Oscar season is upon us, and the tweets are flying.
Whether you agree with the Academy’s nomination list or not, planning your content the way movie studios plan their film releases can help to inform your content strategy.
Each year, movie makers weigh the return they’re likely to see on their investment in producing a particular film against the cost.
Profits from big summer blockbusters and popcorn thrillers can help to offset smaller returns on indie films and niche documentaries.
Each type of movie content has its place in the overall scheme.
Just as production companies need to produce different types of movies, your content strategy needs to include different types of content.
Big blockbusters generate conversation. Think Guardians of the Galaxy on this one: The second-highest grossing movie of 2015 (edged out by The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1).
Big pop, lots of fun, great storytelling, and you can update this content year after year. In fact, planning for Guardians of the Galaxy 2 is already underway.
For an example of blockbuster content, check out Mack Collier’s post on the cost of social media consulting. First run in 2010, it proved so popular he updated the information and ran it again in 2011 and 2012.
Then there’s the safe bet movie, such as The Other Woman. Big name stars, a familiar plot, ideally offering a few good laughs.
This is your evergreen content. It’s not edgy or risky—it might even be predictable. But people always want it. So give the people what they want, and include it in your content strategy.
The content equivalent of the safe bet movie are things such as list posts, how-to pieces, review posts comparing different tools…you get the idea.
“How to use Pinterest to Drive Site Traffic,” or “50 Ways to Share Your Content,” or even my post for Mark Schaefer on Eight Apps, Hacks and Tricks to Keep Your Business Running While You Recharge.
Create safe bet content to help you establish thought leadership, generate brand awareness from people circling the top of the proverbial funnel, and to stay top-of-mind for people who’ve come to know and love you for sharing helpful information.
Now and then, you may want to produce an indie film: Niche content, such as horror movies that cater to a highly loyal audience, or thought provoking documentaries such as Food Inc.
This also includes labors of love, such as the crowd-funded “Veronica Mars” movie, which was driven entirely by fan contributions.
Niche content is highly relevant to a narrow subset of your audience, provides a great deal of value to that unique segment, and can be a great addition to your content strategy.
For example, Segway—the motorized personal vehicle manufacturer—has a wealth of content directed specifically at law enforcement agencies.
Their “Segway Patrol” site offers case studies, videos, and a “green calculator” that calculates the environmental benefit of using Segway versus patrol cars.
Fiskars has also mastered the art of niche content, providing highly customized content directed to segments of its audience interested in crafting, gardening, children’s projects, and more.
Avoiding Content Bombs
Of course, no one wants to release a box office bomb. A few precautions can protect you from all but the most unpredictable disasters.
First, deliver on what you promise. Many box office failures are actually okay films, but they were marketed in a way that led moviegoers to expect something different than what they got.
One classic example of this type of disaster is Jim Carrey’s unexpectedly dark movie “The Cable Guy,” but there are plenty of other movies whose misleading trailers caused audiences to feel duped once the lights went down.
The headline equivalent of this is promising a certain type of content, but the information on the other side of the click doesn’t measure up.
For example, a Guardian headline read “the IRS has had legal reason to investigate the religious right,” when the body of the article simply explained why, under applicable law, some questions the IRS posed to organizations ultimately denied tax-exempt status might have been appropriate.
Not only did the content not match up to the headline, but the headline alone caused the publication and the author endless social media headaches, because many people don’t read past headlines before forming an opinion.
In the case of the Guardian story, the writer of the piece felt compelled to write a separate blog post explaining that the writers don’t create the headlines.
In other words, if you want to experiment with a sensational, BuzzFeed style headline, go ahead, but make sure your infographic, article, video, or podcast measures up to those big promises when people click through.
Otherwise, you’ll destroy their trust in your content (and you).
Your Content Strategy Must Reflect Your Audience
In other cases, audiences simply find a movie irrelevant: People don’t want it.
For example, it appears few people were interested in knowing more about Frankenstein, which might explain why the 2014 version starring Aaron Eckhart brought in a mere $8.6 million against its production budget of $65 million.
Going over budget on a production presents a whole host of other problems.
People may love an in-depth industry report or a slick video series with lots of production value, but if you’re not seeing a positive return on your content—if it’s not moving you toward achieving any of your business goals or driving key performance indicators—that content piece is still a failure.
Keep those failures in mind when mapping out your next content strategy.
The flip side of this coin is that some content will pay off beyond your wildest expectations, the way the The Blair Witch Project went on to earn $248,639,099—well beyond its production cost of $600,000.
This type of content is a welcome surprise, such as when the Center for Disease Control spent $87 and one week’s time producing a series of materials on disaster preparedness themed “Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse.”
The Zombie Preparedness campaign generated 70,426 clicks and 34,714 unique tweets, and the post about it drew 4.8 million blog views (far outstripping the average traffic: 1,000 to 3,000 views).
Revel in this type of unforeseen success, but also work to avoid predictable failures.
You Must Plan and Be Organized
One common problem with box office bombs is a lack of planning and organization. There seems to be no focus.
In the case of films, a release date that’s pushed back several times often indicates problems with the production process that resulted from a lack of planning (and the end result is often lackluster when it does hit screens).
Case in point: “G.I. Joe: Retaliation,” delayed at the last minute, just five weeks before its scheduled release, pushed back for nine months. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t find it worth the wait.
A shining example of good planning is one of the 2015 Oscar nominee for Best Picture: Boyhood. Twelve years in the making, the film follows its main protagonist from age seven to age 18.
Hollywood contracts expire after six years, so planning, organization, and trust all played a key role in producing this ambitious film successfully.
In the end, you’re bound to have the occasional “bomb” in your content repertoire.
The Key to Content Strategy Success
No one can put out a blockbuster hit every time, but make sure your content plan includes a variety of topics, media formats, and styles, to keep your overall strategy effective in spite of the occasional stinker.
The key to content success is to plan splashy blockbuster pieces at regular intervals, then round out your editorial calendar with pieces designed to achieve different kinds of results—such as your indie films and safe bets—until you’re ready to put out your next big hit.
Every once in a while, you have to produce a spectacular piece of content to get (and keep) your audience’s attention, but remember to stay within your budget, or else your big budget blockbuster might turn out to be a flop in terms of ROI.
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