The cliffhanger is one of the greatest tools in entertainment. I’ll explain why later.
Seriously though, we’ve all experienced the cliffhanger: It’s that tension-building moment of uncertainty at the end of a chapter or installment that leaves the audience impatiently awaiting the next one. Some of my favorite binge-worthy TV shows and page-turning novels have been defined by this quality.
A perfect example from modern cinema is the conclusion of 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War. While I won’t give anything away, the movie ended with a shocking turn of events that seemed to leave little hope for the franchise’s heroic protagonists. In the 12 months that passed between Infinity War and its sequel, fans waited with rabid eagerness for answers and closure, reveling in theories and hyper-analysis.
When Endgame finally arrived one year later, it delivered a hugely satisfying payoff. This helped the movie score the biggest box office opening of all time, and earned its creators high praise from our own Josh Nite for overcoming common Hollywood pitfalls and fully satisfying the fanbase.
B2B content marketing is increasingly taking cues from the world of entertainment in the quest to keep busy customers and prospects tuning in. When it comes to riveting your audience, there may be no more important model to borrow than episodic content, and the benefits don’t stop there.
Advantages of Episodic Content for B2B Marketing
Let’s start by springboarding off the point above, by highlighting the way this content delights those who consume it. Then, we’ll discuss some of the key operational implications for marketers.
Episodic Content Builds Loyalty and Retention with Your Audience
Storytelling is very powerful in B2B marketing. It helps audiences mentally organize, connect, and contextualize information in a way that makes the content much easier to understand and remember. In addition, storytelling through content marketing helps build trust.
Episodic content provides a means to extend the storytelling dynamic over lengthier time periods and campaigns. In the same way a strong narrative or theme compels a reader to keep scrolling through a blog post or viewing a video, connecting multiple pieces of content through this framework urges content consumers to find and enjoy that next nugget.“Episodic content provides a means to extend the storytelling dynamic over lengthier time periods and campaigns. Connecting multiple pieces of content urges content consumers to find and enjoy that next nugget.” @NickNelsonMN Click To Tweet
When you drill right down to the essential purpose of content marketing — per the venerable Content Marketing Institute, that is “creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience” — it’s easy to see how well an episodic cadence aligns.
Episodic Content Brings Efficiency and Greater Utility to Your Content
Here’s a scenario: You’ve got a big old 5,000 word writeup on a topic critical to those in your industry or niche. You spent months planning, developing, and refining it. You’re convinced it’s interesting and informative enough to hold a reader’s attention all the way through.
So why drop it all at once?
Divvying such a hefty piece of content up into multiple parts means you can stretch the content out over multiple days or weeks, filling up your content calendar while also making the information itself more easily digestible and giving your audience a distinct reason to come back. The same is true of audio content, video content, and so forth.
This is something that can be (and often is) done in hindsight — “Wow, this turned out to be really long, let’s cut it into parts” — but is most effective when baked into planning, so you can build in those pivotal cliffhangers and a smooth overall flow.
Episodic Content Adds Cohesiveness to Your Content Strategy
One of the habits I recently suggested B2B marketers should leave behind in the 2010s is aimless content creation. Episodic content is a simple solution to the fragmented nature of many wayward strategies. When you start planning around sequential series of related pieces, it becomes far easier to tie everything together with a consistent thread, and helps embed that mindset throughout the rest of a program.
Examples of Episodic Content in B2B Marketing
It might feel easier to envision episodic content in the context of TV shows or movie franchises than in a B2B marketing strategy. So let’s explore a few practical ways to bring this framework to life within business-oriented campaigns and programs.
This format is the easiest to associate with episodic mainstays like TV and film, because it follows the very same premise: pull in a viewer with an engrossing video, and then leave them wanting more. There are many examples of this throughout the world of B2B marketing, one of them being our own Break Free B2B webcast series.
The interconnected quality in a video content series doesn’t always have to be an ongoing narrative. Sometimes it’s simply a theme that resonates and applies to various installments. In the example of Break Free B2B, there’s no direct linkage between different episodes, except for the core concept — smart, forward-thinking pros sharing their best tips to escape the traditional constraint and barriers of our field.
YouTube itself illustrates the power of episodic video content. By automatically playing another related video after one ends, viewers sometimes stay tuned in for long durations. And to reinforce the platform’s irresistible appeal, Google recently disclosed that YouTube earned more than $15 billion in revenue last year.
These fall into a similar bucket as vidcasts and webcasts, but with a strictly audio focus. There are plenty of popular podcast shows that unpack a progressive narrative over the course of many episodes (Serial was a breakthrough in this regard), but again, it’s often about a cohesive theme or concept.
Two of our B2B clients at TopRank Marketing are helping lead the way on this front: 3M’s Science Champions highlights the human side of complex topics, while SAP’s Tech Unknown explores cutting-edge innovation through the eyes of the innovators.
When Josh shared B2B podcasting stats here a few months ago, some of the most striking were around the devoted consumption of listeners. For example, 76.8% listen to podcasts more than seven hours a week, and 52% of monthly listeners listen to the entirety of each episode.
In other words, once you pull someone into a podcast, there’s a good chance they’ll be hooked.“Podcasts continue to attract new listeners. And, most promisingly, those who listen are far more likely to add new podcasts than cut down.” @NiteWrites #B2Bpodcasting Click To Tweet
This is a somewhat new frontier, but definitely an intriguing one. Driving consistent social engagement is a challenge for many B2B brands, and episodic social content contributes to solving it.
The LinkedIn Marketing Blog* recently highlighted companies that are excelling with video on the platform, and the post includes several examples of episodic campaigns, such as Searchie’s LinkedIn Live series and the Keynotes educational series from eCornell.
Other common examples of episodic social content include weekly hashtag posts, employee spotlights, and daily polls.
Blogs, Guides, Email
The above examples are mostly multimedia-focused, because that best correlates to the high-profile entertainment examples cited from the outset, but written content like blog posts and guides are also perfect for episodic delivery. A thematic newsletter, or series of related blog posts, or collection of ebooks covering the same topical area can all fit the bill. If you strike a chord with your audience, you’ll have them looking out for the next one.
On to the Next Episode
As you plan out your upcoming content initiatives, think about ways you can build them around an episodic framework. It will help you form long-running narratives, gain consistent attention and awareness from your audience, add efficiency to your creation process, and support a cohesive strategy.
Instead of thinking about the conclusion of your next campaign or content piece, start thinking about the cliffhanger.
A big part of episodic B2B content’s appeal is that it creates a lengthier and deeper experience for the reader, listener, or viewer. Learn more about why experiential content is on the rise in our recent blog entry.
* Disclosure: LinkedIn, along with 3M and SAP, is a client of TopRank Marketing