I recently saw one of the best films of the summer, Christopher Nolan’s Inception. Set within a complicated world where dreams can be shared, a team of extractors commit action-packed crimes deep within the mind of the dreamer.

As I contemplated the gripping storyline, I realized an interesting similarity between dream extractors and marketing professionals. Both are charged with the mission of planting an idea.

Although we don’t have to travel to the subconscious to plant our ideas, there still are a few things we can learn from Inception:

1) Define Your Motivation – Early in the film Cobb, the main character played by Leonardo DiCaprio, is presented with an extraction mission that he first turns down. Yet, when he is offered the chance to reunite with his children he quickly changes his mind and accepts the offer. This motivating factor drives Cobb to remain focused on creating and executing the mission.

As marketing professionals it’s critical that we understand the motivation behind our marketing mission. Ask yourself, what is my personal motivation for completing the mission? This might be a monetary reward, promotion opportunity, or just personal satisfaction. Whatever it is, make sure you define it. If the motivation is valuable, personal and worthwhile, then you will have the endurance to see the mission through to the end.

2) Get the Right Players on Your Team – Once Cobb accepts the mission, his first step is to find an architect to build the dream. He turns to his father-in-law Miles, a professor of architecture played by Michael Caine. Miles introduces Cobb to his best and brightest student, Ariadne, played by Ellen Page. As the architect, Ariadne provides critical support to Cobb throughout the movie and is ultimately responsible for the decision that saves the mission.

Whether you decide to hire a marketing agency or build your internal staff, it’s important to build a team of talented individuals who will back you up and get the job done. When the going gets tough, you need someone who is going to use a balanced combination of knowledge, experience and intuition to make the right decisions for your team.

3) Develop a Strategic Plan – After Cobb builds his expert team of 6, they gather in a warehouse to study, plan and practice the mission. A good portion of the film is dedicated to this critical stage of planning. Yusuf experiments with the elixir, Nash practices waking up Arthur, and Ariadne builds models of the dream. The strategic plan pulls the team together before the mission and helps them maintain unity and a single focus throughout the dream.

A strategic plan is an important success factor to achieving your marketing objectives. It outlines the goals for the mission, explains how they will be achieved, and holds your team accountable for completing the mission. Don’t skimp here, and take extra time if you need it. You can’t go back after the mission has launched.

4) Anticipate Unexpected Challenges – Equipped for the mission, the 6 experts enter the dream world and are immediately attacked by a militia sent to protect the dreamer, Robert Fischer, Jr., played by Cillian Murphy. Arthur, played by Jordan Gordon-Levitt, was responsible for uncovering critical information about the dreamer during the planning stage, but had overlooked the fact that Fischer had been trained to protect his mind from an extractor. This single mistake exposes the entire team to life-threatening risks in both the dream world and in reality.

It’s nearly impossible to plan for every scenario, but make sure you cover all of your bases before launch. Do your research, build a plan, check it once and then check it again. You never know when a Mal is going to show up, but if you overlook a critical piece of information during the planning phase you could end up under heavy artillery fire and you just might sink the mission.

5) Accomplish the Mission – Against impossible odds, the team is forced to think fast and change their approach in order to finish the job. Under gunfire, Yusuf drops the van backwards off the side of a bridge. With zero gravity, Arthur creatively manages to drop his dreamers to wake them up. And in the third level of the dream, Cobb and Ariadne are forced to travel one level deeper to complete the mission. Their willingness to accomplish the assignment at all costs results in a successful mission.

In marketing and in life, things rarely go the way we plan. Accomplishing the mission can get a bit tricky and the road to success might seem unrealistic, but marketing is a long term commitment. It takes creative thinking and determination. You might need to modify your strategy, but don’t bail out until the mission is accomplished. There is always a path to success – the trick is finding it!


Shanna Kurpe is the Director of Marketing for Tampa interactive marketing agency Roger West Creative & Code, and an Internet marketing subject matter expert and online instructor for the International Academy of Design Technology Online.

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