How Marvel Studios Can Inform Content Strategy

PropelGrowth Blog - Financial Services Marketing and Content Strategy
3 phases of Marvel Studios movie releases serve as a great example for content marketing strategy
From the first Iron Man movie to the fourth Avengers release, Marvel’s plan is impressive.

Have you seen The Avengers: Age of Ultron? For a sequel, it’s pretty good. What’s interesting is that it’s earned the second highest box office take in history (as of this writing). Know what tops the list? The first Avengers movie. Besides pulling off the hat-trick of gathering so many “A list” stars, these two films are accompanied by a series of movies (and two TV series) that built the audience by telling tightly related stories.

Every fanboy (and girl) who watched “Iron Man” and “Captain America: The First Avenger” waited with bated breath for the “easter eggs” (after-credits scenes) that heralded the first Avengers film. Marvel Studios has done an admirable job of strategically releasing movies that lead up to well-scripted moments of denouement. The Marvel Universe is now firmly established in modern film culture and is expanding quite profitably.

What does this look like through the lens of marketing? Well, there are some interesting parallels that can be made and applied to your company’s content marketing efforts.

Personas Assemble!

The Avengers movies were both unprecedented in that they assembled so many well-known superheroes (as well as egos). In “Age of Ultron,” the second film, director Joss Whedon has set up new characters for the next Avengers movie and several other films focused on individual characters. These characters have divergent personalities that appeal to different segments of the audience. Intellectuals and engineers might identify with Tony Stark (Iron Man). Outsiders might relate to The Hulk. Leaders might connect with Captain America.

As a marketer, you can do the same — speaking to the various buyer personae through your content assets over time, and later bringing them together at a live event. Each persona has a different informational appetite. A CEO is going to have different take on a topic than a CTO. Identify the needs of various buying committee segments, and then bring value by speaking specifically to their area of interest. Drop content breadcrumbs that lead them to The Main Event — a panel discussion on aspects of an issue that all personas have in common. The panelists can be a variety of experts that represent the various personas. At the end, your sales team can have impromptu face-to-face meetings to further discuss issues and help them along in their buying process.

Telling a Story Over Time

The genius of Marvel’s current success lies within their plan of progressing a story over time. At the end of the first Iron Man film in 2008, there’s a post-credits scene wherein Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) approaches Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) to discuss the “Avenger Initiative.” Four years later, in 2012, the Avengers movie premiered. In between those two events, the stories of Hulk, Thor and Captain America were told in separate movies, each with their own Avengers-related easter eggs. The character of Black Widow was introduced within the story of Iron Man 2, while the after-credits scene of that movie pointed to Thor. So, here’s the chronology of the Avengers continuum from 2008 to 2015:

  • Iron Man (2008)
  • The Incredible Hulk (2008)
  • Iron Man 2 (2010)
  • Thor (2011)
  • Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
  • Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)
  • Marvel’s Agents of Shield – TV (2013 – present)
  • Iron Man 3 (2013)
  • Thor: The Dark World (2013)
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
  • Agent Carter – TV (2015)
  • Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Always Leave ‘Em Wanting More

That’s seven years of sustained momentum across film, TV series, talk shows, commercials and merchandising! Within each film experience, a sense of anticipation was built in. Fans were treated to just enough of a glimpse into the next installment of the story. The audible “whoas!” and excited whispers of recognition of the villain Thanos at the end of The Avengers were evidence of an audience left wanting for more.

An effective content marketing program can similarly provide the information that buyers desire, over time. Ardath Albee speaks of a content marketing continuum that builds value throughout the customer experience. This transformative concept moves beyond the practice of one-off and short-lived campaigns to engage buyers throughout the life of their buying process. Unfolding a story over time (in the case of Avengers – over several years) creates a sense of continuity for the audience that reinforces your message, rather than creating a collection of disjointed (and potentially confusing) experiences.

With a strategy informed by substantive buyer persona research, you too can delight your audiences through an educational and entertaining approach. Think of ways you can unfold a story throughout various assets of content to build an audience of ardent “brand fans.”

Going For The Long Haul Is Good Business

In October of 2014, Marvel announced nine movie releases that will expand its cinematic universe up to 2019. While competitor DC is still figuring out how to replicate the success of the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy, Marvel has already worked out a long-term content and business strategy. They will continue to expand the Avengers story while spinning off stories of other superheroes, which has caused much panting and drooling from fans (myself included).

If a prospect were to research your firm by reading the content you’ve generated so far, what would they find, a rambling trail of press releases and product brochures? What would they come away with? That you’re the premier provider of the most best-of-breed, whiz-bang thingamajig? Hey, guess what? Your competitor is saying the same thing, just in a different way.

“Being the best is not enough if nobody notices or cares.”
Sally Hogshead
[highlight to tweet]

The intersection of your prospect’s business problem and your solution presents a complexity that boilerplate copy will invariably fail to adequately address. You’re speaking to people who are earnestly searching for answers to crucial, job-sustaining problems. Why not differentiate by helping them out, by addressing their pain points? In a related blog post, Candyce mentioned the importance of going beyond lead generation to building an audience.

Audiences are living, breathing human beings, not automatons you can control with a marketing automation system. [highlight to tweet] Respect them. Get to know them. Over time, help them to understand how to approach the issues they’re dealing with. Do it in a way that delivers value to them and helps you build credibility.

“It’s not the biggest company or the biggest platform that wins. It’s the person with the greatest understanding of their customers.”
Bernadette Jiwa

The practice of content marketing works best when firms make a lasting commitment. [highlight to tweet] Audiences gain a better understanding of what you’re about when you take the time to articulate a coherent message. Exercising a long-term strategy with relevant content has the added benefit of working in association with a thought leadership strategy. Otherwise, you might as well just use the Corporate BS generator.

The Bottom Line

Marvel has made a long-term commitment to telling stories that share a common history and sense of continuity. Their strategy of building an integrated cinematic universe creates greater depth and breadth to the content while increasing value for the audience. As a result, Marvel is building an assembly of fans excited to engage in the experience. It’s bold, it’s ambitious and it’s differentiating them from the competition.

By courageously committing to a long-term strategy of consistent value and refinement with content marketing, you too can profit from creating your own “marvelous,” revenue-generating universe. So suit up, stay the course and kick some booty! Then, when you reach the next level of success, the team can go out and celebrate over some tasty shawarma!


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Characters and movies mentioned are the properties of Marvel Studios, LLC.