What if brands treated content like a product?

What if brands treated content like another one of their products, not as another way to market their existing products?

Framed this way, it completely shifts how to approach a successful content strategy. Focusing on what real people actually want or need, rather than another way to market existing products or creating content for the sake of it.

Image: Via TopDesignMag

What is Content? (Or the million dollar question)

When talking about content, the industry speaks about engaged audiences and building audiences. This is what content can do. (Good content, that is). Traditional advertising at its best can communicate complex ideas around a brand/product/service in such a way that it not only articulates what it does but can also evoke an emotional response in the viewer. It advocates the benefits in a way that resonates.

Cheap and abundant media, matched with very high quality tools for creation of content is allowing any company, brand or individual to create content which has as much chance as finding an audience as anyone else (media spend aside). To actually standout in this vast sea of content we have to be creating value. You need to create value for someone in order for them to connect with you. I don’t think the aesthetic quality is the main issue here, it’s about making something relevant for the brand/platform/audience. And this is where I think many people can’t get their head around content, it’s about finding and embracing a niche.

Embrace the niche

Brands have to discover and then embrace their niche. Full unashamed wallowing in your chosen subject/topic/product. By truly connecting with an audience, no matter how small or big, you create value for all involved.

If I visit a brand’s YouTube channel, what is the channel about? What do I find? Their TV ad, an interview with the CEO and maybe some walkthroughs of how to use the website? Not many people will subscribe to that. When you visit BBC1, Dave or Film4, you have a clear idea of the kind of content you’re going to get. This is no different to a YouTube channel.

Red Bull, GoPro and Dove have all adopted a niche which allows an audience to quickly understand what they are about and know what kind of content they can expect from them.

Find your niche and deliver on that.

The solution for many brands should lie in utility. If I’m a beer company, it seems highly sensible to me to have an app to find the most interesting bars in my area. Entertaining is so hard now because there is so much stuff. We should be looking to help people, to provide value, and offer them some sort of service.

Tom Goodwin writing in NewsCred

I would agree that entertaining is hard, but when it works it will really make an impact. You just have to go into it with your eyes open. Utility, as Goodwin says, is a great way to harness content to provide value to people.

Content as Product

So the idea of creating value, at its core, has led me to settle on content as product. Traditional advertising is promoting a product. What if we treat content simply as another product from that company, rather than the promotion of another product?

In marketing, a Product is anything that can be offered to a market that might satisfy a want or need. Wikipedia

So what if we approach content to satisfy a want or need of real people? It certainly places it in the frame of thinking audience first doesn’t it?

Some of the worst content produced (outside of general quality and executional issues) can be exposed with one simple question: “Who is this for?” When it is seemingly impossible to say so, from just watching it, it’s safe to say it’s just stuff made for the company producing it - whether to satisfy their product team, CEO, board or even the agency that made it.  

A (good) company would have a very clear idea about who the market is for their product or service. They would then develop, test, iterate and release the product to the public, and if the product created value in the eyes of the market it would sell and be a success. Content has to do the same thing, it’s out there in the wild and the value it creates determines its success. Like a product, a positive outcome will benefit the company that created it.

Agencies should embody that approach when creating content for their clients, and of course they do when promoting the products of the client, but when it comes down to creating something original that still embodies the client’s values, it’s no wonder the industry has collectively scratched their head at delivering on this.

Building your own little production factory as the content arm of the agency does nothing to solve this either. It’s not about making stuff cheaply or even efficiently. You have to make something that resonates with a particular audience.

Another interesting parallel with product, is the idea of generating revenue. Most advertising is obviously not designed to generate revenue for the company selling the product. But some companies have been able to do this with their advertising. The LEGO Movie is probably the ultimate example of content as product, with gross revenue currently at $468 million. Guinness World Records is also a company using content as product. They sell licenses to TV companies globally to produce locally relevant TV shows featuring the abundance of records featured in the book. Both these examples have treated content with as much respect as their core product.  

The Google Creative Lab have always seemed to take this approach too. They create complementary or new products that are in line with Google’s main consumer products. They are creating new content using Google’s platforms for real people. A walk through of Abbey Road, a Chrome game which syncs your mobile and computer to play Super Sync Sports, an interactive music video using Arcade Fire’s ‘We Used To Wait’ as a soundtrack to an evocative trip to your hometown using Chrome & Streetview in The Wilderness Downtown. These are fantastic examples of delivering people value through content.

A brand wouldn’t just make any old rubbish to sell to people, they wouldn’t stay in business very long. So why is so much content made in this way?

This is our chance to act like product managers with the content we create for our clients. It’s time for people who say they make content to be held to the same standards as the product sold by their clients.

It’s time to make content people want to watch.

Welcome to Macintosh - Podcast

I'm really enjoying this podcast from Mark Bramhill. They are lovingly produced mini-documentaries covering different aspects of the rich world surrounding the Macintosh; the history, the myths, the industries around the Mac, and in episode 1 the issue of skeuomorphic design within Apple pre-iOS 7 & Yosemite.

With in-depth research, good original music and snappy editing, these are like Serial for the Mac.

If you have a remote interest in Apple or the Mac, you should subscribe. There are 5 episodes out now, with the 'second season' coming in Autumn/Fall this year.

Welcome to Macintosh

Context is the new content

Kenneth Goldsmith wrote a great post in the LA Review of Books, It’s a Mistake to Mistake Content for Content, which brilliantly explores how context is the new content. He uses some great examples to make his point, his own crusty MP3 collection, photography, Twitter and here Instagram:

The more people who use an apparatus, the more feedback the company receives about its camera, the smarter it becomes, drawing more users to its base, thereby increasing the manufacturer’s bottom line. For this reason, Instagram keeps adding new filter sets and features in order to retain and broaden its user base. To Instagram, the content of the photos people are taking is beside the point; the real point is that they keep taking them in order to fortify the apparatus.

It's really interesting to think about the sheer volume of content available to us, alongside the variety of ways we can now consume that content. Goldsmith's point that the apparatuses surrounding the artifact are more engaging than the artifact itself warrants exploring, especially with a great example around photography.

Anyone with a smartphone in their pocket is carrying a high quality stills and video camera to capture any moment whenever they want. I always used to mock the tourists who would use videocamera's (remember them?) to relentlessly capture their holiday destination from their point of view. I would say to myself that they would never revisit that material, basing it on my own laziness to fire up old videocameras to watch similar material. I remember an old friend of the family would boast how he had 'tens of hours' of DV material of the Moors. I remember just being utterly confused by it. Does that have any value at all, to even him now? Granted, content is in the eye of beholder, so perhaps it could be the perfect artefact for someone, somewhere, sometime, but I can't help feel that his fixation with his new JVC DV camera was the driving force in that marathon session of capturing those landscapes.

When visiting art galleries, you will see within minutes of arriving at an exhibit, people just nonchalantly walk up to a painting, take a photo on their phone and walk off. They almost don't want to look at it with their eyes. They want to look at it through the camera's eyes, capture it and somehow gain a sense of ownership of that painting. The work of narcissism around the relentless desire to share your highlights on social networks is at work here too no doubt.

I find it fascinating to see how people do this at 'moments' in their lives. Go to an awesome concert and only feel really gratified until you've collated 10GB's of photos and video of that gig, that after the obligatory upload to Facebook and showing your mates for a week, it remains buried - maybe until an app which gives you a 'flashback' of your photos from 12 months ago reminds you that it even happened.

I'm guilty of this though myself (to an extent!) and I think anyone who has a smartphone finds themselves falling into this habit. As Goldsmith cannily observes, Management (acquisition, distribution, archiving, filing, redundancy) is the cultural artifact’s new content.

It does feel we spend more time 'working' with our content than actually enjoying it doesn't it?

 

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Scared?

As a company moves from insurgent to incumbent, and gets big and complex and involved in lots of different things, it tends to end up with lots of different objectives, tactics and strategies. At that point, trying to understand it from outside, it can be useful to think not about what it's trying to do but what it's afraid of. This company want to do lots of things, but what's the existential threat? What does it want not to happen? What scares it, late at night?

Benedict Evans posits a really interesting way of looking at two examples of this with Apple & Google. It's a great way to get to the truth. I often hear Creative's think of the 'worst' creative idea for a brief to focus on what could be the inverse of that. 

I think we can apply this to not just large companies but small too, and maybe even ourselves.