The Tao of Joss Whedon: What Firefly Taught Me About Small Biz Marketing

Firefly bug in man's palm at duskNo, not that firefly ….

Firefly Music Festival attendees

Not that one either … where’d I put that thing?

:::rummaging through digital drives:::


Actors in the cast of TV series Firefly

There we go. THAT Firefly.

My point: Object lessons about business marketing are everywhere, if you know — no, not where to look — but how to look.

Case in point? Read on …

But First, A Bit of Background

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past century, here’s the 411 on Firefly in bullet form:

  • Created by Buffy/Angel/Dollhouse genius Joss Whedon
  • Kind of like Bonanza meets Ocean’s 11 meets Star Trek with a little Welcome Back Kotter thrown in.
  • Aired on Fox for exactly one season — actually, less than one season. Fourteen episodes. (Yes, we’re still bitter.)
  • That? Was ten years ago.
  • Today – ten years and one feature film (Serenity) later? RABID, PASSIONATE, MASSIVE FAN BASE.

So what does all this awesome have to do with small business marketing of the digital kind? Plenty, as it turns out …

Lesson #1: Nobody Will Care About You(r Business) Until They Care About Your (Business) Story

Why is Firefly still going strong all these years later?

Well, lots of reasons, really, but one of the key reasons is this: Joss Whedon knows how to tell a ripping good yarn.

Each of those fourteen episodes boasted a strong script that focused on story elements that were compelling, provocative, and highly entertaining.

Want to rev up your tribe? Start looking for ways to use story-telling in your marketing content.

Lesson #2: Getting the Right People On Board Is Not Just a Good Idea — It’s EVERYTHING

Joss Whedon is also known for getting the right people to say “yes” — bringing together a diverse cast and crew that somehow merge together to create a whole that’s greater than even the very impressive sum of its parts.

Firefly was no exception. Even after only fourteen episodes and one feature film, you’d be hard pressed to find a fan who could even envision some other actor filling any particular role. They somehow just … fit. Perfectly.

Even if you’re a solopreneur, the same is true for you: you need to assemble a team that provides that kind of rightness of fit. That’s true not only of independent contractors, vendors, suppliers, and virtual assistants … it’s also true of your tools, the components of your various business and marketing systems, the social media channels you utilize.

The right people can be the difference between wild success and abject failure.

Lesson #3: There Is NOTHING In the ‘Verse More Powerful Than an Embraced-and-Empowered Fan Base of Brand Ambassadors

Why is Firefly still culturally relevant? I mean, look at it – less than one full season, ten years ago … this thing should have rolled out of the public lexicon ages ago.

But it didn’t.


Two words: The Fans.

Dedicated fans can make ANYTHING happen. (Don’t believe me? Two more words: Jericho. Peanuts.)

Embrace and empower your repeat customers to become your best source of marketing: brand ambassadors. Dedicate yourself to creating a unique experience for each of your customers/clients so that they turn into raving fans, sharing with their peeps the sheer magnitude of your awesomeness.

Lesson #4:  Sadly, It Really Is, At Some Level, All About the Numbers …

With all that awesome going on, why did Firefly get canceled after airing only eleven episodes?

Because the numbers just weren’t there.

And if the numbers aren’t there for you, then your business will fail eventually.

So pay attention to the metrics. Do not fear the numbers — confront them and make peace with them. Understand them. Use them. Then improve them.

Lesson #6: … Except When It’s Not.

Every once in awhile, though, some franchise will come along that defies expectations, refuses to go quietly into that good long night of permanent hiatus-ville — Firefly is probably the prime example.

Sometimes, the numbers don’t tell the whole story.

That’s why it’s a good idea to have actual conversations with clients and prospects – and competitors. Get the whole picture of the state of your industry and the health of your micro-economy.

Lesson #7: Take a Chance, and Believe In What You’re Selling.

The biggest reason Firefly is such a success story probably has to do with Joss Whedon himself, and by extension the key players he assembled for the cast.

He could have taken his toys and gone home after the network bigwigs canceled his show.

Instead, he believed in that vision. He championed it. His cast did the same. And thus was born Serenity. And a second life for the canceled series. And a bunch of conventions and fan fiction and fan art and DVDs …

You get the picture.

Believe in your creation. And be willing to take some calculated chances with the way you market that creation.

And no power in the ‘verse will be able to stop you. You’ll be a leaf on the wind. Watch how you soar.

This post is part of the awesome Word Carnival. You should totally click right here to read more posts on this month’s theme: Close (Biz) Encounters of the Sci-Fi Kind. That’s right: we’re geekin’ out, people!

Photo Credits:
tom.arthur via photopin cc
Ryan Plaisted via photopin cc
Chipped Productions

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Carol Lynn Rivera March 27, 2013 at 10:18 am

I will go back under that rock now, Annie, because I never saw Firefly. But I take some consolation in the fact that I have heard of it!

You make some great points about business here, especially the part about the team. Sometimes you really find that chemistry and it’s awesome. Then we go and sabotage it by trying to tinker with the pieces – could we do this cheaper? Faster? Easier? What about that other guy over there?

Or is that just me…? I’ve learned over the years to stick with the people who are awesome and who can come together to make things happen, not just on paper, but in real life.

Tea Silvestre, aka Word Chef March 27, 2013 at 10:28 am

It wasn’t until I met Mr. Perfect that I got into the whole Firefly thing, but you’re right on about every single one of these points, Annie. Some serious marketing lessons to learn here!

Annie Sisk March 27, 2013 at 10:32 am

Thanks, Tea! Firefly is a source of never-ending wisdom. I’m seriously considering a follow-up based solely on quotes from episodes and the movie.

Sharon Hurley Hall March 27, 2013 at 10:32 am

Great lessons, Annie, and another sci-fi series I have to get on Netflix (or whatever) – I especially like the part about believing in yourself and your business – without that, the other lessons take you nowhere.

Tea Silvestre, aka Word Chef March 27, 2013 at 10:36 am

You could probably write an entire BOOK, Annie. And it would sell like energy bars!

Ashley Welton March 27, 2013 at 4:43 pm

I guess I’ve lived in the shadows of an almighty boulder, because I’d never heard of Firefly. But your insights are golden! I’m ALWAYS trying to hammer into people’s brains that stories are what make them accessible, likeable and bing blam SUCCESSFUL. Loved it Annie!

Laura Petrolino March 27, 2013 at 6:15 pm

Well gee Annie…way to take pretty much the bible of marketing and business growth and filter it down to one post. Great points all!

Nicole Fende March 28, 2013 at 1:02 am

I have peripherally heard of Firefly,but now I know I need to check it out. Ok, my viewing list has expanded to Dr. Who and Firefly. I think I need Netflix!

I agree with every point except Lesson #4: Sadly, It Really Is, At Some Level, All About the Numbers … Not that the part about numbers being important, just that you started with Sadly. Numbers have a great and positive place in every small business 🙂

act_on_love March 28, 2013 at 2:25 pm

Carol Lynn, forget the rock. 🙂 I envy you your first experience of Firefly. For best results, watch the series first, then the movie Serenity. You are going to have such a wonderful time.

Robyn March 28, 2013 at 2:55 pm

The number of angles from which people can examine Firefly, never ceases to delight and amaze me. I expect future articles on what I learned about interplanetary navigation, spaceship mechanical repair, neuroanatomy, or companioning from watching Firefly. (Can I use ‘companion’ as a verb?)

SandyMcD March 28, 2013 at 8:22 pm

Storytelling to rev up your tribe, brand ambassadors, dedicated fans can make anything happen. This is rocking language Annie – and put into the context of the story of Fireflys – well it’s got me out from under that rock in double time. Looks like you might have a bunch of converts! Great lessons, eloquently put, thanks Annie.

Annie Sisk April 2, 2013 at 9:39 am

You are right, Nicole – my “sad”-ness has to do with that rule’s application to Firefly. *sniff* I’m still dealing with my grief.

Annie Sisk April 2, 2013 at 9:40 am

Freakin’ A you can!

Annie Sisk April 2, 2013 at 9:40 am

Right on. That’s exactly right. There’s NOTHING more awesome than that first blush of “ZOMG what awesomeness is this?!”

Nick Armstrong April 5, 2013 at 11:13 am

Firefly is the perfect analogy for starting your own business; it’s almost required watching in my book. You really learn how to treat yourself better as an entrepreneur after watching it, how to negotiate, how to behave ethically, everything.

Moreover, Firefly did a few more things right:
1) They created their own lingo that rabid fans can use to identify each other… you see this with BSG and BattleTech, too. Star Trek and Star Wars did also to some extent, except it became so mainstream that now everybody and their mom can quote at least a little Star Trek or Star Wars.

2) They didn’t hide their flaws – even the best role models were so flawed… it’s a great example of (looks around) authenticity. And not “authenticity” the buzzword, but honest-to-god authenticity.

3) They weren’t afraid to bend the rules when it required it… and every environment had its own personality. Even the ship: every room was individualized.

4) When it was over: Joss sent a clear message that his heart, our hearts as fans, the cast’s hearts… they were broken. And in a scene I still can’t think about without tearing up, he sent the biggest middle finger to his former network I’ve ever seen.

Amazing through and through.

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