PART ONE: What’s the killer tip that will keep your audience coming back for episode after episode?
29 October 2020
by Nico Ceballos Jones
There’s no doubt about it. We’re knee-deep in a golden age of television. An absolute glut of cinema-quality storytelling clamours relentlessly for our daily attention, and by golly, it knows how to keep you hooked.
How many times have you glanced at the time in the late-evening, knowing that tomorrow will be so much better if you just go to bed…but no, you hit ‘watch next episode’ because you HAVE to see what happens next. You physically can’t move without knowing if Jacob DID kill that kid, if Walter White DOES get caught this time, or if Tiger Joe IS going to succesfully diversify his morally suspect wildlife business with a even more morally suspect pizza offering…so on we watch until we finally find out THE TRUTH, episode after episode, series after series.
So wouldn’t it be nice if you could use some of the same tricks these storytelling giants do? To keep your audience coming back for more, week after week? Of course it would!
Now there’s multiple levels to this, depending on how far you want to go down the rabbit hole, and we’ll get to two more great techniques, but for now, the simplest method to get someone interested in coming back for episode 2 can be most effectively taught NOT by a modern streaming behemoth, but by none other than the caped crusader himself: Batman.
No, not the super-buff-and-gruff Affleck/Bale Batmen of recent days, but the suave, sophisticated, joyously camp Adam West Batman of the 1960s, and six simple words (depending on your views on hyphens)…
SAME BAT-TIME, SAME BAT-CHANNEL.
Now I don’t care if this reference is too niche for the youngsters of today – it’s the one I want to use. In the old 60s Batman TV shows, our dynamic duo would get into all sorts of amazing scrapes, which as far as I was concerned as a child watching the repeats, were factual documentaries.
Every week, some neferious villain would hatch a dastardly plan, Batman and Robin would try and foil it, and every time, they’d get ensnared in some gloriously elaborate trap – suspended over a vat of boiling acid, ensnared by a man-size venus fly-trap, or pitched headlong into a locked room filled with exploding mice!
But did you see Batman ever get out of that trap at the end of the first episode? No way! The narrator comes on, and he goes:
ARE OUR EYES DECEIVING US?? HAS THE GIANT CLAM REALLY SWALLOWED ROBIN?? LEAVING THE JOKER FREE TO CONFUSE, CONFOUND AND CONTROL GOTHAM CITY?? FIND OUT NEXT WEEK – SAME BAT-TIME, SAME BAT-CHANNEL.
And did you come back? You bet you did! Well, I certainly did – time after time. How else was I going to know if they’d escaped?
So there’s the most basic way to hook someone into returning: the cliffhanger. It’s not new, it gets used all the time in most media you consume…but not very often in what we’d call corporate video, or branded content. In this landscape, because video is usually quite a large investment, the temptation is to try to make a single project do EVERYTHING it can at that particular point in time, and encapsulate everything about the organisation, or the event, or the product, in one go.
And that used to be enough. But in this age of relentless content, an age in which anyone can make videos and distribute them worldwide in the time it takes Batman to throw a right hook, Pow, the rules have changed.
Influencers and small, nimble businesses are literally documenting their episodic journeys every day with video. Whether they realise it or not, they’re constantly dropping hooks and cliffhangers that keep their viewers desperate to find out what happens next.
Sadly, what’s relatively simple for those guys becomes tricky when you’re a larger business, for two main reasons:
- How can you identify the right kinds of compelling, ongoing stories to tell, when you don’t have anything as exciting as a man in a cape, about to be burned alive by a giant magnifying glass?
- If you’re trying to control your content from a central location, how can you direct and gather this kind of consistent video from employees and customers who are spread out all over the country, or even the world?
The first one’s simple. Find relatable characters in your organisation, and in episode 1 give them a problem to solve that is relevant to your customers, and have them make a plan to solve it. Reveal the outcome and result in episode 2, rinse and repeat. Check our Golden Rules series for a ton more info on that score.
The second one is a little trickier.
After you’ve identified your storytellers, you’ll need to brief them, explain what you’re trying to achieve, and put them at their ease.
You’ll have to spend at least a few hours training them in the basics of smartphone video filming and the episodic structure you’re aiming for. Of course, they won’t do the filming unless you make it incredibly clear what to film and when, so you’ll need to map out a filming schedule, probably in a spreadsheet, that they’ll have to refer to regularly.
Once they’ve done some filming, you need to collect the footage, maybe via whatsapp, wetransfer, dropbox; that’s sometimes simple if it’s one person…not so much if it’s ten, so definitely set aside some serious time for that.
The first load of footage you get back will suck – there won’t be enough, or there’ll be too much, and despite your best intentions with the training, things will be badly framed, and filmed in varying aspect ratios and framerates.
That said, you can probably create something usable if you can fit in epic editing sessions around your other work, and are fine with your stress levels being at a continuous fever pitch.
Or…you could use Captain. You could create a simple set of tasks, which are sent via the app to your contributors, who are then walked through the whole filming process one step at a time. No missed shots, no badly framed interviews, and no training required. Footage is automatically sent back to you via the app, neatly labelled, ready to be quickly turned into the final product. *Pow*
But I digress. Back to episodic storytelling – we’ve done the cliffhanger, so what about the other techniques I mentioned? They have to do with plots and sub-plots, and I know that might sound like storytelling mumbo jumbo, but it’s actually an incredibly simple way of giving ALL your company content a clearly defined purpose, and keeping it dead on track no matter what ‘episode’ you’re putting out.
So…I will be going through that next time – join me if you will! SAME BAT-TIME, SAME BAT-CHANNEL!