Content Marketing Lessons from U2

I’m a huge U2 fan. I know they get preachy, I know Bono makes you crazy, I know you think they’re old. But, hey, I get preachy, I make people crazy, and (today, officially) I’m old. So they fit me. And yesterday’s startling release of their new album – the way they did it, the music on it, the reaction – is exciting.

It’s also a pretty good model for content marketers (sorry, this is the way I think. I love U2, I love content marketing. I’m a little kooky).

So, with that in mind, here are a couple of applicable lessons for content marketers from the release of the new U2 effort:

Give it away for free. U2 gave away the album for free to half a billion people, making it instantly available at no cost to every single iTunes subscriber. That’s astonishing, even if most of them don’t care. Consider that the typical U2 albums typically sell about 2 million copies; they just expanded the audience by 250 percent. Not unimportantly, Bono intimates here that the band got paid for the new material, presumably by Apple. The Wall Street Journal confirms that Apple paid the band. So, it appears they didn’t devalue their work; rather, they found a new revenue model.


And, for bands today, the megadollars come from touring the world. U2 will make hundreds of millions of dollars touring to support Songs of Innocence, so this is really a smart investment.

Your content marketing should aim to help your audience by demonstrating what you can do for them. That means you have to give away some of your thinking. You have to draw them closer, often with a dramatic overture. If you don’t someone else will.

Feed your community. U2 fans are agog. Excited. Energized. Do this for your audience.

Your content should drive conversation. Even if you’re selling ERP software, can you get people’s tongues wagging? If you can, you must. That’s great marketing. Make their lives and jobs more interesting.

Create epic content. The album is getting good early reviews. It really helps to garner attention and drive conversation if your content is really, really good. Creating great content that your audience wants requires talent and perseverance.

Don’t settle for mediocrity. It’s been six years since U2’s last album. That’s a long time to work on something – perfecting it, throwing out the merely good, making the final product great. It’s a lesson for those of us who are sometimes overly focused on quantity rather than quality.

Banging out blog posts without a strategy or a theme can take you to a certain level, but all of us – I think and I hope – want to hit grand slams. We want smash hits. When creating content, you should be striving to go platinum. (But, to be clear, you should not spend six years writing one blog post.)

Find great distribution channels. By partnering with Apple, U2 is reaching half a billion people. Ludicrous. You don’t necessarily need to do that. For some B2B firms, reaching 100 prospects – if they’re the right prospects – could be absolutely awesome.

As a content marketer, you need to know your audience. This requires an editorial sensibility, and a smart strategy on how best to connect with that audience.

Be true to your brand. This sounds like a U2 album. That’s good. A brand is about consistency. Not redundancy. Consistency.

Your content should sound like your brand voice. That means you need to understand what you stand for, what your all about. A lot of brands don’t.

Now, excuse me, I need to go back and listen to this just a couple (dozen) more times.