On my recent work-cation to Australia and New Zealand, I flew for about 50 hours. Lots of time to avail myself of the in-flight media. I observed Delta take its content strategy to a new level that can teach us some handy lessons in content scaling.

Safety Video with Sass

A couple of years ago, when you thought about Delta, you might not have thought about content. That all changed when Delta took a chance and released a slightly cheeky version of its safety video. Instead of a dry demonstration, Delta edu-tained customers like me into paying attention.

The video also caught the attention of millions of people on social media, breathing some freshness into a traditional brand.

So, that video was a win. Now, let’s look at Delta has scaled that content success.

Evolution to Content Strategy

Delta has extended the creative safety video into a series with different themes and more humor. Over the holidays, the airline released a festive version, complete with tacky sweaters and holiday characters.

Recently, Delta released perhaps my favorite theme: 80s. (Don’t be surprised if you see an 80s reference or five in my latest book.) From mixed tapes to permed and crimped hair to Kareem Abdul Jabar to a symphony of synthesizers, this video has it all. It commemorates the anniversary of Delta’s first ever safety video.

So, Delta evolved the sassy video into a themed series. Not only does that keep edu-taining us, but Delta continues to reach a wider audience on social media.

Now, the airline doesn’t stop there. Delta curates the in-flight media based on the theme. Much to my delight, I could spend a few of my 50-odd hours watching some of my favorite 80s movies. I took a snapshot of the feature. (I know it’s blurry. I shouldn’t have taken it after an in-flight cocktail.)

image of Delta's in-flight feature of 80s media

Alas, the greatest 80s movie of all time, Rad, was overlooked. Despite that, Delta’s example offers us several important lessons.

Lessons for Us

Whether you’re an airline or a nonprofit or something else entirely, you can learn something from Delta’s approach.

Experimenting Pays Off

Delta had the courage to try something different with its safety video. I flew on three different airlines during my trip, and none of them had a video remotely similar to Delta’s approach. If the airline had not taken some risk, it never would have reaped the rewards. In the same way, if you don’t allow your organization to try something different now and then with your content, you’ll never get exceptional results.

Scale Your One-Off Success with Smart Strategy

Delta took an isolated win—a successful safety video—and evolved it into a content strategy for both the in-flight experience and social media. We often think of content strategy as something that happens top-down, moving from an exhaustive analysis into a comprehensive plan and then detailed implementation. In this case, strategy happened from the bottom-up. And that’s okay. We work with a wide variety of organizations in different states of content maturity. Starting with a successful pilot and then building on it is a practical, achievable way to gain support for content strategy.

This example should also hearten anyone who isn’t sure when to begin with content strategy. It’s never too late to start, and there’s never a perfect time to start. Don’t wait for the right moment to start experimenting with content or content strategy because that moment will never arrive.

(For more about scaling your content success, check out this post or my upcoming presentations.)

Signature Content Is a Brand Asset

This creative take on the safety video is now something Delta is known for (or for which Delta is known, for you old-school grammar folks.) Delta owns the safety video in a way no other airline does. It’s a trademark or signature. It’s an asset to the Delta brand.

Content can be as valuable to your identity as your logo and tagline. Are you treating it that way? Are you making the most of the opportunity to increase your brand equity through content? Are you exploring what you could be known for?

(For more about signature content, check out page in my book “Clout: The Art and Science of Influential Web Content.”)

Repurposing Content Connects the Customer Experience

Repurposing content means, of course, using content for more than one purpose. Delta uses safety videos on both its airplanes to support the customer experience and its social channels, such as YouTube, to support marketing. Content is not cheap to create, and we can deliver content on more channels and platforms than ever. So, repurposing is a technique to help you get the most bang for your content buck.

Another benefit of repurposing content is you create cohesion between different phases of your customers’ lifecycle or journey. For Delta, the videos connect marketing and customer service. The safety videos act as ads that help raise awareness or remind people of Delta as well as edu-tain Delta customers during the flight.

And, there’s still another benefit. When you repurpose content, you often have a solid reason to collaborate across organizational silos. In my experience, that’s always good for content, and recent research from Wharton School of Business shows collaboration is key to success in general. While I don’t have a view into what exactly happened behind the scenes at Delta, I would be shocked if at least two different departments or teams did not coordinate on their content effort.

(For more about content silos, check out this post.)

Explore Edu-tainment

Delta gave the important but dry safety video new life by making it fun. Edu-tainment might be one of the most underutilized content techniques available to you and, as such, represents a big opportunity.

One of my all-time favorite examples is from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, when the science-based agency reframed emergency preparedness content as how to get ready for a zombie apocalypse. This primer on preparing for an emergency went viral, attracting so much traffic that the CDC web server crashed. For CDC, I also considered this to be a “wow” moment.

Curation Isn’t Just for Music Playlists

Curation is a powerful content technique that goes far beyond your playlist (or mixed tape). Curation is featuring or showcasing content in a new, unique, relevant, or thematic way. For Delta, curation extended the safety video theme into the rest of the flight experience. Practically speaking, curation is a low-cost way to repackage evergreen or old content and add brand or customer experience value. Delta offering When Harry Met Sally doesn’t mean much to me on its own. But when packaged with other 80s movies as part of a theme, I see its fun relevance.

How can you use curation to enhance your customers’ experience or give old / evergreen content new relevance?

(For more about curation as an influential content technique, check out my book, “Clout.”)

So, I hope Delta’s 80s theme inspires you to do more than dust off that Members’ Only jacket or pair of lace fingerless gloves. Explore how you can take your organization’s content approach to the next level.

Originally published on the now-archived Content Science blog in April 2014.

The Author

Colleen Jones is the author of The Content Advantage and founder of Content Science, a content intelligence and strategy firm that has advised or trained hundreds of the world’s leading organizations since 2010. She also is the former head of content at MailChimp, the marketing platform recognized by Inc. as 2017 Company of the Year. A passionate entrepreneur, Colleen has led Content Science to develop the  content intelligence software ContentWRX, publish the online magazine Content Science Review, and offer online certifications through Content Science Academy.

Colleen has earned recognition as an instructor on LinkedIn Learning, one of the Top 50 Most Influential Women in Content Marketing by a TopRank study, a Content Change Agent by Society of Technical Communication’s Intercom Magazine, and one of the Top 50 Most Influential Content Strategists by multiple organizations.

Follow Colleen on Twitter at @leenjones or on LinkedIn.

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