Sometimes a story needs help finding its time.
The legendary show Star Trek debuted in 1966. (That’s the year I was born. Coincidence? I think not – but that’s a different story.) Now, not a lot of people know that in its first run, which lasted until 1969, the ratings for Star Trek were horrible. After three seasons, NBC cancelled it. It wasn’t until the series started to repeat in the 1970s in syndication that it became a huge hit, ultimately becoming a cult classic and one of the most influential and popular TV series of all time.
This kind of “serendipity” for successful content in entertainment is quite common. Have you ever heard of Gloria Jones? She recorded a song called “Tainted Love” in 1964. That song wouldn’t become a hit until Soft Cell brought a dark synth-pop production to it almost 20 years later. Here’s another example. Until 1997, “Men In Black” was the name of a highly obscure comic book with a niche following. That all changed when it was brought to the big screen, where it ultimately made more than $500 million.
I was reminded of this idea when I worked with a software company that had found tremendous success through a series of thought-leadership white papers. Purely by chance, these white papers had been shared by an influencer and then been picked up by a publication, at which point they went viral (to at least the B2B niche software company version of viral). These white papers ended up driving a huge amount of success for the company – performing better than anything they’d done in the previous year.
That’s the thing. Those white papers were almost five years old. The VP told me, “We had completely forgotten about them. If only we had promoted them earlier, I wonder what would have happened.”
Repeating ourselves, or promoting something from the past, is an unused muscle for most marketers. Campaign-based marketing has trained us to tell ourselves, “New is better” and “Don’t repeat yourself” and “If it didn’t work the first time, don’t do it again.”
But great content is not a marketing campaign. If we create value for customers with a piece of content, there’s a good chance that the value is evergreen. And that content may not have found its way initially. Various things – the time, the context, the way it was distributed, or a million other things – can keep a valuable piece of content from finding success the first time around.
We don’t have to rely on good fortune. We can learn from media companies and help existing content find its serendipitous success.
TV shows rerun every summer – just in case you missed them. Then, if they last five years, they rerun in syndication forever. Feature films have an entire lifecycle. They debut in theaters, then they’re repeated via the Internet, airplanes, DVDs, and television. Novels are transformed into movies. Movies are transformed into comic books and vice versa.
Media companies don’t rerun shows because they are lazy. No, they do it because they’ve invested in an asset, and they understand that to get a return they need to maximize that asset’s chances of becoming successful.
As our marketing operations increasingly look like media companies, we can learn from this model. The stories we create, the assets in which we invest, may find first, second, and third lives through different channels, different times, or different contexts. And we can help them find that serendipity by not giving up on them. We can repeat them. We can re-promote them – and we can build on them by taking them to different formats.
How many Star Treks are you sitting on?