Make Your Readers Love You:
5 Lessons from Pixar

image of characters from the movie Toy Story

Everyone loves Pixar.

Okay, maybe not everyone. Let’s just say everyone except that 10% of the human race who enjoy hating on awesome like I enjoy sipping coffee.

Fifteen years ago, Pixar smashed the creative and technical limits of the animated feature film.

It would be easy saying they came from nowhere, if it wasn’t for the decade they spent scraping by, sharpening their craft, rewriting broken rules while keeping what was best about the classics in their genre.

People don’t just like Pixar films. They love Pixar films.

How does Pixar do it, again and again and again?

Yes, there is some magic, but it’s the kind that comes from plenty of commitment and hard work. Follow these five steps and eliminate the limits on what you or your business can achieve.

1. Be consistent and build trust

Toy Story 3 is now in theaters, continuing an impossibly solid 11-film winning streak — throughout its history, each of Pixar’s movies has debuted at the number one position in ticket sales.

From the first film to this newest, Pixar never stepped sideways. Their second film, A Bug’s Life, is probably their least appreciated, but still wonderful. Cars is my own least favorite, but it was my son’s #1 for two years straight, and I’m pretty sure anytime Mattel needs money, they can just churn out another fleet of Cars characters.

That kind of consistency creates trust: a trust that has vaulted Pixar to enviable success.

Each of Pixar’s films has been a box office smash, averaging more than $550 million per film in worldwide sales. Add DVDs, fast-food promotional tie-ins and the like, and you begin to understand that it’s Pixar that has made Steve Jobs really, really rich, more than his other company, one that’s also known for consistency, quality, and undeniable brand loyalty.

2. Take the time to do things right

Toy Story re-energized the world of mega-budget digital animation. But unlike the hurry-up-and-render aesthetic of most other studios, each of Pixar’s films is pixel perfect.

Unlike live action footage, every second of an animated feature requires specific articulation, many times over. There are no second takes. Yet Pixar has re-worked entire sections of their films they didn’t deem good enough, and even switched directors midway through the production of Ratatouille.

According to a June 2010 article in Wired, the average frame of animation of Toy Story 3 took seven hours of computing time. There are 24 frames in a second of movie footage.

Pixar would rather be late than shoddy. In a culture where we have timers at the drive-thru, guaranteeing the opportunity to deliver high blood pressure and heart disease in under 60 seconds, that type of care is rare.

And audiences know it.

3. Tell a story that connects

Sure, Pixar movies pop visually right off the screen (even before 3D versions). But it’s story and character that keep the audience coming back again and again.

Pixar has always understood something that most studios can’t seem to grasp — if you want to create highly profitable work, you’re in deep trouble without some amazing writers.

Memorable, lovable characters are a Pixar standard. From Buzz and Woody to Nemo and Wall-E, our affection for Pixar characters lingers. In comparison, characters in most other animated features seem pretty … two-dimensional.

Pixar fosters a connection with their audience through great storytelling. They speak to enduring archetypes, and deliver lessons we’ve all learned (or still need to).

Looking life’s regrets in the eye. Mourning the loss of a loved one. Making room for new relationships. Swallowing fear in the face of adventure.

I know I’m not the only grown-up to regularly quote Pixar characters. Tarantino is the only filmmaker I quote more, and I can only do that after my kids fall asleep.

Brilliant writing and the ability to connect leave a genuine, lasting impression on our memories.

4. Know yourself, your product, and your team

The hidden secret in Pixar’s sauce is its extraordinary team.

Usually, studios assemble a cast of freelance professionals for each project. Pixar houses a staff of writers, directors, animators, and technicians who move from project to project.

I know I’d have my face in the mud if it wasn’t for the remarkable people I work with each day. I admire Pixar for building a team of filmmakers who know, trust, and believe in one another. A team that’s fanatic about quality, and where everyone has a voice.

Steve Jobs, who brought director/screenwriter Brad Bird to Pixar after the studio’s first trio of home runs because he didn’t want the company’s innovation to stagnate, said:

For imagination-based companies to succeed in the long run, making money can’t be the focus.

Brad went on to write and direct The Incredibles and Ratatouille, both movies with strong themes of family and friendship. He agrees teamwork has been paramount to Pixar’s success:

In my experience, the thing that has the most significant impact on a movie’s budget — but never shows up in a budget — is morale. If you have low morale, for every $1 you spend, you get about 25 cents of value. If you have high morale, for every $1 you spend, you get about $3 of value. Companies should pay much more attention to morale.

The relentless drive for superb quality comes from within the team itself. According to the same Wired article, the animation team gathers each morning on comfy couches with bowls of Cap’n Crunch cereal to review and rag the prior day’s work. (The team encourages criticism, even from the most junior team members.)

It’s this sort of healthy creative environment that allows Pixar to correct missteps before they appear on screen, and achieve something close to perfection.

5. Now, make it your own

There is no one else like Pixar, but there is someone exactly like you.

Do what Pixar did. Be consistent, take your time, put out a superb product, build an excellent team, and know exactly who you are.

Your own digital magic awaits.

About the Author: Sean Platt is a ghostwriter and Creative Director at REV Media Marketing. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments

  1. Hi,

    Excellent insight into the Pixar world and a great motivation for all of us.

    I really like the fourth point:

    “Know yourself, your product, and your team”

    And the example of the animation team gathering each morning is superb. That is exactly what teamwork is all about!

    Kindest,
    Nabeel

    • “Sure, Pixar movies pop visually right off the screen (even before 3D versions). But it’s story and character that keep the audience coming back again and again.’

      To me this is just about the entire key for Pixar. They could of tried to let the technology carry the day, but they didn’t. It’s still all about the stories.

  2. Take the time to do things right is the hardest one for me.

    I get so excited and eager when I have something new to show off, that I often jump the gun.

    That’s why I’m finding that working with others is excellent for me because when you have the right team, you get the perfect balance of having folks to reign you in when you should wait and urging you to go, go, go when it’s time to blast off.

  3. For me, the biggest point of all of these is about knowing yourself. Once you truly have a grasp on who you really are, you’re able to convey that in everything you do.

    Once you know yourself, people will see how genuine you are and be attracted to you naturally. And, you’ll attract the kind of people that you want, not just someone random.

  4. Now, that’s a great headline. Benefit, list post, piggybacking on a famous brand.

    Oh, and some good points too. :-)

    Glad to have you back Sean.

  5. Hello,

    This is a fantastic post. I am currently working with a fantastic team with the wrong focus. We have been so busy selling that we haven’t taken our time to ensure a spot-on product. This article is so prescient because we finished a series of meetings just this morning shifting company focus to content.

    Thank you for confirming our beliefs!

    CG

  6. Tracy: It’s probably harder to take the time to do things right when someone is throwing a bajillion things at you all at once, all day long. So, um… sorry about that. :)

  7. Jon: I learned from the best. :)

  8. Sean, I really love how you tied in pixar movies with creating a successful business. Maybe we should start making mini online animation videos on YouTube to build a stronger relationship with our viewers ;)

    JKs, I loved the post, great creative writing, would love to learn how you come up with content like that. Thanks

  9. Sean this really had some great nuggets of insight:

    “Take the time to do things right”
    Does the blog posting schedule slip a day to make sure that the post really hits home with the reader? I hope the answer is hell yea! I think the 5x a week posting mantra is leading folks into mediocrity oblivion.

    “For imagination-based companies to succeed in the long run, making money can’t be the focus.”
    Wow. We are in the “social business” we connect at profound level with our tribes. Money, while important, can taint the purpose. This seems to be an important lesson for everyone to consider (especially coming from Steve Jobs)

    Haven’t seen you post in a little while. Glad to see you are still “bringing it”.

  10. Pixar is a kick-ass example – you can really feel the love they put into their work: From the characters to the story, everything is beautifully crafted.

    It comes down to having insane standards and abiding by them. If you deliver amazing value that you’d buy yourself, the audience will feel that, probably on a subconscious level.

    Great values for Digital Crusader, I can feel the love and magic you put into this post ;)

  11. Asim: it’s all about keeping your eyes open to the stuff that inspires you, and not necessarily in the same sphere. As soon as your wheels start turning, it’s easy to find common intersections.

  12. Stanford: Thanks! It feels great to be back. Been a long few months filled with some amazing learning. Writing for Copyblogger feels a lot like coming home, though.

  13. Great advice thanks Sean

  14. This article tugs at my heart since I just watched Toy Story again with my kids. We have watched it countless times before but it still makes me smile. Can’t say the same for Pocahontas!

    My kids are preteens now but still picked Woody and Jessie and this sweet movie to watch on family night last week (just don’t tell their friends!)

    I love this post, since my blog is about faith and family. Being transparent and self-revealing is hard work.

    My most heartfelt posts, dealing with chronic pain, have touched a chord with many people so, even though it’s difficult, it is what I continue to do.

    Thanks for a great article. Keep them coming!

  15. Mars: Thanks! I’ve been wanting to write about Pixar for a while, as they really are the epitome of a quality company delivering a quality product, time and time again. The love was easy. Big thanks to Copyblogger for running it.

  16. Love this, especially the part about being yourself. I left my full-time job so that I could truly create a business that expressed myself. Now why would I leave one grind just to start on my own self-created grind?

    “Telling a good story” is important too, being able to put my clients’ needs first and foremost in my mind, and understanding their particular stories is the goal at the end of the day.

    My business needs to be about YOU, and not so much about me.

  17. Welcome back Sean, seems you’ve been hiding for a while :)

    Good to see you resurface, especially with such a great post.

  18. Thanks Sean,

    I find it interesting that the standards are set high and met no matter what. It goes to show that quallity counts.

    The goal is bigger that the money. It is big enough to support a whole team of people.

  19. There’s simply no arguing with a consistent standard of quality along. They’re created every brand’s dream: a legion of advocates who will keep coming back and keep talking about the awesome.

    And seriously – how can anyone hate on Pixar’s awesome?

  20. Nathan: Thanks man, it feels GREAT to be back!

  21. Great article. Pixar is definitely raises the bar

  22. Sean – If you’re going to copy someone, why not copy what works? Your post makes so much sense. I love how you related Pixar to what bloggers should do with their branding efforts.

    I want to emphasize one thing:

    “Ability to connect = Memorable + lovable characters + genuine, lasting impression”

    This is something I am learning to apply with my fiction and nonfiction writing. It all starts with the character, not the plot. The character has to connect with the reader.

    From what I’ve read, bloggers can do this by asking open-ended questions to encourage readers to comment.

  23. I believe that the second point really makes the most sense. Anything that takes time and effort most of the time is worth more than something that doesn’t.

    What a great example…Pixar is such a great company, funny that Steve Jobs has been part of this company. Watch out when his next company, if there ever is another one he builds, buys, or leads becomes an extreme success.

  24. Hi Sean:

    Love the article. Lots of meat here to help me in my own business.

    I clicked the link to check out your ‘ghostwriting’ and received a message that your site is an ‘attack site’, possibly without your knowledge. You might want to check into that.

  25. Man! I wanna work at Pixar. Gimme some Cap’n Crunch!
    It also makes me feel pretty guilty about screaming at my computer to render a 30 second clip faster when the guys at Pixar are spending 7 hours on frame! GEESH!

  26. @Ruby – Thanks… We removed Sean’s ghostwriting link from the author box and we’ll make sure he checks it out.

  27. Ruby: Thanks for the heads up! I’ve no idea what’s going on but am looking into it now.

  28. I’ll pick a fight with you, even though ~

    This if my Favorite post so far!

    There is no one else like me! I am more ONE than ANYONE!
    Nobody else even wants to be me!

    Excellent post though, very fun, and thanks!

    Jeff

  29. What a beautiful frickin’ post. I am going back to work with a smile.

  30. I love Pixar. When I was taking an animation course as part of my master’s degree, we used to analyze their old animation movies — ones few people ever saw (I highly recommend watching Tin Toy, it will definitely make you smile!). From these lessons, we learned that there’s ALWAYS room for competition, and that you can’t just enjoy your craft – you have to love it and keep learning.

  31. Sherice: I LOVE their shorts. They have a remarkable way of communicating deep emotion without using language. I watch in awe.

  32. “10% of the human race who enjoy hating on awesome like I enjoy sipping coffee”

    Huh?

  33. John: Sipping on my coffee, for me, is a part of every day. It’s a ritual that gives me comfort. There are some people who find things to hate as ritual, because it gives them comfort to do so.

  34. Sean,

    That’s a really good analogy, actually. I know a few people in that 10% who revel in finding the worst part of everything–even Toy Story! I used to cringe every time I though of the naysayers’ response to my post, but I’m realizing that they can’t be on my mind when I’m writing or I’ll never get anything done.

    Anyway, this was a great post! :) I’ve always wondered how Pixar has been hitting the nail on the head with every movie they make!

    Thanks,
    Tina

  35. It’s easy to forget that a really good blog has an awful lot in common with a well-run media company. Some would be tempted to say they’re the same thing. :)

  36. This is a great piece because it applies to more than just bloggers. The lessons here are applicable to almost anyone working in a creative field.

    I work with radio hosts and each of these lessons absolutely applies to what they do.

  37. Well said and yes, Pixar gets tons of love. Can’t blame you for making them your case in point.

    Like many I’d love to work for Pixar for the reasons stated above. There’s a company that does things right. If I had to name some other company with such a commitment to quality, my first thought would be Blizzard. They polish their games years and years until they compete with the sun. Can’t say anything about the team or spirit within, don’t know. If I had the opportunity to work with them, knowing about the warmth in the team, or lack thereof, would be the more important point for me.

  38. Excellent points everyone. Especially number 4 of knowing yourself, your product and your team.

    In my next life, I want a job working with creative people like the ones at Pixar. I could probably make a 20 min. feature film on that one.

  39. Wish I could send the morale quote to those in charge at my day job.

    Thanks for another great article!

  40. I totally agree. I love the way you use the Pixar brand to tell your story.
    “Take the time to do things right”
    ” Know yourself, your product, and your team”
    ” Now, make it your own”
    Once again another great article, very inspirational.

  41. “In a culture where we have timers at the drive-thru, guaranteeing the opportunity to deliver high blood pressure and heart disease in under 60 seconds, that type of care is rare.” That’s gold! And I love Pixar. Connecting with readers requires patience and complete transparency. Everyone has story to tell and sell, but it has to be delivered with integrity.

  42. @Niko, some years ago I was lucky enough to spend some time with Max & Erich Schaefer (they’re childhood friends of my ex), they had key roles in developing the original Diablo and founded the company that became Blizzard North. In addition to being two very smart and nice guys, they also had that great air of people who were living their passion. They had great energy to be around.

    They seemed to be making very nice amounts of money, but what struck me was that they weren’t driven by that at all. They were driven by the desire to make something deeply, wonderfully engaging.

  43. Hi Sean – This is an awesome article with great advice. I had no idea exactly how much work went into a Pixar movie. No wonder there was such a huge gap between Toy Story 2 and 3.

    I am working on a new project and this is a great reminder to keep the focus on quality.

  44. Great article…definitely make it your own!

  45. The fourth point about knowing yourself, your product and team really appealed to me. The idea of having a staff of in-house creative people brings out their best leaving behind all insecurities. Great post! Thanks, Sean.

  46. Well written, to the point, and insightful.

    There’s something magic about telling a story that connects. Some people are natural wizards of wonder and others become masterful storytellers through practice and skill. In any case, I think it’s ultimately our ability to paint ideas and share castles of the mind that move people and inspire action … or at the very least, connect and share a drink from this amazing fountain we call life.

  47. My son really likes Cars and Toy Story. I really like the idea you put there in this post and comparing and getting some lessons from Pixar that can also be applied for your readers to love you.

    Regards,

    Gary

  48. Is it weird that this is the first time that I have heard of this company? I had to go and Google them to find out what they wre about. :D

  49. Nice imagination friend… In apt words, nice application of Pixar in blogging.. the reason I love copyblogger!!!

  50. Awesome. There’s always a reason why someone is successful. Other success stories will probably teach you these same lessons.

  51. Dean: Yes, that is weird! :)

  52. What a great article! I like the Pixar analogy.
    “Do what Pixar did. Be consistent, take your time, put out a superb product, build an excellent team, and know exactly who you are.”

    I am always the student, learning as I go.
    Thank you!

    Darcy!

  53. @sonia – re: media company… a friend of mine hammered me last hard: “Dave,” she says, “you ARE the product.”

    My (“speak only when you’re spoken to”) father is rolling in his grave I am sure.

  54. @Sonia, thank you for sharing the personal story & info. Very friendly of you. Max & Erich sound like wonderful people to work with. What struck you as special really resonates with me as well. Inspiring!

    Now on to build a team of the same quality, love and commitment as Pixar and Blizzard have. Huzzah! Well, it is a long time goal with, um, just a fraction smaller projects in mind ;)

  55. Be consistent and doing things right would be my top two. You gotta give your readers/fans/clients/etc steady content.

  56. I find that after years of eating Cap’n Crunch, it still tears up the roof of my mouth! But I digress…loved the post Sean and definitely love Pixar movies. I will always take the time to do things right. I just need to keep the work true to myself.

  57. Great article! My own least favorite Pixar flick is Wall-E. He’s a cute character, but the movie put me to sleep. That was an added benefit at the sleepover movie night the local elementary school had.

    I agree, the imagination and care that goes into creating the characters and the final product is what makes them products that we love. (Just like my Mac.)

  58. @Dave Doolin, yeah, I think my mom just deals with my whole thing by politely ignoring it. :) “My product is me” doesn’t sit well with my stoic German ancestors. :)

  59. These are all solid and equally important points as far as my thinking goes…thanks a lot for sharing

  60. I can’t believe you left out John Lasseter. He’s the heart and soul of Pixar, basically saved Toy Story 2 and has a hand in everything they make. If Jobs is the heart of the operation, Lasseter is the soul.

  61. Wow..its amazing!..the third point thats is try conneting a story that is the best way i feel to express in our own way…

  62. Marcy: You are right, I totally agree. I did a Snoopy Dance when Disney bought Pixar and made Lasseter head of animation. Homeboy straight up through their garbage away, got rid of the direct to DVD sequel crap and brought back hand drawn animation. The dude is a rockstar and deserves his own post. :)

  63. I just re-read my post…I must have been half awake. Can I edit and take out the second line? :D

  64. Interesting to hear that Pixar uses a team of full time staff rather than independent contractors. Good to hear they are treating their employees right and spreading around some of that wealth. Your staff can make you or break you.

  65. I am someone who definitely wants everything done “yesterday”. So taking the time to do things and make sure it is my best work being put out there is hard for me. I can see now after reading this that it is just as important piece of the puzzle as everything else I am doing to build my brand and business!
    cheers

  66. Wow,

    Awesome examples. Pixar rocks! Most of the examples actually are awesome life lessons too.

  67. I totally with Mars on this one — “Pixar is a kick-ass example – you can really feel the love they put into their work: From the characters to the story, everything is beautifully crafted.”

    Bloggers and internet marketers can learn so much from Pixar and this excellent post just drives home the point! There are so many life lessons here (and in every Pixar movie) and it’s just great how you used the company as an example! Wonderful read, as always.

  68. Sean, excellent post! Being true to yourself is an excellent way to differentiate and build trust. Focusing on what we do well will surely help us to hone our craft.

  69. As we described in Innovate the Pixar Way, the power of the collaborative spirit at Pixar cannot be overstated. As Pixar cofounder Alvy Ray Smith told us, “Ed and John are a technical and artistic collaboration of the first order…it’s because they both have great respect for one another. They both know that they couldn’t do what the other does, and couldn’t do without what the other does.”

  70. We loved Pixar before Pixar was cool.