Storytelling and Content Marketing: What Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton Can Teach You That Will Keep Your Marketing Going And Increase Sales

Storytelling and Content MarketingDid you realize that Hamilton can teach you about storytelling and content marketing?

Yes, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s blockbuster play is chock full of marketing lessons!

Miranda wrote the script, music and lyrics. Also, he played Hamilton in the Vassar Workshop, off-Broadway and initial Broadway run.

Opening on Broadway 5 years ago, Hamilton is content gold! It:

  • Received a Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
  • Won a Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album.
  • Dominated the 2016 Tony Awards. It received a record-setting 16 nominations and won 11 awards!
  • Was made into a film. And Disney+ maximized interest and distribution by releasing the Hamilton movie on July 3, 2020. So it coincided with the July Fourth holiday and Disney’s new subscription service.

Beyond this recognition, Lin-Manuel Miranda brought Alexander Hamilton’s story and the play full circle. When President Obama invited him to visit the White House and to perform there.

From humble beginnings, Alexander Hamilton believed battlefield victory was necessary to build his reputation. According to Boston University Professor Brendan McConville: “[Hamilton] had been with [George] Washington as a key aide throughout most of the [American Revolutionary] war, but wanted glory on the battlefield”

So Washington appointed Hamilton to command a light infantry battalion in Marquis de Lafayette’s Division. In 1781, Hamilton helped lead the attack at the Battle of Yorktown. It became the war’s last major land battle.

While at the White House, Miranda treated the public to this Rose Garden performance:

What to create your own marketing success?
Then follow Lin-Manuel Miranda’s example and tap into the power of storytelling and content marketing

Why Storytelling Needs To Be At The Heart of Your Content Marketing

There’s science and art behind using storytelling and content marketing together.

The Science Behind Storytelling

Studies show that well-crafted stories about a person, even fictional ones, can increase oxytocin levels in the brain. So the story gains empathy and cooperation from the audience.

92% of consumers want brands to create content marketing that tell stories. (Via Fast Company)

Storytelling and Content Marketing - The Science of Storytelling

To create content marketing, journalists do a better job of converting facts and data into a story. (Hat tip to Ann Handley and George Stenitzer because they both started out as journalists.)

Because they use the “Five Ws” to answer:

  • Who?
  • What?
  • When?
  • Where?
  • Why?

Like bloggers, podcasters and vloggers, Hamilton worked like a journalist after the war. Because he wanted a stronger federal government with a new Constitution.

While The Articles of Confederation of 1871 named “The United States of America.” And gave Congress the authority to make treaties and alliances, maintain armed forces, and coin money.

The federal government could NOT enforce laws, levy taxes, and regulate commerce to repay its debts from the Revolutionary War.

At the 1787 federal convention, Hamilton made a 6 hour speech. He focused on his plan for a strong, centralized government.

AND people criticized him because they thought he wanted to create a monarchy.

So what did Hamilton do?
He created content to sell the new constitution to people to get it ratified!

With James Madison and John Jay, Hamilton wrote 51 of 85 essays defending the proposed US Constitution. This collection is now known as The Federalist Papers.

Actionable Storytelling And Content Marketing Tip:

  • Use emotionally-charged stories to inspire your audience to act.


Why Stories Will Make You Improve Your Content Marketing

In Made To Stick, Chip and Dan Heath compare the power of stories to “ flight simulators for the brain.” Because stories provide context for readers and show them new relationships.

Heath Brothers’ SUCCES Model shows how to create memorable stories:

  • Simple. Use easy words and keep your sentences short.
  • Unexpected. Break a pattern to get someone’s attention. It adds surprise and makes people want more.
  • Concrete. Refer to tangible things. Where possible make them relate to the 5 senses. So readers know what you’re talking about.
  • Credible. Make your story believable and trustworthy.
  • Emotional. Make your audience feel something to pull them in.
  • Stories. Use a basic story structure to make it easy-to-understand and follow.

As a result, your ideas stick. Because people understand and remember them. So they leave a lasting impact and change the reader’s opinions and/or behavior.

Made to stick success model

Here’s an example of how IKEA Singapore creates content marketing that integrates storytelling.

Entitled “Make Home Count”, IKEA’s key to content marketing success using videos:
Use fun stories to talk about their products.

IKEA's Make Home Count YouTube example of storytelling and content marketing

This YouTube video features a Shelf Help Guru, a play on self-help gurus. Using this title gives the audience a hint about how Fille Gute will tell this IKEA story.

This great example of using storytelling to support content marketing uses word play to make a funny, must-watch video. It has attracted over 650,000 views to-date.


3 Storytelling and Content Marketing Lessons

To improve your marketing results, examine these 3 storytelling and content marketing lessons. They’re based on Lin-Manuel Miranda’s play, Hamilton.

1. Use Themes And Elements Of Storytelling In Content Marketing

Ron Chernow’s biography, Alexander Hamilton, inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda to create the play, Hamilton.

To do this, Miranda tapped into human emotions to build drama and used a universal storytelling framework.

The purpose of storytelling in content marketing:

  • Draw the reader in,
  • Allow them to get immersed, and
  • Get them to want more of your content!

This use of story and content applies to all formats including:

  • Text including stories and books. Originally, Homer’s The Odyssey was memorized and shared orally.
  • Visual images including paintings, photographs and comics (aka: graphic novels).
  • Video including professional movies and television as well social media options.
  • Audio including podcasts, voice-first content, live performances, and reading out loud.

As Chip and Dan Heath show 3 Types of Story Plots inspire people to act:

  1. Challenge plot encourages grit. So an underdog overcomes adversity.
  2. Connection plot creates relationships. This happens when people connect against all odds to bridge a significant gap. It includes race, social differences and/or traditional beliefs.
  3. Creative plot motivates people to be better. It champions people who use their smarts to achieve their goals.

Actionable Storytelling and Content Marketing Tips:

  • Use existing story plots and themes. Borrow from Aesop’s Fables and Shakespeare.
  • Tap into Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey. It consists of 3 main phases. (And Campbell broke them down further into 17 stages). They are Departure or Separation, Initiation or Descent and Initiation; and Return.

The Hero's Journey


2. Why Pop Culture Will Make You Improve Your Storytelling

Beyond having a strong story structure, Miranda tapped into the power of pop culture.

To create the music for Hamilton, Miranda borrowed from hip hop and rap. This gives Hamilton a street-savvy voice of the people.

In addition, the music of Hamilton includes influences from R&B, pop and soul music.
As well as the traditional Broadway style show tunes audiences expect from a musical.

Unlike most quickly produced cast albums, the production of Hamilton was overseen by Questlove and Black Thought of the Roots. These musicians appear on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, the popular US late night talk show.

According to The Guardian:
“[This suggests] that its makers intended the Hamilton album to function as a standalone work, rather than a souvenir of a night out.” 

Marketers pay attention:
Ensure that each version or format of your content marketing can to stand on its own.

As proof, the cast album has sold around 1 million copies in the US. And has crossed over hip hop and Broadway music lovers alike. This shows how content marketers can extend their audience by tapping into the power of pop culture.

But Miranda took his storytelling further:
He cast non-white actors as the Founding Fathers and others.

Miranda described Hamilton as about “America then, as told by America now”. In a post-George Floyd world, more businesses and marketers need to take a cue from Miranda.

Actionable Storytelling and Content Marketing Tips:

  • Use your platform to take a stand. The Daily Show With Trevor Noah does a great job of taking on important political and social issues. Here’s a great example:


3. How To Extend Content Marketing Life To Increase Your Results

Do you want your content marketing to stay visible and viable longer?
Of course you do!

Continued and long-term distribution is the true win for your content marketing.Click To Tweet


To keep your content distribution going over time, use the TIPs Method (aka: Test, improve and promote!)

Content Distribution TIP Method - Heidi Cohen

Beyond saving scarce budget, your best content marketing investment is to:

  • Keep your existing content up-to-date.
  • Create new distribution presentations tailored by distribution channel and platform.
  • Transform your content into different formats and distribute across new channels and platforms.

Also, start with a focus on one audience segment and content format. Then, as it gains traction, expand into new channels and formats.

If you selectively choose road-tested content that already performs well you further boost results.

Miranda’s play Hamilton followed this iterative content distribution approach. The play started off-Broadway at The Public Theater in February 2015. Based on that success, it moved to Broadway and has productions in other cities including Chicago and London.

Further, Hamilton was the basis for an award-winning cast album and a new feature film by Disney.

Actionable Storytelling and Content Marketing Tips:

  • Audit your content marketing regularly. To help you decide which content needs to be updated and improved.
  • Transform your best content into another format. Spin Sucks’s Gini Dietrich  created a book to supplement her 30 Day January Blog Challenge. And recently, Dietrich announced a partnership with Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications for a PESO Model Certificate.

PESO Model


Storytelling and Content Marketing Conclusion

Want to give your content marketing more power AND attract more audience?

Then add stories to your content marketing.

Because stories make your content more tangible and easy-to-remember.

Even better, you can borrow your story structure from existing sources. This does NOT mean copy!

Instead take Austin Kleon’s advice to “Steal Like An Artist.” While you can use someone’s work as inspiration, you must make it your own. For businesses, this means it must include your unique brand.

Also tap into pop culture to get inspired and help you to improvise.

Here’s a great example of how to improvise the music from Hamilton with The Muppets. According to a number of media outlets, this video is the work of a fan, Ricky Downes III, and he does all of the different character impressions.

Based on the YouTube comments, it’s difficult to tell if it’s a piece of fan love or a sneak peak at a future Muppet feature film. To-date, it has attracted about 600k views and 1,400 comments. Also, it has attracted press. In any case, it’s a content marketing success story.

So for maximum content marketing results, use these 3 storytelling lessons

  • Use existing, tested story themes.
  • Tap into pop culture.
  • Continue to change your content format and keep your distribution going


Happy Marketing,
Heidi Cohen

Heidi CohenHeidi Cohen is the President of Riverside Marketing Strategies.
You can find Heidi on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn.


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Photo Credit: Hamilton album cover via Amazon

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