How Lessonly Repurposed a Book into a Video Series
March 10, 2020
Just two years after graduating from Indiana University, Max Yoder co-founded Lessonly, an employee training software company — he was 24 years old. Three years later, he had grown his startup’s revenue by 850% and helped it win a Mira award for the Startup of the Year in Indianapolis. When he hit his 30s, Yoder could’ve slowed down and rewarded himself with a year or two of normal CEO duties. But Yoder kept going. He wrote his first book, Do Better Work, about finding clarity, camaraderie, and progress in work and in life just last year."
Yoder is one of the most ambitious and driven tech leaders around, so it’s no surprise that Lessonly is an early adopter of brand affinity marketing. But what is eye-opening is how the company went about making its first video series — by repurposing Yoder’s book.
Yoder believes the more you showcase what your brand is all about and what your business actually stands for, the better you can align with your teammates, partners, and customers. And repurposing Do Better Work into a video series was another opportunity to do just that.
How Lessonly repurposed “Do Better Work” into a video series
The light bulb moment
Do Better Work might have a 4.8/5.0 rating on Amazon, but filming Yoder reciting the book out loud — like a librarian reading to a circle of kids — wasn’t going to pique anyone’s interest. To build intrigue for the video series, Lessonly needed to come up with a compelling concept and deliver it through an engaging format. Fortunately, inspiration struck one of Yoder’s teammates early in the process.
“The idea clicked when my teammates found the formula: Highlight a different chapter of the book in each episode, invite a special guest who adores the chapter topic, record them having a conversation with me about the chapter and anything else they care about,” Yoder says. “We figured with that formula, we couldn’t lose. At the very least, we’d have fun talking with people we love. At the very best, the videos could be companion pieces to each chapter, highlighting new angles and bringing greater depth.”
“At the very least, we’d have fun talking with people we love. At the very best, the videos could be companion pieces to each chapter, highlighting new angles and bringing greater depth.”
Yoder and his teammates now understood the look and feel of their video series. But that also meant they had to figure out how to pull it off.
Repurposing a book into a script
Yoder tapped Zach McFarlen, Lessonly’s Senior Director of Brand, to script Do Better Work — the video series. As the man behind the scenes, McFarlen wrote the interview questions, structured the interviews, and even produced each video.
During each interview, McFarlen wanted Yoder’s guests to feel like they were having a conversation with him. So, at the beginning of each script, he would write icebreakers to warm up each guest, like, “What superpower do you wish you had?” and “Where would you go if you could travel anywhere?” Then, he would work-in questions about their background, the chapter topic, and what “better work” means to them.
After McFarlen finalized his creative map for the video series, Do Better Work was ready to set sail. Now, it was up to Yoder to steer the ship home.
Nailing the interviews
Yoder knew he had to nail two aspects of interviewing to put on a show that was worth his audience’s time: sharing the same mindset with his guests and designing a comfortable interview space.
“I made sure my guests knew that we’d talk openly for 60 minutes, and then, on Lessonly’s end, we’d edit the results down to 10–25 minutes, depending on the direction of the conversation,” Yoder says. “This mindset freed us up to try questions that didn’t always land. But that was OK, because when they didn’t, we knew we could edit them out, and when they did land, it was gold.”
“I made sure my guests knew that we’d talk openly for 60 minutes, and then, on Lessonly’s end, we’d edit the results down to 10–25 minutes, depending on the direction of the conversation.”
When it comes to designing a comfortable interview space, Yoder and his teammates wanted to reinforce the emotional tone that they hoped would permeate each interview.
“We wanted the mood to be relaxed, like talking between friends,” Yoder says. “Reworking the space to encourage that relaxation took a lot of work, but my teammates have a gift for designing spaces. That came through in the video.”
From scripting and interviewing to set design, it’s clear that Yoder and his teammates put in countless hours of work to repurpose Do Better Work into an entertaining video series. Obviously, they were expecting a big payoff … right? Actually, having hard and fast numbers to point to was the furthest thing from their minds.
Resonating with the right people
Lessonly didn’t create Do Better Work to produce X amount of revenue, generate Y number of leads, or even attract Z number of views — it was deeper than that. They wanted the people who shared the same values as them to realize that they’re not alone in this world. And, eventually, develop a relationship with the brand based on their shared beliefs about the ways in which we work.
“We don’t tie the video series to many quantitative metrics. With both the book and the video series, one of the big ideas is to show people what matters to us so they can decide if it also matters to them,” Yoder says. “When similar things matter to them, like creating more compassionate workplaces, we know the partnership will be strong. When we don’t connect on these ideas, we know other potential partners that might be a better fit.”
Lessonly’s motive to repurpose Do Better Work into a video series is refreshing, especially in a world where a lot of company missions are actually just marketing ploys. But what’s arguably even more refreshing than this is that Lessonly is doubling down on binge-worthy content with the same exact purpose in mind.
Lessonly’s future with binge-worthy content
If Lessonly decides to produce another video series, Yoder and his team have a creative and inspiring vision for it.
“The current plan is to travel the country, highlighting inspiring approaches to better work,” Yoder says. “I want to interview folks in the U.S. military about vulnerability. I want to speak with people who are in or oversee addiction treatment programs about being in difficult situations and looking for opportunity.”
Here at Wistia, we want Yoder to do that, too. And given his track record for tackling big, ambitious projects, we think he can pull it off — and go even bigger for Lessonly’s next video series.
How to repurpose your brand’s existing content into a series
Pinpoint your most interesting and emotionally resonant content
The primary purpose of creating a video series is to entertain and engage a targeted, niche audience, not rank on Google. So, the only thing you should worry about optimizing your show for, is the people who’ll watch it.
For example, Yoder decided to repurpose a book he already knew was resonating with folks in Lessonly’s audience on a deeper level (you may recall that 4.8 star rating on Amazon). Had Lessonly based their series on a successful organic blog post, chances are it wouldn’t have worked as well because that content is likely more informational than entertaining.
When deciding which content to repurpose into a video series, ask your team what they think is the most interesting and emotionally resonant aspect of your brand. After all, your colleagues are some of the closest people to your brand, so they’ll know the best pieces to choose from.
You can also measure your content’s emotional resonance against brand affinity metrics, such as time spent, number of subscribers generated, and social media shares with positive sentiment.
Record more material than you need
It’s always better to have more content than not enough. So take a page out of Yoder’s playbook and shoot as much footage as you can. If you’re running an interview show, record for three to four times longer than your episode’s length. If you’re creating a documentary or docuseries, shoot as much b-roll as possible.
“It’s always better to have more content than not enough. So take a page out of Yoder’s playbook and shoot as much footage as you can.”
Design a comfortable interview space
If you watch Do Better Work, you’ll notice that the interview space is aesthetically pleasing, well lit, spacious, and has comfortable seating.
We also designed our set like this when we filmed our talk show for marketers, Brandwagon. Your guests might feel just as nervous about joining your show as you do about interviewing them — especially if you don’t know them personally. So make sure your interview space is beautiful, bright, and comfortable. Doing so will ensure your guests feel right at home when they sit down for the interview.
Create content to connect with an audience
The purpose of Lessonly’s video series wasn’t to juice their numbers — it was to bare their soul to the world and build a sense of community with like-minded people. And by focusing on resonating with their target audience instead of manufacturing the results, their video series performed better than if they’d done the opposite. They knew that attracting the right people, not all people, to their business would lead to sustainable success.
To identify your video series’ niche audience, interview your customers about their passions, look through Reddit for subreddits about the topics your niche audience is most interested in, and explore Twitter to find the topics that they tweet about and engage with consistently. If you want to learn more about defining a niche audience for your video series, check out this helpful post!
There’s no need to reinvent the wheel
Repurposing content is a strategy as old as content marketing itself. But there’s a common misconception that crafting binge-worthy content is something you always have to start from scratch. Fortunately, Yoder and his teammates at Lessonly have debunked this myth. And, hopefully, their story can spark your journey into the binge-worthy content space and turn your best written content into your best video content.