Bravo, Des Moines Civic Center, for bringing us Broadway’s record-setting musical, “Hamilton”. Now you might wonder, what does an uber successful musical have to do with content strategy?
The truth is, “Hamilton” really is a content strategy dream. It’s full of compelling content that reaches out and grabs audiences, like an Olympic relay runner grasps a baton. It then takes you on a breathless sprint for nearly three hours through the story of our nation’s most turbulent and inspiring days — when fighting for independence and building a republic were the noblest of ambitions. And insults were worthy of barbaric duels.
More than 65,000 people came downtown for two dozen performances of a musical that embraces diversity and entertains us with a script that doesn’t contain one single word of dialogue. How could it possibly be that good?
It’s. Really. That. Good.
And we as marketers can learn three valuable lessons from it to improve our own content strategy:
Take advantage of opportunities
I am not throwing away my shot
I am not throwing away my shot
Hey yo, I’m just like my country
I’m young, scrappy and hungry
And I’m not throwing away my shot
When the Obama administration hosted a White House evening of poetry, music, and spoken word back in 2009, Broadway wonderkid Lin-Manuel Miranda was on the invite list among the ranks of rappers, musicians, and poets to perform before a VIP audience. With one acclaimed musical under his belt, the playwright humbly explained that he was working on an idea for a hip-hop album about a notable 18th-century statesman. Many in the room laughed and whispered, “rap, really?” Yes, really … and WOW. Playing the role of Vice President Aaron Burr, Miranda encourages audience members to “snap along” to the beat as he takes his shot singing the original rap song that would become the opening number of his hit musical. Mic drop.
- Content strategy takeaway: Always be prepared to perform at the White House … just kidding. Not kidding. Always ideate on content even if your editorial calendar is complete and even if the ideas seem laughable. Don’t be afraid to serve up intriguing concepts that just may connect like you never thought possible.
Tell an old story to a new beat
This is not a moment, it’s the movement
Where all the hungriest brothers with something to prove went
Foes oppose us, we take an honest stand
We roll like Moses, claimin’ our Promised Land
Ten years ago, Miranda picked up a summer beach read, Ron Chernow’s epic biography, “Alexander Hamilton.” Barely a few chapters into the book, his poetic, composer brain began to hear a beat — three rhymes in two couplets. He rooted the melody in a cool mix of rap, hip-hop, and jazz licks, and began stitching together the lyrical tale of the 250-year-old Alexander Hamilton versus Aaron Burr feud. But it’s the beat and the pace that melts away time as it races through a historian’s account of daring scholarly achievement, independence, love, heartbreak, and betrayal.
- Content strategy takeaway: Stand back from your content and listen to the beat. Turn it inside out and hear how it can be told from a different vantage point with a fresh voice and modern twist that brings it back to life in a new way for your audience.
Let your language flourish
How does a ragtag volunteer army in need of a shower
Somehow defeat a global superpower?
How do we emerge victorious from the quagmire?
Leave the battlefield waving Betsy Ross’ flag higher?
Hamilton was the most prolific writer of his time and Miranda believed that he embodied the word’s ability to make a difference. He wrote volumes of the Federalist Papers and drafted the nation’s first banking system as secretary of the treasury. But how did a life of revolutionary words and deeds connect with people who remember little more about him than the face of their $10 bills? The magic is masterful storytelling through brash lyrics that are all at once cunning, forthright, and humorous. We can’t help but grin when King George, sulking and miffed at his continental loss, sings, “When push comes to shove I will send a fully armed battalion to remind you of my love.”
- Content strategy takeaway: We all work within brand style guides and SEO constraints, but it doesn’t mean we can’t explore our language. Create new voices, build new words, try new combinations, have fun with rhyme, and experiment with phrases. Words do have power to make a difference.
More lessons abound for everyone in Hamilton from immigration, to political ambition, to race relations. And the rest of the story? In a fateful duel at the bluffs in Weehauken, New Jersey – ironically, just across the Hudson River from the Richard Rogers Theatre where his show debuted – Hamilton raised his gun to the sky, shooting directly over his own head. Burr took aim for keeps and lived out his days as a coward and villain.
Memorable content, like memorable art, dares to stretch boundaries in order to push us forward on our journey. If you have a chance to attend Hamilton or develop better content, don’t throw away your shot. Just you wait!