Ditch the Newspaper Approach to Content Marketing, Try the Blockbuster Philosophy Instead

December 4, 2017

Blockbuster Approach

Editor's Note: A version of this post originally appeared on the Association of National Advertisers' blog.

Here’s a critical question that many marketers are asking themselves: “How do I create thought leadership in a sustainable and profitable way?”

Traditionally, marketers have not had a great answer to that question. And that’s because the way they produce thought leadership today is often very inefficient. But don’t take our word for it. Pretty much any survey will tell you that B2B marketers think they don’t have enough content or that what they have isn’t very good.

And that’s coming from the people who created it!

Research that LinkedIn conducted with Edelman also shows that about 50 percent of B2B buyers are disappointed with the quality of thought leadership coming from vendors.

All this tells us that something is fundamentally broken. Why are B2B marketers spending enormous amounts of money churning out low-quality content? What explains the sorry state of thought leadership content marketing? Well, we have a theory that we’d like to share with you. It goes like this: For the past 10 years or so, marketers have been told to imitate newspapers and “think like publishers.” And they’ve taken this advice literally, setting up “brand newsrooms” staffed by armies of “brand journalists” cranking out real-time, lightweight content. Articles, listicles, blog posts, Tweets.

Here’s the problem with that approach. It's very difficult to be a newspaper in a world where anyone can publish a 500-word article. Check out The New York Times stock price if you don't believe us. The newsroom model is tough — it requires a huge amount of effort, including a large staff of writers, constantly churning out timely stories. It's hard for your content to break through amid all the noise. And even if you do manage to breakthrough, the shelf-life of real-time articles is very short. If even The New York Times has trouble monetizing its business, maybe it's not the ideal role model for B2B?

Luckily, there is a different approach to content that makes much more sense – the Hollywood model. The Walt Disney Company has thrived in the new digital ecosystem. Disney is the first studio in Hollywood history to make $7 billion in a single year. Studio revenue is up around 60 percent, and Disney’s stock is hitting all-time highs. So what’s Disney doing that the New York Times isn't? And, more important, what can B2B marketers learn from the company’s success? Well, there are three concepts at play here worth understanding.


The first concept is focus. Disney is not producing a million different movies, hoping one of them is a hit. Instead, the company is making really big bets on fewer and fewer films. Disney produces around 13 movies last year, and most of those record-breaking box ofifce results came from just five films. In Hollywood, it’s all about doing less, better, and bigger.


The second concept is familiarity. If you look at Disney’s content calendar, you’ll see a lot of Star Wars, Marvel, and Pixar. Almost none of these films are net new assets. Disney is producing content that everyone has already heard of. As Derek Thompson explains in his book, “Hit Makers,” in the past 16 years, the 15 top performing movies have all been remakes of old movies or books. The idea here is that Disney is monetizing its “back catalog.” That’s something Hollywood can do, which newspapers can’t – the New York Times doesn’t have a back catalog. News has to be new by definition, or else we would call it “Olds.” Disney can keep making money of Star Wars, which was created in 1977, but the New York Times can’t re-monetize an article from 1977. That’s the problem with lightweight real-time content – even if it works, you can’t replicate your success.


So now that we have talked about focus and familiarity, let’s discuss the third concept – extensibility. And we’ll stick with the B2C Star Wars example, because it’s easy to understand. Once Disney has a piece of familiar intellectual property, the company doesn’t move to the next thing. Star Wars is not just a movie. It’s a video game, a lunchbox, an action figure. When new formats emerge, like drones or virtual reality, Disney easily takes existing content and monetizes it in new channels. It's a much more profitable approach than creating one-off pieces of content like a newsroom.

So, where are we going with this elaborate analysis of Disney? Well, we believe that just as there are blockbusters in the entertainment industry, there are also blockbusters in B2B marketing. It’s a bit different, of course, in that Disney is selling entertainment, and B2B marketers are selling topical expertise, but the same three principles still apply — focus, familiarity, and extensibility.

Consider, for instance, Mary Meeker’s "Internet Trends Report," perhaps the greatest blockbuster in all of B2B. Kleiner Perkins puts out Meeker’s "Internet Trends Report" every year — it’s basically all they do from a marketing standpoint. That’s focus (one thing per year), and that’s familiarity (every year). The end result is that every time the "Trends Report" comes out, it breaks the internet. It is the single most viewed piece of content on SlideShare (10 million+ views) every year. And brand awareness makes the report progressively easier to market.

It’s a familiar franchise, like Star Wars, but geekier (if such a thing is possible). Salesforce has a blockbuster for every single line of business – Sales, CRM, Analytics – which shows you how a more complex organization can execute the same strategy (one blockbuster per LoB). Marketo has “The Definitive Guide to Lead Generation,” which has been the company’s top source of revenue for eight years in a row. That’s a sustainable approach to content development.

LinkedIn also has a blockbuster, “The Sophisticated Marketer’s Guide to LinkedIn.” Because it’s so valuable to us (our top source of revenue for three years now), we’ve adapted the thought leadership into an eBook, a webinar, an infographic, a podcast, blog posts, etc. These are the B2B equivalents of action figures and lunchboxes – extensibility at work. That’s how a blockbuster can fuel always-on, cross-platform marketing, without you having to set up a 50-person brand newsroom.

From our vantage point, we see that smart B2B marketers are using their analytics to identify successful “back catalog” IP that can be turned into blockbusters – repeatable, tent pole thought leadership assets. Ideally, you will have a content calendar that looks like Disney’s: 75% familiar franchises that are guaranteed to work, and 25% net-new, experimental content that can become your next big blockbuster.

To read more about the blockbuster approach, one of the key trends shaping the future of B2B marketing, download our new ebook, "7 Key Trends in B2B Marketing: Think Like Disney and 6 Other Strategies," today.