Game of Thrones. Stranger Things. The Mandalorian
I’m fascinated with episodic shows. They have a knack for sucking people into their stories, hitting the right emotional triggers, and leaving their audience wanting more.
I’ve spent a good portion of my content marketing career experimenting with episodic content using the framework from TV shows as inspiration. Lately, I’ve noticed more and more companies doing the same (Mailchimp, for example).
That got me thinking…
What is it about a TV show (a series in general) that makes people block out time on their calendars just to sit in front of a screen?
Reflecting on that question, I started to think about the characteristics TV shows have in common. For instance:
- TV shows release episodes on a consistent schedule (you know where you’re going to be on Sunday nights, for example)
- There’s a compelling story that develops every episode
- There are interesting characters who have distinct personalities, some of which we can relate to
- Each episode creates anticipation for the next by leveraging cliff hangers
- There’s always something to take away from an episode whether it’s a lesson or a realization
Interestingly enough, episodic content that companies are developing today have a lot of similarities. In fact, a series like Moz’s Whiteboard Friday has a lot in common with TV shows.
Ultimately, if you asked me whether or not your company should experiment with episodic content, my answer would be simple: yes.
However, before you dive into planning and development, there are some pros and cons that you should be aware of.
Let’s start with the cons.
Episodic content requires consistency and frequency
For episodic content to work, it has to have consistency (e.g. publish on the same day of the week) and be produced frequently.
Producing something once a month, for example, makes it infinitely harder to provide enough value to attract an audience and create anticipation for the next installment.
Imagine if episodes of Game of Thrones were released once a month on a random day of the week – people wouldn’t be happy with the inconsistency.
Consistency gives your audience something to look forward to.
Frequency ensures you’re giving them enough value (e.g. education, entertainment, etc.) to want to come back for more.
Depending on your job responsibilities, both consistency and frequency may be hard to achieve.
It can disrupt schedules
This largely depends on what type of episodic content you’re developing.
A video series requires more planning and preparation than a blog series, for example.
To illustrate the point, let’s say you’re producing a video series where your company’s CEO interviews Chief Marketing Officers.
Executives have packed schedules. Every episode you produce will take up time on your CEO and guest’s calendars, which inevitably impacts other meetings and priorities.
Now, let’s take a look at the pros.
Episodic content gives your audience something to look forward to
Just like your favorite TV series, episodic content gives an audience something to look forward to. It creates anticipation.
It’s important to note that episodic content can come in different forms, including:
- Video series
- Blog series
The Hustle is a good example of a newsletter that creates anticipation with its audience.
It encourages binge consumption
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started a series on YouTube only to lose track of time (I have a habit of watching the full video versions of the Joe Rogan Experience podcast and The #AskGaryvee Show).
That’s the power of good episodic content. It makes the viewer, reader, or listener binge consume your content.
From a business standpoint, the more content they consume, the more trust you’re able to build.
The more trust you build, the higher the chance of being top of mind when a prospect is ready to buy a solution like yours. At the end of the day, as content marketers, this is all we can ask for.
It requires less SEO research and analysis
Creating valuable episodic content requires little to no SEO research.
Depending on your relationship with SEO, this may be a hallelujah moment for you.
Some of the best examples of episodic content – B2B or otherwise – on the Internet didn’t get started because a particular keyword had high search volume and low competition. Instead, they were developed out of a genuine passion for a topic and a keen understanding of a segment of people.
It can create opportunities for other people
This mainly applies to episodic content where you’re featuring other people – like an interview series.
An entrepreneur I featured in a series I created for Crunchbase recently sent me this:
It’s an amazing feeling when you create content that helps another person’s career.
Lesson #1: Brand it
This is the biggest lesson I’ve learned over the years.
If you’re going through the effort of creating a series, whether it’s video-based or published on a blog, don’t treat it like a one-off project. Brand it.
Give your series a unique name and descriptor. In addition, depending on what you’re creating (e.g. video series for YouTube), give it its own logo and color scheme – make it ownable.
Lesson #2: Treat it like a marketing campaign
If you want to maximize the number of people that engage with your series, it’s not enough to launch it and hope that they find it.
Just like any content you develop, you need to have a distribution plan for your series. This includes everything from unique promotional graphics for social media to leveraging partner networks.
This is one thing I didn’t do effectively when I first started developing episodic content. As a result, I didn’t reach as many people as I could have.
Lesson #3: Get your audience involved
This is a lesson I’ve learned more recently.
When you get your audience involved, they develop a deeper connection with your content. They have more skin in the game.
Involvement can come in many forms – from asking your audience to recommend your next guest to submitting questions that get answered on the next episode.
This is something I don’t see companies doing enough of when it comes to episodic content.
Lesson #4: Have a consistent theme
If there’s one criticism I could make about the Joe Rogan Experience podcast it’s that there isn’t a common theme.
One episode Rogan can be interviewing an astrophysicist and the next an MMA coach that specializes in jiu-jitsu.
While this format does enable Rogan to cover a wide variety of topics, which makes his podcast special, you’re not going to create a super targeted audience.
Episodic content is definitely a commitment.
You have to show up day in and day out to turn nothing into something.
While it does take time to find your sweet spot, the opportunity to develop a series that creates raving fans while sharing valuable information at the same time is well worth the effort.