Binging Black Mirror: How Individualized Stories Can Create a Seamless Content Strategy

February 2, 2017 Jacqui Frasca

Rather than creating a content strategy that's product focused, you can invoke the power of storytelling.

Claire is a content strategist at an enterprise B2B company. While reviewing her 2017 content strategy budget, she feels an all-too-familiar pressure in her chest. She’s cutting it close, with barely enough money to fund all her campaigns for the year. Because of her company’s recent switch to account-based marketing, all the campaigns target specific audiences—none of which seem to be connected.

She puts her head in her hands and wracks her brain, trying to find a way to weave at least a few of them together to preserve resources. As she leaves the office for the day, honking her way through rush hour, she wonders how she can connect the stories while painting a comprehensive picture of her brand. Is it even possible?

On the drive, she turns on her favorite podcast to catch up on all things tech, trying to find inspiration. The hosts are talking up a show on Netflix called Black Mirror, and, while listening to their gadget banter, she realizes this show might have some insight for digital marketers. Careful to avoid spoilers, the hosts talk about how every episode of the show shapes its own world within what the creator admits is the same overall universe. “There’s no overarching plot,” Claire thinks. “So how does it form a cohesive story line?”

When she gets home, she watches the first episode. Then the next, then the next. In true binge-watching fashion, it’s suddenly after midnight and she is completely hooked and a little dazed. At the end of the first season, a mere three episodes in, she realizes something: despite each story being a standalone, the episodes paint a bigger picture of the show’s universe. It’s not the plot that connects each episode, even though they exist in the same world—a world that shares music, characters’ dependencies on technology, political leaders, and more. Something connects all these disparate parts. And whatever it is, Claire wants to take the same approach with her brand.

With a renewed sense of purpose, she realizes that trying to fit her campaigns into a mold was going to limit them. Instead, she has to create a comprehensive picture of her brand through unique campaigns that focus on target audiences, have a longer shelf life, and can build on each other—while also standing on their own.

Inspired by Black Mirror‘s storytelling, she sets out to use storytelling to flesh out those campaigns and make them last longer. But first, a good night’s sleep…


Subtle Strategy, Strong Storytelling

The dystopian drama Black Mirror shows how seemingly disconnected stories can be tied together with delicate threads to serve a larger purpose or message. One common theme throughout the show is a huge dependence on technology and how disruptive it can be to human relationships, both positively and negatively. But while a few characters reappear in low-key ways outside of their main episode, and some musical themes reemerge, these are the only intentional easter eggs. Just like articles published on your blog, they’re all meant to serve their own purpose and tell their own story.

Storytelling works the same way in a content marketing strategy; through a storied content strategy, you can reach specific audiences with powerful ideas and a subtle delivery of your brand message and voice. Like the connection of technology in Black Mirror, your strategy can paint a comprehensive brand picture, making campaigns last longer when stitched together with stories. We all know that 800 words about bank services, for example, would read like a brochure no matter how charismatic the writer was—but a story about how two people were able to overcome a financial obstacle at a difficult time in their lives using a bank service has the potential to reach audiences through empathy and have them emotionally connect with your brand.

Some episodes of Black Mirror can get pretty tense and suspenseful, which can be too much for my weak heart. A friend told me the episode “San Junipero” was one of the least suspenseful in the series, so I started there. He picked the perfect episode for as big of a sucker for romance as I am, and immediately the story completely sucked me in and had me asking for more—with some hesitance, because I knew “scarier” media lay ahead if I chose to dive further. But I was hooked just like everybody else.

Find Your Message—Then Start Telling Stories

Morbid curiosity about technology causing chaos with the human race isn’t subject matter I would normally choose to pursue, but it’s the characters’ stories in the show that keep viewers completely obsessed episode after episode.

Conventionally, television drives viewership with dedication to a larger overall plot, but Black Mirror plays a different game. There’s more than one way to get a message across, and that’s why watching story after story—investing in every character in their extremely different circumstances—has been so effective with audiences. The episodes “The Entire History of You” and “Nosedive” share neither characters, scenes, nor the technology in focus. It’s the impact technology has on the characters’ lives and interactions that make them alike and work together to deliver the show’s overall message.

When Claire sits down with her content strategy after binging Black Mirror, she’s inspired to guide her team full speed into storytelling. They brainstorm different ways to bring their specific audience into another world through story, crafted with organic inclusion of their brand message. Knowing and trusting their audience allows the team to take the individualized nature of the show and incorporate it into their strategy to better allocate the year’s budget in the most effective way for their audience.

Rather than creating a content strategy that’s product focused, which is only so sustainable, you can invoke the power of storytelling and weave your brand message in to bring it all together. Once you have your message and know your audience, all that’s left is to tell a story they’ll remember (and maybe even binge read).

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