How to Build Your Content Universe Just Like Marvel Did
If there’s one thing we can be sure of, it’s that technology is getting more complex and more interesting. (There are robot dogs now.)
Another thing we can be sure of? We’ll be seeing a lot more films and shows from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) over the next few decades. The success of the initial run—what the Marvel team considers Phase One, Phase Two, and Phase Three—is something we all feel the effects of. It doesn’t matter if you live in Kansas or Kathmandu; you’ve at least heard of this series.
While the technical achievements garner appropriate praise, it’s the well-executed content strategy that needs to be discussed more. The MCU is less about superheroes in tights fighting aliens and more about the underlying stories that weave together to keep audiences glued to the screen.
For content marketers looking to make the most of their strategic efforts, there’s no better place to look than Marvel’s content universe. Your content universe shouldn’t be too far behind.
KNOW WHO YOU’RE REACHING
What Marvel story designers realized early on was that their stories—these massive worlds and complex character arcs—wouldn’t just matter to the folks who absorbed comic books as kids and were now full-blown adults. There was something for everybody.
According to audience research, 54% of U.S. adults 18 to 34 saw one or more movies from the Avengers film series. Among those aged 35 to 54, it was a whopping 48%. And for those 55 and older, more than a quarter watched. And that’s just in the United States. The MCU took the world by storm, capturing imaginations across different backgrounds.
The takeaway here for content marketers is a simple but loaded one: Know who you’re trying to reach. The great dilemma for brands is tempering the expectations they have for how relevant their messaging is across different audience segments. While the Marvel stories had something for everybody, your brand’s very specific products and services may only matter to a subset of the world’s population. And that’s OK.
The biggest thing your organization can do is map out all the different segments of people your brand can and should reach.
First, build a brand persona for all your different audience segments. It’ll help you better articulate your positioning and messaging so your audience tunes in, cares, and responds.
Then, ask deeper questions. Learn about their behavior patterns by looking at the channels your audience segments typically engage with. Analyze what kinds of messaging drives action. Discover their motivations.
Your audience isn’t monolithic. They’re groups of people with very different backgrounds, needs, and aspirations. By knowing everything you can about them, you set your content marketing up for success. Over and over again.
TAKE SOME CHANCES
There’s no question the higher-ups at Marvel have some deep pockets. While the initial run of Marvel movies featured a plethora of A-list and B-list stars, including Edward Norton, Jeff Bridges, and Gwyneth Paltrow, there were also some calculated risks that inevitably paid off.
Iron Man, the first movie the MCU released, would look a whole lot different if executives didn’t take a chance on a tainted-but-talented young actor working to stay sober in 2008. In fact, the film’s director—the person they tasked with launching this entire franchise—had only one box office success under his belt prior to the call.
What can content marketers learn from the MCU’s calculated risks? Take big swings.
Don’t be afraid to try a new topic. Or dive into podcasts for the first time. Or add an emoji to the subject line of a newsletter email. There are a million things data and experience can teach you, both for your organization and the audience you’re trying to reach.
Most important, if you’ve been running with a lean team all this time, don’t forget that fractional content support is out there to take your production to another level. You can only do so much on your own.
KNOW HOW AND WHERE TO DISTRIBUTE IT
The MCU has famously tested out different channels—in their case, moving from the big screen to the small screen. Some products didn’t work so well. Others have. But by stretching their content across different channels, they’ve learned what works best where.
Learn how to level up your content distribution strategy.
They’ve also been thoughtful about the pace and cadence of the story. The first three phases spanned 12 years of cinematic experiences, through 23 different films, culminating in the highest-grossing film of all time. (The next phases are already in motion, with 15 new films There’s not so much time between stories that people get tired of waiting, but there’s just enough time that people don’t get bored with the overarching narrative.
No, don’t post just 23 times in 12 years. That’s not how content marketing works in the digital age. But the lesson here is that it pays to have a cadence your audience craves. Is there a weekly update to the company blog? Is there a regular update to the newsletter? Does the leadership team regularly guest star on the podcast? Give your audience things to remember you by. Brands can do that with consistent, high-quality content that reaches people in the right places at the right times.currently in production for the next decade-plus.) It’s a delicate balance:
WHAT’S YOUR ENDGAME?
What the MCU films made particularly famous was the post-credits scene or bonus ending. Maybe you used to be one of those people who’d leave once the credits started to roll after a movie was “finished.” You learned not to do that once the MCU films came out. The final scenes typically dropped a bomb on audiences. They introduced a popular new character or new narrative complication or teased an event—all of which would make audiences look forward to the next film.
It’s like Marvel executives were always thinking about tomorrow. What matters to audiences today? What will matter to them in the future? How can we connect these motivations?
In a similar vein, content marketers should be looking at the future while standing firmly in the present. For financial brands, your current audience may be from a totally different generation than your future audience. Find ways to reach both. By thinking deeper about your content distribution strategy, you can have a good reason to be on channels that new audiences live on. TikTok and Instagram may not make sense to every audience segment today, but they might be important to your future audience. Stay top of mind by building a content universe that taps into all those channels in the right ways.
WHERE TO START
The complex and interconnected world we see in the Marvel Cinematic Universe isn’t just meant for Hollywood. Underneath the hood, the content strategy that drives the success of the MCU is one your organization can benefit from, too. Not just because audiences care about it in profound ways, but also because thinking about your content so granularly helps future-proof it.
If you haven’t yet explored the fast-moving currents of digital content strategy—or if you’re new to this—begin by mapping out what your audience is looking for. By understanding your audience in a deeper way, you can create the kind of content that’ll keep them coming back for more. Over and over and over again.