Stumbling on Content: the medium isn’t really the message.

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As marketers, including product developers, we have all been faced with a vastly changing consumer landscape in terms of the power consumers have to choose between the many platforms and options available to them to fill their entertainment, information, education, cultural and social desires. The consumer is largely in more control today over what they choose to pay attention to and engage with, although filters, bombardments and curation still play a major role in what they see.

We’re all aware of the strain that DVRs, ad blockers, pay per view, pirating and the like have placed on the marketing message. Beyond that, capturing an audience with entertainment and content generally has also become far more challenging as the choices available to the typical audience are vastly greater. So, while there are more available outlets enabling content creation, these pale in comparison to the exponentially greater number of choices consumers have available to them to watch or interact with that content.

The confusing part of all this is what appears to be the solutions that have emerged. There seems to be a conflating of platforms and content, a sort of extreme version of at least what I understand to be Marshal McLuhan’s original idea (I wouldn’t want to fall into the Woody Allen trap – see Annie Hall) that the medium is the message.

Sure, the truth is that as marketers or product developers, we need to understand our audiences – their habits, behaviours and attitudes. And yes, the market’s – across all cohorts to a greater or lesser extent – media consumption habits have changed dramatically and will continue to as technological changes accelerate. But does that mean that we simply need to be where our market is in terms of platforms? In other words, is the answer to take a brand campaign or product idea and simply slap it – albeit with some dressing up – onto the relevant platform? Put a different way, does the “creative” platform choice mean that we are by definition relevant because we understand how the platform works?

Examples of the failures abound. The failed Youtube campaign, the discarded Facebook effort, the irrelevant Instagram account or the botched Snapchat “experiment”. Perhaps, these programs even appeared to deliver some success, unfortunately, using the readily available yet “mediated metrics” that many of us use, we don’t really know.

The issue seems to relate to a platform first approach. In other words, we need to be on Snapchat because that’s where the users are. So, how do we become relevant on Snapchat? Quick, become a Snapchat superstar within the next two weeks, or, lets find one and see if we can leverage their celebrity?

Lost in all this, is the art and science of making things, including content, that people love. Regardless of platform choice, making things people love, is in and of itself, a gargantuan challenge. Overlaying the platform constraint on top of that makes the likelihood of success even smaller.

We need to begin to create a culture that understands the symbiotic relationship between content and platform (or medium). We need to build a school of expertise around the marriage of technology and content, one that understands the value that tech brings to content and that content brings to tech. This form of understanding is vastly different from the skill sets that currently exist. Because of the way the technology or platforms have rolled out, we have been forced to react to a changing media landscape without taking the time to fully deconstruct the implications.

In fact, history has proven that it’s the killer app, or the killer content, that has often created the massive tsunamis of change. For the most part, the insight into “use case” is what drives adoption, not the tech or platform itself.

For me, the point is that we need to get back to understanding the value and approach to create content excellence in the most efficient and effective way possible. At its core, we need to be able to create experiences that surprise and delight within one and then across technologies and platforms.

The starting point needs to be an understanding of the challenges and models to get to great content, within and across these technologies. The platform itself and your ability to participate within that platform, will not be enough.

Content creation needs to lead. That has implications for work flows and scopes of work. There needs to be some flexibility around agile creation, MVP’s, and portfolio management. When built in from the start, these will not take more time or cost more money and will improve ROI. They will also provide us with longer term properties, which will also vastly improve ROI.

Content, as has been claimed for the past several decades, is king. Recognizing the need for separating content creation as an exercise both within and across platforms or technologies will begin to change our landscape both in terms of engagement and ROI.

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