My wife and I are obsessed with bad horror movies.
We’ve watched hundreds over the past couple of years. We’ve compiled a database of common tropes, we keep a rating and review system just for ourselves, and we’ve even created an accompanying Bingo game to go along with our bad movie nights.
I reveal this embarrassing fact only so that you know we have some credibility on the subject.
And one of the most common tropes we find among the worst of them is simple over-reach.
Like Claude C. Hopkins said, “most business wrecks which I have encountered are due to over-reaching,” and most horror movie wrecks stem from the same root.
What do I mean? Filmmakers who only had a few hundred dollars at their disposal attempting to mimic the look of big budget blockbusters, instead of working with what they had.
Or trying to create intricate, complex monster costumes without any of the necessary skills, training, or materials, instead of adjusting their screenplay or concept to fit their capabilities.
And sometimes you’ll find yourself asking, “What did the filmmakers have access to that they built this movie around?”
It takes place on a boat? The director’s friend owned a boat.
It’s set underground? Somebody was able to finagle access to an old war bunker.
But some of the best horror movies—the ones that have redeeming filmic qualities—are the result of exactly that.
What they call in Grand Strategy “adjusting your end to your means.”
The original Paranormal Activity was shot for $15,000 with reasonably inexperienced actors. So they shot in a house, using home video cameras on tripods, without a real script—so it would look and sound natural—changing the end (the final movie they’d make) to fit their means (their budget, actors, and equipment). It would go on to make almost $200 million at the box office and invigorate an entire genre.
Hell House LLC was supposed to take place in a typical abandoned house or building. But when they couldn’t find what they were looking for, they started searching for haunted house attractions. They rewrote some of the script and concept (the end) to fit their new location (their means). The movie went on to receive positive reviews, two sequels, and Director’s Cut.
And it works in marketing, too.
What did Dollar Shave Club have access to? Marketing knowledge combined with improv experience, and a friend with a camera. And they created one of the most famous ads of its decade—which led to a series of copycats, which turned it into a whole style. If they’d tried to simply copy the ads of the big name razor companies, it’s likely we’d have never heard of them.
If you don’t have the resources, capabilities, or equipment necessary to make something that looks like it had an enormous budget, or which matches the prevailing trendy aesthetic, try something else.
Something different, with what you have, and with what you’re good at.
Of course, you still need to study what makes the greats great so that you can learn, improve, and grow—but you need to do it your way.
When Four Seasons (the hotel, not the landscaping business) first launched in the 60s, they had no money for traditional advertising. So what did they do? Instead of trying to figure out how to copy, or out-do, the best, they figured out what they could be the best at with what they had access to:
“We decided to make food our drawing card and establish the dining room as our showcase, something people would come for and talk about, thus attracting others. In the end, we decided to serve only roast beef, and make our roast beef the best in the city,” said founder Isadore Sharp.
Adjusting their end to their means both saved them money and allowed them to be the best at something, instead of trying to copy the popular hotels of the time.
This very newsletter is the result of adjusting the end to fit my means. I want to help business owners through interesting content, but I don’t currently have the skills, energy, or equipment to be the best on YouTube. I honestly don’t have the drive to be a great social media influencer. I haven’t had the educational background to be an amazing analyst.
One option is to invest the time, money, and resources necessary to overcome those barriers, attempt to out-do the competition, and hope for the best. Or I could adjust the end (the format and medium of my content) to my means (my unique abilities, interests, and resources).
So what do I have access to?
A lifelong fascination with marketing and advertising, and a career as a strategy consultant. An obsession with history and biographies. A personal reliance on philosophy. A compulsion for self-improvement. A database of quotes and lessons from every book I read. And a passion for writing.
This newsletter is simply a combination of those interests and resources, written for one person in mind, with the goal helping them get closer to what they want out of their business. And since business ownership can be all-consuming, what they want out of their life, as well.
As a result, I’m not in a rush or a race because nobody else can do exactly this, in exactly this way. Because the end is fitted precisely to my means, which are mine alone.
What can you do that nobody else can? What do you have access to? What do you like doing that everyone else seems to hate doing? What can you say about your business that nobody else can claim?
Don’t limit your ambition. Don’t put a cap on what you’re ultimately capable of. But know what’s truly possible now, and put everything you have into it.
It might feel scary to stop copying from “the best,” or to do something you haven’t seen done before.
But once you realize that you’re no longer racing because you’re on your own path, you’ll find it easier and more effective.
And a lot more fun.