What the Avengers Can Teach Us About Divisible Content

When you think of crafting a content strategy, you may break out a whiteboard and start brainstorming topics that appeal to your audience. Or you could watch The Avengers.

That’s not just an excuse to avoid the daunting task of building a strategy from scratch. In the past decade, films from the Marvel universe have not only raked in over $10 billion worldwide, but have also become an incredibly effective blueprint that can help anyone who works in media. Part of Marvel’s success comes down to two concepts that are becoming prevalent in content marketing: additive and divisible content.

For those unfamiliar with the concepts: Additive content combines previously published stories into larger content assets. Think of four blog posts about a similar topic coming together in an e-book. Divisible content is the reverse, when someone takes a big piece of content and breaks it down into multiple posts. The goals are similar. Both additive and divisible content save money by taking advantage of creative work you’ve already done. There’s a more nuanced benefit as well—setting up a storytelling arc that can rapidly build an audience.

Let’s take a closer look by starting with the fun part: the first films in Marvel’s cinematic universe. Marvel introduced the characters of Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, and Captain America between 2008 and 2011, with standalone films that explore the superheroes’ origin stories. These films existed separately until the heroes joined forces on screen in 2012’s The Avengers. It was a gamble, trusting that the audience’s investment in each individual character would carry over into the ensemble story. Saying it worked is an understatement.

The Avengers went on to make $1.5 billion worldwide and sits as the fifth-highest-grossing film of all time. Granted, there were other factors here, such as loyal fans waiting for adaptations of comic books that had been around for decades, and the film just being really good. Regardless, it was a perfect execution of additive content. None of the individual films made more than $650 million, yet here was The Avengers with almost three times the box office haul. Marvel capitalized on the audience’s investment in the individual stories and, as a result, was able to reach a much larger audience.

This shouldn’t be too foreign to content marketers (other than the billions of dollars at stake). HubSpot, for instance, published a story in 2012 about misleading SEO myths. Last summer, HubSpot covered the importance of mobile optimization in relation to Google’s new algorithms. Finally, at the end of 2015, the company published a comprehensive e-book titled “17 SEO Myths You Should Leave Behind in 2016.”

Of the 17 myths described in the e-book, six come from those two previously published stories. Doing so makes sense, since marketers may be repeating some of their mistakes from a few years ago. More important, though, is how HubSpot repackages an old story with new information to create an original asset. This additive strategy saves HubSpot time and money, and capitalizes on its audience’s interest in those topics.

Eventually, these larger stories can then morph right back into divisible content. After The Avengers dominated the box office, Marvel went back to expanding the stories of individual characters without the whole ensemble, and the money followed. Iron Man 3 raked in $1.2 billion, more than the totals of the first two Iron Man films combined. Captain America: The Winter Soldier made over $300 million more than its original, and Thor: The Dark World made almost $200 million more than its origin story. Each case suggests that people were more interested in these characters and this overall story after seeing them together.

We’ve noticed a similar ripple effect on The Content Strategist (again, on a much smaller scale). In December of 2015, we published “The Marketer’s Guide to Facebook,” a long e-book that broke down the evolution of Facebook and explained how companies can effectively use the platform. One key section that explained Facebook targeting worked so well that we repurposed it as a separate blog post, for no cost. While it didn’t include a plot twist as monumental as the one in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, it performed well and continued to drive leads weeks after the original asset went live.

Bottom line: When it comes time to tweak or craft that content strategy, the classic conversations about brand voice and publishing cadence are essential. But while you’re picking up that whiteboard marker, don’t be afraid to reach for the hammer or the shield.

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