Birth of the Binge
The way we watch TV has evolved; Roku has dethroned cable as the darling of home entertainment consumption. On-demand has changed both the way we choose our shows and how frequently we watch them. As the number of people who cut the cord with cable rises exponentially, a new phenomenon has emerged: Netflix binging*. We pick a series for the weekend, huddle around our televisions, and absorb three seasons, marathon-style.
TV binging is a huge new phenomena because we love a good story. It’s easy to get caught up in the plot, the character development, the suspense and intrigue of a show. The cliffhangers that are placed artfully at the end of every episode make it difficult to stop.
It also gives us something to talk about. We watch, call friends, and pick the episodes apart, guessing what’s next. Besides, it’s fun to hate the antagonists while simultaneously glorifying the protagonists (and, if you’re in circles like mine, their fashion sense). In some series, it is not always easy to figure out which is which. The social element part of the fun, which is an interesting twist since the actual act of watching is generally done behind closed doors, in private.
Netflix-binging fills a primal need. Binging is cheap entertainment that gives us passive pleasure. It’s easier than reading, and faster to boot. We want to be connected to the world the show opens for us — the manicured sets, the trends, the popular story lines — but we don’t want to put too much effort into it.
Content marketers should consider the binging trend a sort of case study. All of the elements that make us binge are lessons. We can do what these shows do, in our own way, in our own industries, to make the most of our content and build our brands. These strategies will strength your pieces:
Strategy #1: Employ Plot
Corporate storytelling as an art is alive and well. The reader wants to be entertained, so deliver. When we tell stories and make connections, we build a critical emotional bond with our audience.
Telling a good story takes practice. It works by telling the most important parts of the story, quickly, in an intriguing order that keeps the reader wondering what comes next. When we practice telling stories verbally (and by practice, I mean extracting the key elements of the story and ordering it to keep your audience on the edge of their proverbial seats), we will become exquisite storytellers on paper, as well.
Serving up a cliff-hanging plot to your readers is only the first part of the work. The second part is tying it to the message of your content. Make sure the story connects with the goal of the piece. If it doesn’t, your readers will smell and resent the perceived bait-and-switch.
Strategy #2: Develop Your Characters and Background
You need more than names, job titles, and places. Use great verbs and nouns to develop this (but go easy on the adjectives). We never want to give readers stick figures or outlines of cartoon characters. TV binging proves that they cannot get enough carefully shaded, detailed people and places that come alive in their imaginations.
It’s easy to write the story about John S. who was looking for a solution, came upon yours, bought it, and fixed his woes. On the other hand, it takes a stronger content writer to illustrate John Smith, a consultant in a chic western Chicago suburb who thought he was doing all the right things to lead his small firm through its second wave of growing pains. He was really having a hard time with lead nurturing. He maybe was at a breakfast meeting at his favorite cafe in the quaint downtown area of his suburb when he overheard someone at the next table talking about your solution. He looked at your website when he got back to his office and inadvertently spent over two hours that morning mesmerized by your case studies and blog. He sent you an email before lunch with some questions about your services. By the end of the month, your solution was in place at his firm and humming along. It was turning leads into clients at a rate he had never seen before, even at his former Fortune 500 firm, a company with seemingly unlimited access to resources of every stripe.
How could I make this fictitious story better? I could mention his industry and more details about his background. Maybe he was a master of consulting projects at his last job, and decided to strike it out on his own, a venture that proved more difficult that he originally projected. I could specify the suburb — in this case, maybe Naperville or Geneva. I could talk about how he loved living and working in Geneva. Maybe he didn’t miss the tedious train rides to the downtown Chicago and the walk to his office on the 30th floor in the Loop. I could talk about which parts of the website absorbed his attention that fateful morning. And that’s just for starters.
Does that mean I’m contradicting my original storytelling maxim to keep it to the pertinent details? Not at all — it means that you want to give the story color without rambling. Strike a balance. Don’t be too stark; don’t be too wordy. The key: Be interesting. Read your story back and ask yourself, what will my persona wonder about? Will they care where his office is? Maybe, maybe not. It depends on whom you’re addressing. Know thy prospect, and give them what they want to read.
Strategy #3: Create Suspense
Open your piece with some details that will make your reader wonder how to do it, or how they can get in on your offer, or what they will get if they participate in your webinar, or fill in the blank for your own juicy offering. Your lede should spark the readers’ curiosity. You do that by thinking about where you want them to be, both emotionally and mentally, when they’ve finished the piece. Give them a reason in the beginning to read the whole piece and cross home plate in the end. What is home plate in your piece? How will they round the bases? Give them a taste of what lies ahead throughout the piece to keep them running. Here, running is reading. And we all know running is hard work, which leads to the next point.
Strategy #4: Think Fourth Grade
People binge on television because it’s a passive, easy activity. They don’t want to put much effort into an activity that doesn’t have an obvious, immediate, tangible, or high-value payoff. So, make reading your piece easy reading. Craft your work with the sophistication of a professional, but gear your work for a fourth grade reading level. Use mostly short sentences and easy words.
The last thing you want to do is create “speed bumps” in your writing. If they have to slow down — or worse, reread — to decipher what you mean, they may just click off the content and go on to the next thing in their overflowing inbox or in their unwieldy task list.
If you want to use a particular word and it feels right, but it is a speed bump, evaluate. Is it colorful enough, descriptive enough, to make it worth slowing the reader down? Think like your audience. Does the word make sense?
I just used a speed bump word, “unwieldy,” quite on purpose because it perfectly illustrates most of our to-do lists. It’s a great word. Just don’t overdo the great words. You’re not writing a novel — you’re writing a content marketing piece. Use the high school words and poetic devices sparingly and strategically.
Strategy #5: Give Your Readers Trendy, New Content
We get wrapped up in our binging because of the elements of newness. The style of the characters on The Good Wife, the unpredictable plot twists on Scandal, the blurred lines of good and evil in Revenge — it’s all riveting, fascinating stuff.
What kind of mind candy can you give your readers? Mix your evergreen posts with fresh, forward-thinking ones. Examples might be your thoughts on the latest industry trends, your predictions on what’s up-and-coming, or how you can apply ideas from other industries to rejuvenate your own.
Spending the time to come up with fresh ideas that you haven’t already read on other blogs has a huge advantage: Social capital. Your readers are more likely to share edgy, thought-provoking content. This, of course, may seem obvious, but plenty of content being produced currently is a reframing of the same ‘ole, same ‘ole.
Not every piece you write needs to be insightful and exciting. However, neither should every piece be content that your audience could find anywhere. We learn that from on-demand television, too: The most popular shows are the ones that have themes and plot details that we haven’t seen before.
Writing Your Own Love Formula
Think about the content you love and ask yourself, why do I love this? You might even make a list of the elements you love when you’re watching TV, reading a book, or browsing your favorite blogs. Is it word choice, pace, the fatal flaws of the hero, the way the main character wears a handkerchief in his suit pocket? Any detail, no matter how small, reveals your own triggers, the things that captivate you. Understanding what makes us tick (and watch, and read) will give you a powerful formula and framework for some of the stickiest content in your niche. Stick to that framework, and your crowd won’t be able to resist reading — and acting on — your work.
*Grammar Geek Alert! Is it binging or bingeing? As it happens, both are acceptable spellings.
Kari Matthews is a content writer for technology companies who loves winding down with a good series after a full day of writing. She welcomes your Netflix and Amazon Prime recommendations. Drop her a line by going to karimatthews.com.