Building an Obsessive Audience.

I’ve been obsessed with “A Game of Thrones” lately.

I started my obsession by watching season one of the HBO series. Then I downloaded the four-book series on my Kindle app, which I’ve been reading voraciously. Now I’m watching season two on HBO while regularly trolling the blogs, insider apps and news sites, all dedicated to the fantasy phenomenon hatched by novelist George R.R. Martin. 

Hollywood loves the tent pole – an entertainment property that stands at the center of a whole range of associated entertainment products. Think “Pirates of the Caribbean” or “Batman”. One started out as an amusement park ride and the other as a comic book character. Both now stand at the center of multi-billion dollar mini-empires that include films, TV, online games, merchandize and more.

What makes the tent pole strategy work, however, is an audience that becomes obsessed with the original and hungry for more. Which means some tent-pole experiments just don’t work.  But, some do.  And once you’ve found that audience, they’re with you for life.

In marketing, content strategy is something of a rage these days, but Hollywood kind of invented it. Take an original unit of entertainment developed for a specific medium or channel and repurpose it into many other channels, while building on it to create new instances of the original.

So how do you take what Hollywood does so naturally and so well and make it work for your marketing strategy?

First and foremost it starts with knowing your audience. This goes beyond being able to cite standard demographic, psychographic and geographic data points. It means deeply understanding who these people are; what motivates them; and what they aspire to achieve in their lives. If you don’t know your audience, tailoring content to them will be impossible.  Here’s the good news: your company and its employees very likely share the same passions and interests as your audience, so connecting with them shouldn’t be hard.

Once you do really know your audience, your next step is to design content that aligns with their interests and passions while also telling your brand story. Though I listed three tent-pole properties that are action / adventure entertainment in nature, I could have easily used TechCrunch, Boing Boing or Huffington Post as examples, all which sprang from the early days of the blogosphere. Each of these started out with a quality product aimed at a very specific audience and has expanded into events, web broadcasts and affiliated websites.

Content strategies differ from other marketing strategies in that the former is used to develop long-term relationships, brand loyalty and brand evangelism, while much of the latter is about lead generation and sales conversions.  Your content can take the form of blog posts, email newsletters, video, podcasts, interactive graphical novels, mobile apps and more.

As I’ve written before, however, don’t use these vehicles for purely selfish purposes (though I’m clear that’s the point of capitalism). If you really want to create an audience obsessed with your own version of a tent-pole, you’ll need to produce content that puts them at the center of it. If your content is merely all about you and your next promotion, your audience will see the content as just another version of a standard advertisement.

Consider Signal-to-Noise, the very popular blog by 37Signals. The company created Basecamp, the ubiquitous online project management tool used by virtually every creative agency (among other industries) in the country. Notice the mix of content and subjects. They do a great job of telling their brand story while also speaking to the interests and passions of their audience.  Another polar-opposite example is The Barbie Blog. It is written in the voice of Barbie herself and not only promotes all the stuff enthusiasts and collectors are mad about, but a range of other topics.

There are dozens of examples, though. Do the research and find brands you admire that are doing what Hollywood has been doing for decades: building obsessive fan bases that just can’t get enough of the content they produce. Creating high-quality content shouldn’t be hard since both you and your audience love the same things.  Create something you love and would naturally follow, and you’ll build an obsessive audience around your own version of the Hollywood tent-pole.

Author DEREK GORDON is a marketing and sales exec with more than 20 years success in integrated marketing and sales strategy and management. He is the Chief Marketing and Sales Officer for Pathbrite. You can also check out his blog, Daily Casserole.

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