Content Strategy Lessons from Hollywood Costume Designers

 Image Credit: Bigstock/vclements

Image Credit: Bigstock/vclements

Take a minute and think about some of these iconic movie characters. 

Indiana Jones...

Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz...

Harry Potter...

Go on. Close your eyes. Watch them come to life in your mind.

It's ok. I'll wait...

Now, what did you see? 

Chances are, you saw more than just a face. You saw the character in their full wardrobe. Did you see Indy's hat? Dorothy's shoes? Harry's cape and wand? Of course you did. Because, as I learned recently at the VMFA's Hollywood Costume exhibit, that's exactly how the costume designer planned it. 

As I strolled through the exhibit, looking at some of the most memorable costumes in cinema, I was struck by how familiar the role of the Costume Designer is in movie making to that of a Content Strategist in the business world. 

Research is the Key to Results

"I started by spending about a year researching the time period..." That sentence, in some form or another, was in just about all of the interviews that accompanied the costumes, whether it was the elaborate period pieces from Shakespeare in Love or the totally utilitarian ensemble worn by Matt Damon in The Bourne Identity. Everything starts with research. It's much the same with content strategy. The key to getting it right is by researching the heck out of our client and their audience. We rely on audits and analytics to get our job done. 

Executing Someone Else's Vision

Directors, and business leaders, come in all different types. Some are easy going and collaborative. Others are controlling and reluctant to trust. Some are grandiose and gregarious. Others are subdued and reserved. But, at the end of the day, whatever their personality is, it's always their vision that needs to be portrayed, not our own. 

Authenticity Depends on Your Audience

Deborah Scott, the award winning costume designer of Titanic, described how when you're designing for periods in the past, it's still important to make sure your designs are attractive to a contemporary audience. If you adhere too tightly to the fashions of yesterday, your design won't feel authentic, even if it's more historically accurate. Brands need to think much the same way. Rather than strictly adhere to the "correct" way to create our content, we need to think about the context in which our audience will view it.   

Goals Are Different for Every Project

The Costume Designer may work on a fantastical action-adventure movie and then move on to an intimate dramatic love story. Marit Allen is a good example. In 2003, she was the costume designer for Hulk and in 2005 she worked on Brokeback Mountain. Both movies had very different stories they wanted to share, which meant the goals for Allen's designs changed dramatically from project to project. Just like no two movies are exactly alike, all businesses are different, too. This means that the Content Strategist needs to be adaptable and clearly understand the goals of their projects. 

Building Memorable Characters and Experiences

While it's true that Costume Designers and Content Strategists don't usually execute the final vision (that's left up to the talented actors and writers, respectively) our work still goes a long way in developing characters. During the exhibit, all the costumes were displayed on black mannequins, but the emotional connection to the character was still very real. The same is true with Content Strategists, we develop the overall voice and tone of a brand, create foundational content to give guidance, and audit to make sure ideas are executed properly, but the actual words are usually written by someone else.

Not Noticing Our Work is a Usually a Good Thing

For the Content Strategist, our medium is style guides, audits and editorial calendars. While they're not always visible to the final audience, they're critical to making sure the vision of the business leader is executed correctly. The same is true for Costume Designers. You want to get so lost in a world that you don't notice distinct costumes, regardless of how over-the-top or understated they are. 

We aren't in the front and center. You likely won't know us by name. But without us, the magnificent characters of film, and business, wouldn't exist. What are your thoughts? What would film be like without Costume Designers? Or business without Content Strategists? Let's keep the conversation going in the comments!