Rise Up! What “Hamilton”’s Success Can Teach Us About Content Marketing
Photo Credit: broadway.com

Hey yo, I’m just like my country

I’m young, scrappy and hungry

And I’m not throwing away my shot

– “My Shot” from Hamilton

I’ll never forget the first time I heard about the now–Tony-Award-winning Broadway smash Hamilton.

I was enjoying a long-overdue visit over breakfast with my friend Shelley Roth, savoring tales of her latest visit to New York as I munched on a ginormous red-velvet muffin.

When Shelley shared one of the highlights of her trip – an outstanding musical about Alexander Hamilton – my fork stopped in mid-air.

“Alexander Hamilton? The Founding Father? The first secretary of the U.S. Treasury and author of the majority of the Federalist Papers who couldn’t be president because he was born in the Caribbean – that Alexander Hamilton?” (Hey, once a poli sci major, always a poli sci major …)

Shelley went on to share with me the marvel that is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s envisioning of Hamilton’s biography, set to rap, pop, and jazz beats and featuring a multicultural cast. As both a musical-theater geek and a sucker for all things historical, I was fascinated. For the next few months, it seemed that no matter where I went, somebody was always talking about Hamilton.

Fast-forward to today, and Hamilton is the official jewel in Broadway’s crown, having scooped up 11 statues at the 2016 Tony Awards – just one shy of the record 12 won by The Producers in 2001.

As Broadway’s most innovative offering since The Book of Mormon (which I wrote about back in 2011), Hamilton has a few things to teach producers about what can happen when they make a bold move.

And it has a few things to teach us, dear reader, about content marketing.

1. There are no boring subjects.

Let’s face it: If you or I were tasked with the mission of coming up with the perfect story for a Broadway musical, few of us would dust off our ninth-grade American History books. I mean, that kind of stuff’s for nodding off in front of the History Channel, not sitting on the edge of one’s seat in a Broadway theater, right?

Thank goodness Lin-Manuel Miranda saw things differently. In an interview on CBS Sunday Morning, Miranda revealed how, upon reading Ron Chernow’s 700-page biography of Hamilton, asked, “How can anyone not have made this into a musical?” He was able to see potential that no one had ever recognized, and the Broadway stage is the richer for it.

Action Item: Take a fresh look at any topics you may have dismissed as “too boring” to embrace in your content marketing strategy.

2. Reframing is powerful.

That said, this isn’t the first time the Founding Fathers have served as the subject of a Broadway musical. Sherman Edwards and Peter Stone’s 1776 debuted in 1969 and went on to win the Tony Award for Best Musical. And while Edwards and Stone offered a fine opus, 1776 is much in line with what one might expect, with a traditional cast and traditional Broadway-esque musical numbers.

Miranda’s musical approach could not be more different – and not just for the sake of being different. “We take it as a given that hip-hop music is the music of the revolution,” Miranda shared in the CBS interview. “It’s because of the energy, it’s because the hip-hop narrative is writing your way out of your circumstances.”

Going one step further, Miranda chose to cast his show with primarily African-American, Asian, and Latino performers. As he puts it, Hamilton the story of America then, told by America now.

As content marketers, we need to embrace the power of creative reframing. We can approach new topics – or even old topics – from a unique, innovative perspective and create something that stands out as uniquely ours.

Action Item: Look at the content you have planned for the rest of this year. Which of those topics could benefit from a different angle?

3. Emotional connections are the ones that count.

The characters in Hamilton aren’t marble busts in a museum – they’re living, breathing, flesh-and-blood human beings who experience lust, ambition, envy, joy, devastation, frustration, and resentment.

Take, for example, the song “Dear Theodosia,” in which lifelong rivals Hamilton and Aaron Burr share a promise for the future to their newborn infants. Miranda captures a moment in which these two historical giants experience a touching moment of vulnerability – a moment that unites them with each other and us with them.

No matter what product or service we represent, we content marketers need to recognize and embrace the power of emotional connection. Look at what Candace Payne – aka “Chewbaccamom” – unwittingly accomplished in her video that went viral: she shared a brief moment of unbridled joy, and a worldwide phenomenon was born.

Action Item: Look for opportunities to share an emotional connection with your audience.

4. There are no overnight successes.

While many are asking “Where did Lin-Manuel Miranda come from?” it’s easy to forget that he is no newcomer to the Broadway scene. In 2007, his musical In the Heights – which he wrote while still in college – was nominated for 13 Tonys and won four, including Best Musical. He’s also composed music for several high-profile projects; J.J. Abrams even invited him to contribute to the score of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Oh, and the idea for Hamilton? Miranda first came up with it in 2007. And he spent an entire year perfecting the song “My Shot” alone.

Yes, the content world moves at the speed of light, but the wise content marketer knows the value of patience and persistence.

Action Item: If your results aren’t where you want them to be yet, don’t give in to frustration. Keep doing what you do – producing top-notch content on a consistent basis – and results will come. And that idea that you can’t seem to make work? Maybe it just needs some time.

5. To grow as a storyteller, grow in other areas.

If Miranda hadn’t decided to tuck Chernow’s tome under his arm as he headed out for vacation (!) in 2007, Hamilton would never have happened.

Remember that your outside interests – and those of your team members – can add rich new layers to your content and separate you from the pack. Sure, we need to be well informed marketers and read our marketing books and attend our marketing conferences. But to reach our full potential as storytellers, we also need to grow as well-rounded human beings. So we need to read books, take courses, go to performances, and engage in other content that feeds our need for beauty and intellectual stimulation instead of just adding to our continuing-ed lists.

Action Item: Encourage your team to enrich themselves in areas outside of marketing, to share what they learn, and use those experiences to enrich your collective storytelling.

Ready to take on the lessons of Hamilton in elevating your brand’s content marketing? As Alexander himself would say, don’t throw away your shot.