As marketers, we’re accustomed to appreciating the rewards for a job well done. Create a piece of great content that resonates, and you’ll likely be greeted with those reinforcing indicators of impact: clicks, views, dwell time, pipeline growth, perhaps even third-party recognition.
But what’s in it for the person consuming this content?
Sure, there is the inherent value derived from enjoying the content to begin with – learning something new, solving problems, or merely being entertained. But if we want our readers to stick around and continuously come back for more, the next step for marketers may well be to further incentivize heavier consumption of our content, especially as serialized formats and experiential marketing continue to take hold.
Naturally, the world of entertainment is leading the charge on this frontier.
The Business Value of Binging Content
Earlier this month, streaming platform Hulu unveiled a new ad format designed to reward binge watching. Triggered when a viewer begins to watch a third consecutive episode of the same show, “the ad experience presents viewers with either their next episode commercial-free or a personalized offer from a brand.”
“A critical component of this ad experience is the use of machine learning to predict when viewers are likely to start binge watching a show,” according to Jeremy Helfand, Hulu’s Vice President and Head of Advertising Platforms. “The creative execution then serves contextually relevant messaging from our brand partners that acknowledges a binge watching session has begun.”
Here’s an example of a customized binge-watching ad from Cheez-It:
This is fascinating ground from a content marketer’s perspective. Binge watching is the most valuable action users can take on streaming platforms such as Hulu, but in the past, providers have mostly sought to avoid shaming viewers (I always chuckle at Netflix’s “We’re not judging” message prompt that pops up to make sure you’re still there after a show has been running for a certain length). Now, we’re seeing a shift toward actively incentivizing the behavior.
It goes without saying that binge-like consumption of brand content is a worthy aspiration for almost any marketer today. At a time where attention spans are shortening and content is saturating, being able to keep users yearning for more is the ultimate validator. It can also greatly increase the impact of your content, helping the brand message connect more deeply while encouraging subscriptions, shares, loyalty, and advocacy.
How can content marketers take a cue from Hulu and reward our most avid fans, while working to move more users into that category?
Building a Binge-Worthy B2B Content Strategy
In seeing the update from Hulu, I was reminded of a piece at Forbes by Kalev Leetaru a few months back, in which he asked: Why Doesn’t Social Media Reward Reading Rather Than Merely Speaking?
It was a great point that I hadn’t previously considered. “A user who spends their days spouting off uninformed bombastic platitudes will be lavishly rewarded with likes and followers, graduate to influencer status and earn revenue,” Leetaru wrote. “A user who spends their days quietly listening, like a patron in a library, will gain no recognition of any kind.”
Marketers are increasingly taking steps to encourage user-generated content, customer advocacy, contest participation, and the like. But we may have a blindspot for the kind of passive consumption that offers plenty of value in its own right. Here are some tips to help you situate your content strategy around this focus.Marketers are increasingly taking steps to encourage UGC, customer advocacy, contest participation, and the like. But we may have a blindspot for the kind of passive consumption that offers plenty of value in its own right. @NickNelsonMN Click To Tweet
Create Content that Lends Itself to Binging
Step one, of course, is to ensure you have content that’s conducive to the kind of ravenous consumption we’re discussing here. The most obvious way to achieve this is through serial content – sequential pieces that all contribute to a larger, cohesive, overarching narrative. This is the model used by streaming platforms like Hulu and Netflix, and the most binge-able shows tend to end episodes with cliffhangers that make it difficult to quit.
Think about ways to replicate this dynamic with your strategy. Does one blog post create a natural transition to the next in a series? Do your videos leave viewers with a curiosity they can satisfy through viewing another one? Does your asset promotion include a tension-building hook (a cliffhanger, if you will) that compels someone to take another step? And are you generating buzz, both naturally and through influencer engagements, that frames your content as can’t-miss? (How many shows have you binged because so many people told you they were must-watch?)
Web shows and podcasts like our Break Free B2B series also are natural opportunities to pull in your audience. (The latest episode, which features Content Marketing Institute’s Stephanie Stahl discussing content planning and building demand, is especially pertinent to the present topic.)
Deliver on Your Promises
We’re mainly focusing on ways to encourage continual content consumption here, but we should also recognize the attributes that firmly discourage binging: namely, a failure to deliver on the content’s core promise.
Think critically in these terms about everything you produce. Are we actually giving them the information they came for? Are we helping make our audience more capable and confident? Are they getting a unique experience, or is it the same thing they can easily find elsewhere? Perhaps most importantly, are we making all of this clear quickly enough? (How many times have you given up on a new show because the slow-moving first episode didn’t captivate you?)
A few years back, our Elizabeth Williams penned a blog post with examples of content marketing case studies that bring home the bacon by fulfilling their promises.
Track How Individuals Consume Your Content
In order to reward content binging, you need to know when it’s happening and who’s doing it. There are a number of ways to understand this at a high level – measuring time on page, analyzing the number of referrals to a page from another one that sequentially preceded it, etc. – but we can also be more precise through the use of pixels and IP address data, which help us track activity down to the specific user level. Hulu also mentioned the use of machine learning technology, which could play a role for those with the necessary resources.
Develop Contextually Relevant Rewards
An incentive only makes sense if it fits contextually with the action that’s being rewarded. This is where marketers can really put on the creative hat and work to come up with relevant CTAs and interstitials that will jibe with a user’s mindset based on what they are consuming.
From push-button fixes to more technical solutions that can be implemented with assistance from a web developer or agency partner, here are a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing…
- Once a user has spent five minutes on a page, have a pop-up window acknowledging that fact (“Hey, you’re still here and we really appreciate it!”) while directing them to your best related content.
- When a user lands on a piece of serial content directly from the previous installment, create unique messaging to connect the two and play up the cohesive experience.
- When an email subscriber opens up five consecutive emails from your brand, send them an additional one with a special offer, available only to your most loyal readers.
- When a video viewer keeps watching for five minutes, trigger a pop-up link within the video that unlocks additional supporting content.
The possibilities are endless, just as the content consumption journey can be when designed thoughtfully under this premise.
Keep Your Audience Coming Back
In thinking about this subject, I’m reminded of a popular customer-centric models promoted by a marketer I admire (one who, incidentally, has a background in television).
Andrew Davis’s Loyalty Loop urges brands to take advantage of a moment of inspiration (“instants in time that send you on a journey you never expected”) to reinforce the behavior. In this case, it might mean catching someone while they’re inspired by that first piece of content – that tip of the iceberg – and prompting them to explore further. It’ll about anticipation.
For content marketers, rewarding the content-bingers in our audience is a great way to strategically incorporate this concept. And if we do it successfully, we’ll be able to appreciate those aforementioned rewards for a job well done all the more.
For further guidance on creating rewarding content, learn about the T.H.I.N.K. model for content strategy and how it puts purpose behind every piece.