Unpacking Planet Earth: Finding Content Inspiration in a Viral TV Show

Liz Joyce has led content and marketing strategy and produced stories for brands, non-profits, and the public sector. She’s particularly interested in exploring the blurring lines between marketing content and media. Send her a note if you are, too.

Imagine the Earth is an organization, and it has hired you for help. Earth needs more people to care about its land and animals. Awareness is Earth’s number one goal, and it wants to reach as many people as possible.

Channel-wise, you’re already sure: to reach a large audience, television is perfect. To be successful, your content needs to keep the audience engaged and entertained, but still communicate Earth’s message. And to make the most of the investment in production, you need viewers to share the content to even more people. You need to create a viral TV show.

Though Earth’s brief is imagined, the result is real. The hit series Planet Earth is essentially a wildly successful content marketing campaign for the environment. Tens of millions have watched episodes live on television. Celebrities have created viral spoofs of already viral moments. It’s an excuse to have a party. The show has cemented itself in our culture, and that’s not a mistake.

Yes, the BBC has a huge marketing budget, the show had a primetime slot, and it’s hosted and narrated by the most famous nature documentary voices of all time. Those things aside, it’s a valuable exercise to deconstruct the series’ highly-effective formula for each episode: the narrative structure, the delicate balance of entertainment and education, moments built for virality — and yes, David Attenborough.

Each hour-long episode focuses on a different biome. Each biome is illustrated through an age-old tactic for communicating complex concepts: the emotional stories of living beings. Take season two’s Grasslands — at face value, not the sexiest biome, but it employs the show’s brilliant bag of tricks to make grass as gripping as season one’s birds of paradise mating dance.

Let’s pause for a moment to address Sir Attenborough. Attenborough was the obvious choice to narrate the show (though Sigourney Weaver narrated the original U.S. version), but besides his legendary status, he’s ideal for the content anyways. He’s inherently charming, and perfectly delivers narration ripe with authentic reactions and occasionally profound statements, and grounded in accessible, colloquial language. And the content isn’t flooded with voice-overs; each bite of the script is perfectly crafted and placed, only serving to help us understand and invest in the stories we watch play out in stunning high definition.

The narrative of each biome is constructed with short stories punctuated by big facts and big visuals. Big facts command attention and communicate scale. The show often uses them to open an episode. In Grasslands, the first thing we learn is that one quarter of all the land on earth is covered by grass, and that grass can grow two feet in a day and be tall enough to hide an elephant. While the stats help shape the narrative, the show’s mind-blowing visual moments are a reason to watch, and become shareable break-off pieces of content that act as a conversion tool for new viewers.

Ultimately, the hour-long format demands stories to tie facts and moments together, and long-term success hinges on forging an emotional connection with viewers. From one harvest mouse navigating tall prairie grasses to caribou calves in a herd 70,000 strong, we’re served stories that follow classic narrative arcs with time-tested themes of conflict, collaborations, and love.

In these stories, animals’ bodies and behaviors are often helpful tools to set up a big scene, and to help us grasp the facts, the narration often employs comparisons. For example, the final story in Grasslands focuses on caribou, and we’re told, “At one day old, [caribou calves] are already faster than olympic sprinters.” Soon after we learn the calves are extremely fast, we see a high-speed chase with a wolf. The “hunt” scene is a common formula throughout the show. In this one episode, we see five. After learning that a harvest mouse is “as agile as a monkey,” it must navigate a thick meadowland to escape an owl. Once we know a serval has extra long legs and enormous radar ears, we watch it stalk a vlei rat in tall grass, and so on.

Finally, truly unique, stunning visuals are a hallmark of the series. It was the first nature program to be shot entirely in high-definition, and captured never-before-seen footage with literally record-breaking filming techniques. And just like repeated storytelling tactics, the show also has a visual toolset that supports its shareability and majesty that I won’t dive into in this post ... but those insane time lapses … memorable magic.

The icing on top? A short, classic behind-the-scenes piece caps each episode. We’re rewarded with understanding just how hard it was to capture the special footage we saw, and reminded that behind these all of these stories are humans. Perfect.

Spinning nature into a viral television show is no easy feat. Planet Earth is full of valuable lessons for any content producer, but, if there’s anything I leave you with, if somehow you haven’t seen Planet Earth II, just know that this creature exists.


5 Ways to Build Transparency with Your Audience

Kathleen Ohlson is a writer and editor with over 10 years of experience. Previously, she was a high tech reporter covering various topics, including 9/11 and virus attacks. You can follow Kathleen on Twitter, @kaohlson.

Brand transparency has been top of mind a lot in the last year or so. People want to know who they’re doing business with and what products they’re buying ⎯ who made them, where they’re developed and what they’re made of. They’re more aware of a brand’s environmental footprint and ethical practices.

According to a Label Insight study, 94% of 2,000+ people surveyed said they are more likely to be loyal to brands that are completely transparent. Companies that show they’re trustworthy, reliable, consistent and genuine will not only attract new customers, but also help to keep their existing ones.

But trust is something that’s earned. You need to continually prove your honesty to your customers. And if you don’t, you’ll pay a price. Now in light of recent events, including Facebook’s recent revelations of its user data, your responsibility to be transparent and honest is higher ever than before.

Here are five tips you can show yourself to be a trusted partner with your audience.

Focus on your customer.

Trustworthy brands are candid and transparent, and have their customers’ best interests at heart. Asking your customers about their concerns and offering answers can start to lay the foundation of trust.

For example, Purina became the most trusted cat and dog food brand through its educational content. Its Puppyhood site offers dog owners tips to care for their pets. Purina now offers content through Amazon’s Alexa voice service. People can get all kinds of information through Alexa, such as what breeds are good with children.

Own your mistakes.

Yes, this is a hard one. Making a mistake is difficult, but admitting it goes a long way with your audience. No one is perfect and when you admit your errors, it shows the human side of your business. How your brand faces a problem is critical, especially if it becomes public.

For example, Facebook recently faced international and U.S. government investigations, consumer backlash and other criticism for not acknowledging that Cambridge Analytica harvested more than 87 million user profiles. When companies don’t admit mistakes, they almost always come out and hurt the brand more: United Airlines, Uber and Equifax are recent examples.

Meanwhile, Samsung recovered after it was discovered its Galaxy Note 7 smartphones would explode. First, it took out ads apologizing to customers and then later explained the safety and quality tests for future releases. It also released an investigation about what happened to the Galaxy Note 7 devices. As a result, Samsung’s sales bounced back.

If your problem becomes public, own up to it and sincerely apologize. Do whatever you need to do to reach your audience and show you’re honestly trying to keep their trust.

Become a thought leader.

Trust takes time and it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s not transactional. To trust you, your audience has to like you, but they need to know you first.  

Create high-quality content that offers value and expertise to your audience. They’ll be able to tie a name and a face to you, humanizing your company. By doing this, you’ll appear more approachable, transparent and easy to work with.

Also recognize the impact you make with your audience when you promise a product or service. You’re giving your word, so your success or failure depends on that. Be reliable through great customer service and treat your customers with respect. It’s these actions that help to reinforce you’re a thoughtful leader.

Show what’s behind the curtain.

Another way to build trust with your audience is to show them your company’s inner workings. Talk about what’s going on with your employees. Some companies are discussing salaries and showing how they work day to day. For example, Buffer, a social media management platform, fully embraces transparency. Buffer shares its salary structure, as well as its product roadmap, code and editorial board. Its blog is dedicated to transparency, discussing what works for Buffer and what doesn’t.

You can also show steps on how you develop products. Everlane, an online clothing and accessories retailer, embraces that. Its mission is “Our way: Exceptional quality. Ethical factories. Radical Transparency.” Everlane lives by that. When you select an item, you learn what material was used to make it and where the product is made, including a link to the factory that made it. While its pricing may be higher than other retailers, Everlane explains what goes into its pricing ⎯ labor, materials, transportation and duties.

Remember that fear is OK.

Part of being transparent with your customers is acknowledging fear. You make an emotional connection with them by helping them identify what keeps them up at night: Fear of missing out, being left behind, losing out to competitors or trying something new. But if you want to tap into your audience’s fear, offer solutions. You want to be honest and transparent about what might scare them, but don’t use blatant scare tactics. These tactics may come across manipulative, cheap and could even insult your audience.

When you acknowledge your audience’s fears, come across in an empathetic way and try to use a positive approach. Using fear effectively might drive your audience to take action, but it isn’t about scaring the pants off of your audience. Taking a positive tack to your audience’s fear shows you’re taking their concerns seriously and creating an emotional connection to your brand, so they keep coming back.

Building trust with your customers won’t happen overnight. But you can show your trustworthiness by being honest and transparent about who you are and delivering on your customer promises. Quickly admitting mistakes and taking action to fix them will earn and keep your customers ⎯ and their trust.

How to Outsource Content Production Without Sacrificing Quality

Matt Solar is the VP of Marketing at nDash.co.

Content marketing is a proven strategy to improve SEO, drive traffic, build trust, increase engagement, and boost conversion.

However, you can’t expect to stick a couple of posts on your blog and hope for the best.

Content marketing is a long game – it requires consistent effort in creating and promoting high-quality content to generate the intended results.

If you find the task of producing a large amount of content daunting, you’re not alone.

Thankfully, you don’t have to do it alone either.

Outsourcing your content production is a great way to up your content marketing game without the overhead of hiring additional staff.

You might have heard horror stories about the frustrations some businesses encounter when working with freelance writers.

Don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be that way. Here’s how you can ramp up content production without sacrificing quality:

Set a Solid Foundation

When you’re outsourcing content production to different writers, you have to ensure that they’re creating content that’s in alignment with your overall marketing and content strategy.

The most efficient way is to create a set of documentation you can share with writers during the onboarding process:

  • Goals and objectives – What do you expect the content to do for your business and what KPIs (key performance indicators) do you use to evaluate success? This information can help writers position the content and include the appropriate calls-to-action.
 Image Source: https://digitalmarketinginstitute.com/blog/2017-7-11-the-ultimate-guide-to-content-marketing-roi

Image Source: https://digitalmarketinginstitute.com/blog/2017-7-11-the-ultimate-guide-to-content-marketing-roi

  • Buyer personas – Who is the target audience, what are their challenges, what kind of information are they looking for, and where do they look for such information? Answers to these questions can help writers speak to the psychology of the readers and create content that builds rapport with your audience.
  • Content map – Audiences at different customer lifecycle stages look for different kinds of content at different touch points. By mapping each buyer persona to the lifecycle stages, you’ll be able to determine the best topics, formats, and distribution channels for your content and share the appropriate insights with your writers.

 Image Source: https://centricconsulting.com/the-customer-journey-in-the-digital-world-thank-you-amazon-apple-uber-and-zappos/

Image Source: https://centricconsulting.com/the-customer-journey-in-the-digital-world-thank-you-amazon-apple-uber-and-zappos/

  • Style guide – All your content should have a consistent tone and voice that’s relatable to the audience and reflects your brand personality. A style guide details how your content should come across to the audience, how to format the various elements on a post, and the kind of imagery to use with the content.

Build a Core Content Team

Even though you don’t need to hire an army of full-time writers, you should have a core content team to ensure that the quality of all your content is consistent, the production and promotion tasks are on track, and freelancers are properly managed.

A solid content team should consist of the following roles, even though the same person can hold multiple roles in smaller teams:

  • A strategist to define high-level strategies.

  • A content manager to turn the strategies into implementable tactics.

  • An editor to manage workflow and ensure quality.

  • An analyst to gather metrics and generate insights from data.

  • A community manager to distribute content in earned or paid media.

You’ll also need a content marketing calendar so all your team members can effectively plan and manage workflow for all production and promotion efforts.

In addition, clearly communicate the KPIs you use to measure success so your team can prioritize the various components of your marketing strategy.

Assemble an All-Star Team of Writers

Even though there are subject matter experts in your company, they may not be good at writing or simply don’t have the time to do so.

Professional writers are trained to conduct the necessary research and interviews required to create expert content while making sure it’s written to reflect your brand style.

Outsourcing your content production to a team of writers can help speed up the production process and maintain the quality of your content.

In addition, having a roster of writers can bring in a variety of angles and perspectives to help attract readers who are drawn to different styles.

There are many ways to hire freelance writers, including:

  • Freelancer websites such as Upwork, PeoplePerHour, and Guru. These sites allow you to set up a project, manage the process, and handle payment on the platforms.

  • Job boards such as ProBlogger, LinkedIn, and Craigslist. Writers will apply for the position and you’ll be handling the rest.

  • Content platforms such as nDash.co. These sites focus exclusively on matching writers with brands and are specifically designed with features that help facilitate the briefing, communication, production, submission, and payment process. You can also request pitches from writers on some of these platforms to get fresh ideas.

When you’re selecting writers, hire those who are familiar with content marketing and SEO. Review their portfolios to ensure that they produce high-quality content and write in a tone that’s in alignment with your brand.

In addition, pay attention to how they work: Are they communicative, proactive, responsive and deadline-conscious?

Manage Production Effectively

A good piece of content is not only well-written but also meets the objective of your content marketing strategy.

A comprehensive creative brief is critical in helping a writer produce content that will help you achieve the desired results.

If you use platforms such as nDash, you’ll be asked to fill out a specific set of requirements when you initiate a project. The form is designed to ensure that you’re providing all the necessary information required for the writer to deliver a high-quality piece.

In addition to the specifics of each post, you can also share your content strategy documents, such as buyer personas or customer journey map, to provide more details about the audience.

In addition, you need to establish systems and guidelines for managing the content production workflow, such as a centralized communication system, a project management system, and a centralized location for document sharing – to ensure that nothing falls through the cracks.


The key to producing high-quality content starts with hiring high-quality writers and giving them the appropriate information and resources so they can do what they do best.

There are many “content mills” on the Internet and it may be tempting to use them to save a few bucks.

However, high-quality writers don’t come in cheap and it’s worth the investment to get it right from the get-go so your team doesn’t end up spending hours correcting mistakes and editing articles.

Invest the time to screen for good writers and establish long-term working relationships with them. This will help you set the right foundation to get the most out of your content marketing dollars.

Marketers: Show Me Something Unexpected by Creating Your Own Images

Katie Burkhart is the founder of KBurkhart & Co. and serves as the lead brand strategist and designer. You can follow Katie on Twitter @KBurkhartCo, read her posts on Medium, and subscribe to her newsletter to have content sent right to your inbox.

I have two stories to tell you.

First, I’m browsing through the Wall Street Journal magazine, in print, on a Saturday morning. I flip past pages of ads and even content, eyes skimming the surface but not digging in.

Then I stopped. There was an ad for what I believed to be a jacket. It was so simple, the jacket hanging on a specific type of hook, the lighting executed to focus my attention on that hook, which in juxtaposition feels out of place and yet entirely perfect.

 Image Source:  Wall Street Journal  Magazine

Image Source: Wall Street Journal Magazine

Second, I went shopping for a new smartphone, an exercise in comparing features I will likely never use to determine how to spend a lot of money for something I do not personally find fascinating. But one trend stuck out: the biggest selling point right now is the camera.

It doesn't matter if you're loyal to Apple or went on an adventure and tried the Google Pixel; everyone touts their camera as the feature show.

What do these stories have in common? They made me wonder why, if we all have these phenomenal little machines in our pockets, I scroll past most images because I've seen them before. They're one of the same dozen or so stock photos we're all passing around, despite having the ability to produce something different.

And as content creators, our collective acceptance of this reality means that our audiences are scrolling right past our content, too.

Create the Unexpected

Let me start by saying I’m guilty of using some of the dirty dozen. Because stock photos have become so readily available and are often free, I lean on the crutch. It’s understandable. If you’re writing a lot of posts, you need a lot of corresponding images -- and you need them quick. That says nothing about keeping social channels populated, or websites, or printed collateral. It can be a daunting task, and searchable libraries of well composed, high-resolution content provide a comfortable solution.

But, as my grandma says, nothing in life is free. “There’s a myriad of ways to hold your business back from success, and one of the most common and easily-fixable mistakes is the visual engagement pass over,” says Chris Newhard, videographer and storyteller. I reached out to hear his perspective as a purely visual content creator and one of my favorite collaborators. He continued, saying “Businesses have a duty to engage their current and potential clients on a deeper, more connected level with original content.”

I couldn't agree more. The reason I stopped on the ad with the hook and jacket was because it presented something to me in a way that was different than the rest of the magazine, and yet felt entirely specific and intentional to that brand. It told me a story with detail, not a pass over of what I've seen a hundred times.

It’s time we step up and commit to creating photos that tell our stories in clear, unexpected ways, most of which starts in the details, in creating images that are as intentional as the rest of our brand identities, and as precise as the wording we choose for our headlines. In short, something our audiences will want to look at because it offers them something they didn’t expect out of habit.

Unexpected Comes from Different Methods

When trying to come up with photos that are -- dare I say it -- unique to your brand, there are several approaches you can take. The option closest to a nicotine patch for free stock photos would be to investigate premium photo collections that restrict the number of licenses they sell. Utilizing these collections will help decrease the number of places you see “your photo,” and will still have the benefits of seamless discovery.

Another approach is to hire a photographer to take photos that go with specific campaigns, or even work with a few photographers to curate your own internal library so content teams and others have ample selection. This approach will likely take time to build up, but offers the greatest opportunity to make specific decisions that deliver unexpected results.

If you can’t afford a photographer, you can do it yourself. Smartphones now have the ability to shoot in beautiful, blurred background portrait mode and the Google Pixel 2 boasts stunning AI that uses an algorithm to combine multiple shots into one clear, crisp image. Our phones have made photography highly accessible, so encourage your team to give it a shot (pun intended) on behalf of your brand.

An alternative approach would be to use photos generated by your users or audience. Maybe you’re a brand with a following that has a particular flair for creativity-packed Instagram accounts. Consider giving them a way to share their photos with you so you can use them in your campaigns or other content. Just remember to get their permission first.

Even if you can't break the habit of using free stock photos, take a minute and think about how you can edit that image we’ve all seen before. An alternative cropping, selective color or an overlay does help to catch the eye during an otherwise boring scroll through the digital list.

Regardless of which method you choose, you should always ask yourself “Does this image tell a specific story that supports my brand?”

Asking this question will lead to photos that provide an unexpected experience for your audience because your choices will be intentional rather than general.

Most importantly, you should remember that your biggest opportunity lies in showing something genuine. Don’t just show me a desk: Show me your desk, with all the little things that make it human.

“These simple yet effective investments instantly connect your audience on a more personal level — and tell them that your business is full of what matters most: people,” Chris said as he closed out his email. “As you continue to develop your own content, you’re building trust with [your audience] and proving that you care about what you’re doing.”

Take out your phones, content creators, and start purposefully capturing the world so I can engage in a scroll-stopping, click-on-your-content-for-more, kind of way because you delivered something I wasn’t expecting to see.

(And yes, the images in this post were originally created.)