What can Taylor Swift, Marvel Studios, Amazon and Harry Potter teach us about content strategy?

What can Taylor Swift, Marvel Studios, Amazon and Harry Potter teach us about content strategy?

This blog was originally published on the Pickle Jar Communications blog by Robert Perry.

Our recent sector research showed us that content strategies are an important focus for the education sector this year – that’s why February is all about content strategy at Pickle Jar.

With that in mind, I’ve been thinking about what we can learn about content strategy from different people and things in the worlds of music, film, television and publishing. I’ve resisted the urge to take all these lessons from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but maybe that’s a future blog post…

Be like Taylor Swift: know your audience

Taylor Swift is one of the hottest stars on the planet right now. Her latest album, 1989, was the best selling record of 2014, and she’s number 3 in the Forbes music rich list. It’s not just the combination of sick beatsTM and catchy lyrics that’s made her every teenager’s favourite – she’s also forged an emotional connection with her fans.

This is an important part of any content strategy – finding out what resonates with your audience and tailoring your approach to suit them. What Taylor does isn’t anything beyond the impossible. She knows what her fans want from her, and she delivers it. Sometimes she’ll deliver it in person, like she did last Christmas for some of her fans:

At other times she’ll offer helpful advice, acting like a counsellor for teenagers going through what teenagers go through – only with her own Taylor Swift twist, like she did for this heartbroken girl:

Now, you might be thinking that Taylor Swift surely can’t do all this herself. She must have people running her social media for her. And maybe she does. But if so, it’s a team that completely understands the Tay Tay audience and speaks with one consistent voice in all its interactions. That’s another lesson we can learn from her – the importance of consistency in our content.

When you’re planning your content strategy, think like Taylor Swift. The key is to try to understand the mindset of your audience and the issues they face. What does your audience want? How do you want them to feel about you? When they talk to others about you, what do you want them to say? When you can answer those questions, you’ll know what Style to take with your content.

[You could take a look at some of our blog posts on audience research to get you started…]


Be like Marvel Studios: Define your goals and plan ahead

In the mid-2000s, superhero movies were a mixed bag. For every standout success likeBatman Begins there would be a Ghost Rider, or an Elektra. Apart from the occasional series of sequels (Spider-Man, X-Men), most of these films stood or fell on their own merits.

Marvel Studios decided to take a different approach. They wanted to develop a shard cinematic universe for their characters, so they developed a plan which would help them do just that. The studio spent years buying back the rights to some of their most popular characters, so that they could tell the stories they wanted to tell.

In 2008 they launched Iron Man, the first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Following this with The Incredible Hulk to cement the idea of a wider fictional world in the minds of their audience, this series of interlinked films has now reached 10 instalments. Two more are planned for this year, with another nine lined up to take the studio to 2019 (and rumours of more beyond that).


Marvel has been playing the long game. By creating a series of films that refer to and rely on each other, they encourage the audience to invest in their on-going, long-term strategy. And that’s the lesson Marvel can teach us: planning ahead is important.

I’m not saying you need to plan ten years ahead, but developing a content plan is a vital part of your strategy. Having followed Taylor Swift’s lead and learned what your audience wants, you should now take the Marvel approach and plan how you’re going to deliver it.We can help you with that if you need us to…


Be like Amazon Instant Video: build measurement into your strategy

While Netflix is more popular, with bigger hits (House of Cards and Breaking Bad, to name just a couple), Amazon’s Instant Video service has an interesting approach: each year Amazon commissions a range of pilot episodes for its viewers, who then vote on which ones they’d like to see as a full series.

It’s a pretty simple metric to measure, but it works – one of Amazon’s recent series, Transparent, has now been commissioned for a second season. Two more series, Red Oaks and Hand of God, have just been given the go-ahead for full series. At the same time, Amazon has released pilots for new shows it wants viewers to vote on – one or more of which will receive a full series in 2016.

Amazon knows that measuring how audiences respond to their content is vital.

When you know what’s working and what’s not, you can hone your content even further. Without including measurable goals in the first place, you won’t know if you’ve succeeded in your aims.

[If you’re wondering which show I want to win, I’d like to have a full series of The Man in the High Castle.]


Be like Harry Potter: go multiplatform

This one’s not just about Harry Potter – it’s about The Hunger GamesThe Fault in Our StarsGone GirlGame of ThronesWolf Hall, and any other bestselling book that’s been adapted to another medium.


The books listed above have all had successful TV or film adaptations in the past few years. For each one, fans of the original are likely to flock to the adaptation, and fans of the adaptation often turn to the source material. This is especially true for long-running series, where the audience has time to form an emotional connection with the story and characters (a trend Marvel has noticed and followed).

When a book is adapted for the screen, there’s a built-in audience for the final product. There’s also a new audience for the original. It can work the other way, too – when YouTube sensation Zoella published her first novel, Girl Online, in 2014, it broke records for the fastest selling novel by a debut author thanks to Zoe Sugg’s massive fanbase.

So be like Harry Potter – don’t stick to one platform (no pun intended). Be like The Hunger Games. Be like Game of Thrones. There’s a wide range of platforms out there, and although content needs to be tailored for each one, you also need to think about how to promote each one on other channels. If you know your website sees heavy traffic, use it to promote your social media channels. If your Facebook page has a lot of fans, remind them about your Instagram account. Using different platforms can help your audience to feel part of the experience – they can contribute in their own way, which will help you to form an emotional connection with them over time (just like Taylor Swift does…).


So there you go – a few lessons from the world of popular culture that I hope you can apply when you’re developing your content strategy. If you need any help with that, please get in touch. If you like, I’ll even come up with tailored pop culture references for your content strategy.

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