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With the arrival of Avengers: Endgame, what can the Marvel Cinematic Universe teach entrepreneurs?

Written by Zen Terrelonge on Thursday, 25 April 2019. Posted in Insight, Leadership, Analysis, People

Avengers: Endgame, which is arguably Marvel Studios’ most anticipated film launch to date, has finally arrived. As film fans globally clamour to book seats, we reflect on why people keep returning for more and the lessons for SMEs

With the arrival of Avengers: Endgame, what can the Marvel Cinematic Universe teach entrepreneurs?

Photo credit: 2019 Getty Images

“Dread it, run from it, destiny arrives all the same. And now, it’s here.” The quote menacingly uttered by villain Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War is a memorable one. And it couldn’t be a more appropriate way to signal the arrival of the film’s eagerly awaited sequel Avengers: Endgame.

After all, getting to this tipping point in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been over a decade in the making. Having kicked off in 2008 with Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man in which he takes on the mantle of “genius, billionaire, playboy philanthropist” Tony Stark, films from Marvel Studios aren’t just geared to devout readers of comics, they’re recognised by just about everyone.

The editorial and design teams here at Elite Business are evidence of that. With all staff members of different genders, backgrounds and ages, we were manically trying to book tickets for the midnight screening of the film. Although some employers should be concerned – 3.7 million Brits are considering taking the day off to catch the movie, according to travel startup Culture Trip.

Indeed, the release of a new film from the Marvel Cinematic Universe is pretty much a done deal that it’s going to climb atop the box office in at least a handful of countries. Avengers: Endgame is certainly off to a solid start based on figures reported by Deadline, which has ticket presales set somewhere between $120m and $140m.  This comes following a previous report that revealed the Marvel movie had set a new presales record within just six hours of going on sale.

So what is it about the Marvel Cinematic Universe that just keeps on going? How does it continue to draw in viewers 11 years after launching? Rival DC has failed to wow in the same way with its DC Extended Universe despite huge names like Superman and Batman in its grasp. Despite attempting to replicate the Marvel formula, it’s fair to say DC’s experiment was less super soldier serum and more gamma radiation poisoning – not the desired outcome.

Having spoken with numerous business leaders, the crucial thing to recognise is the characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They’ve carefully been crafted and fleshed out across multiple films, which allows audiences to resonate with them like an old friend. Moreover, their own individual stories and situations can present opportunities for entrepreneurs to learn from.

That’s why mistakes are an essential part of developing as a business leader, according to Nick Boyle, strategy director at advertising analyst The Audit Lab. "Making bad decisions doesn’t make you a bad person,” he says, pointing to Marvel’s heroes who are “constantly making the wrong call.” However, it’s correcting the decisions that have been made that will be the making of an entrepreneur. “CEOs and managing directors won't always get it right – and there are often a lot of people affected by their decisions – but a good leader will always do their upmost to correct and own up to mistakes they've made,” Boyle concludes. So do like Iron Man did when he found out his inventions were used by terrorists, adjust and learn from your mistake to avoid it from happening again. 

Elsewhere, diversity of superheroes has been a crucial element for Marvel in the view of Seb Burchell, the PR manager at mortgage broker Mojo Mortgages. “You have superheroes who can turn into fire, swing from building to building and regenerate arms and legs,” Burchell says. “And while it may not be wise to set anyone on fire or to fly around on surfboard, businesses can think about implementing diversity in several ways.” He highlights a system to ensure a diverse workforce has been employed as a way to thrive, whether that’s a matter of skills or indeed culture. You need only look to Black Panther and Captain Marvel, the first two Marvel Cinematic Universe films to feature a black and female hero respectively in the lead.

While the diversification was lauded by many, it also received “backlash from a once loyal customer base,” recalls Tim Noblett, head of data at ad agency TBWA\London. “Despite being trolled ahead of launch for increasing the breadth of representation in lead roles to include people of colour and females, Black Panther and Captain Marvel both went on to break opening weekend box office records,” he says, pointing to the numbers to support his case. “Captain Marvel scooped $455m globally on its opening weekend, the biggest ever launch for a female-fronted film. And Black Panther – Marvel's first film directed by an African-American – earned over $200m in its three-day North American debut; the fifth biggest opening of all time.” In other words, do what works for your business even if it may be met with negativity from some. It paid off for Marvel. 

Elsewhere, Nike has proven that lesson too when it made Colin Kaepernick, the NFL player who knelt during the US anthem in protest of racial injustice, the face of its new Just Do It ad campaign. While the company faced huge racially charged backlashes, the play yielded a $6bn boost to Nike’s market value.

Drilling into that diversity element further, specifically on the gender front in a world where female founders have witnessed shocking bouts with sexism, Lynsey Walden, director at PR agency Front Door Communications notes female fighters, assassins and innovators are viewed on the same playing field as male Avengers. "All skillsets are allowed to shine and are appreciated by the rest of the team,” says Walden. "For example, sometimes you need someone to turn green with anger to get things done but, most of the time, you need to work together to plan your attack and use the right people for the task at hand. You can't send the man with the big hammer in to talk to your staff, sometimes you need the softer approach.”

Walden adds that resilience is also a key part of being an Avenger that startup bosses can take on board. "If you're up against someone bigger than yourselves, which a lot of SMEs are, it's about having lots of different skills and being flight of foot to get to the places they can’t – you don't see the Avengers getting their plans signed off, they just do it.”

In agreement with Walden is Heather Baker, the CEO of digital marketing agency TopLine Communications. She points to a sense of determination that entrepreneurs need to possess in order to make their dreams a reality – whether they’re in possession of that particular infinity stone or not. “I think the biggest lesson entrepreneurs and SME leaders can take away from the Marvel Cinematic Universe is to look fear in the eye and just do it anyway,” says Baker. “Starting up a business is much like diving headfirst into a hunt for Thanos. You don’t quite know where to start and you know the journey ahead will have various obstacles to overcome but you tackle it head-on anyway.”

Building on that point further though, she adds that fear is perfectly acceptable – under the right circumstances. “It’s important to distinguish being scared and being scared of being scared,” continues Baker. “For years Marvel heroes have been trying to keep the universe safe from bad guys and they wouldn’t have won half the battles they have if they focused on how scared they were before. My top tip would be to not focus on how scary it might be and just focus on your end goal, much like an Avenger would. Resilience is key – for both saving the universe and starting a successful business.”

Photo credit: 2019 Getty Images

Iron Man fan and managing director of web design agency GEL Studios, Graeme Leighfield, highlights that heroes come in all shapes and sizes and for him the films present a sense of escapism even though he’s no longer a child. “As you get older you realise some people are heroes even if they can't actually fly or use their superhuman strength,” he says. “The key is to recognise them and embrace them.” With that in mind, Leighfield believes it’s all about using those everyday heroes on your team to achieve success in the company. “You get to a point that, however great you are on your own, you are greater with the help and support of other talented people,” he continues.

A useful tool to take away from the Marvel Cinematic Universe and its growth is the importance of networking, according to David Holmes, founder of boiler comparison site Boiler Guide. “The entire premise of the final Infinity War saga relies on characters from various groups, countries and backgrounds coming together through their own intergalactic super-powered network,” Holmes details. “In the same way, small businesses, at whatever stage in their growth, should be dedicating extra time and resources to their networking strategy just as they would with their marketing plans.” 

Packing a further punch with his point, Holmes goes on to observe the off-screen world that built the Marvel Cinematic Universe. “The president of Marvel Studios, Kevin Feige, has utilised networking to introduce the likes of Sony's Spider-Man into the mix, as well as the very recent acquisition of 20th Century Fox properties introducing Fantastic Four and X-Men,” he says. “Disney, Marvel and Feige have not only now completed their Infinity saga but are starting an undoubtedly successful new line of stories, heroes and moneymaking properties. All this, due to the power of networking, both in the Avengers Tower and the boardroom.”

Jamie Field, the managing director of video agency of TopLine Film, says that as a leader it’s all about owning strengths and weaknesses when working together as a team. “Granted, when it comes to the Avengers these strengths will be used to give the baddies a good kicking but ultimately that’s what the Avengers team’s goal is,” he opines. “So, what’s your team’s goal and how can you use everyone’s strengths to reach it? How will you take on your theoretical Thanos, whether it’s a new business pitch or company acquisition?” These are key things to take into consideration. 

Concluding with an appropriate reference from the film, Field adds: “As a leader, your team looks to you for encouragement and inspiration. In the words of Nick Fury: ‘There was an idea to bring together a group of remarkable people, to see if we could become something more.’ Help your team to become something more.” 

About the Author

Zen Terrelonge

Zen Terrelonge

As editor, Terrelonge can be found on the hunt for all things startup and scaleup – that's when he's not busy talking babies via DADult Life. Whether it's health or hospitality, food or philanthropy, tech or travel, he'll be seeking out the most interesting entrepreneurial developments to run in the magazine and online.

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