How To Be Better Than Saturday Night Live

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“You guys are better than Saturday Night Live!”

I used to hear that all the time. I still do, although now “are” has changed to “were.”

For 15 years, I was the Executive Producer of a sketch comedy TV show in Seattle called Almost Live!. We were on the NBC affiliate, KING-TV, and for our final 10 years, we aired at 11:30 on Saturday night (we pushed SNL back a half-hour; they aired from midnight to 1:30 am in the Seattle market). For 10 years, we were SNL’s lead-in.

And we heard it virtually every week: “You guys are better than Saturday Night Live!”

The truth is this: some weeks we were better, some weeks we weren’t. But the perception was that we were better, week after week. Why?

Because we offered something Saturday Night Live couldn’t.

If you want to stand out, offer something the competition can’t. #Innovation Click To Tweet

Almost Live! was a local, Seattle-based comedy show. While some of our humor was either generic or national, roughly 70-80% of what we did was based on what was happening in and around Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. We knew our audience, and we spoke directly to them in a way that SNL never could.

We live in a world of “sameness,” where, for the most part, all smartphones are pretty much the same, all cars are pretty much the same, all music is pretty much the same (damn you, autotuner!). As my friend Scott McKain says in his book Create Distinction, “When my competitor creates a point of differentiation and gains an advantage, my natural inclination is to either:

  • merely imitate the competition’s improvement, or
  • attempt to incrementally improve upon the advancement.”

Chances are, if you look at your industry, you’ll see the same pattern. Someone—either you or the competition—comes up with something that catches on in the marketplace, and suddenly everyone else releases their version of that same thing.

So how do you stand out? What we did at Almost Live! (and Scott talks about this in his book as well), was rather than focus on what SNL was doing, we focused on what our audience wanted.

That’s not a bad plan.

Rather than focus on the competition, focus on the client.

Rather than focus on the competition, focus on the client. #Innovation Click To Tweet

Now, does this mean that you simply ignore the competition? No, of course not. We watched SNL. And you need to know what’s happening in your industry. But when developing products and services, you’ve got two choices:

  1. You can be reactive and follow the competition, or
  2. You can be proactive and serve your audience (your customers and clients)

Almost Live! was a national show for a few years, in the early days of Comedy Central. We never really caught on. Why? Because we were no longer offering something the big boys couldn’t. We were trying to out-SNL Saturday Night Live. And, in that game, Saturday Night Live is going to win.

Once we went back to serving our audience—the one that SNL couldn’t serve the way we could—we stayed at #1 in the ratings for 10 straight years.

I don’t know who the Saturday Night Live of your industry is, but I do know how you can be better than them. Define your audience as specifically as you can—and then offer that audience something the competition can’t.


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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