What TV can teach us about content marketing

Suzannah Pearce, Sub-Editor

Suzannah Pearce, Sub-Editor

Television. It’s been around for a while, and doesn’t appear to be disappearing any time soon. In fact, we’re now living in the so-called golden age of television. So, what can content marketers learn from TV?

First, consider the definition of content marketing:

“Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience – and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.” Content Marketing Institute


Will you accept this rose?

Content marketing is a romantic journey, not a shotgun wedding. As every Bachelor knows, if you take a woman on a helicopter ride and talk to her about her feelings, she’ll be clamouring for the final rose. But if you go the hard sell too early, you’ll just end up with a Red Wedding. (If you’re not a Game of Thrones fan, let’s just say it doesn’t end well.)


Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?

America’s Lifetime channel has long been derided as a guilty pleasure, but as Laura Goode explores in her BuzzFeed article, “to dismiss Lifetime’s brand, content, and viewership is to dismiss a media company for and by women worth almost $900 million.”

In other words, focus on your audience and make the content they want to consume, naysayers be damned. (And if you can do it while being feminist, even better.)


Binge watching is the new black

No longer happy to follow regular TV schedules, audiences are flocking to streaming sites such as Netflix, Stan and Hulu. People want content, and plenty of it, but there still needs to be a strategy. Consider Netflix as a content hub that uses the Hygiene-Hub-Hero model:


Hygiene: Always-on ‘pull’ content – The Fresh Prince of Bel AirFawlty TowersSummer Heights High – complete back-catalogues of hugely popular, evergreen shows.

Hub: Regularly scheduled ‘push’ content – Mad MenLutherHomeland – high-profile shows released season by season, ideal for binge watching.

Hero: Large-scale events or ‘go-big’ moments – House of CardsMaking a MurdererBeasts of No Nation – Netflix original films, documentaries and TV series that receive massive promotion and generate water-cooler conversation.


Empire state of mind

Musical drama series Empire recently did a paid integration with Pepsi. It wasn’t just product placement or sponsored content – the show had a three-episode storyline where a character wrote a song for Pepsi and became the face of the brand, both on the show and in real life.

Empire co-creator Lee Daniels said, “What was important for me in embracing this whole Pepsi idea was that it was honest and that it was seamless. And we weren’t just saying, ‘Okay, here’s Pepsi for the sake of Pepsi.’ It had to work for the story in an honest way.”

Ad-skipping and ad-blocking are on the rise. If you want to reach people, your brand content needs to fit seamlessly into a third-party environment. Paid integration and native advertising should be key elements of your content marketing strategy.


Ratings ain’t nothing but a number

“The Nielsen ratings for an average episode of NCIS are five times the number for the hugely hyped series finale of Mad Men, proving how cultural attention and actual viewership often diverge sharply,” Jason Mittell wrote in The Atlantic. “For a subscription service like Netflix… it’s far more important to dominate the conversation than have millions of people actually watch its programs.”

What’s your goal? Unique visitors? Time spent on site? Downloads? Shares? There’s a world of analytics tools out there, but they’re only useful if you’re measuring what’s important to you.


Like sands through the hourglass

During the 1950s, soap and detergent manufacturers wanted to increase sales. Instead of producing more ads, they sponsored content that would appeal to their desired audience – housewives. Procter and Gamble actually produced one of the first network TV soap operas.

It’s no secret, “The soap opera is and always has been a narrative text in service of an economic imperative.” The lesson for content marketers here is to focus on content, not marketing, and you’ll attract potential customers.


Television, the drug of a nation

TV, in the words of The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, is:


The methadone metronome pumping out

150 channels 24 hours a day

You can flip through all of them

And still there’s nothing worth watching


They’re not entirely wrong. Traditional broadcasting, pay TV, streaming services – the ever-increasing number of distribution channels need more and more content, and what we’re getting isn’t all good.

But that’s the challenge – and opportunity – for content marketers: to consistently deliver valuable content that makes people more intelligent.

The tribe has spoken.