I remember how cool I thought it was when Ferris Beuller looked straight at the camera and spoke directly to me, the audience member. I loved it when he ignored the “wall” that separated us. It made me feel like I was part of his world.
Then, there was the Bernie Mac Show, where Bernie Mac effortlessly addressed all of America.
And finally, of course, there is Frank Underwood, the anti-hero of the very popular Netflix TV show “House of Cards” who we have all grown to love to hate. His asides to the camera where time stands still as he speaks directly to us (and apparently no one else can hear him) makes us feel special, like he’s letting us in on his little secret.
Performers understand the fourth wall better than anyone.
According to wikipedia, the fourth wall is: “the imaginary ‘wall’ at the front of the stage in a traditional three-walled box set in a proscenium theatre, through which the audience sees the action in the world of the play. When this boundary is ‘broken’, for example by an actor onstage speaking to the audience directly, or doing the same through the camera in a film or television program, it is called ‘breaking the fourth wall.”‘
When the 4th wall is broken, it opens up the opportunity for the character to develop a deeper connection with the audience and establish trust — to pull them in on a secret or to tell a joke that only they would get.
The fourth wall also exists in marketing
In the world of business, the invisible wall between the audience (your clients) and the actors (you – and your employees, if you have any) could be used as an analogy to describe your brand. There are similarities between how a character breaks the 4th wall and how companies are using content marketing to reach out and connect with their audiences. Digitally speaking, we’re talking about podcasts, video, Twitter posts, Facebook, or any other social site or blog… whenever a brand puts itself “out there”… it is positioning itself in the marketplace in a certain way, jumping ahead of traditional advertising to “reach out and touch” it audience in a very personal way.
One thing that successful brands really understand is how to break the 4th wall in an intentional way, so their audiences experience them in the way they desire to be experienced. This is achieved through extensive research, analysis, and strategic planning. In other words, successful branding doesn’t just “happen”. It is strategic thinking at its best.
Breaking the 4th wall creates trust
There exists a huge gap between what is real and what is perceived in the marketplace, and consumers know this, which is why it is harder than ever to gain trust. Closing that gap helps to create trust. For instance, when a business positions itself as carrying a certain value or experience, but that doesn’t resonate with the experiences their customers have had with that brand, it gives them (and us, if we get wind of their experiences) a reason to look elsewhere; consumers will quickly shift their attention to a brand that consistently ‘rings true’.
So how do we do that as business owners interacting online with our customers? With our prospects? The answer is simple, but simple is not always easy — be our best selves. Since we are not 2 dimensional and there are many aspects to who we are, make sure to choose that part of you that is consistent with the part of you that is your brand. Keep in mi nd who you are talking to, and under what conditions. For instance, your LinkedIn updates wouldn’t necessarily be the same as your Tweets. Different situations, different platforms, and the inferred rules of the game-spaces are distinctly different.
Hellooooo… is there a real person behind that brand?
As brand owners, we need to consistently be visible to our audience instead of sitting anonymously behind our logos. If we are clear about the role we are playing and express ourselves honestly and with integrity, we can build trust in our communities. If we make a mistake, then we can admit it, make it right, and put another notch in the belt of experience.
Humans really do have BS detectors, and on the flip side are able to sense the truth in someone just as well. Take a cue from Ferris… tearing down the fourth wall and communicating directly with your audience is one of the best things you can do for your business — and your brand.