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  • Steven Wilson-Beales

What can Iron Maiden possibly teach us about content strategy?

If you can remember a time before the interweb then you’ll remember a time when your musical tastes where quite limited to what you heard on TV, radio and your immediate network. One of the advantages of having older siblings, or friends with eclectic tastes in music, was that it enabled you to break out of that circle and discover more. At a time when I should have been listening to Stock, Aitken & Waterman, my friends were turning me onto blues (Muddy Waters, Cream), prog rock (Rush), early 80s electro (Depeche Mode) and one particular heavy metal band – Iron Maiden.

I can remember it now, I came home after school one day and there’s a ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’ picture disc on the record player (remember those?). I don’t think I knew much about the band beforehand but after listening to that opening guitar riff and the watching the artwork spin round a few times I was hooked.

(Well, almost. The following year I actually became a die-hard Depeche Mode fan and refused to listen to any guitar bands for the next five years. Odd, but true, and another story altogether.)

Anyway, now that I’m approaching the big 40, I’ve found myself listening to more Maiden music than ever before. One of my friends said I was regressing, that “It’ll be Slade next”. So, before I regress entirely and start wearing a pair of glam rock boots to work – here’s what the mighty Iron Maiden can teach us all about content strategy.

Define a vision, then stick to your guns Back in 1975, bassist and primary songwriter Steve Harris always had a clear vision for the band – to produce a form of faster, blues-based rock at a time when prog and blues was becoming superseded by punk. If you listen to a track like ‘Prowler‘ it’s a great live performance with plenty of grit – it’s the sound of a band who know what they want and no body’s going to stop them getting it.

Having a strong vision of what you want with someone to lead that vision is a necessary requirement for any content strategy. This might seem obvious, but you really need consensus and governance before delivering a project. If something as chaotic as a rock band can do it, surely we all can?

Be user-focused Maiden are dedicated to their fans and have an extremely large, global audience as a result. Whether that’s tour planning (they chartered their own plane in 2007 so they could reach fans they would have otherwise missed) or just the way they are on stage – creating a great experience for their fans has always been a priority.

Part of this has always been about being  connected and transparent – which is why you’ll see numerous updates from the band online, even when they are not touring.

Let’s take another example. In those early gigs, the band manger suggested they’d benefit from some kind of additional visual element. This is the reason their previous stage prop ‘Eddie’ became elevated to a principle character in their live performances and artwork. It dramatically added to the overall band ‘concept’ (commenting on dark material without being satanic) and gave the fans a mascot that they quickly latched on to. I don’t think the band planned for Eddie to be this successful – but they adapted accordingly.

What can we learn? Being user-centric doesn’t mean abandoning your vision. It just means making your audience central to what you do and adapting based on feedback.

Iterate, iterate, iterate In those early years of their ‘product development’ Maiden went through quite a few line-up changes as they refined their sound and settled on the right ‘team’ to deliver that ‘vision’. Again, that was all down to having that clear vision in the first place and testing this through years of relentless gigging. By the time they got to 1981, they had a completely different line-up to 1975, including a new singer (Bruce Dickinson).

What can we learn? I don’t think there’s any greater example of ‘user-testing’ that getting up on stage and performing. Always involve your users – it’s the best kind of reality check.

Tone of Voice In every content strategy it’s important to think about your tone of voice, and how that might adapt this across different platforms and circumstances. With Maiden I see two ‘modes’ – what goes on in their songs and what happens external to that. The first is about song structure, formality, meaning – the latter is about how they want to portray themselves as a band (i.e. a bunch of down to earth blokes).

I think this is a nice example of tone of voice – at the core the band voice is the same, but there is a different tone according to the context they are delivering it. Compare this with an artist like Lady Gaga where the messaging is far more ‘considered’. Gaga fans still love everything she does but the terms of engagement are different.

All fans believe that their favourite bands add real meaning to their lives – if only all brands could achieve this. The difference between Iron Maiden and Lady Gaga is that whereas Maiden offers the complete package (song content and lifestyle), Lady Gaga relies far more on image and messaging than song content. If Gaga produced better songs, she’s possibly have to rely less on image and messaging.

(PS: I’m not slating Gaga here, I liked her first album and think they need to do a collab like this immediately.)

In short, think about your voice and tone and how it might adapt in different contexts. Also, ensure you have plenty of great content to talk about – don’t rely on social media to do everything for you.

“Structure creates freedom” I got this phrase from Ann Rockley at a recent adaptive content training session. Every content strategy needs to be supported by rules and guidelines, if you don’t then it’ll fall flat. However, this doesn’t mean that your proposal needs to be so regulated that it stifles all creativity within the team.

Rock music is all about creating a space for talent to breathe. Make sure your content strategy also rocks – nurture creativity, but make sure everything is aligned with the overall vision and structure.

Can I play with Madness? Oh yes, that classic Maiden track. Delivering a content strategy is never smooth, but if the team are singing together in the right key then you have a great chance of success. Otherwise, it’s like staring into a crystal ball with everyone seeing different things. (see what I did there…? Ok, I’ll stop doing that now…)

Be Provocative Ok, ‘provocative’ might be a strong word to use here, but you’ve got to think about how to challenge the norm, incite debate and get people talking about your brand. The use of Eddie in their artwork and the nature of their songs have always poked fun at social norms – what could you do to provoke reaction?

Ok, ok, songs about dogfights overhead and Egyptian power slaves might not do it for your brand, but you get the idea.

You need to get beyond transactional messaging with your audience, deliver real value and meaning. If you are taking a user-centric approach then you’ll know the kinds of conversations and issues that affect them and you’ll be able to add value to the discussion. Stop seeing Facebook social media viral campaigns as trivial and start realising that it’s all about engaging your users on whatever platform they are on.

I’m not advocating the same approach with all brands – but if you’re not adding value and making your content desirable then what exactly are you doing?

In conclusion That’s it. The gods of rock will probably flay me alive for referencing their music in this way – but I hope it’s offered a fun way of looking at content strategy. Next week – Feel the Noize! 27 things Slade can teach you about your content marketing mix.

And here’s the track that started this whole blog post off. Digging the boots Bruce…


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