When you think of crafting a content strategy, you may break out a whiteboard and start brainstorming topics that appeal to your audience. Or you could watch The Avengers or some other entertainment successful platforms in Hollywood.
That’s not just an excuse to avoid the daunting task of building a strategy from scratch. In the past decade, films from the Marvel universe have not only earned about 10 billions $ but have also become an incredibly effective blueprint that can help anyone who works in media. Part of Marvel’s success comes down to two concepts that are becoming prevalent in content marketing: additive and divisible content. Additive content combines previously published stories into larger content assets. Think of four blog posts about a similar topic coming together in an e-book. Divisible content is the reverse, when someone takes a big piece of content and breaks it down into multiple posts. The goals are similar. Both additive and divisible content save money by taking advantage of creative work you’ve already done. There’s a more nuanced benefit as well—setting up a storytelling arc that can rapidly build an audience. Let’s take a closer look by starting with the fun part: the first films in Marvel’s cinematic universe. Marvel introduced the characters of Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, and Captain America between 2008 and 2011, with standalone films that explore the superheroes’ origin stories. These films existed separately until the heroes joined forces on screen in 2012’s The Avengers. It was a gamble, trusting that the audience’s investment in each individual character would carry over into the ensemble story. Saying it worked is an understatement.
The Avengers went on to make $1.5 billion worldwide and sits as the fifth-highest-grossing film of all time. Granted, there were other factors here, such as loyal fans waiting for adaptations of comic books that had been around for decades. Regardless, it was a perfect execution of additive content. None of the individual films made more than $650 million, yet here was The Avengers with almost three times the box office haul. Marvel capitalized on the audience’s investment in the individual stories and, as a result, was able to reach a much larger audience.
Eventually, these larger stories can then morph right back into divisible content. After The Avengers dominated the box office, Marvel went back to expanding the stories of individual characters without the whole ensemble, and the money followed. Iron Man 3 raked in $1.2 billion, more than the totals of the first two Iron Man films combined. Captain America: The Winter Soldier made over $300 million more than its original, and Thor: The Dark World made almost $200 million more than its origin story. Each case suggests that people were more interested in these characters and this overall story after seeing them together.
When it comes time to tweak or craft that content strategy, the classic conversations about brand voice and publishing cadence are essential. But while you’re picking up that whiteboard marker, don’t be afraid to reach for the hammer or the shield.