PART TWO: Episodic content taken to the next level and beyond…
18 October 2020
by Nico Ceballos Jones
Last time, I promised a to reveal a simple technique that would take the episodic potential of your video content to the next level and beyond. The good news is: I wasn’t lying. The even better news is – this way of thinking can provide a focus and direction for every single piece of communication you put out, video or not.
Last week we were shown the way by the Caped Crusader. This week we’re going to look elsewhere for answers – to the binge-watch-inducing bigger boys, the artistes of addiction that are the modern streaming platforms and their irresistible box sets.
The sheer amount of man-hours, and the cutting-edge levels of meticulous craft, that go into making a quality TV show is nothing less than staggering.
There’s certainly no sure-fire formula for making them work (otherwise, every single one would be a hit), but leaving aside all the magical intangibles like nuanced characters, superstar actors or cultural timing, in the absolute simplest terms all the best ones do the same thing first and foremost: they pose a simple, compelling, Big Question.
Game of Thrones – Who will be king?
Breaking Bad – Will Walter White get caught?
Killing Eve – Will Villainelle kill Eve?
Lost – What the f**k is actually going on here?
That single question forms the main plot, and it’s like a framework that arches over the entire show and every single series and episode within it; it has a clearly defined start and end point, it holds everything up else and gives it structure.
Each episode advances that main plot along inch by inch, drawing us inexorably to the conclusion – the point at which the loose ends are tied up, and the Big Question is finally, blessedly answered.
So what does this have to do with you and your content? Well, we’ve talked about themes before, but this is even simpler because you’ll have at least part of the answer already. So start here: What problem do you solve?
Try and take the answer further than the most obvious reaction, and focus on the emotional or internal problem rather than just the factual. For instance, if you were a gym, you don’t just solve the problem of people being unfit – you solve the problem of confidence and self belief.
So your over-arching series question in this instance could be: ‘Will our gym give you the confidence and self-belief you need to transform your life?’
This isn’t a throwaway consideration – it only really works if you put some serious thought into it. If you’re struggling, here’s a fun way to kick-start the process, borrowed from Rory Vaden. Try to distill the problem you solve into a single word.
For Captain, that word is ‘mistrust’, and our overall question is: ‘Can smartphone video help organisations build trust with their audience, so they can truly thrive in the online world?’
Once you’ve got your Big Question in place, think of every single piece of content you put out as an episode in your series. The episode’s job is to inch the viewer from a standing start towards the answer.
But here’s part one of the the real trick: in a series, each episode has its own question and answer, and while they are related to the Big Question, they’re perfectly watchable and satisfying on their own.
Think of these as sub-plots to the Big Question’s main plot: they help you break things down into manageable chunks, and they’re the key to putting out compelling, regular video content.
To stick with the gym example for now – let’s call it Jonesey’s Gym – what we wouldn’t want to do is to have every single video we put out try to tell the whole story of the Big Question in one go. It’s just too much. Instead, you’d look at a tiny (but relevant) part of the overall story, and turn that element into its own episode. For instance, a sub-plot question could be: ‘how do ingredients of this particular smoothie, on the menu at my gym, help with post-workout muscle recovery?’
For the episode structure itself, you’d break things down into the can’t-fail Problem/Solution/Result framework outlined in our Golden Rules:
- Problem: There’s a post-workout muscular issue you’ll need to avoid if you want to achieve your goals.
- Solution: We’ve added this item to the menu – here’s how its ingredients will help your recovery time.
- Result: Once you’ve had a few of these, you’ll be ready to get back into action sooner, and achieve your goals faster.
See how that’s a perfectly serviceable mini-story in its own right, but it advances the overall Big Question?
So how does this way of thinking keep your content on track? Well you know the episodes in series where things drift a little, and you find yourself getting bored? Perhaps one of those interminable dream sequences that popped up now and again in The Sopranos? Or The Fly episode in Breaking bad??
While both those examples have their fans, they risk being boring because they’re not advancing us towards the answer to the Big Question. And neither series could get away with indulgences like that until they’d firmly established themselves. So when you’re putting stuff out – ask yourself if it’s working towards what your audience really wants, or needs, to know.
On to part 2 of the main trick, and the real secret of the whole shebang. If you really, really want to crack the episodic content game, here’s the kicker. You make the answer at the end of each episode create the central question for the next. Got that? Think of each episode as having a clear, irresistible connection to the next one, like rock-solid link in a chain. Let’s flex our episodic muscles at Jonesey’s Gym one final time…
So here, we’ve got the same problem and solution, and the same start of the result, but let’s add this.
- Result: Once you’ve had a few of these,you’ll be ready to get back into action sooner, and achieve your goals faster…but that’s only part of the story. When you’re doing more workouts than you were before, there are three essential steps you have to take to avoid placing too much stress on your joints. We’ll go through them tomorrow!
Two things that should tell you: 1, I know nothing about gyms or personal fitness, and 2: it does the job of a cliffhanger, but in a more nuanced and honest way. It’s not always practical, but if your business is a good fit for it, then you’ve got a solid gold content schedule that will have people tuning in every single day. Combine it with compelling, relatable characters and you’ll be unbeatable.
As we mentioned in the previous episode, you see a lot of this in Instagram stories, where solo influencers are able to film relentlessly in an episodic fashion, turning their lives into one long box-set.
That’s fine for them, but as soon as you want to try doing it at scale with multiple participants, and any degree of remote organisation and structure, it becomes a very serious headache. That’s where the Capture Captain app can save the day if you need us to.
But let’s round things off here and go back to your Big Question. When does it get answered? For you – never. There’s always a way for you to improve the customer experience and outcomes, and the moment you think you’ve got it sorted and stop developing, you’re in trouble.
For your customer or clients, there’s two ways you can look at it. You can think of that end-point as being the moment where they buy your service or product, or if you’re looking for recurring interactions with the customer that build even further, towards multiple product lines, or up a value ladder, it’s a story that need never end.
Because make no mistake, the only reason the studios pull the plug on these cash-cow series is human fatigue – writers burning out and losing inspiration, actors getting old. If they could keep the quality up, these things would run on forever, like soap operas. So your job is to keep the content fresh, relevant and exciting, but most importantly of all, relentlessly focussed on the Big Question that your customer is desperate to see answered.