing a better job than humans at “becoming the customer,” and understanding the buyer mindset. Case in point is Facebook’s business AI, according to a column in Forbes by Jared Shaner, chief revenue officer of Trellis, an ecommerce and web design firm.

Shaner explains that the AI, which is known as Insights, tracks the impact of marketing campaigns and how users engage with them. Further still, after analyzing enough ads and seeing what customers respond to most, Insights starts creating marketing content on your behalf. When you use Insights in combination with Facebook bots, Shaner says, you begin to build a powerful customer engagement engine.

In this way, Facebook is allowing companies to inhabit the customer, to engage with the target audience in real time in an informed and conversion-minded approach.

Related Article: Your Customer Experience Won't Shine Without Empathy

Rule 2. Create Meaningful Personas — Emotion Helps

Mindset is important, but emotions are perhaps the strongest buying motivators. That is why buyer persona profiles need to include not only business priorities and pain points, but also emotional triggers. Consider the message in an E-Trade ad called Fore: There’s a brief clip of a guy hitting golf balls into the ocean from the deck of a yacht, and then this message appears on the screen:

See that guy golfing off a yacht?

That’s not you. 

Don’t get mad. Get E-Trade.

That is a great way of using a humorous twist to appeal to your target customers’ emotions — in this case, their desire to accumulate wealth. E-Trade knows that most people can’t afford the golfing-off-of-a-yacht kind of luxury. While the audience might want to be mad at the guy on the yacht, the ad suggests an alternative: investing with E-Trade.

Related Article: Which of the 3 Personalization Types Are You?

Rule 3. Practice, Practice, Practice ... Makes Perfect

As the adage says, “Practice makes perfect.” Method actors take that to heart, relying on a number of training and rehearsal techniques to improve their ability to understand and inhabit their roles. For marketers, the “practice makes perfect” approach equates to targeting and testing messages to ensure that they connect with customers.

Consider Subaru’s “Dog Tested, Dog Approved” TV commercials, which feature the Barkleys, a family of golden and Labrador retrievers. According to an article on Tier10Lab, the inspiration for this marketing campaign began with Subaru president Thomas Doll’s idea that the automaker should “trade in its investment on horsepower for heart.”

Doll reasoned that, “instead of trying to compete with brands like Honda and Toyota that tout speed,” Subaru should present itself as a “lifestyle choice rather than a simple vehicle to purchase,” according to Tier10Lab. The result was a marketing approach that featured kids, “feel-good-feel-fuzzy emotions” — and puppies.

It works. Subaru has grown by connecting with its customers’ passion points. People who buy Subarus love dogs: More than half of Subaru drivers own dogs, according to Tier10Lab.

What is perhaps most interesting is the calibration of the messaging that was done to truly identify with the target customer. Subaru tried different variations of the “Dog Tested” stories. One of the commercials features a Subaru dealer selling vehicles to the Barkleys. But testing revealed that the “sweet spot is having these dogs that drive Subaru vehicles tell human stories that let us laugh at ourselves,” Randy Hughes, executive creative director at Carmichael Lynch, the agency that developed the commercials, is quoted as saying in AdWeek.

Related Article: How the Power of Simple Helps to Navigate the Buyer Journey

Keep it Real

Method acting is known for tapping into powerful emotional truths. Some now say it has become stale and insincere because it has become automatic. But connecting by becoming the subject — thinking as they think, feeling as they feel — remains a powerful technique.

By way of full disclosure, while I am darn mad that I don’t have a yacht, I have not become an E-Trade customer. And while I have not yet succumbed to the lure of buying a Subaru, the company has succeeded in inhabiting my psyche. The Driving Lesson commercial is my favorite ad (and my two goofball golden retrievers’ favorite ad) — perhaps of all time. Why? They just get us.