Believe it or not, there are a lot of similarities between television production and content marketing. Both rely on creativity and good writing, and their success is typically judged on consumer and critic reception. Television may not be the first place content marketers look to for inspiration, but with so many similarities between the two industries, there is a lot to learn from one another.
The Office, in my opinion, is one of the greatest television shows ever created. It has about everything you want from a show: it makes you laugh, it makes you cry, and it has characters and scenes that stick with you long after you’re done watching. As a marketer, it’s my goal to create content that is effective, memorable, and buzzworthy. The Office succeeded in doing all three of those things and still does.
Here are five things we can learn from the hit television series and how we can apply them to content marketing:
- Pushes the boundaries when appropriate
- Just the right length
- A lasting impression
Think about what The Office is about: people working for a mid-sized company in an industry that is forced to rapidly evolve in order to survive in an increasingly paperless world. The show was created when the U.S. economy was slowing down and aired throughout much of The Great Recession. While the episodes range in topics and often delved into exaggerations of the workplace and the absurd, one of the constant themes throughout much of the series is job security and whether the company will go under.
So, what does this teach us about content marketing? Content has to be applicable to real life or your audience won’t read it. The Office was able to incorporate events that were actually relevant to the lives of the people who watched it, such as financial instability, downsizing, and a shrinking job market. The writers wove these themes into their storylines and, as content marketers, we are tasked to take this same principle and apply it to the content we create.
To do this effectively, it’s important that you think about what is relevant to your audience and industry, such as finding the best keywords for a website or ways to solve a common issue and create content that addresses those topics. For example, SEO is a big part of what we do at Go Fish Digital. In the SEO world, a consistent topic of discussion is ‘what will Google do next?’. Our own Bill Slawski understands the relevancy of those discussions and often creates articles based on it. Additionally, our SEO team looks for opportunities to create guides or similar-style content to answer frequently asked questions, such as Brian Gorman’s Definitive Guide to Creating & Submitting a Sitemap. These types of articles are examples of content that is useful, relevant, and attention-grabbing.
One of the biggest strengths of The Office is how relatable it is in both the events of the story as well as the characters of the show. While the writers often exaggerated some of the stereotypes in a workplace for comedic effect (seriously, you can’t duel one of your direct reports in a dojo while on an extended lunch break with the rest of the staff watching), the show is often strongest when it’s most human.
A great scene comes from “The Promotion” in season five. Jim is promoted to co-manager, and he and Michael are struggling with a decision on who how to allocate very limited money for bonuses. After a series of missteps, the whole office is in an uproar. Michael joins Jim in his office and they share a very human moment on how it can be difficult to make tough decisions and be a leader.
The Office is full of little human moments like this and they’re sprinkled in just enough to take the show to the next level. These moments transform the show from simply a comedy to something much greater and they’re often the scenes that people remember the most.
The content we create should be the same.
Content doesn’t have to have just one note. It can incorporate different elements and different themes that will relate back to the consumer when appropriate. Sometimes that means humor, other times it means incorporating a personal story. And sometimes it means taking something from society or the world and using it to draw the reader in and keep them engaged. These extra elements, these human elements (when executed properly), will make your content stand out from the crowd.
Standing out from the crowd is one of the biggest challenges of content marketing. These days, our world is full of content from all different mediums – articles, videos, graphics, email blasts, etc. The content landscape is saturated with these content pieces because the barrier to entry is lower than ever for creating and promoting content, which means a lot of people are doing it. Having additional elements and some humanity in your content will help take it to the next level and transform it into something greater, much as it did for The Office.
Pushes the boundaries when appropriate
Marketing and television are, at their cores, creative industries. They both require that spark, ingenuity and vision to be successful. It’s easy in a creative field to get stuck or feel like you’re in a rut. Good marketing and good television should have consistent tropes it can fall back on, but they also need to push the envelope sometimes. The Office was able to do this in terms of both the episode writing and the characters themselves within the show.
A standout episode is “Threat Level Midnight” where, after 10 years of writing and production, Michael screens his magnum opus movie. This episode is an example of the show’s writers taking a risk and deviating from the norm. Much of the episode and its humor comes via the scenes from the movie within the episode. There’s no other episode quite like it and it was a success in terms of ratings and critics’ response.
In content marketing, sometimes we need to try something different to get out of a rut or just to see if it can be successful. Maybe that means creating something you’ve never done before, like an interactive page, a video series or a Q&A with an industry expert. Trying something new accomplishes a few things:
- It shows that you have the capability to innovate and break out of your shell.
- You can apply insights you’ve learned along the way to some of your tried-and-true methods to enhance them or just give a tweak.
- Even if the content isn’t successful, you can analyze why and keep that in mind in the future.
- It can help you stand out. If everyone in your industry is doing content one way, having something different might be enough to grab the attention of your audience.
As the saying goes, fortune favors the bold and sure, sometimes it backfires, but sometimes it’s a smash hit. After all, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. — Wayne Gretzky” – Michael Scott.
Just the right length
Length can be a tricky thing when it comes to content and television. Television has more limited options, especially broadcasts, but having the right length of a show (or a piece of content) contributes significantly to its success. Typically, we want content to be snackable regardless of the medium. Similarly, a show like The Office is an easy one to binge-watch due to its length – most episodes are around 22 minutes long.
However, the writers understood that every so often an episode needed to be longer. There was a story they needed to tell and they needed more than the standard 22 minutes to do it. For a comedy show to be able to pull this off is a feat in and of itself, but The Office does it beautifully. Without them being flexible, we wouldn’t have episodes like the Season 3 finale, “The Job,” one of the best and most important episodes in the entire series. With a longer format, we’re able to enjoy scenes like the second-to-last one of the episode where we see Jim finally ask out Pam, a pivotal moment in the show.
For content marketing, we need to have this flexibility as well (fingers crossed that this post is an example of that). A lot of the time, snackable content is preferred, and that’s great. But sometimes the length needs to better match the subject matter. A guide needs to be lengthier and more detailed because consumers expect that. Similarly, an email newsletter is expected to be short and sweet – you want to look at it, consume it, and move on. That seems basic enough, but it can be a tricky thing to finesse. As marketers, we need to continuously strive to identify the perfect length of each piece of content we push out to effectively communicate our message.
A lasting impression
The Office was a hit while it aired but it has maintained much of its popularity nearly six years after its end: there’s an incredibly active community on Reddit, its seemingly always in the trending section on Netflix, and an NFL player did the dance from “Threat Level Midnight” after a touchdown this season.
If you aren't doing The Scarn as your TD celebration, you're doing it all wrong.
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) November 23, 2018
While no one piece of content may have the same impact of a nationally broadcast television episode, we should strive to create things that leave a lasting impression on the consumer. In a way, this is a culmination of everything above – relevancy, relatability, boundary-pushing and proper length. Your lasting impression could be a relevant lesson on a new trend in your industry. Or maybe you touched on something that was directly applicable to the consumer and what they face every day. Maybe they’ll remember the joke you wrote or the reference you made or maybe they appreciated the time you took to take a deep dive into a subject. Whatever that lasting impression may be, it’s something we should all yearn for as content creators.