The Golden Rule of Original Series that Marketers Often Miss
Creating shows to build passionate audiences provides our brands undeniable benefits: we hold attention, gain trust, increase the lifetime value of our existing audience, and decrease customer acquisition costs thanks to word-of-mouth. However, creating and growing a show or a network of shows can be a total mess of moving parts and pieces. Show Bites is our series of quick-hitting posts where we try to snap off a tiny piece of the overall work and rethink it, all in the name of rapid improvement.
The Show Bite: How Series Differ From “Pieces” of Content
As marketers … we’re trained to open every blog post by saying, “As marketers.” Just kidding. Kinda.
As marketers, we’ve focused on shipping “pieces” of content for years now. At first, many of us measured the efficacy of those pieces in a way that felt similar to advertising, and many still do. Did our “pieces” of content drive a direct-response-style lead or sale, for instance?
Over the years, as we evolved, we shifted focus to audience development. Since our marketing mandate changed from grabbing attention to holding it, we started wondering about the compounding effects of our content, not just the immediate results. Does our audience keep growing? Did affinity towards us change for the better? Did we learn more about our customers? Did we gain trust, earn more of their time, and create a scenario where a loyal audience not only grows but increases in value, both directly (the people who consume our content keep coming back and keep taking action on our behalf) and indirectly (the people who consume our content refer others to our work, thus lowering our acquisition costs).
As a result of this changing approach, the way we measured our content started to slowly change and evolve too. (Okay, very slowly.) (Okay, paint-drying-on-a-humid-day slowly. But it’s happening, people!) Rather than focus on clicks and impressions, top teams today look at total time spent. While email subscription shouldn’t be treated like a god metric for marketing, it’s at least our Hercules metric, no?
But despite that slow-and-steady shift in measurement, we haven’t fully embraced our new mandate as marketers. Not really. To do that, we’d need to more fully embrace the “development” part of “audience development.”
As the very word implies, audience development requires ongoing commitment from our teams. It’s not a one-and-done action of shipping some content and calling that audience-building, nor is it sufficient for someone to consume our content once or even subscribe via email. It’s what happens after the audience’s initial moment of commitment that makes or breaks our brands. Once someone trusts us with their time or their email address (and they are indeed trusting us with both), we can’t throw up the “Mission Accomplished” banner just yet. No, true audience development is about creating an ever-deepening relationship with others — NOT transacting them.
In other words, we need to stop ignoring the Golden Rule of Original Series.
The Misconception: All “Time Spent” Is the Same
Ever hear the phrase, “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish?” Yeah, well, when we make an original series for our brands, like a podcast or video show, it’s also how we start.
And the middle! The middle is super important.
Also the ending. They were correct about the ending. How we finish can really make a huge difference.
Alright, new plan: Every part of an episode matters.
Episodes, and the series in which they’re housed, are a very specific type of content that differs from things like blog posts, images, standalone videos, and social media posts in a very real way. Overtly identifying that difference, and making it our mission, can be the difference between publishing a bunch of “stuff” that people ignore, and running a show people can’t stop talking about and can’t wait to hear or watch again.
Consider Instead: The Golden Rule of Original Series
Since shows are about holding attention, our jobs become rather simple: don’t lose people. Avoid drop-off. Do everything in our power to prevent the audience from getting bored, confused, or distracted. This must be a proactive, conscious effort, given that everybody today acts like a puppy in a park called The Internet. (Squirrel!) But if we frame our approach through the lens of the Golden Rule of Original Series, we’d start making better decisions, big and small, as we construct our strategies and our content.
The Golden Rule of Original Series is … Get them to the end.
(Wait for it!)
Get them to the end.
That is our ONE job as showrunners. Everything else is a byproduct of doing that successfully: the trust, the time spent, the subscribers, the sharing, the irresistible content we produce and others on our team can share in their work as marketers. Literally everything else is a byproduct of our ability to keep people around, to create a vehicle for holding attention. Can we get them to the end? That’s our job.
It’s our job inside one tiny moment within an episode. Did they reach the end of that moment and commit to the next?
It’s our job within one whole episode. Did they eagerly arrive at the end?
It’s our job across the entire show. Did they consume each and every episode with gusto?
And it’s our job across a network of shows. Did they tumble from one show to another?
When we go to market with our series, so often, we focus on getting people to start watching or listening. But I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it a million times more, as it’s THE founding belief behind this entire Marketing Showrunners venture: Great marketing isn’t about who arrives. It’s about who stays.
If they hit Play, ensure they don’t hit Stop. Because that’s the job.
not how you start, and how you finish, and what we do in the middle. It all matters, if we embrace the Golden Rule.
How you start:
Do you open with a meandering bio of the guest, only to have your guest restate that same information by asking them about their background? Do you stuff the opening full of housekeeping and show identification info? Do you play music because … reasons?
OR … do you create an opening that prompts them to keep going? Do you intrigue the listener or viewer, “purchasing” more of their time and attention with open loops and burning questions and teases of a story to come? Do you construct the opening to be as much of an experience as the entire episode is meant to be? Do you start your episodes with the Golden Rule in mind?
How you finish:
Do you drop them off a cliff with a kind of verbal shrug and a wave goodbye? Do you stuff the ending full of 17 calls-to-action? Do you kill momentum because you didn’t have a plan, or because you ask for too much too soon in the buyer’s journey?
OR … do you create an ending that prompts them to keep going into the next episode? Do you leave them wanting more, because the ending was so good, so memorable, so valuable? Do you tease the next episode? Do you prompt email subscription to get even more goodness found nowhere else but that one email list and, oh by the way, they’ll also get more episodes too? Do you finish your episodes with the Golden Rule in mind?
Everything in between:
Do you let guests meander with their answers, creating a messy middle of your episode? Do you pack your episodes too full of voiceover or miss a beat in your narration that audiences needed to receive to understand the tale? Do you publish episodes that sound like every competitor show, or every broader show in your category? Do you name your show something forgettable, something that appeals solely to those who know you already, like the Our Brand Here Show? Do you over-promise the deliciousness that will be inside an episode with sensational headlines, only to deliver something solid, or even common?
OR … do you frame your show as a compelling journey to explore a topic, a story, or a group of people? Do you invite them to see what happens next, all the time? Do you constantly insert little teases or open-ended questions mid-episode so that you renew their interest? Do you segment your episodes to march people forward with intent? Do you execute the middle of your episodes with the Golden Rule in mind?
Don’t forget the Golden Rule. Too many marketers do. Make this rule your everything, because everything gets better when you do. Obsess over it. Discuss it. Interpret the work through it. I promise you, the audience will stick around, and the results will follow.
Founder of Marketing Showrunners, author of Break the Wheel, and host/producer of docuseries about creative work. I’m trying to create a world where people feel intrinsically motivated by their work. Previously in content marketing and digital strategy at Google and HubSpot and VP of brand and community at the VC firm NextView. I write, tinker, and speak on stages and into microphones for a living. It’s weird but wonderful.
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