This week we’re not dealing with a question from just one person but a question that seems to plague our industry; what is great content? I receive lots of audio from people asking if I think their demo is good and the content great. I receive emails from people asking for advice on how to improve their content; how do I make it great? I get lots of questions from air talent asking how they can become great. If content is king, then creating great content seems like something we should all be aspiring toward. So… just what is great content?
I think its fair to say that many shows and air talent in general don’t know what great content should sound like. They have heard people talk about it but have never experienced it for themselves. No one has ever taken the time to define it for them let alone explain what they need to do to achieve it. That’s not a reflection on the shows but a reality of not clearly defining what great content is.
Too often we judge ‘great’ purely by the results we’re achieving. In radio we declare a show as great because of the ratings it garners. If the ratings are high the show must be great, right? That isn’t always the case. There are many shows that are marginally better than their competitors and so dominate the ratings. They aren’t creating great content; if your competitors are delivering poor content you can win by having slightly better than poor content. That doesn’t sound like a legacy anyone would want. Winning ratings alone doesn’t make you truly great. Achieving greatness means creating content that lives on past the moment of consumption; consistently deliver content that does this and you will win ratings for the right reasons and for a long time.
Let’s take a moment to try and define what great content is. Great content is something that stops you in your tracks. It piques your interest and draws you in. It moves you from passively listening to actively listening; pulling what is happening on the radio from the background right to the forefront of your thoughts. It has your full attention. It could be happy, sad, funny, infuriating or intriguing as long as it provokes a feeling inside you. You can’t walk away from it — you can’t turn the dial to off — you simply can’t stop listening. You want to know what will happen next. The emotion it evokes within you lasts longer than the initial consumption. If it is really great you will find a way to share it with others.
Before we can talk about the 5 essential elements that are apparent in great content there are a couple of fundamentals that need to be present in order for your great content to be heard. Firstly, you need to know who the content is intended for. You need to clearly identify who your target audience is – how they live their lives, what their hopes and fears are, how they view the world. Then apply that understanding to ensure the content you are selecting has appeal to that audience. Great content always starts with relevance. If your content selection is not suitable for the audience you are intending it for, then it has already failed.
Secondly, content is — and will always be — subjective; what appeals to one person may not appeal to another. You need to accept that great content doesn’t have to be seen as great by everyone. The finale of Seinfeld — regarded by many as TV’s greatest sitcom – was watched by 76 million people in a country where 321 million people live. Some of the 245 million people who didn’t watch the show won’t have liked the show. In fact there will be some who thought the show was awful. That’s ok. You can achieve greatness without everyone liking what you do. Great content requires bravery from its creators to showcase their individual passions, beliefs, values and views to the world in spite of who might not like it. To be loved you must be authentic. Not everyone you know likes you. That’s a fact. But they know what you’re about and what you stand for. Trying to create content that pleases everyone will result in a cacophony of blandness. If you want your content to be great you need to be genuine.
Those are the fundamentals you need in order for your content to be heard. Next comes the 5 essential elements that all great content shares. These are the commonalities identified in the execution of all great content. When these 5 elements are present, and the fundamentals we discussed are evident, the content you’re creating has the power to stop you in your tracks.
- Context. The content is in keeping with the expectation the audience has of your show (and the characters on the show). Think for a moment about Sex & the City. The show was about ‘four best friends navigating sex and relationships in New York” and every episode — in fact every scene — lived up to that expectation and worked to enhance that position. You never once tuned in and witnessed the show doing anything else. Great content fits within the context — or storyline — of your show. It supports the central theme and what the audience should/has come to expect from you.
- Unpredictability. Something happens that the audience didn’t expect. As you listen you are silently wondering “Where is this heading?” “What will happen next?” “How will they get out of this?” The destination is unknown to the audience. This creates a sense of drama that propels the audience to keep listening. Listener’s want to be surprised. Predictability is boring.
- Storytelling. The content is built around an interesting and intriguing story. There is a clear protagonist and antagonist in the content. The protagonist is faced with a challenge. During the course of the story they must overcome their obstacles before arriving at a resolution. Storytelling is what bonds us together as humans. There’s nothing more powerful.
- Vulnerability. Having the courage to embrace your imperfections. Letting go of who you think you should be and just being yourself. Being transparent and open with the audience; sharing yourself in a way that deepens the connection with your audience. Saying what you really think without self-editing and second guessing yourself.
- Different. The content stands out for being extraordinary. Ordinary isn’t compelling but the extra layers you add to what is ordinary can be. This is about how you treat content to make it more impactful. It’s about asking what else we can do with this content to make it bigger. The bigger the impact the more memorable your content will be.
Bad content is obvious to spot; it has no clear target audience, lacks relevance, and is devoid of any authenticity. Average content has a specific audience in mind and relevance but still lacks authenticity. Good content builds upon average content by demonstrating authenticity and often one or two of the 5 essential elements. Great content happens when the content is targeted, has relevance, the hosts are authentic and all 5 of the elements — context, unpredictability, storytelling, vulnerability and difference — are demonstrated in the show.
See how well your show is performing; a useful exercise is to randomly select some of the content pieces from your show and evaluate them against the descriptors above — the 5 essential elements. Challenge yourself to be better at showcasing them in your show. The more you do, the greater your content will become!
Think of the 5 elements as pistons in an engine, you want all of them working in unison to power your content.
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