Marketers: Please Don’t Create Yet Another Branded Show
Today, I come to you with a plea: don’t make a video series.
Also? Don’t make a podcast.
Finally? Don’t even make a show.
Okay, this is coming from the guy who founded an organization dedicated to helping marketers make great shows. So what gives? Well, when you look around the marketing world, across sectors and stages of growth, you can’t help but see signs of this movement everywhere. Brands both big and small (like, really, really small) are launching podcasts and video shows. Some are creating entire networks of original series. Technology companies, too, are starting to build tools specifically for marketers who make shows.
The rise of the marketing showrunner, indeed.
And yet, how we’re approaching this stuff is fundamentally flawed. Too many of our shows are dead on arrival. See, if we start out trying to make a video series, or a podcast, or even a “show,” we’re not on the right track. Today, I want to encourage you to think differently about this craft. I want you to create something else.
When we as marketers start our process thinking, “We need a podcast,” or, “Let’s try serialized video,” we inevitably set our sights pretty low. We look around our competitive set, and we wind up creating “yet another.” We strive for branded content — not anything that can withstand the onslaught of fantastic content available to every consumer in every topical area on every channel.
At MSR, we’ve seen far too many companies decide to give a podcast a clever name, before ultimately lapsing back into the tired, unstructured, not-very-well-thought-out talking head show.
Or maybe they branch into video, where they (sigh) put a marketer in front of a whiteboard to diagram something. (Did I mention sigh?)
There’s just not enough differentiation. Somehow, some way, lots of teams have gotten stuck in the same exact rut plaguing their blogs, their newsletters, their offline events — you name it. We just keep focusing on creating the container, rather than the substance INSIDE it.
We can do better. And we must.
But, wait: a “show” would surely be better, no?
When we focus on a show, rather than “a video series” or “a podcast,” we force ourselves to think more strategically about the stuff inside the container, not just the container itself. We try to create a concept others might enjoy, rather than merely “a podcast.”
This is great! After all, it’s what audiences are after. They want the good stuff, the experiential stuff, the educational and the entertaining stuff. That’s the stuff inside the container. So when we talk about making “shows,” we’re surely referring to that, no?
Well, yes, but aiming for a “show” still presents some problems. Consider the wildly popular YouTube show, Hot Ones, hosted by Sean Evans, on the channel First We Feast. In this show, Sean interviews celebrities, but with a very specific hook. He and the guest each eat one chicken wing per question he asks them, with each wing getting progressively spicier. At the end, celebrities ranging from Halle Berry to Shaquille O’Neal to Trevor Noah can be found coughing, sweating, and joking through clenched teeth about their predicament. Combine this entertaining hook with Sean’s ability to conduct incredible research on his guests (the true reason Hot Ones is a great program, mind you), and before you can pass the milk, you have a true show — not simply another video series of talking heads.
So where’s the issue then? Well, recently, I witnessed a B2B tech company try to make their own version of Hot Ones, where they asked their guests — marketing and sales executives — to do the same thing that Hot Ones does: eat progressively spicier wings as the host asks each questions about sales and marketing.
It was certainly a show. But was it a good investment? Was it Brand IP? I’d say no. I’d say it was a gimmick focused on grabbing attention, but not delivering a concept that was worth sharing. It was a missed opportunity to actually SAY something — and be remembered for something — to help build brand affinity.
Hot Ones makes a lot of sense for First We Feast. They’re all about the intersection of pop culture and food. They have other shows and other staff focused on that same theme, too. Hot Ones helps them cement the idea in consumers’ minds that they’re all about the intersection of pop culture and food. Their concept helps them SAY something. But that B2B platform? What do wings have to do with it? They’re not a company about food, or spice, or even some kind of relevant “meta” theme, like “always raising the stakes ever higher.”
This is why it’s still not enough to aim for creating a show, anymore than we want to aim for a podcast or a video series. I believe semantics matter. The way we understand a word or phrase is the way we inevitably execute.
Create Brand IP
When ProfitWell, creators of software to help tech companies price their products (among other tools) launched Pricing Page Teardown, they had a great concept for their show. But they also created brand IP. That concept makes total sense for their brand. When they extended their show network to create a docuseries called Protect the Hustle, they again created brand IP. Why? Because they sell to thousands of software startups focused on growth, founded by people who at the very same time believe in the idea of “hustle” and have grown skeptical of all the hucksters screaming “HUSTLE!” on social media. So let’s protect this idea of hustle. Protect the Hustle.
ProfitWell has created serious brand IP.
When Death Wish Coffee, makers of the world’s strongest coffee, shot the video show #GrindItOut, they profiled hard-charging, hard-working individuals who pursued their passion aggressively. Why? Their company is all about fueling people to live their life to the fullest. Death is inevitable, so go after the life you want. Hence, “Death Wish” Coffee.
Death Wish has created serious brand IP.
From B2B software companies to coffee companies, barbershops to office supply chains, Fortune 500s to SMBs, a choice few companies today have gone beyond creating “yet another” podcast or video show. They’ve created serious brand IP.
The Benefits of Brand IP
Examples of true brand IP can be found all over our giant list of branded shows, and they all have one thing in common: They’ve built defensible concepts by saying something relevant and unique to their brands. These concepts can supersede and even be repurposed away from the show itself, thus providing compounding value well beyond “a podcast” or “some videos.” It can become a newsletter, a blog post series, a physical book, an offline event, and more.
I like to joke that we should be asking ourselves: Does this concept pass the T-shirt Test? In other words, would our audiences proudly emblazon the logo or the core ideas of our programs onto their chests for all to see? If not, keep working at the concept.
It’s time to adopt showrunning as our go-to-market approach, as it’s the best way to switch from the losing battle of grabbing attention to the compounding returns of holding it. Great marketing isn’t about who arrives. It’s about who stays. That’s the power of a show. But for a show to actually work for our companies, we need to change our mentalities.
Don’t create a podcast. Don’t create a video series. Don’t even create a show.
Create brand IP.
Founder of Marketing Showrunners, host of 3 Clips and other podcasts and docuseries about creativity, and author of Break the Wheel. 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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