Most startups use some form of content marketing: When your budget is tight, content marketing can be a less expensive and more efficient way to market and grow your business. 

Plus, as Dharmesh Shah, the co-founder of HubSpot, says, "Although it is still possible to blast the world with your message and offering, and try to interrupt your way into people's lives with your marketing, that's the most expensive way to do it. The cheaper and better way is to tell a story or share something helpful and useful -- that's the power of content marketing."

But that doesn't mean content marketing is easy. It's hard to create innovative content, especially innovative video content, that not only attracts an audience but also serves to tell the story of your brand -- and helps an audience connect with your brand and its products.

But clearly not for Ryan Reynolds. Ryan spent years trying to pull together financing and studio support for Deadpool, the 2016 movie that was eventually produced for $58 million -- basically bootstrapped, at least relative to the typical superhero movie production budget. (For example, Avengers: Infinity Wars cost over $300 million to produce.)

The marketing budget for Deadpool was also relatively bare bones, so Reynolds focused on creating content that audiences would not only consume but would also be eager to share. (Sound familiar?) Inside jokes, off-beat humor, clever trailers... the marketing for Deadpool substituted creativity for heavy spending.

And it worked: Deadpool went on to gross over $750 million worldwide, making it the most profitable R rated film in history. (And proving that while talent matters, persistence is often the real key to success.)

Deadpool 2 opens tomorrow. (No spoilers, except to say it's every bit as entertaining as Deadpool. And that's coming from someone as old as me.) 

While the promotional campaign does include some conventional strategies, Ryan has focused heavily on content marketing, leveraging his humor and story-telling skills to produce content like this video with a surprisingly great David Beckham that has been viewed 17 million times since it was released a week ago:

Note there are no clips from the new movie, no overt calls to action (except for a card at the very end)... just a cute story that connects with the audience and tells the story of the brand.

He also takes a different approach to hitting the late night talk show circuit. Instead of sitting on the couch and talking about how wonderful it was to work with his costars, Reynolds has made appearances like this:

And then, of course, there's this.

Marketing, sure, but mostly just entertainment that's done 20 million views -- and tells the story of the brand. 

So what can you learn from the Deadpool approach to content marketing? It turns out Ryan's approach dovetails nicely with Dharmesh's perspective on inbound marketing.

Key takeaways:

1. You absolutely must market.

Many startups ignore marketing. After all, they're committed to building a killer product people will love. Still: Without marketing, who will ever know your killer product exists? Great marketing helps you find people to love what you do.

If you don't plan to invest in marketing, don't invest in building a business.

2. Your marketing should service a need. 

No one wakes up thinking, "Gee, I hope I get spammed today." Ninety-five percent of people don't like being interrupted.

The other 5 percent hate being interrupted.

The best marketing is based on doing what you do best: helping customers. The best marketing is based on creating content that is useful for your potential users or customers. That's the essence of inbound marketing: helpful, useful content that draws people to you, attracting instead of annoying them.

Even if "helpful" just means "entertaining" -- because we can all use a little more fun in our lives.

3. If you wait until your product is "ready" to start marketing, you've waited too long.

Ideally, you should write your first line of content the same day you write your first line of code. Ideally, you should write your first line of content the same day you brainstorm your first prototype.

You absolutely must start building brand, reach, and credibility as early as possible.

Here's an example from the Deadpool 2 campaign. Released last year, the video provides some early clips from the movie and helps build early awareness.

The main lesson? Too soon is never soon enough.

4. Never try to spend your way to customer awareness. 

You won't win by shouting louder, placing bigger ads, or buying a bigger booth at the trade show. You can't buy attention; you can only rent it. Advertising is always temporary -- when you stop paying the "rent," you stop getting any attention.

Besides, well-heeled competitors have more money and can spend money way more stupidly. So let them.

As a startup, your goal is to use marketing tools and strategies that create leverage. You need to receive disproportionate, long-term return on your marketing investments.

That's the only way you will survive and later thrive.

5. Don't rely solely on your marketing team. 

In the early years, everyone in the company should be selling.

Everyone in the company should also be marketing.

Reynolds is a prime example; he doesn't just dip in for the obligatory one-week pre-release marketing blitz. "I've never taken ownership like this before," Reynolds told The Hollywood Reporter. "I could email Marc (Weinstock, head of marketing for Fox) or anyone on his team at three in the morning with pitches and ideas, and somehow a response would come back within 10 or 15 minutes."

That's why your team needs people that care passionately about what you do, who want to help and inform and teach other people, and who can create content that builds your brand and reach.

You need as many of those people as you can find -- because the more people you have that are committed to helping customers, the more your company will grow.

Published on: May 17, 2018