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The Science Behind Why We Binge-Watch

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Binge-watching may not be a new concept, but it’s fast becoming the new normal.

Ten years ago, in those dark days before the advent of streaming services, DVD box sets and the occasional TV marathon were the only ways to get your binge-watching fix. These days, though, streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime are making binge-watching — watching two or more (sometimes much, much more) episodes of a single series in quick succession — an acceptable and fast-growing practice.

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According to a 2017 survey from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American watches 2.7 hours of TV per day or nearly 20 hours each week. Much of that time is spent binge-watching — a 2013 Netflix survey found that among nearly 1,500 surveyed TV streamers, 61% of users binge-watch shows regularly (in this case, binge-watching was defined as watching two to three episodes of a single series in one session).

The term “binge-watch” was even Collins English Dictionary’s word of the year in 2015 (alongside, out of curiosity, “dadbod” and “ghosting”).

But while late-night Breaking Bad benders might be popular, a growing list of evidence indicates that binge-watching may not be the ideal way to consume media. Researchers have linked binge-watching to lower sleep quality, and studies have found that binge-watching shows might actually be less memorable and less enjoyable than watching new episodes on a weekly basis. (Yikes!)

So why is binge-watching so popular if it just leaves us feeling bleary-eyed on the couch? The answer lies in how our brains function while we’re watching and how filmmakers and streaming services are engineered to keep us watching.

For many viewers, binge-watching gives us an escape from the day-to-day grind. Entertainment has always offered a way to escape from the pressures of daily life, and binge-watching is no exception. But, don’t just take our word for it. Cultural anthropologist Grant McCracken, who coordinated with Netflix on the above survey, sees a correlation between the rise in binge-watching habits and our desire to escape a never-ending sea of bite-sized social media posts and YouTube videos. He explains:

“TV viewers are no longer zoning out as a way to forget about their day, they are tuning in, on their own schedule, to a different world. Getting immersed in multiple episodes or even multiple seasons of a show over a few weeks is a new kind of escapism that is especially welcomed today.”

Viewers seem to agree — the aforementioned Netflix survey found that 76% of respondents said it’s a welcome refuge from the busy world we live in. And for many of us, it’s a much-needed break: a recent opinion poll from the American Psychiatric Association found that nearly 40% of respondents felt more anxious than the year before.

But there’s an even simpler reason behind why we enjoy binge-watching. To put it simply, it makes us feel good. In fact, according to one study, 73% of us have positive feelings about binge-watching TV — feelings that Dr. Renee Carr, Psy. D, a clinical psychologist, attributes to our body’s own natural response to enjoyment. She explains on NBC’s health and wellness blog, Better, that binge-watching a show produces a continuous stream of dopamine in our brains:

“[Dopamine] gives the body a natural, internal reward of pleasure that reinforces continued engagement in that activity. It’s the brain’s signal that communicates to the body —This feels good. You should keep doing this!

So, as it turns out, it isn’t the show we’re craving; instead, it’s the feeling of pleasure we get from watching episode after episode. “You experience a pseudo-addiction to the show,” Dr. Carr explains, “because you develop cravings for dopamine … Your body does not discriminate against pleasure. It can become addicted to any activity or substance that consistently produces dopamine.”

“So, as it turns out, it isn’t the show we’re craving; instead, it’s the feeling of pleasure we get from watching episode after episode.”

It’s that dopamine hit — and the conscious decision to keep that feeling going — that gets people hooked on watching just one more episode as the clock ticks past midnight.

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Binge-watching can be a great way to relax and de-stress, but it can easily become a problem when you regularly prioritize it over other important activities.

Like gambling and other behavioral addictions, binge-watching activates the part of our brain responsible for “reward” functions, producing dopamine and making us feel good. Over time, though, our brains produce less dopamine from the same level of activity as we build up a level of tolerance. It takes more and more of the same activity to give us that same feeling of enjoyment, making binge-watching that much harder to stop.

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Young viewers are particularly susceptible to changing their habits to support binge-watching. Image courtesy of Statista.

When we’re forced to stop watching (usually when we finish the entire series), we quite literally “mourn” the loss — a kind of “post-binge malaise” — as coined by Matthew Schneier in the New York Times. That feeling of emptiness doesn’t do us any good — a 2015 study from the University of Toledo found that binge-watchers reported higher levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. Researchers have noted that binge-watching streaming media is directly related to a reduction in sleep quality — an effect that isn’t seen with traditional TV series when new episodes are only released once each week.

Given our preference for binging on new series, you might assume it makes for a better watching experience — but it turns out that’s not the case either. According to a 2017 study from First Monday, binge-watching shows might actually be less memorable and less enjoyable than watching new episodes on a weekly basis. Researchers found that binge-watching shows reduced participants’ ability to remember details from the shows, and binge-watchers also reported lower enjoyment levels from watching the show than those who watched the same series only once a day.

Once that stimulation is gone, the only way to bring it back is to watch more episodes, even when it may be detrimental to our health and enjoyment — a fact of which filmmakers and streaming services take full advantage.

Streaming services, along with the original content they make available, are engineered to be addictive. Without commercials on most platforms, there are fewer opportunities for viewers to get distracted. Netflix even begins playing the next episode of a series while the credits for the previous episode are still rolling. Cliffhanger endings are there to keep us hooked so that we can’t help but start watching the next episode.

Netflix and other streaming services rely on these behaviors to inform their programming decisions and keep subscribers happy. Without the regular interruptions of traditional television, audiences are much more likely to keep watching instead of switching to another service — or even just another activity. In fact, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings famously said that sleep is Netflix’s biggest competitor.

“Without the regular interruptions of traditional television, audiences are much more likely to keep watching instead of switching to another service — or even just another activity.”

At the end of the day, making binge-watching socially acceptable is undoubtedly an important part of sustaining a streaming business model. Netflix even openly promotes binge-watching and “binge racing” on their blog, where they state more than 8 million subscribers have binge-raced at least one series.

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An infographic from Netflix promoting binge-watching. Image courtesy of Time.

According to Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos, these changes are simply meeting the desires of their audience, helping to “free consumers from the limitations of linear television” and “lining up the content with new norms of viewer control for the first time.”

Love it or hate it, binge-watching isn’t going away any time soon. So, what can we do to make sure binge-watching continues to be a positive experience?

Binge-watching is a welcome stress reliever as well as a behavior that’s ingrained within us, so there’s no reason to feel guilty while clicking “I’m Still Watching” for the third time.

But it’s important to remember that there’s a fine line between healthy viewing habits and addictive behavior. Commit to only watching a certain number of episodes in advance, then cut yourself off and balance your binge-watching with activities like exercise or spending time with friends. These activities can provide additional sources of enjoyment, making it much less likely you’ll become addicted to watching that next season from start to finish in one go.

If you can stick to healthy habits and balance your binge-watching with other activities, then you’ll reap all the enjoyment of binge-watching — without suffering the negative consequences.



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Video Marketing

Why a Wistia Channel Is like Netflix for Your Branded Video Content

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When it comes to long-form videos, serial video content, and documentaries, there’s nothing more important than creating a high-quality viewing experience (well, aside from making the awesome content itself).

Take Netflix, for example — their impeccable viewing experience is a huge part of why they’re so successful. From its highly effective discovery algorithm and its human-curated micro-genres to its elegant hover-over previews to its smooth “Up Next” transitions from episode to episode, Netflix’s thoughtful and user-friendly design keeps viewers watching for hours on end.

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Now, imagine a world where you could create a similar viewing experience for your business’ branded shows that lives right on your website. Sounds pretty sweet, right? Well, luckily, there’s a tool for that! Wistia Channels help businesses maximize their video engagement and eliminate distractions all while building a beautiful home for your content (without writing a single line of code).

Want to learn how to tackle today’s marketing challenges with Wistia Channels? Register for our webinar here to save your spot!

The rise of social media platforms has made driving deep engagement a challenge for marketers. Plus, focusing solely on traditional success metrics like conversions and impressions doesn’t accurately capture the most meaningful interactions you have with your audience.

We think measuring “time watched” is the best way to understand the true value video is bringing to your business, and just as Netflix encourages binge-watching, Wistia Channels are optimized around maximizing the time people spend with your content.

Why time watched is so important

Focusing on the number of seconds, minutes, and hours people spend with your content reveals a strong connection between you and your audience that goes beyond product utility or clever stunts. People who are watching full-length episodes of a video series are engaging with your brand in a more meaningful way than those who are watching a couple of seconds of a social media clip.

“People who are watching full-length episodes of a video series are engaging with your brand in a more meaningful way than those who are watching a couple of seconds of a social media clip.”

The time watched metric proves that your content is compelling, relevant, and entertaining to the viewer. People are voluntarily sticking around to hear what you have to say for an extended period of time, and that means they’re likely to come back for more.

How Wistia Channels increases watch time

Grab some popcorn, sit back, and relax, because Wistia Channels are designed for long viewing sessions. In fact, these features work so well you won’t even notice they’re there! Here’s what’s going on behind the scenes to encourage deep engagement with your video content:

  • The full-screen player: Clicking the “Watch” button on a Wistia Channel opens up a high-resolution, full-screen player that loads quickly, attracting and sustaining attention.
  • Next buttons: While videos are playing, a subtle white “next” arrow appears on the right-hand side. It lets the viewer know that there’s more to come and the story’s not over. At the end of a video, an “Up Next” thumbnail appears in the lower right corner of the player, giving a preview of upcoming content.
  • Sections and categories: With section headers, you can break out your content into chapters, categories, or topics. You can pique curiosity with section titles or just keep things organized so that viewers can navigate to exactly what they want to see.

Netflix is a form of escapism for many people; you can watch whatever you want from wherever you want, whether that’s in the comfort of your own home, on a bus, or even on the toilet (no judgment here). And while other corners of the social web feel like noisy intersections, your Wistia Channel is a zen-like space focused solely on your content. Why not give your content the spotlight?

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Why it’s important to eliminate distractions

Social media is great for shorter interactions, but when you’re releasing long-form video content, it’s best to create a distraction-free environment where your audience can engage more deeply. Think about the last time you watched a video from a business you follow on Twitter. Were you easily distracted by the surrounding content? Did that puppy who was learning how to walk downstairs catch your eye? Yeah, us too.

It’s impossible for viewers to focus on and fully absorb what they’re watching when they’re distracted. If you’re sharing a story that’s near and dear to the heart of your business and speaks to your values and what you do, you want people to remember what they watched, and you want to open up the possibility of starting a conversation.

Increase signal-to-noise ratio

Wistia Channels are designed to shine a spotlight on your videos so you don’t have to worry about viewers getting distracted by other shiny objects (or adorable dogs). Here’s how we keep the focus on your content:

  • No ads or links to other sites: Your Wistia Channel is part of your own website and doesn’t link out to promotional content or other sites … unless you want it to, of course. Either way, you’re in the driver’s seat.
  • Control over the display of content: When it comes to the presentation of videos within your Channel, the choice is yours. Even if viewers are tempted to click on a different video, they’re still only being exposed to the content that lives in your Channel, not your competitor’s.
  • Minimalist design: You won’t notice tons of animations, blinking lights, flashy ads, or other distracting elements on a Wistia Channel. The text, buttons, and other UX on the page inform viewers about the content they’re meant to watch, keeping the focus on your video content.

Netflix celebrates its original content by ensuring each show has a stand-out, distinct visual brand to go with it. The eye-catching visuals are unique to each series and help viewers remember which shows looked appealing to them so they can come back later and tune in. Luckily, with Wistia Channels, marketers can also customize the look and feel of their content’s home base so that it matches their brand.

Why it’s important to brand your series

With Wistia Channels, you can do things like add a video or image header, select a font and color scheme, add text details, and more. But why put all this effort into creating a consistent, cohesive experience for your viewer, you ask?

Well, when you brand the content that lives on your Channel, you’re building on the familiarity principle: The more people see certain visual information, the more they’ll come to develop a preference for it. These little repetitive branding details add up to you and your audience getting to know each other better. It’s ground zero for relationship building.

“When you brand the content that lives on your Channel, you’re building on the familiarity principle: The more people see certain visual information, the more they’ll come to develop a preference for it.”

Netflix has a carefully calibrated brand for each series that’s designed to evoke an emotional reaction with the viewer. Thumbnails are A/B tested, short preview copy is written, and previews start to autoplay when you hover over a thumbnail. From our own Wistia video data, we’ve found that a factor as simple as video-player color can affect the play rate, so don’t sleep on giving the content you create some extra attention from a brand perspective.

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Customize your Wistia Channel

Custom branding on your Wistia Channel creates a visual identity for your series that, in turn, creates a positive association with your brand. Here’s how you can get started:

  • Autoplaying hero video: Adding a silent, auto-playing hero video to your Wistia Channel really kicks your branding up a notch. Turn on this setting and you’ll be capturing your viewer’s attention in no time.
  • Thumbnails: As with other Wistia videos, you have full control over the thumbnails displayed on each video in your Channel. We recommend featuring people’s faces in your thumbnails because faces convey more emotion, but at the very least, keep the colors and fonts consistent to build that brand of yours.
  • Color themes: This one’s plain and simple — choose a consistent color scheme for your series that lets viewers know it’s coming from you.
  • Custom font and logo: Add your brand logo and choose your font so that people really know it’s you. No doppelgangers allowed.
  • Titles and descriptions: Add text to your Channel to entice people to click on individual episodes and learn more about what the entire series is all about (and to give your series an extra SEO boost, too!).

We love thinking big about video content and the impact that long-form videos, serial video content, documentaries, and more can have on a business’ brand. After all, serious storytelling deserves all the support you can give it, and investing in a better user experience for your audience gives your content the chance to go the distance. So, what are you waiting for? Give your content the beautiful home it deserves.

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The Story Behind “#OverheardAtCoSchedule,” a Video Series by CoSchedule

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CoSchedule is a North Dakota-based SaaS company that provides over 8,000 customers the ability to organize their marketing in one place. The rapidly growing marketing suite (#153 on Inc. 5000) helps marketers stay focused, deliver projects on time, and keep their entire team happy. When they tell their customers and prospects, located in 100+ countries, they’re located in the Midwest, it’s not unlikely that they’ll receive a jaw-drop or double-take in return.

With this insight in mind, Eric Piela, CoSchedule’s Brand & Buzz Manager, saw an opportunity to revamp CoSchedule’s original series #OverheardAtCoSchedule to showcase the company’s unique culture and location, while building a deeper connection with their audience. Before Eric joined the company, the #OverheardAtCoSchedule series focused on building thought leadership and saw the videos as an additional way of sharing information that was typically detailed in a blog post.

Early #OverheardAtCoSchedule video:

Late #OverheardAtCoSchedule video:

From outsourcing a production company to help tell their story to distributing their video series and measuring success, we dug into how the #OverheardAtCoSchedule series was created and the outcome it had on CoSchedule’s business. Hear what Eric had to say below!

Wistia: Tell us about your role as a Brand & Buzz Manager?

Eric: What a trendy “millennial” title — ha! How fun is that, right? Truth is, I started as the Head of Public Relations and Community but we quickly determined the needs of our startup were less traditional and brand & buzz hit on the two key focal points for the role. At the end of the day, my job is to tell the CoSchedule brand story and find the opportunities to tell those key storylines to the right audience. As part of that, I make sure I know who our target demographic is, where they seek marketing information, what technologies they leverage, and what marketing influencers they go to for thought leadership. Seeking influencer marketing opportunities and managing our social media presence are also a big part of this role.

Essentially, the Brand & Buzz team’s job is to help shape the CoSchedule narrative but to also amplify it — ensuring we’re telling the right story, in the right way, to the right people. For example, CoSchedule was recently named to Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Content Marketing Platforms, this is a killer accolade and my job is to bang that drum as loud as possible so that both our prospects and our customers know we’re the fastest-growing up-and-comer in the enterprise space with the credibility to back it up.

Wistia: How did the #OverheardAtCoSchedule idea come to fruition?

Eric: #OverheardAtCoSchedule actually started before I joined the team. I’ve been at CoSchedule for two and a half years now, and prior to that #OverheardAtCoSchedule actually began as just an intern’s Twitter hashtag for funny things overheard in the workplace in 2015. We have two offices in ND, so it was a way for us to share experiences across locations by injecting some levity and humor. Later it evolved into a way to give external audiences a look inside what the strange brains here at CoSchedule were talking about and eventually it really became an extension of our culture. And yes, it’s still an active twitter hashtag and entertaining as hell to follow.

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If you look at the docuseries as a whole, there is definitely a clear transition point. In its inception, the video series was owned by our content marketing team and started out as a way to extend the success of our blog by bringing some of our posts to life via video. However, when I started working on #OverheardAtCoSchedule, my vision for the series was to shift the focus primarily on our culture and share our unique story. That meant transitioning the content to be more about the quirky, Mid-Westerners who were proving the naysayers wrong and building one of the top 15 fastest-growing software companies in the U.S. smack dab in the breadbasket of North Dakota.

At the end of the day, I think part of developing brand affinity is not only connecting people to your product and what you provide, but also to the individuals and the creators. The series ended up being a great recruitment tool for us too because it gave potential candidates a feel for our passion and personalities.

“I think part of developing brand affinity is not only connecting people to your product and what you provide, but also to the individuals and the creators.”

Wistia: Did you outsource others to help with production or other creative needs?

Eric: When it came to #OverheardAtCoSchedule we decided to go with a third party video production crew. We used another fellow startup out of North Dakota, called Threefold, to help with the more professional production we were looking for. There are certain times when I think an unpolished video does a great job, and there are times when a little more production value helps you tell your story better. We decided to take the latter approach with #OverheardAtCoSchedule. It’s also all about knowing what your strengths are as a company and the talent you have internally. At the time, we were a marketing team with strong writers and graphic designers, but we didn’t have someone who knew video production on staff.

We leveraged Threefold to help us tell our culture story — we’d create the script, describe our vision and they’d help us bring the video to life. They did some art direction, editing, and helped to make sure a 2.5-minute video held attention and flowed exactly right.

Wistia: How long did it take to get each video produced from end to end?

Eric: We published an episode once a month but we’d aim to have our series planned out for the entire quarter. We would then try to shoot the videos in sprints. If I was feeling very ambitious, we could record up to three episodes in one day. Beforehand, I would create a creative brief for each video, which consisted of things like the goal of the video, the brand message we’re highlighting, talent needed and suggestions for video shoot locations. I would then create talking points and storyboard everything out about two weeks in advance and get it into Threefold’s hands for our pre-production call. They really provided strong art direction and a specific vision in mind, like “We’re going to find a pasture in North Dakota outside of Bismarck and you’re going to sit on a hay bale like so — I know just the spot.”

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I’d create a detailed schedule for the day of the shoot, we’d do a quick kick-off sync, and then we’d record from about 9 in the morning until about 4 in the afternoon. Doing multiple episodes in one day meant that sometimes I would have to hop from one episode to another, jump from scene to scene, and throw on different shirts so that it looked like we filmed across multiple days. After the day-long shoots, the production team began editing the videos and would turn those around back to me about one to two weeks later. Lastly, I’d create the marketing promotion plan and schedule distribution.

Wistia: How did you distribute this series?

Eric: We began by promoting the series to people who were already familiar with CoSchedule — a fan of our blog, our Headline Analyzer, and even existing users of our app. We leveraged our large 100K social media following and, on occasion, did boosted posts to our target demographic. In addition, we had an email list that was around 350k people at the time and made sure to work it periodically into our e-newsletter. We created a blog post about each episode to ensure our large blog followership were introduced the video series as well. Lastly, we added the videos to our Youtube channel.

Wistia: What was the feedback or outcome of the series?

Eric: The series was really well-received — we garnered 90K views and from my perspective, it is one of our most successful social media efforts to date. You can measure social a variety of ways, of course, but our goal was to get targeted reach, sustained viewership and drive engagement. We saw great engagement with people watching a majority of the video, instead of dropping off right away. It was just an awesome feeling to create content that our viewers were actually sticking around to watch since the audience retention can waver at that video length.

The series also helped generate some additional earned media coverage. We were able to get a number of guest posts published and additional coverage in publications like, Entrepreneur, Inc.com and Startup.com discussing how a small startup based in North Dakota was making waves in the technology scene. The series was an amazing way to share our story that ended up being a gateway to even more opportunities for our brand, especially for recruitment. In 2017, our company grew by 40 employees — many of which referencing the #OverheardAtCoSchedule series during interviews.

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In terms of hard numbers and ROI, this stuff is always tricky to measure and tie back directly. We analyzed the vanity metrics, which were the number of views, engagement, etc. My CEO, Garrett Moon, said, “Eric, you’ve been doing these videos. They’re really fun, I’m laughing, and you’re good at this, but how are we able to track the true impact?” And that’s always a difficult question to answer. It’s tricky with anything that’s brand-related because sometimes you don’t see the fruits of your labor until a year or two down the road. So, was it a success? I believe it was. Can I go back and accurately measure how it affected our bottom line? Not definitively.

Wistia: Was it hard to get buy-in from other stakeholders to make these videos?

Eric: As I mentioned before, when I joined CoSchedule the series was already in motion. However, we believed there was potential to go beyond doing a video blog format and leverage the #OverheardAtCoSchedule series in a more profound way. Instead, I saw the opportunity for us to use video as a tool to share our culture, our brand, and just maybe people would fall in love with who we are. By this point, people were already eager to connect with brands on a personal level and actively develope “relationships” with brands, and we thought this was our chance to provide that. So, that’s when we completely reimagined what #OverheardAtCoSchedule looked like and got our CEO on board with the new vision for the series.

Wistia: What was the most challenging part of the process? What felt like the biggest risk?

Eric: I think the biggest risk was changing the format of the series. I didn’t know if people would care. I didn’t know if our story was going to be enjoyable to watch or hear. When I drastically changed the format, it was extremely risky because we already knew that CoSchedule was known for delivering thought leadership — our blog was crushing it, and when the series first started out it was a learning tool.

I knew that was our wheelhouse, but we were really missing an opportunity from a brand and buzz standpoint to share how we weren’t content machines, but people and marketers, just like our customers, trying to figure this stuff out. There were risks associated with changing the show’s narrative, trying to build in some goofy humor, and thinking people would relate to someone from North Dakota. It was challenging to get over that voice of fear in our heads that this wasn’t going to work. But that’s the beauty of CoSchedule — we’re a company that believes in taking risks and failing fast, and I was empowered to do that.

“I knew that was our wheelhouse, but we were really missing an opportunity from a brand and buzz standpoint to share how we weren’t content machines, but people and marketers, just like our customers.”

Wistia: Does CoSchedule plan on investing more in episodic content?

Eric: I think we accomplished exactly what we wanted to at the time. It was about telling our startup story and growing our brand awareness — I think the docuseries definitely accomplished that throughout the year. I still have people asking, “Hey, when are you going to make more of those videos?” For this year, if I could find a way to tell the story of how CoSchedule is the only way to organize your marketing in one place with a docuseries, we would definitely consider doing it again. At the end of the day, it’s all about making sure that a series works with your goals and what you are trying to achieve with your brand.


After hearing the story behind #OverheardAtCoSchedule, it doesn’t matter if you’re a SaaS company in the middle of North Dakota–video can help you build brand affinity and connect your audience to the individuals inside your company. Is this the year your business will create an original series, or do you already have one out in the wild? Be sure to share with us in the comments!

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Know Your Audience Before You Make Content for Them—Here’s How

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To create compelling content for your brand, you need to know your audience. But what does “knowing your audience” really mean? Which audience? And how much do you need to know about them? As the president of Bleacher Report, Rory Brown, told Digiday, “You can reach so many more people [in this era], but the definition of audience is murkier than ever.”

And when it comes to endeavors like creating branded shows, a podcast, or even an ad campaign, your potential audience suddenly expands beyond those who are just interested in learning more about your product or service. This is great news, but it also brings us back to that tricky question — how do you know who you should actually be making content for in the first place?

“How do you know who you should actually be making content for in the first place?”

Determining your audience is a key part of the creative process that should happen before you even pick up a camera or jot down a script. So, let’s start narrowing down who makes up that nebulous audience of yours!

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Whether you set out to make a video series, a documentary, or heck, even a docu-series, looking to your brand values for guidance is a great place to start. Your brand values define your company more broadly than your main product or service does, and ultimately guide your business’ core purpose and personality. Chances are, you probably already have a consensus on what those values are, so dust off that internal document of yours that covers them in detail, because you’re going to want to reference this! Let these brand values be your starting point for understanding your audience and the types of content they might be interested in consuming.

Here at Wistia, for example, creativity is one of our core brand values. We try to be creative in the way we approach everything from developing products and producing videos to funding our business and delighting our customers. As a company who invests in creativity, we know that our customers rely on us to look at problems differently and solve them in ways they may not have thought of before.

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So, when it came to deciding on a theme that would resonate with our audience for our first-ever docu-series, One, Ten, One Hundred, exploring the relationship between money and creativity seemed like the perfect fit. Leaning on this brand value helped us reach more people who are just as passionate as we are about being creative, regardless of your budget.

How to incorporate brand values into your content strategy:

Use your brand values as headers for lists of topics to brainstorm. These topics can start off pretty broad, i.e. under “Creativity” you could write down topics like “Freelancing” or “Photography.” Then, pressure-test your topics by simply polling your current customers, blog-readers, and social media followers. You can always send out a survey with a tool like SurveyMonkey, but nowadays you can do polls on social media platforms, like Facebook and Twitter. Get a consensus around the areas your audience is most interested in. Later on, you’ll narrow these down and get even more specific about the execution of the content itself.

How this helps you grow your audience:

Ideating around your brand values is a safeguard against short-term thinking. By keeping your content ambitions in line with your company’s long term goals, you’re making sure that the content you create has legs that can last a lifetime. Plus, involving your current audience and customers at this stage will help reveal which values actually resonate with them the most.

“Ideating around your brand values is a safeguard against short-term thinking.”

From the Jobs to Be Done framework to simply asking “why” over and over again, understanding and solving your audience’s problems is a tried-and-true marketing tactic that helps you win fans for life.

As a business, you’re probably already very familiar with the problems your customers face because you know what problems your product solves. And while your content should share some of that utility, the greater focus should be placed on the problems your customers face in their daily lives and at work.

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For example, Robinhood wants to “democratize the financial system” for millennials and younger generations through app-based stock trading — a mission that led to the company buying and taking over the MarketSnacks newsletter and podcast (which was rebranded as Robinhood Snacks).

Robinhood’s product solves the problem of making market investing less complicated, but the newsletter and daily podcast give their audience a look at the broader financial landscape in a way that’s more engaging and entertaining.

How to define audience problems:

When it comes to defining audience problems, we recommend using quantitative (demographics and behavior) and qualitative data (comments, feedback, customer interviews, and support queries) about your current customers to form hypotheses about audience pain points at work or at home.

Search online to see if anyone is discussing these pain points to validate your hypotheses, and then create a problem statement using the “people who + but” framework. A “people who + but” statement for Robinhood Snacks’ audience might be:

“Young people who want to make intelligent investments, but don’t always have time to track the financial markets.”

Use the problem statement as the basis for solutions you’ll explore in your content, and as always, be sure to check what you land on against your brand values to ensure it’s still a good fit.

How this helps you grow your audience:

The “people who + but” framework works well for growing your audience because it focuses on identity. A New York Times study on the psychology of sharing found that 68% of people share content online because they want to “give people a better sense of who they are and what they care about.” People who identify a certain way often face the same societal or cultural restraints that cause problems in their daily lives. If you can solve problems for people who identify in a certain way, or as part of a certain social group, your content is more likely to be shared around that group.

Narrowing your audience might sound like contradictory advice for growing it, but doing so actually helps you create better content. Niches allow you to come up with solutions that resonate deeply with the audience you’re targeting, and ultimately, create the kinds of relationships that lead to lasting brand loyalty and fandom.

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MailChimp is a great example of this. They’ve stated on their About page that creating an “empowered and inspired community” is part of their company culture. Their video content brand, MailChimp Presents, is focused on telling stories about “the entrepreneurial spirit.” And each of the series they’ve created so far focuses on a specific niche of entrepreneurs. For instance, the series Wi-Finders is all about digital nomads changing the cultures of the cities they live in.

The “people who + but” statement for Wi-Finders’ audience might be:

“Entrepreneurs and creatives who are considering a more adventurous lifestyle but feel limited by obligations at home or at work.”

The statement above articulates one clear problem these specific people face. What follows next, is a pitch that explains how you’ll address the problem with the execution of your content. Here’s what a pitch for Wi-Finders might look like:

“We’ll document the daily routines of digital nomads to show entrepreneurs the numerous ways they can make a life and live in cities around the world.”

How to create niche content:

Use your problem statement to zero in on an interest group or identity you want to focus on. Then, come up with a pitch for a branded show directed towards that audience. Start by testing out your ideas with smaller content first. Post a tweet thread or a blog post about the problems you’re observing, or create a short (2–5 minute) video exploring your idea.

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Share your content out in the world and gauge interest based on the response you get. You know you’ll have found a good audience niche when it feels like you hit a nerve with a specific online community. With that confidence in your back pocket, start investing in bigger initiatives like a branded show directed towards that audience niche.

How this helps grow your audience:

Specific, concrete details are what make content watchable, and you can only provide these details by narrowing the scope of each project. If your subject matter is too broad, your content will be bland and unhelpful. With a specific niche, you can draw in a quality audience that identifies with and is passionate about your subject. And the more content you create, the more specific, unique audiences you can pull in.

When you’ve found the right ideas and the right people, a kind of magic happens. You can create original content that’s valuable to others, aligns with your brand values, and allows you to flex your curiosity and creativity.

“When you’ve found the right ideas and the right people, a kind of magic happens.”

Without an audience for your content, you may as well be shouting into the void. Values, problems, and identity are all closely connected for getting to know your audience and then creating great content that engages them.

After all, the best content serves its audience in a way that speaks to what they already know about themselves, but also helps them change perspective and think about things in new ways. By grounding your content strategy in the knowledge of your audience, you can take more creative risks with confidence.



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