What Content Marketing Can Learn From Comic BooksLooking at the recent “What Content Marketing Can Learn From…” blog posts, I was inspired to write an article based on something I know and love: comics.

With the recent reboot and relaunch from DC and Marvel Comics, respectively, there’s a big push in many other industries to go back to their own, respective number one.

What can people learn from the new number ones from the companies that brought us characters like Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, and the Avengers?

With Marvel in the midst of their “NOW!” relaunch and DC over a year into their “New 52” reboot, there is plenty of extremely useful information on both, especially in a community that thrives on analysis and critique.

For example, the comics news site Newsarama was quick to post comparisons of the New 52 books from the beginning of the reboot and where it is at present for the first anniversary “Zero Month” of zero-numbered issues. They also posted up-to-date sales numbers on Marvel NOW so far. So what can you learn from the successes and shortcomings of these reboots?

Continuity is Key

A key factor to a successful reboot is understanding of your core audience. A major flaw in many reboot plans is forgetting the audience you already have in the search for new readers. This definitely applies to content marketing and business strategy, too.

Marvel made excellent strides in their NOW reboot, honoring what has come before without changing it. Their reboot was more of a restart from just the number one without starting all the way back at one. Marvel also focused on putting well-managed talent together, though there were still a variety of missteps in that process.

What Marvel really did best was learn from DC. DC tried to have their cake and eat it too, changing continuity where it was unnecessary and maintaining previous continuity for seemingly no reason. Unsurprisingly, a lot of the unchanged old continuity involved old stories with successful sales records.

The real flaw of the DC reboot is the transparent attempt to bring in new readers while sacrificing old ones. Continuity was fluid. In some cases, it was streamlined to entice readers. In others, continuity was maintained when collections of old stories retained value.

When creating a new form or style of content for your readers, it is important to make a definitive choice. Will you go for an all-new audience? Or will you try to create vibrant content for your loyal followers with the aim of letting those followers bring you a new audience?

Know Your Audience

Most strikingly, DC has also made major missteps in terms of its female audience, hiring a lower number of writing women than they had on staff nineteen years ago. While the issue of addressing women in comics is much larger than simply hiring writers, it can be seen as a symptom of a larger problem within the industry, and one that certainly doesn’t sit well with a lot of prospective customers.

It also helps to have a more professional tone in your management and creative personnel than DC showed in their firing-by-email of Batgirl writer Gail Simone.

Are your business practices going to lose you customers or conversions? Are you doing everything you can to create a business that appeals to buyers? The easiest way to avoid a PR problem (like the email firing) is to treat every part of your business as a public discussion – in case it becomes one.

When Simplifying, Try Not to Complicate

A big problem of going back to one is dealing with everything that came before. It’s key to know if and how previous material will fit into the scheme of your revitalization. What do you keep? What do you toss? How are the things in those two categories related?

A prime example of potential continuity confusion came when DC Comics rebooted their Batman line. Strangely enough, the big problem with Batman is Robin.

The original Robin, a character named Dick Grayson, first appeared in a April 1940 issue of Detective Comics.

Since Grayson’s appearance, other characters including Jason Todd, Tim Drake, Stephanie Brown, and Damian Wayne have subsequently filled the role of Robin. Each of these characters (save the incumbent, Batman’s 10-year-old son Damian) then “graduated” into a different superhero role of their own.

With the New 52 reboot, only one Robin, Stephanie Brown, was deleted entirely from the new history of Batman. This left all of the other Robins I mentioned still in play.

This problem was then compounded with the idea that Bruce Wayne has only been Batman for five years prior to the new #1 issues in the Batman line of comics.

Worse still, there’s been no explanation as to how the five-years-in Batman managed to have a ten-year-old son with his enemy’s daughter. Much less how that boy appeared in a Batman cowl when he was two years old. Let the math wash over you and then try not to pass out from the dizziness.

Sometimes, you have to get rid of the things people like. If all else fails, you can just reintroduce them later. DC took a risk with these changes, and may not have succeeded in the long run, but rebooting your company’s content and marketing strategy is a risk that can pay off when done right.

Too Much, Too Soon

Another lesson Marvel learned from DC’s reboot was not to rush out their new material. DC launched 52 new titles in one month in September 2011. This hard reset was jarring for many fans and while they did pick up new number one issues in large quantities, very few stayed for issue two.

The New 52 reboot did lead to a revitalization of DC sales numbers, even if it was temporary. Additionally, many readers stayed on with titles they may not have read previously. This sort of change was often more emblematic of the creative team at work on the book and the direction taken with a respective character, than with the supposed effect of a new number one. That’s a lesson content marketing can take to heart. Rebooting your content shouldn’t be a gimmick or a short-term boost only; it should mean new, even more valuable content that will satisfy your customers and tempt new ones.

Marvel took a much more reasonable time launching new number ones every week over the course of four months while phasing out old titles. Marvel editor-in-chief Axel Alonso specifically referenced DC’s rush to pump out new material when discussing Marvel’s own “NOW!” relaunch.

The real key to a successful content strategy reboot is to have all of the pieces ready and know how they fit into the puzzle of your new model. Any dangling threads can cause a multitude of problems down the line. It seems like a lot of work, and it is, but it can absolutely be worth it in the end.

What success or failure have you had in attempted reboots of content?

Read more: What Content Marketing Can Learn From Toys