What Tomb Raider Can Teach You About Content Strategy

You don't need short-shorts or big guns to pull off an epic brand story.

by Kat French |
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This weekend, my family rented the latest game in the venerable Tomb Raider franchise. My husband and I can still remember playing the original Tomb Raider back in 1996, when we were a military family living in Japan.

The cost of living in Japan on an enlisted salary meant gaming was always a social event. The squadron’s gamers pooled our resources, and rotated who bought each new must-have game as they came out. But most nights, a dozen or so Airmen and their spouses would be crowded around a television in our friends’ tower apartment, watching Lara Croft’s pixelated derriere leap from one outlandish cliffhanger or puzzle to the next.

It was disarming (and somewhat charming) to hear men who knew how to assemble and fire an AK47, screaming like twelve-year old girls when a T-Rex unexpectedly showed up and took a bite out of our intrepid adventurer.

It’s hard to believe that my kid, who was an infant during those gaming sessions years ago, is now old enough to play the latest addition to the Tomb Raider franchise. So in honor of my longstanding relationship with Lara Croft, I thought I’d offer up a few content strategy lessons pulled from everybody’s favorite fictional British archaeologist in hot pants.

1. If you don’t have a precise fix on your brand’s essential story elements, your fans do.

Over the years, the Tomb Raider IP had a lot of ups and downs. Some iterations of the game didn’t fly, not because they weren’t good games, but because they didn’t “feel enough like” the original. Some fans complained about changes in locale. Others complained when the mythological elements were downplayed (or overemphasized). It took a lot of failures for the people behind the brand to distill exactly what made Lara Croft special in the minds of fans.

Your takeaway? If you’re going to use storytelling and content to build a cohesive brand, it’s important to know your core narrative. Stray from your brand’s authentic, ownable story at your peril. And if you get lost, go back to your most passionate fans for direction. They know what they love about you.

2. Don’t be afraid to court a little controversy.

The Tomb Raider franchise has always had it’s passionate fans, and it’s equally passionate detractors. Some female gamers felt Lara’s proportions promoted an unhealthy or overly sexualized body image. The newest game stirred up ire before it launched, when miscommunication in an interview made it sound like there might be a sexual assault in the game’s content. (There isn’t. I’ve seen the scene that was referenced.) The game’s ability to create both buzz and backlash means it’s a brand that people think matters enough to talk about.

Your takeaway? If you play it safe and avoid anything that gets people fired up in your content, you run the potentially greater risk of creating forgettable content. Take some risks, take a stand, have a position and be willing to defend it.

3. Don’t limit yourself to a single medium. 

Over the years, the Tomb Raider IP has migrated from its original gaming console. Along with the two major motion picture releases starring Angelina Jolie, Tomb Raider has spawned comic books, a series of original novels from Ballantine Books, a brief animated series, and a licensed theme park ride that scared the crap out of me personally on more than one occasion.

Your takeaway? If your content strategy isn’t a transmedia strategy, you’re doing it wrong. Content strategy that doesn’t think beyond a website, or even beyond the web itself, isn’t prepared to take full advantage of the different media available in 2013. 

4. Don’t let anyone else tell you you’re irrelevant.

After fifteen years and nine games, there were plenty of people ready to say that Tomb Raider should put up a tombstone, already. EIDOS and Crystal Dynamics found a way to breathe life back into the story, bring it into a modern context, and still retain the key elements that made it unique.

Your takeaway? Don’t focus on “going viral.” Don’t focus on being “the next cool thing,” because that’s a short-sighted and fleeting kind of success. Build a content strategy that is expansive, adaptable, and thinks beyond the next meme.

What about you?

What stories, movies, games and characters inspire you to think bigger with your content? Content strategy is about storytelling across media, and storytelling has always been about remixing elements of earlier stories. If you only look for inspiration inside the digital marketing bubble, you’ll find yourself running out of air.

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About the Author

Kat French

Kat French is the Client Services and Content Manager at SME Digital. An exceptional writer, Kat combines creativity with an agile, get-it-done attitude across a broad range of experience in content strategy, copywriting, community management and social media marketing. She has worked with national brands like Maker's Mark, Daytona Beach Tourism, CafePress and more.