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  • Writer's pictureNicole Johnson

What 'Black Panther' can teach us about branding and marketing

Updated: Jan 29, 2019

Image source: Time Magazine

If you haven't heard, Black Panther is the number one movie in the world. It exceeded projections by 100 million during its opening weekend, crossed the 1 billion dollar mark after just four weeks, and, most recently, became the fourth highest-grossing domestic film of all time, surpassing Jurassic World. Black Panther is arguable the greatest film Marvel has ever made.

There's no denying the film's impact on the culture and all communities alike. But what can companies take away from it?

As someone who has worked with both Fortune 500 brands and agile startups, I've seen how customer-first brands always come out on top. Here are a few marketing lessons that I gleaned from Black Panther and what you can do to infuse them into your own branding and marketing strategies.

  • Craft compelling stories. As humans, we’re wired for storytelling. Numerous studies show that our brains are far more engaged by storytelling, than cold, hard facts. Compelling stories allow us to make personal connections with our target audience in ways that data alone cannot. In Black Panther, co-writer and director Ryan Coogler tells the story of #WakandaForever and its reigning king, T’Chaka (played by real life father and son John Kani and Atandwa Kani), and the subsequent reign of his son, T’Challa (played by @ChadwickBoseman). (Other stars include Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman and Daniel Kaluuya.) Yet the film is more than a superhero story with a predominantly black cast. Through the art of storytelling, the film puts forth complex questions about cultural identify and responsibility in a way that audiences of all backgrounds can relate to.

That moment when the entire school finds out they're going to see Marvel's new movie.

  • Build marketing teams that mirror your desired audience. "Representation matters” has become a popular catchphrase, because it’s true. Building a brand with diverse teams that are reflective of a diverse population is just good business. From the way you structure your brand message to how you conceptualize your campaigns, diverse representation in branding and marketing sends the message to your customers that they matter -- because they do. There's no doubt that Black Panther is a cultural phenomenon that reminds us why representation truly matters. The film not only shatters stereotypes, but validates black and brown kids (and adults) all over the world with characters that truly embody #BlackExcellence (i.e. someone that portrays great qualities and abilities that make the black community proud. Source: Urban Dictionary).

  • Develop an approach that allows you to authentically stay true to your brand values, employees, and customers. You’ve heard it time and time again -- authenticity in marketing is a must. Consumers can sniff out a fake from a mile away. Shall we recall the marketing campaign ‘fails' of 2017 by Uber, Dove and Pepsi?) During the making of Black Panther, Coogler not only honored the authenticity of the comic book itself, but leaned heavily on the culture, people, and history of Africa in which to tell it — even shining a light on the psychological scars of slavery and the real-life consequences of it in the present day.

Coogler’s own authenticity can be seen in this heartwarming letter of gratitude to his fans and supporters:

  • Take risks. Finally, while authentic storytelling is your brand’s biggest marketing asset, you can rarely rely on it alone to grow your brand. Risk-taking in marketing is an important strategy in your brand’s journey to influence the hearts and minds of your target audience. Marvel took a risk in the making of Black Panther in an industry plagued by the myth that “Black films don’t sell, or travel”. And Marvel’s risk paid off, to say the least. But perhaps the most important move on Marvel’s part can be summed up in a recent Fast Company article: “The Best Marketing For “Black Panther” Was Making “Black Panther”. Turns out moviegoers want films that show diverse, strong characters and stories after all.

Brands who continually deliver products, services, and campaigns that demonstrate they understand the unique needs and challenges of their target customer will reap big rewards. This includes how you market, sell and retain your customers through every phase of the journey.

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