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MasterClass: Every no is a step closer to yes

I rejected the online business MasterClass at least twice before clicking to buy and picking up my neglected guitar. Here's a lesson in multi-channel marketing, the halo effect and profitable storytelling.

I first discovered, and rejected, the online education provider MasterClass while scrolling through Facebook.

Up popped Steve Martin with a beautifully shot video trailer in which he promised to teach comedy. “I’m Steve Martin, and welcome to MasterClass.”

Steve got my attention. Cue internal dialogue: “Could I really learn comedy from Steve Martin? I’m a professional speaker, that could be handy!” But I rarely click on digital ads. I don’t trust them. I scrolled on. It was my first touch point. It was positive, but didn’t change my beliefs or behaviour.

Then came another one, thanks to the Facebook algorithm, no doubt.

This time it was Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello offering to teach me electric guitar. I’ve played since primary school, keen to learn more, and a Rage fan from way back.

Here’s Tom, surrounded by all his gear, telling me how he overcame racism and a cruel world through his guitar.

Source: Masterclass

“If you want to play exactly like me, you’re going to figure that out in this MasterClass. If you want to play guitar exactly like you, I’ll reveal how you can create a lifetime of awesome rocking. I’m Tom Morello, and this is MY masterclass.”

Uh, yes please! Somehow I still didn’t click, strike two, but the video stuck.

In some form of associative psychology now I think about Tom’s story every time Rage Against the Machine cycles around on my playlist at the gym. I feel an emotional connection to this guy!

The moment I changed

Fast forward again and I came across this in-depth article by The Atlantic: What is MasterClass actually selling? Behold! The headline promised to answer the vague questions seeded by rather compelling video ads.

Spoiler alert: multi-channel marketing was doing its thing. This was the moment I dived into the MasterClass story. My behaviour was about to change, as was my belief in online education services.

Curious about MasterClass? Here’s my take: For an annual A$280 subscription, MasterClass sells escapism, voyeurism (with the celebrity factor) and a valuable life lesson - you’ll succeed if you combine hard work and get really lucky.

It turns out MasterClass is a bona-fide company, not just a collection of clever video clips. Created in response to a simple question - What if anybody could learn from the best? - it’s gone on to attract an impressive array of celebrity teachers and more than US$130 million in funding.

My point and our lesson here is this: I ended up clicking on the subscribe button because I trust The Atlantic. This editorial ultimately shifted my belief in something I first thought too good to be true. It activated a point in time I call a Belief Moment.

I shifted from unbelief in the value of a service to reconsidering my views, and ultimately engaging as a happy customer.

Still cynical?

It should be said, MasterClass isn’t without criticism. Others shared my initial skepticism. SFGate’s correspondent, for example, offers this piercing line: “You’re not going to become a great guitar player simply by watching Tom Morello’s master class on” (Challenge accepted @Joshua Sargent!)

It’s a good point. Anyone can watch a lesson. The trick is actually taking time to practice.

Yet for me, my behaviour and ultimately my belief in the value of online education changed.

All it took was engagement with a second, trusted media channel - in this case, earned media - to change my behaviour. I’ve since begun exploring over 85 classes, each one containing around 20, 10 minute video lessons.

One idea, multiple channels

Over the past few years I’ve worked with many clients who, quite frankly, use too many media channels. With so much activity, it can be difficult to thread a consistent narrative.

In Beliefonomics, I write about the impact of amplifying one story across multiple channels,

“What happens when a creative, research-backed IMC (integrated marketing communications) campaign hits the market, underpinned by a single narrative? Research published by IAB Australia and Kantar in October 2019 offers useful data.
It calls this approach synergy, and tracks the incremental lift you can expect from adding additional channels to your campaign. From a study of more than 3,200 campaigns it reveals marketing ROI lifts with each channel. Just two channels deliver a 19 percent lift, and five channels up to 35 percent lift.

Extract from 'Beliefonomics: Realise the true value of your brand story' by Mark Jones (c) 2020, p99

Source: Analytic Partners, 2016; Analysis based on over 3,200 campaigns from 2010-2015. Platforms include TV, print, radio, display, paid search, online video, PR, Out-of-Home and cinema.

The temptation is to believe more channels are better, from the very beginning. My challenge to aspiring brand storytellers is to pare it right back to know which one or two channels are best suited to telling your story.

Start small, scale across two channels such as email and LinkedIn, or a blog, and measure the impact before expanding further.

That was my exact experience with MasterClass. One message, across earned and paid media. Clearly it’s working.

The Halo Effect

One final thought. MasterClass is a brand that stands on the shoulders of personal brands.

Each of those celebrities and global thought leaders share their star power with MasterClass, helping build its brand.

It’s called the Halo Effect or cognitive bias, where positive impressions of a person or brand are transferred to another entity, product or service.

Another good example of this in action is motor racing: “Race on Sunday, sell on Monday.”

Let’s say a Ford wins the race on Sunday. It’s assumed happy fans will flow into Ford dealerships shortly afterwards.

Race wins by your favourite car maker creates an emotional halo that drives sales.

Likewise, MasterClass wouldn’t exist without its celebrities and it maximises that idea to great effect in its storytelling.

To illustrate the point, do you see MasterClass co-founder David Rogier appearing in a video trailer? Nope.

We don’t care about a message from the boss or company CEO, we want the masters!

I know I do. It’s time to stop tapping away on this keyboard and shift to the fretboard of my guitar. I’ve got some riffs from Tom Morello to practice.


Mark Jones is a keynote speaker, storytelling consultant and author of 'Beliefonomics: Realise the true value of your brand story'. Reach him here.

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