What 'Law & Order' can teach marketers about strategic storytelling
Nearly three decades after Law & Order first premiered, its reruns and spin-offs continue to live as one of the most enduringly successful programs in the history of television. You might even be one of the millions of people who still find themselves capable of being trapped in a disturbingly lengthy SVU binge.
So, what was producer Dick Wolf’s secret formula that gave him this unique ability to draw us in episode after episode? Of course, there’s the plot, the character development and the riveting dialog, but I believe it really comes down to one of the most critical pillars of strategic storytelling: serialization.
Let’s stick with the Law & Order example for a moment. In all likelihood, you don’t quite remember what crimes each episode specifically explores or how each of them concludes. What you likely remember is the key components, the ongoing dynamics among the characters and the themes of suspense and tension from crime to verdict that keep you coming back for more.
Or, consider The Joe Rogan Experience, which has set the gold standard for podcast audience engagement. Listeners might not be inherently interested in every one of Joe’s guests, and they certainly don’t retain the majority of his marathon interviews. But his style and humor combined with the trademark journey that Joe takes his audience on in every interview are what keeps listeners pushing play every week. Each episode has a similar format, but the spark and intimacy that Joe repeatedly creates with each new guest make his listeners feel like they’re in the room with them, witnessing something totally unique.
At my company, we deploy the art of serialization on a daily basis. It’s a tactic that’s successfully helped us put forth smart, effective and endearing content for leading brands across the spectrum. From my perspective, our society’s most popular cultural phenomena are born from rich, deep foundational themes that are repeatedly leveraged and that continuously empower their audience to establish a strong emotional connection.
The reality is that today’s consumers are much more receptive to repetition than we might realize — a crucial concept for today’s strategic storytellers to understand and leverage to elevate any brand narrative.
In a digital communications landscape where the new regularly replaces the old, I believe today’s most successful marketers are the ones who thrive by targeting audiences with the same message over and over again, but in a way that feels fresh. In the ephemeral age of marketing, it’s serialization, or ongoing storytelling, that allow nuances to bubble up.
Serialization is what stories look like when they become regular parts of our lives. Amid a noisy news cycle where brands begin to become indistinguishable, serialization is invaluable. All of today’s most powerful brands, be it Disney, Nike or Warby Parker, are the ones that have a clear and unwavering sense of what they stand for; they are also always sure to say something new that speaks to their greater visions, and they find creative opportunities to unlock the magic and delight of their story over and over again.
So, how can you use serialization in your own marketing tactics?
The first step is to reflect on the pieces of content that have undeniably resonated with your target audience. Don’t just let that go. Then, take something from that content – whether it’s the structure, the format or the theme – and do it again. Keep formulas that have worked for you in the past, and revamp them with new topics, perspectives or subjects. Just like you’ll always come back to your favorite pizza place on a Friday night to try the latest pie, your audience will return to the content they already know they love for a slice of something new.
When you're brainstorming how to revamp those elements, pair strategic thinking with what's worked in the past. You can do this by asking a few simple questions, including:
• What, in particular, made it resonate?
• Is there a character you can build on?
• Is there a theme that can be explored differently?
These are the questions that will always enable you to deliver something that’s both imaginative and irresistible.
People demand fresh content continuously, but your brand can (and should) only stand for a few things. So, ask yourself: What stories in my company seem too long to tell but might be offered to the world as serialized content? That will be the key to elevating your strategic storytelling capabilities.