In prior posts, we’ve touched on sequential content planning, aka what story to serve your reader next. We’ve learned that when we plan which stories are read, by whom, and in what order; we’re more likely to take our customers where we’d like them to go next. If you’ve been following along, you’re likely already an ace at it.
But, when we stare at a blank screen, on the publishing tool of our choice, do we really know what to write next? Which stories should effectively serve as the next chapter(s) in the book we call the customer journey? Have we thought that far ahead? Have we thought about it at all?
Does our editorial benefit from the same discipline and strategic planning as our delivery? It should. Here’s why.
Everyone loves a good ending, but we hate when things have to end. In the past several years there has been a seismic shift from viewers engaging with the traditional 90-minute movie format to tuning into multiple episodes of a television or mini-series instead. Whether it’s Scandal, Game of Thrones, Stranger Things, or Billions everyone has a favorite binge. It’s likely why traditional movie platforms (HBO, Netflix, and Showtime) are investing so much in both the rights to and the production of episodic content. It’s similar to the reason every blockbuster has now found itself a trilogy (here’s looking at you Guardians).
There are plenty of arguments that frankly make a ton of sense as to why humans choose to sit on their couch vs heading to a theater near them.
My personal favorites include:
- But movies cost a lot
- But my screen is so big and my couch is so comfy
- But I already have truffle salt for my popcorn at home
- But I’d have to actually, like, go there
- But I’d actually have to get dressed!
There are countless excuses/but’s that make it hard for theaters to actually get real-butts in seats. That isn’t what this is about.
This is about the shift from wanting to spend a contained amount of time engaging with a program to diving in.
It’s choosing the marathon over the post-dinner walk. Similarly, there are many, many reasons that this occurs and they’re far more important to your content strategy than which screen we choose to stare at.
Episodic content offers:
- Richer character and plot development
- More information to take in, learn from, and/or identify with
- Opportunity to access the content at one's own pace and on their own terms
- Regular reminders to tune in
- Chances in between to discuss
But the #1 reason, the reason that incorporates all of the above, is that there’s more room for an actual narrative to unfold. This creates anticipation, discussion, engagement, and ultimately a deeper investment with the original content.
Funny, those sound like marketing goals.
If we dissect the outcome of episodic content programming further, we realize that the pathway to creating and maintaining fans of your product is not so different from creating an invested viewer. By extending our content narrative across multiple pieces we encourage anticipation, conversation, engagement with our brand and ultimately fans of our product.
And, if we’re aiming to achieve just one of those outcomes, we may want to take a page out of the Netflix model. That is to say, we should be producing content in an episodic nature. Or, more simply put, predictive editorial.
But I'm already paying attention to my data.
Predictive editorial is different from “what the data told me to do next.” It requires faith, upfront thinking, and creativity that transcends throughout your planned content, or your “series.”
Relying on data too much can lead to the content equivalent of the focus-group-driven-sequel or too much CGI quickly. To avoid these outcomes use data to reveal insights in your the upfront planning, and to inform and inspire your creatives. Then, put it to bed.
Market feedback may be useful in tweaking certain “episodes” but it should never replace your initial narrative. The reader doesn’t choose the adventure, you do.
Great where do I start?
When you're planning your predictive editorial, start by asking yourself these questions:
- Is the piece I’m working part of a series? Could it be?
- If yes, where does it fall? Is it a series opener or pilot? Does it build the story? Is it a season cliffhanger or a series finale? Do I have those other pieces?
- Does my headline or opening paragraph suggest this is part of a series?
- Does my opening and/or closing lead the reader through my series? How about onto the next read?
- Is my series told from the same perspective or tone (told from the POV of 1 character, 1st vs 3rd person, etc.)
- Do I really have enough to fill several seasons, or is one enough?
Then challenge your creators to think episodic. Seek out partners who appreciate the value of predictive editorial. Work with those who plan, create, and promote with purpose. If you do you may just create something binge-worthy.
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