CMC Guest Post Series: This week, we bring you the first in a series of guest posts from CMC 2020 sponsors and speakers who want to share their expertise with content marketers like you. In this post, Brandon Anderson, Chief Strategist at Ceralytics, discusses how and when to use serial vs. episodic content marketing.
In the entertainment industry, serial series are those that have continuous plotlines that flow from one episode to the next over the course of the show’s run. If you miss an episode, you’ve missed a critical piece of what happened. Think of TV shows like Game of Thrones or Agent Carter, or the podcast Serial. In order to get the full story, you need to tune in from the first episode to the last for the plot to play out.
On the other end of the spectrum are episodic series, in which each episode is a fully contained story. The characters are familiar but each installment has a beginning, middle, and end that doesn’t rely on other episodes. Examples of these series include The Simpsons, Seinfeld, and Community. While there may be a hint of continuity between episodes, individual episodes are not necessary plot points in an overall story. If you miss one, you’re not exactly out of luck for understanding the next episode.
Just as the entertainment industry uses these two types of approaches to storytelling, so do content marketers. Read on to find out which type of content marketing might be right for your brand.
Serial Content Marketing
When it comes to content marketing, I like to think of serial content as content that is created on a regular basis that an audience can look forward to. Like the Hollywood serials, it’s content that makes you want to tune in for more after you’ve seen one episode. But unlike the showbiz definition, you could tune into the middle of the series (say, episode 32 of a podcast) and still get value out of it.
Many podcasts (like Social Pros) and vlogs (like Neil Patel) are serial in nature. The goal of these series is to drive up the number of subscribers by creating regularly occurring content that people can consume and will want to come back to.
Though successful serial content marketers know that users don’t always subscribe because of what they’ve created. People subscribe because they’re interested in what the content marketer will do next.
Episodic Content Marketing
On the other side of the scale, episodic content marketing isn’t consistent in nature. It’s not produced on a regular basis, in most cases, and the format can change from one piece to another. One week it could be a blog post. Two weeks later it could be a white paper. Two days later it could be a video. The goal of episodic content isn’t necessarily to drive subscribers, but rather to drive some other business goal.
Whether a company is creating an ultimate guide to franchising or a post on the effects of alcohol on teens’ brains, episodic content usually fulfills a single pain point that users have and is often optimized to rank for keywords users are searching for. Instead of relying on repeat visitors and subscribers, episodic content delivers a result directly to the person who has the problem right now.
Isn’t This All Content Marketing?
Yes, it is. Both episodic and serial content make up overall content marketing strategies. But the question you need to ask yourself—and your brand—is where you should put the emphasis.
Will your company’s goals be better attained by consistent serial content, to gain subscribers over time? Or is it a better use of your resources to create high-value content in only the mediums that make sense, and not put yourself in a situation where you need to maintain a show-like format?
Or is the answer somewhere in between?
To decide what type of content to focus on, you should first understand what kind of results each type of content is best at producing.
Goals of Serial Content
Serial content is a great way to get your brand closer to your audience. In many cases, a podcast or video series helps build trust and rapport with your audience. Your audience usually gets to know a thought leader of your organization who hosts the series. Users get a sense of who the host is, which affects how they see the organization as a whole. The openness and regularity of serial content can help consumers form a relationship with your company.
Many times, a serial series will be highly informative, but it must also be at least a bit entertaining. People don’t tune into boring series on television, and they’re not going to tune into a dull, cut-and-dry content series.
Goals of Episodic Content
Episodic content mainly focuses on solving a customer’s pain point when and where they have it. The goal here isn’t necessarily to get the target audience to subscribe to future posts, but to guide them to another action. Perhaps the user becomes a lead or buys a product or service that can help them alleviate the pain point.
These pieces of content are often highly optimized for search so that they continue to drive traffic to the site long after the content is published and promoted.
This is where a lot of content marketers get mixed up and frustrated. They will create episodic content in hopes of driving subscribers—which the content itself isn’t good at doing. An audience that consumes episodic content isn’t looking for potential future solutions; they’re looking for solutions to a problem they are having right now.
When the Two Come Together
When creating content that is serial in nature, you will still want to focus on potential customers’ pain points and address them as best you can. After all, if you’re not addressing the things your potential customers care about, why even have the content?
But the goal of that serial content isn’t to drive immediate conversions. It’s to bring them in, gain their trust, and get them listening to or reading your content over the long haul.
Likewise, episodic content can lead to subscribers, but it’s not necessarily the main goal of that content.
The key is to identify why you’re using each strategy and focus on the main goals and benefits of each type of content. Making the distinction will help you better connect with your audience—in the way they want to be connected with—and drive actual results for your business.