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E-Marketing Performance Blog

STOP CRYING: What This Is Us Can Teach You About Digital Marketing

digital marketing lessons from this is us

I have a confession…I am completely and utterly wrecked by the most recent episode of This Is Us. I’ve been addicted to the show since the beginning, but after the January 23 episode “That’ll Be the Day,” I almost wish I had never started watching! I just can’t get the images out of my head.


So I hope you’ll indulge me as I use this blog for a little therapy and try to turn my ridiculous obsession into something productive.

Marketing Lessons From This Is Us

The fact is, This Is Us is an incredibly well-written show. And if you look closely, you’ll find that there are a lot of marketing takeaways from its success. Whether you’re a fan or not, you can enhance your digital marketing by taking a few pages out of the This Is Us playbook.

1. Be Different

If you think there’s no way your business can find something to differentiate itself in your industry, think about all of the television shows and movies that have been produced covering every possible topic under the sun. It seems there can’t possibly be anything new to say, and based on the number of reboots out there, it seems like creators are getting to the bottom of the barrel.

Then comes This Is Us. While I can’t say a similar story has never been told, I can’t think of too many shows or movies that revolve around a family of “triplets” where the third child is adopted and of another race. But beyond that, This Is Us has adopted a storytelling style that isn’t quite like anything we’ve ever seen. Sure, writers have employed flashbacks for forever, but the way they are used on This Is Us to weave different periods of these people’s lives together is truly unique. Not to mention all the twists and turns along the way.

It’s nearly impossible to offer something that no one in the world is offering, but the way you do it can be unique and compelling. It could be how your product is packaged. Or maybe you do something special when someone becomes a customer. Just look for ways to do things in a way that none of your competitors do it.

2. Tug On Their Heartstrings

What This Is Us does better than anything is make an emotional connection with its audience, as evidenced by its reputation for making viewers cry.

this is us tissue supply

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Ok, so granted, it’s a lot easier to make an emotional connection as a TV show than it is as a business. But it can be done. The key is to get to know your audience. What do they care about? What are their challenges? How can you show them you understand?

You may not reduce them to tears, but if you can make a personal connection and make them care about your product, you have a huge leg up on the competition.

Here are some ways you can make an emotional connection with your audience:

  • Talk like them. Use a voice your audience can identify with, and use keyword research to incorporate the same terms and language your customer uses.
  • Tell a story. Storytelling is all the rage in content marketing, and with good reason. Tell your audience how you came to be, including your struggles and triumphs along the way. Use case studies to tell the stories of how your products or services have helped others.
  • Personalize it. Provide personalized content when possible. This goes beyond simply using their name in an email. It’s about serving them the RIGHT email based on their previous interactions with you. It’s about showing them the right ad at the right time in their customer journey. It’s about paying attention to searcher intent when you optimize for keywords so that the visitor gets content that really fits their needs.
  • Have personality. Don’t be afraid to throw in some humor in your content or hit your audience with a bit of nostalgia. I don’t feel like I’m very susceptible to advertising. I don’t even notice most of it. However, this particular Facebook video ad caught my eye because it was funny and it played into the frustration I personally have felt trying to produce video for marketing. (Although now this ad kind of gives me bad This is Us flashbacks 🔥).

3. Add a Little Mystery

Something that has differentiated This Is Us from the family dramas that preceded it is that it has revolved around a central mystery that keeps people wondering and coming back for more.

(OK, everyone who watches the show should know this already, but just in case SPOILER ALERT.)

In a twist in the second episode of the series, we see the family matriarch Rebecca arrive in the present day at her son Randall’s house, not with her husband Jack who had been shown in flashbacks throughout the first two episodes, but with his best friend. It becomes clear within the next few episodes that Jack had died, but the details of his death have been released slowly. It’s only now, well into Season 2, that we’re getting the full story.

Social media offers a great way to add suspense to your brand. If you have a new product release coming, tell your social media followers that something big is coming and it will be revealed in a Facebook Live video event. Or have followers guess what the news might be.

A local country music festival used this technique to get people excited about finding out who was going to perform.

Incorporate mystery in social media

Blog headlines offer another way to serve up mystery. Here are some formulas that will hook readers in:

  • The Secret Of…
  • Why You Don’t Want To…
  • What [Some Successful Group of People] Do Differently
  • Stop Doing This Now…

Just be careful with these type of headlines. If the post doesn’t deliver on the promise of the headline, you’ll gain the reputation of just putting out clickbait.

4. No Filler

Every episode, nay, every MOMENT of This Is Us has a purpose. It could be character development. It could be to set up a future plot point. Or you may not know what the purpose is until several episodes later when a comment or detail suddenly makes sense. Even something as simple as a scene where the characters are picking out postcards on a Memphis trip can have significance later on (another spoiler, the purchaser of said postcard, William, knew he was about to die and bought the postcard as a final goodbye to his daughter-in-law).

Like This Is Us, there should be a purpose for every page, nay, every WORD of our content. Content should be no longer or shorter than it needs to be to serve that purpose. Edit content ruthlessly. More importantly, decide on the purpose before you write a word. And make sure each page has a goal that is achieved with at least one primary call-to-action.

every web page has a purpose


5. Attention to Detail

This goes along with “No Filler,” but there’s more to it. In This Is Us, no detail is missed. Just the nature of the series requires this, with stories being linked to as many as 3 different time periods in one episode. Beyond that, everything from the music and to the sets is meticulously selected. Nothing is by accident, down to the placement of items in the scenes. If you’re caught up on the show, rumor has it that if you rewatch early episodes, you’ll notice a (sadly) familiar item on the counter.

Your web presence requires this same kind of attention to detail. The images you select, the placement and appearance of calls-to-action, the formatting of content, etc., must all support the purpose of the content and lead prospects to the ultimate goal.

6. Real Interaction

The characters on This Is Us are so real, and fortunately, so are the actors that play them. Most are very active on social media and bring their unique personalities to their posts. I am a member of a This Is Us group (#dork), and fans in the group routinely brag about how a certain actor responded to or liked one of their posts. This means the world to the fans. Sterling K. Brown, who plays fan-favorite Randall, even took to Facebook live after a particularly emotional episode and shared his thoughts with fans.

This is the type of connection you should be striving to have with your audience. The bare minimum is responding to comments and issues followers may pose on social media. Fans may not expect famous actors to respond to them, but they certainly do expect a response from a company they’ve given money to or are considering purchasing from.

To truly be successful, though, you need to go beyond that bare minimum. Seek to truly interact with your audience. It’s social media, not a broadcast network. This is even more critical as Facebook algorithm continues to tighten. Posting links won’t cut it. Get involved in conversations. Engage in Live video. Participate in Groups or create one of your own.

Inspiration Is Everywhere

Hopefully, you’ll take a cue from This Is Us and incorporate some of these ideas into your marketing plan. But don’t stop there. Lessons on marketing are everywhere if you just look. What can your favorite show or book teach you about marketing? If you take a minute to think about it, you’ll probably find the answer is quite a lot.

Share a marketing takeaway from your favorite media in the comments below.

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