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3 Marketing Tips Your Startup Should Steal from Tom Hanks

By Jonathan Clark, Founder, CEO, Diginovas

Excerpted with permission

In 1996, Tom Hanks made his directorial and writing debut. That Thing You Do! is a sappy yet lively account of a love triangle wrapped in a shooting-star story of a fictional ’60s garage band called “The Wonders” — as in “one-hit wonders.”

The movie follows the band’s meteoric rise — from cutting their first record and going on tour with a Motown-type traveling revue — to their eventual fall.

The movie didn’t break any box office records  but it did provide … three invaluable marketing lessons your brand should embrace.

1. Give Proper Consideration to Your Brand’s Name

Choosing a name for a brand can have long-lasting implications. When Microsoft went about rebranding their search engine a few years back, they went so far as to research how the new name, Bing, would translate into other languages.

Sound a little obsessive?

Well, consider that General Motors applies different names to its automobiles it sells in other countries for that very reason. The French translation of Buick’s “LaCrosse,” is something along the lines of “self-love” — not an ideal name for a family sedan.

While the band in the movie had a catchy name, the way in which it was spelled (The Oneders) led to some funny moments when their fans began pronouncing it “The oh-need-ers.”

No worries. Enter Tom Hanks as their new manager, Mr. White, who updates the poor branding choice posthaste, changing the band’s name to the less-confusing moniker: “The Wonders.”

This is not an uncommon error for startups unfamiliar with marketing principles …

2. Be Consistent

Second only to a confusing name in branding errors is inconsistency. The brands that get this and execute it well are the brands you recognize without hearing their name or seeing their logo. The use of colors, typography, and imagery are consistent across mediums. Think: Nike, Apple, Target.

You may not consciously recognize their brand, but through marketing consistency and repetition, your subconscious does. Each time you see an ad, it begins a process known as conditioning, which generates an emotional response. … Eventually you begin to associate a conditioned feeling with the brand.

In the movie, Mr. White gets this concept of branding. He dresses the band in matching suits for each performance, with the drummer wearing sunglasses. (Yeah, it’s a little cheesy, but it works.) And even though suit colors changed from show to show, the band members always matched — helping to shape their brand identity with their audience as “The Wonders.”

3. The First Version May Not Be the Best Version

When creating anything new, it’s usually an iterative process. But often, we get married to a concept, making it difficult to take in new information and ideas. One of the biggest challenges for any new business is recognizing when a model isn’t working, then pivoting to something else.

Consider the story of Confinity, a cryptography company that built a system for exchanging money over Palm Pilots. As you might have guessed, that didn’t work out all that well. But in the process, they identified a new market (at the time) for enabling people to easily accept credit card payments. With that pivot and a name change, PayPal is now a $49 billion company.

Few brands nail their marketing right out of the gate — have you seen Apple’s original logo? And consider that a brand’s identity can be shaped as much by its audience as perhaps any other factor.

Managing perceptions, like the band’s manager, Mr. White, did so skillfully, is perhaps the biggest challenge for any brand. It’s a great lesson for any start-up.

Jonathan is the Founder and CEO of Diginovas, a company that specializes in website development for small businesses and startups. Learn more at

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