When he’s not streaking through the Danger Zone on an Impossible Mission, the world’s biggest movie star (arguably
) veers Far and Away from his core competency, occasionally taking a mega-risk with his Eyes Wide Shut.
Corniness of that opening sentence aside, Tom Cruise makes for a compelling model of how to run a brand: While his trademark relates to an über-successful motion picture career—and yours likely doesn’t—there are many things a business can learn about reputation management and content strategy from him.
And just what is the “content strategy” of Tom Cruise’s career? It’s fairly simple. Cruise delivers to his core audience while attracting new fans with moderately risky creative choices, still keeping himself fresh for critics and colleagues with strategic, iconoclastic roles that challenge the core Cruise brand.
My boss Ian Lurie subscribes to a 70-20-10 approach to on-site content (a slight refining of Jonathan Mildenhall of Coca-Cola’s famous value and significance strategy
). I also subscribe to this philosophy for the following reasons:
• It is a deliberate and thoughtful method of planning useful, entertaining, and responsive branded material.
• He’s my boss.
Just what is the 70-20-10? According to Ian:
• 70 percent of our content should be solid, standard stuff. Basic how-tos and advice that are safe and easily justified as supporting SEO and other efforts.
• 20 percent of our content should riff on the 70 percent, but take some chances. This is the content that expands on 70 percent content, but may flirt with controversy, or try appealing to a new audience, or otherwise be moderately risky. It may also take a bit more effort. It also offers a higher potential payoff.
• 10 percent of our content should be completely innovative. Things we’ve never done that, if they work, could become part of the 20 or 70 percent. Ten percent content often requires a lot of work or audience interaction. Or it’s just risky. Most of the 10 percent will fail. You still have to do it. It’s really important, because without it, the entire strategy stagnates.
Tom Cruise’s 70-20-10
• 70 percent of his roles represent The Movie Star. The Tom Cruise brand: That cocky, loveable scoundrel who is exciting and risky, but inevitably on the side of right. These Cruise personas—Maverick in “Top Gun,” Ethan Hunt in “Mission: Impossible”—often have tragic backstories that enable us to look past their initial conceit, waiting for a denouement which always proves the Cruise character to be heroic, self-sacrificing, and truly good.
Why you should care
• 20 percent of his roles represent The Actor. Tom is still Tom—generally looks like him, sounds like him, acts like him—but he’s taking a chance. Maybe it’s a period film (“The Last Samurai”), or working in an unfamiliar genre (“Minority Report”), or spending half the movie in a mask (“Vanilla Sky”). Tom does these films both to challenge himself and to increase his “brand reach” to various demographics that may find his 70 percent films cloying or predictable.
• 10 percent of his roles represent The Iconoclast. Tom isn’t Tom. In fact, Tom is trying to tear down Tom Cruise. Here’s where the “art” happens. He takes big risks such as ranting about his manhood in “Born on the Fourth of July,” or playing a misogynistic, manipulative motivational speaker in “Magnolia.” Both of those films landed him Oscar nominations. There is an enormous upside to 10 percent content, but the downside is just as large. This also is where you can fall on your face (see “Rock of Ages”—on second thought, don’t).
Like Tom Cruise, you must manage your brand identity through choices in content. The days of the “EAT HERE” ad campaign are no more. There are too many alternatives. Like it or not, everyone is now in the content business. Involve and evolve—or dissolve.
What if 10 percent content scares you?
Risk mitigation doesn’t mean you don’t take risks, it means you manage them, deciding where to pull your punch, and where to hit ‘em with a massive uppercut.
I’m sure 10 percent content scares Tom Cruise, too. Generally, those movies don’t do as well, at least at the box office. But what they do really well is improve his brand—its reach, its durability, and its reputation.
The role of Les Grossman in “Tropic Thunder” saved Tom Cruise after the notorious couch-jumping incident. The performance made him accessible; it showed people he could laugh at himself. Now they’re talking about developing a Les Grossman movie. Having tried and succeeded with that role, Les Grossman no longer represents 10 percent content for Cruise.
The most successful 10 percent content can and should be replicated, joining the 20, and sometimes even the 70. For a good example of that, consider Tom Hanks, who went from comic goofball to two-time Oscar winner.
Unless you are happy with your business’ status quo, and OK with the risk that status may decline, you need to put out content that occasionally scares you. Don’t do it foolishly, but strategically and deliberately. And make sure you can measure it. The audience gets bored of the same old, same old. Growth can be painful, but it’s worthwhile.
Let Tom Cruise be an example for your content strategy, or understand that you’ll never attain A-list status. Instead, you and your business will be relegated to the direct-to-video shelf. But, then again, maybe you like Jean-Claude Van Damme.
Katie L. Fetting is a senior copywriter at Portent, a digital
marketing agency located in Seattle. Follow her on Twitter @KatieLFetting. A version of this story first appeared on the Portent blog.