How to Come Up With Endless Video Story Ideas

Tune in this week to learn about my system that I've been teaching for years to come up with endless story ideas. Learn how to always think in terms of headlines, use my persona exercise, create a lifestyle map, utilize the SEED method, and so much more!

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Introduction: (00:00)
You're listening to the video marketing podcast, helping you go a little more viral every day. Here's your host, Matt Johnston.

Matt Johnston: (01:11)
If you, uh, if this is your first time joining us or you've gotten value from this show, please feel free to hit that subscribe button so that you get notified. We love to have more people in the community. Okay, so let's jump into this sucker. Okay. It's a combination of two different systems that I've merged into. One methodology for coming up with endless story ideas. Truth be told, you can actually use this to come up with ideas for blogs as well. Really any content, social or organic, social media content, whatever it is. But it is particularly good for video because video is the most powerful platform that we have. And I'm a firm believer that you can really turn any story individual that's a big thing that I believe in. And so, and of course you know that that's our subject here, um, is, is uh, is, is video.

Matt Johnston: (02:10)
So let's talk about how to come up with these video story ideas. So the way that I teach it, it's really a three step process that takes you through to coming up with endless headlines and you want to always make sure that you are thinking in headlines when you are trying to come up with content ideas. The reason to think in headlines and it's crazy that people don't do this, the reason to think in headlines is because it not only defines your story angle, but it helps you understand why you should be doing something in the first place. So you always want to think in headlines. Sometimes we've used workflow management, uh, tools at some of the video teams that I've run. Uh, we usually have w when I was running New York magazine's video, we use a currently at guide social, we use air table now this, we used air table as well.

Matt Johnston: (03:05)
And uh, let's see, what else have we use? I've used a sauna a little bit, but mostly it's been Trello and a, an air table. And so often we'll have pitches coming in when when folks would pitch video story ideas to me, they would drop it in there and they would drop in a video story idea without a headline. It would be something very broad like video about the mighty ducks or something. And I, I just don't know what that video is about is the problem. I don't know what it is. And even if they went and wrote it in the notes column, the thing is the amazing thing about headlines and headlines in the way I'm going to teach you to write them today. The amazing thing about these headlines is that they define your story angle and they let you know if this story is worth doing and it's worth doing.

Matt Johnston: (03:54)
If it's sellable, if people are going to click it, I don't mean sellable in like a buy sort of way. I mean sellable. Like when you put this out into the world, will people click that content? So that's why we always think in headlines. So that's our end result here is we're going to come up with these headlines. Okay. So let's start with the first step. The first step is the persona exercise. And a lot of different folks have different ideas about how to begin qualifying your persona. This is my system that I developed and it works for me and it works for my students. And I call it the persona exercise. It's also an avatar exercise. So at the end of this, this exercise, you have the avatar, you have the persona, and I do go through all of this in my book that's coming out later this month called producing empathy.

Matt Johnston: (04:43)
It's all going to be in there as well. So the persona exercise has a few steps. First of all, you want to define what the company is. So let's say it's Lulu lemon. Okay? So you have, and we all know Lulu lemon, right? I, I would assume, if you don't, you will know a lot about Lulu lemon by the time we're done with this persona exercise, uh, abide by the time we're done with this episode. Uh, so the persona exercise first defines what it is. So Lulu lemon is a, uh, athlete brand that focuses on, uh, lean, it skews towards women and it focuses on sort of yoga, wellness type. That's the brand. So then you move into the who broadly. So I usually split this up into, uh, four columns. So I have sort of, well I don't, I don't want to spoil it all first.

Matt Johnston: (05:37)
So four columns. The first column is who broadly, so the who broadly column is your basic demographic information. So for Lulu lemon, I might say women United States ages, let's say 20 to two 42 maybe. And I'm just pulling this out of nowhere, right? And obviously if you're doing it for your brand, you have some market research on this, which really helps. So let's just say that it's women in that demographic. Also for the who broadly, we'd want to talk about income brackets, right? Because that, those are, that's one of the defining characteristics. Lululemon's stuff is fricking expensive. So I mean, if you want to buy these yoga bands, it's going to cost you some money. So you probably are looking for behind middle to high income individuals. [inaudible]. So that's where we're at for who broadly and that's about good. Um, I would probably also add into the who broadly generally interested in health and in health and wellness.

Matt Johnston: (06:43)
Because if you're not really interested in health and wellness, even from an aspirational point of view, you're probably not going to be shopping at Lulu lemon. So we add that layer on there. So we have middle to high income women, 22 to 42 that are interested in health and wellness. I think that's a really good broadly for Lulu 11. So then we move on to my favorite part. My favorite part here is the who. Specifically in the who's specifically, we actually have to give this person a name and a backstory. The idea is once we're done with this exercise, you could actually be sitting across a table with this person, in this case, this woman, and you could say to yourself, okay, I see this person right in front of me. I know exactly what she looks like, what her life is like, and what she wants, what she needs.

Matt Johnston: (07:37)
I know this person, so that when you're actually looking for content ideas and actually moving through your whole business, this is an exercise you should always do. Then you have a sense for exactly what this person would want. Okay. So let's, let's, let's just say this person is, uh, is Sheila and Sheila is 31 years old. I think that feels right. Okay. So Sheila's 31 years old and let's say that Sheila is married to, uh, Steven Stephen's a banker and they both live in Brooklyn. It feels right and I'm just pulling this out of nowhere, literally coming up with this on the spot. So Sheila's 31. She lives in Brooklyn, her husband's Steven's, Steven's a banker. So we know that there are middle to high income and a, she works as well. Sheila works at a nonprofit as a fundraiser at a, uh, at an organization that raises money for a certain disease or cause.

Matt Johnston: (08:42)
Um, I'm not sure what, let's see. Well, I would normally define it. I tried to get as specific as possible. They don't have any kids yet. I don't think, uh, or should they have a kid? What do you think? I think, I think, I think no kids yet, but it's, they're very close. They're like right on the cusp. And again, right here again, we're going for the absolute target, right? So when I'm, I mean, just because obviously a woman, you know, if Sheila had two kids or if she was 23 years old, she'd still buy Lulu lemon. Right? But we still, but we just want to zero in on our ideal customer avatar. Okay. So this is Sheila. So Sheila, uh, has no kids in this situation because I'm thinking maybe she's got a little bit more disposable income and is just thinking a little slightly more abundantly because she doesn't have extra mouths to feed, et cetera.

Matt Johnston: (09:36)
Um, they're doing pretty well. They both have very, really well paying jobs as they make well over, you know, well over probably $200,000 a year, I would think between the two of them living in Brooklyn with that cost of living. Um, and they own an apartment, I believe in park slope. So they're doing pretty well. Uh, Sheila, let's see, they both went to school, grad school or they, they both went to school and I think they met at college and, uh, maybe at Princeton that feels right. Maybe I'm Princeton. Let's just say they met at Princeton. Okay. So they met at Princeton and uh, Sheila is very into health and wellness. Um, she's very fit. Tractive she works out regularly, does yoga at least two times a week at a yoga studio in Brooklyn. And it's also where a big part of her social life is.

Matt Johnston: (10:36)
So she has a lot of her girlfriends that are around the same age as her that also go to yoga class with her. Um, and so when she's there, you know, it matters what she looks like. She's very, you know, she's interested in if she wants to make sure that she looks the part. Okay. So that's good. Usually I might even go more in depth, but that's pretty good. So I have a really good idea of Sheila right now. Like I can see Sheila right in front of me. Okay. So what are Sheila's pain points? Okay. So what are Sheila's pain points? So Sheila wants simple but fun ways to live a healthy and fit lifestyle. Sheila wants to make sure that she, uh, you know, because she's, she's 31 years old and uh, she's probably was always sort of a popular, uh, popular human, I have a feeling.

Matt Johnston: (11:30)
Um, and so as she, as she moves to, as she moves to being 31 years old, I think that Sheila feels that she needs to put a little bit of extra effort into keeping up appearances because 31 isn't old. But those of us who are over 30 know that there's a bit of a mental hump there that you get over where you say, okay, I need to try a little bit harder to make myself seem a little bit younger. Um, and so, uh, and so a lot of her life is, uh, not a lot of her life, but a lot of her focus is in these, going into these yoga studios and spending time there. So Sheila wants to make sure that she looks the part to go to these yoga studios. That makes a lot of sense. And so her pain points might be along those realms.

Matt Johnston: (12:23)
She wants to look good while she's working out. She wants to look good at these yoga classes. Um, she wants to keep up appearances. She wants to make sure that her marriage stays interesting. Um, and uh, she feels that she's probably going to have a family soon. Um, and she wants to figure out how to fit that into everything while making it easy. So these are, these are some of her pain points. She is also very busy and she wants to, she wants, she wants solutions in her life that are very easy to solve. I mean, when you live in, when you live in Brooklyn and you're working full time, no matter what you're doing, you're spending at least 35 to 40 minutes on the subway each way and you're going to work and you know, you're going to be there from 9:00 PM to 5:00 PM at least.

Matt Johnston: (13:07)
Um, and her husband, uh, probably use a bank or there's a good chance that in banking he's working, you know, often 10 hour days. So it's a situation where she has to fend for herself a lot as well. Okay. So pain points then we get into wants and needs. And what I like to do here is I like to match these wants and needs to the pain points. Um, so she wants a neat, easy solutions to uh, to look good while she's, while she's working out easy solutions to look good while she's in yoga class, she wants a, she wants places where she can go to buy the things that she needs to buy without having to shop around a ton. Um, Sheila also wants to be part of a community. I think that's really important to her to be part of a community. And I think she wants to keep up appearances, um, as she, as she gets a little bit older.

Matt Johnston: (13:57)
So that's the persona exercise, right? So we walked through and we've got Sheila in our minds, we have a good idea if we close our eyes, I know who Sheila is. What I like to do next is something that I invented called the lifestyle map. And let me just preface this lifestyle map by saying that one of the things that I believe when you're creating content for a brand is that you don't want to be product centric. When you're creating this content, you want to create content around your avatar. It's never about you. It's not what you're selling, it's about the audience, it's about the potential customers, it's about the current customers, you're making content for them. So the plan here, and the goal with this exercise is that you find out what this person's lifestyle is very well and then you boil it down to its core features and then make content about that.

Matt Johnston: (14:53)
So that's what the lifestyle map is. So the lifestyle map is a spiderweb of sorts. Think of it like a spider web. So there is a circle in the center where I'd put Sheila and then I would branch out from the circle about five or six different core pieces of Sheila's life. And this might be, for example, health and wellness focus. Now you don't want to make it too specific on Sheila because then you're making content that would not appeal to everybody. So you want to make sure that the content that you're choosing is pretty broad for the avatar. So health and wellness focused wants to look good when she's working out, wants to look good in yoga, uh, is really interested in yoga, which is another thing because we can make all sorts of yoga content for Lulu lemon and then other core parts of her life.

Matt Johnston: (15:48)
Uh, I think married is worth, is worth noting there for a core part of her life. I think urban, the, the, just the fact that she lives in Brooklyn is a core part of her life. What I wouldn't put here put in here is that she owns an apartment because then if I start making content about how Sheila owns an apartment, it's just too specific. It's just too, too, too specific. I'm all about specificity, but it just gets too, too, too specific and want to teach you the seed system in a minute, which is going to help delineate these things. But a little bit too specific. Okay. So these are the core things in Sheila's lifestyle map. So now that we have the lifestyle map planned out, we can start coming up with headlines. And this is something for a while I was a sometimes asking, asking people to make a bit of a leap here.

Matt Johnston: (16:37)
Okay, so just make content about those things. But then I came up with a great hack to come up with story ideas from the lifestyle map. And this hack is to ask yourself, what would Sheila Google about these core lifestyle interests? Because if you think about what she's Googling your thinking about, what she's curious about, and if you're thinking about what she's curious about, you know what she's going to click. Because people click based on curiosity. They want problems to be solved, they want loops to be closed, they want answers to things. And so you pique their curiosity by thinking about what they're curious about with their lifestyle. So for example, one of the things, uh, is health and wellness. So show interested in health and wellness. Um, so you could go all across the board here or yoga. So you could say, okay, so she probably wants to do, she probably wants to know about yoga posture she can do at home when she's super time-crunched and she can't actually get to the yoga studio.

Matt Johnston: (17:42)
So you can come up with things like different yoga poses to do at home, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, or how to look good over 30 or things that happen to your body as you get older. Here's what happens to your body after the age of 30 um, et cetera, et cetera. So all of these things are questions that I would ask. So I would say, what would this person, Google, she might ask these questions, what's going to happen to my physical features after I turned 30 she might Google that. How do I do yoga at home easily and get results? She might Google that. How do I look good for a reasonable price at the gym? She might Google that. So I know that she's going to Google those things. And then I can come up with endless amounts of content, ideas from those things.

Matt Johnston: (18:29)
But here's the trick. How do you actually know that these content ideas are going to work? Now, that's the other thing and what I really urge you to do when you do this for yourself, and you should totally do this for yourself. It's an extremely effective exercise. You don't always know which ones are going to work. So write down as much as possible. I would try to write down search terms, so come up with Google search terms. You can even use Google keyword planner if it would help. Do some research on what people are actually looking for along these lines and write down all of these search terms and then just brainstorm. Just it doesn't matter if you think it'll work or not work or whatever. Just brainstorm all of these headlines. They can be crappy headlines. It doesn't matter. We're not really concerned with how good the headlines are at this point.

Matt Johnston: (19:17)
So you just write down all the headlines. You know, if you did this on a whiteboard, just write them all down. You can make a search term at the top and then just a bunch of headlines, another search term, bunch of headlines. So you've got all these headlines and if you really expand your mind, there's no reason why you can't come up with at least 10 different headlines for each Google search term. If you think about it, how to do yoga at home, for example, uh, there's a billion different headlines. You can come up with that, right? Like you'll get to do it in your kitchen, you're going to do it in your living room. You'll get to doing your basement yoga. That involves balance yoga, that involves flexibility, yoga, that involves a meditation, a yoga that will break a sweat. There's a million different types of headlines you can come up with for each search term.

Matt Johnston: (20:05)
You just have to crack your brain open a little bit. That's usually what I say. You have to have an open mind to these things. Really just say, if I was curious, you know what, what would my curiosity lead me to? So that's what you do. So you put all of these things out there and then the question is how do you figure out what exactly to do? And this is kind of a funny thing because a lot of what I used to do back in the day when I was running, uh, when I, when I was part of the editors at one of the main editors at business insider, I was spending a lot of my time going through every single and we published 240 articles a day. I would go through every single article on the site and optimize the headlines for clicks. And that's how I got really good at it just by seeing what was taking off and what sort of headline structures and even just different phrasing structures and words were working to get people to click on stuff and watch stuff.

Matt Johnston: (21:02)
So it became intuition. And so over time as I started running teams, I needed to come up with a way to, to communicate this outside of my gut. Right. And, uh, I've talked before, I know on this show about the hero system for viral video. It's similar. It gives you a way to come up with, with, with, uh, with ways to make the right video. And it took it out of my gut and into a process. And what this does is for all content ideas and you need to match it with the hero system if you want to make video that converts. So it's called the seed system and it's specificity, empathy, emotion, and deliver. And if you follow this, you will always create content that people will click on. Of course you also have to deliver on it, which is what the D is, but you will always be choosing the right content to create.

Matt Johnston: (21:59)
And then you can make sure that you're getting that traffic that you need because there's a lot of resources involved in video. So you need to make sure that you're putting your resources into the right content. The seed system fixes that. So specificity a and, and basically, let me just say that the seed system acts as a sort of filter for all of this stuff. So you have all of these headlines that you've brainstormed off of the Google search terms and then you run this seed comb through it all, or you or you or you are the King of metaphors. Or you dump all of these headlines into the seed filter and whatever comes out of that seed filter are the right content ideas. So the rate, the way that you filter it is, uh, S specificity. So it needs to be specific, which means teasing to one very specific thing instead of making it more broad, right?

Matt Johnston: (22:53)
So is it more clickable, for example, to say, uh, let's see, here's why the sky is blue? Or would you w are you more likely to click a headline that says the fascinating scientific reason the sky is blue every single day? Even when you think it's not, that's a pretty good headline because you've got credibility. You know that you're new, that you're know that you're going to get some science on the back of it. You know that you're, it's going as it's going to fulfill some curiosity, cause this guy doesn't always look blue. Then there's, it can be cloudy. Sometimes you're not sure if it's clouds or what's going on up there, right? There's all this curiosity associated with it and you're going to click into this piece of content and you know what answer you're going to get. Right, and you also have, I mean this is why lists work so well because lists, he's to something very specifically the first one, I don't know if I'm going to get a video, a documentary.

Matt Johnston: (23:54)
When I click this, I call it click expectation. What is your expectation when you click this about what's going to be on the other side of your click? I don't know if I'm going to get an article, a video, a documentary, an essay like I don't have time to read an essay. I don't have time to read anything anymore. Like what's this going to be like? What's my expectation for what's on the other side? You want to reduce friction here and being more specific actually leads to less friction and it's going to lead to exponentially more clicks. So specifically about the tea's empathy. Empathy is the reason why anyone clicks on anything online. If you show them a mirror, they will show you a click. So what you want to make sure to do is make sure that at your core you're emotionally identifying with people that would click or watch your content.

Matt Johnston: (24:42)
If that's not there, it will not work. It just will not work. So you have to make sure that there's an empathetic core there and the E is for emotion and emotion is highly tied to empathy, but they're not exactly the same. You have to make people feel something because the reason why anyone clicks anything is because they feel something. The reason why anything anybody buys anything is because they feel something. So you want to make sure that you're appealing to their heart and not their mind because that's what's actually going into this. People are going through extremely fast. Their algorithmic feeds is trying to figure out what to do and the intellectual mind doesn't have time to get involved in this process. You have to go right to the heart into the body and that is how you get someone to actually stop and take an action like click or take an action like a watch.

Matt Johnston: (25:27)
So you have to make them feel something. And then the D is for deliver. Deliver simply means paying off on your promise, your promises, because very often you will have these great specific headlines and you'll be appealing to people emotionally with empathy. And then the product will be crap. And then that's what we would call clickbait, I suppose. So you want to make sure that you're delivering on these promises in the way that you can understand why you would be able to do a piece of content or not based on the deliver. A part of the seed system is if you have enough stuff, like if you don't have enough for a story here, you know that you're not going to be able to deliver on the promises of even the best headline. So you can't do that piece of content. Hopefully that makes sense.

Matt Johnston: (26:11)
Okay, so to sum it up, first we have the persona exercise that we do, so that allows us to qualify our ideal avatar. So we've got our ideal avatar out there. So once we have that ideal avatar, we take a look at this persona exercise. We look at the wants, needs, pain points. All of these things and we put it into this lifestyle map which has the core interests, not too specific like remember with Sheila, we don't want to just talk about how she lives in Brooklyn or how she lives in her or how she owns an apartment too specific, but we can talk about how she lives in a city, you know, for example, because that would be content that it would appeal to the broad Lululemon demographic. So we have these core lifestyle interests. We ask the Google question, what would they Google about the things in this lifestyle map?

Matt Johnston: (27:00)
And then we put that through the seed filter specificity, empathy, emotion, and deliver to see what content we should make. And at the end of that, you will also have an incredible headline and then incredible headline will allow you to make content that people are actually going to watch because there's nothing more depressing than spending all of this time making content is time and resources and then nobody watched it. It never gets seen. It's, it's depressing and you know, it's a big waste of resources. So you don't want to get into that. Hopefully that makes sense. Please let me know. If you have any questions. You can always email me, by the way, Um, and, uh, I do talk about some of this stuff on my YouTube channel, uh, as well. So if you go to, uh, Matt Johnston or guide social, we've got links to the YouTube channel. We would love you to be part of the community there. If you got value from this, please do subscribe. We love having people in our community. Um, thank you so much for taking the time to listen and I will see you next week.

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