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6 Content Marketing Strategies Learned from The Hobbit

How a little-known English professor became a literary legend

content marketing strategies learned from the hobbit
“The Hobbit” website

As unbelievable as it sounds, it all started with a blank piece of paper, a moment of sudden inspiration, and one sentence jotted down onto that paper.

It all happened one day in the early 1930s.

At this point in time, a little-known Oxford professor was in the middle of creating School Certificate papers when he came across the blank piece of paper and was hit with inspiration. Little did he know that that one sentence would change his life, and the literary world, forever.

What was the sentence? “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” 

That simple sentence sparked the idea for a story. A story that would be completed in late 1932. The finished manuscript was passed on to a few friends, one of them being another unknown young man at the time, C.S. Lewis.

The manuscript kept passing hands until it finally ended up in the hands of one of the professor’s students whose name was Elaine Griffiths. By this point in time it was 1936, and Elaine Griffiths was visited by Susan Dagnall, who was a staff member of a publishing house called George Allen & Unwin. It’s reported that Elaine either lent Susan the manuscript or suggested she borrow it from the professor.

However it happened, Susan ended up reading the manuscript and was very impressed by the story that had developed. She was so impressed with it that she showed the book to British publisher, Stanley Unwin. He decided to get a second opinion: He asked his 10-year-old son Rayner to take a look at it. Needless to say, Rayner really liked it.

And the rest is history. Allen & Unwin decided to publish the professor’s book and, of course, the name of the book was “The Hobbit” (also known as “There and Back Again”). The professor’s name was John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, now known the world over as J. R. R. Tolkien.

The book would go on to be one of the most popular books of all time. Tolkien would later write a sequel, “The Lord of the Rings.” And, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably know that they just released a new movie of “The Hobbit.”

I first heard of the movie something like six months ago, and I couldn’t believe they were promoting so far ahead of its release. And that got me thinking: “The movie industry really knows how to build momentum for their movies and they use many different types of content marketing to promote their movies.”

Because of this, I then wondered, “What lessons can we as content marketers learn from ‘The Hobbit’ movie launch, and movie launch strategies in general?”

Today I want to begin revealing to you the lessons I’ve uncovered for content marketers.

Create some video teasers to promote your product or services

The trailer is usually the first chance the movie studios have to promote a film to its target audience. The idea is to give the audience a teaser of the story, the special effects, the laughs, thrills and chills, etc., that will take place in the movie.

“The Hobbit” movie trailer started showing way back in January of this year. That’s almost a year before the movie was released!

There are two lessons content marketers can learn from this:

1. We need to think much farther ahead with our content marketing strategies. Studios have learned about the importance of building buzz and momentum. We need to do the same.

This has really been one of the keys to success for the “product launch formula” made popular by Jeff Walker. It’s since been overused, but the idea of building momentum is still very important for us to remember as content marketers.

2. We need to consider the power of teasers and free samples, which is really what a movie trailer is. The great advertising pioneer, Claude C. Hopkins, said this about the power of samples:

“The hardest struggle of my life has been to educate advertisers in the use of samples, or to trials of some kind. They would not think of sending out a salesman without samples. But they will spend fortunes on advertising to urge people to buy without seeing or testing. Some say that samples cost too much. Some argue that repeaters will ask for them again and again. But persuasion alone is vastly more expensive.

Are you doubtful trailers can be used to promote things other than movies?

Best-selling author Timothy Ferriss has used trailers to promote two of his books: “The 4-Hour Body” and “The 4-Hour Chef” (below).

And if you’re wondering how effective his trailers are, this video currently has 1.4 million views.

As content marketers, we need to think of the videos that we create more as trailers than advertisements. And we also need to remember that they are only one small part of the whole strategy.

The point of the content we create for a trailer is not to sell. It’s just to whet audience members’ appetites. Don’t try to accomplish more than that with them.

Let’s look at another strategy that the studios use:

Create a teaser website that promotes your product or service

Now you might think that this is so basic that it doesn’t need to be mentioned. But you would be wrong. The websites that the studios create are different than those that most of us as content marketers would normally create.

I think the two key differences are:

1. The website is focused on giving people tools to help them remember the movie. They do that by offering things such as ringtones and screen savers.

2. The website is focused on giving people tools to help spread the word. They also do this using tools such as ringtones and trailers. (I mentioned ringtones twice because they can be used to remind both the person who possesses it and the one who hears it.)

When the studios first put up a website, they aren’t focused on selling tickets (yet). They are focused on helping you remember the movie and spread the word.

How does the Hobbit website offer content that helps people to remember and spread the word?

The website offers many cool features to achieve this goal, such as:

  • A wallpaper generator: a tool that allows fans to customize their own desktops and mobile screens, and even create Facebook covers and profile images
  • “Dwarf Combat Training:” a fun game where you can “master battle skills to defeat treacherous foes”
  • Join the Company:” a way for you to use your webcam to transform yourself into a member of “the company”
  • iOS app: an iPhone and iPad app that allows fans to experience the epic adventure of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” They can learn “about Bilbo Baggins’ quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor and the band of 13 dwarves that join him and Gandalf the Grey as they embark across the wastelands around the Lonely Mountain through exclusive artwork, interactive character galleries, and production videos presented by director Peter Jackson.”
  • “Riddles in the Dark:” a separate website/app where fans can attempt to answer some of Gollum’s riddles or create their own
  • “Recipes from Middle-Earth:” a separate website/app where fans can learn authentic “Middle-Earth recipes”
  • Plus more of the traditional types of tools such as downloads, videos, and pictures.

Do you see how so many of these things are provided to cause you to remember the movie or want to share it with your friends?

Now, can or should any company do every one of these types of features?

No, of course not.

But why couldn’t you create some free apps or a way for people to easily spread the word on Facebook? And in some industries, why couldn’t you create some interaction apps to engage people?

Most importantly, the general idea of creating a site that helps your product or service to be easily remembered and shared can and should be a strategy used by all companies.

Encourage content to be created by other media outlets

The studios do everything they can to get as much early positive press coverage as possible in magazines and on entertainment shows. The main tactic they use is something called a “press junket.” A press junket is an event where journalists, entertainment reporters, and movie critics are flown to a special location for a day or weekend of interviews with the stars and creators of the film.

Many of us content marketers are so focused on the idea of creating content to market our products or services that we forget a very important tool in content marketing: content created by others. We don’t think about the importance and need for others to create content for us and about our products and services.

Here is just some of the media coverage that the filmmakers of “The Hobbit” have gotten:

“Return of the Ring! The Hobbit An Unexpected Journey: Inside the Making of the New Epic Trilogy” — Entertainment Weekly
The cover story features exclusive preview content about the movie.

“A house fit for a Hobbit” (Video) — CNN Money
This video features one man who is such a fan he had a house built like a hobbit’s house.

10 reasons we still love J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit’ — USAToday
They reveal 10 reasons they’re still hooked on “The Hobbit” even as it celebrates its 75th anniversary.

‘Hobbit’ costume designer Ann Maskrey’s favorite look? Radagast — LA Times
This features an interview with Britain-based designer Ann Maskrey, who had the job of creating costumes for all the characters in “The Hobbit.”

The studios know a fact that we sometimes forget as content marketers: There is much more credibility given to what is said about your products or services by others as opposed to when it is said by you.

Am I suggesting that every company can get major news coverage like this? No, I am not. But in every industry there are smaller, lesser-known publications that are in constant need of content.

As content marketers we must remember this and help them solve this problem by giving them content, and suggestions for content, that directly or indirectly feature the products or services we want to promote.

Why couldn’t you do a virtual “press junket” (by webinar) for the niche media outlets in your industry?

The first six lessons to remember

As you can see from these examples, the movie studios have developed a really powerful and strategic process for promoting their products.

It’s a strategy that can really help us as content marketers to work more “out of the box” and break out of ruts we usually work in.

These are the six key lessons for you to remember from these strategies:

  • We need to begin our content promotions much earlier to create momentum.
  • We must include teasers and samples to whet our prospects’ appetites.
  • We must create content that helps people to remember our product or service.
  • We must create content that engages people and encourages them to interact with our products or services.
  • We must create content that encourages and gives people the tools to spread the word about our products or services.
  • We must encourage and help other media outlets within our industry to produce content about our products or services to give more credibility to our efforts.

Want more strategy examples from marketers who are using content for powerful promotions? Read CMI’s “Ultimate eBook: 100 Content Marketing Examples.