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

November 20, 2017

By Jann Schwarz



Here's a critical question many marketers ask themselves: "How do I create thought leadership in a sustainable and profitable way?"

Traditionally, marketers have not had a great answer to that question. That's because the way they produce thought leadership today is all wrong. 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.

Research 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? Here's our theory: For the past 10 years or so, marketers have been told to imitate newspapers and "think like publishers." 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.

The problem with that approach is it's very difficult to be a newspaper in a world where anyone can publish a 500-word article. 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. Even if you do, the shelf life of real-time articles is very short.

Luckily, there is a different approach to content that makes much more sense — the Hollywood model. The Walt Disney Co. 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 can B2B marketers learn from Disney's success? There are three concepts at play here worth understanding.

  • 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 films. Disney produced around 13 movies last year, and most of those record-breaking box office results came from just five films. In Hollywood, it's all about doing less, better and bigger.

  • 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. News has to be new by definition. Disney can keep making money off 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.

  • Extensibility

    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.

Just as there are blockbusters in the entertainment industry, there are also blockbusters in B2B marketing. It's a bit different, 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 the report every year — it's basically all they do from a marketing standpoint. That's focus (one thing per year) and 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 (more than 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 needing 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 percent familiar franchises that are guaranteed to work, and 25 percent net-new, experimental content that can become your next big blockbuster.


Jann Schwarz is the global director of agency and channel strategy at LinkedIn.


The views and opinions expressed in Marketing Maestros are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

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