Module 1, Part 2 – Content Strategy with Professor Phillip Simon
How did Netflix survive the rise of competitors in its market and become the powerhouse it is today? Content. How did HBO and AMC keep viewers subscribing to cable services in an extremely media-saturated world? Content. What drives youtube and social media today? Content. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it is no secret, if it was true yesterday, it is truer today: Content is king!
As I stated in part one of this series, content is currency. When Netflix was being starved by licensing fees by upstarts like Hulu and Amazon Prime, it evolved. It developed a strategy around its content that involved user-centered cataloging, a parent-friendly “kids only” content feature and developing its own original programming. HBO and AMC created cultural icons with shows like The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones. They understood that quality content drives relevance and rising to the top of the pack means recognition and rewards.
A world of content at your fingertips
Over the past decade, content strategy has matured as a practice. It is no longer a term solely used by publishers and marketers to define communication goals but has gained importance in web development, later incorporated by user experience which has also grown as a discipline in the digital age. Today, Content strategy refers to the planning, development, and management of content—written or in other media. Since the 1990’s webmasters and developers established practices for arranging content on their sites in a way the was most useful to visitors. The non-linear nature of web content presented new challenges for presenting the information. A worldwide web that was quickly becoming monetized demanded search engine optimization as products and services realized the sales potential of the internet.
The revolution will not be televised
The social revolution had begun, and it came in the form of Facebook, youtube, amazon. WiFi and higher internet speeds added fuel to the fire. Move over radio and tv, there was a new device in town, and it is called the smartphone…. bringing a world of content into the palms of its users. The number of smartphone users in the U.S. increased from 62.6 million in 2010 to over 270 million in 2020. Advances in telecommunication technology have led to a level of connectivity never seen before.
Find more statistics at Statista
The first smartphones came onto the market in the early 1990s. Initially, a smartphone was classified by its ability to offer features like email capability, internet access, keyboards, personal digital assistant functions and perhaps a built-in camera. Today smartphones do even more and we typically classify smartphones as having a high definition touchscreen, various apps, navigation tools, and high-speed internet on the go. All this interactivity has created as many headaches as opportunities for advertisers.
In his book, “Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook”, Gary Vaynerchuck describes the dilemma:
….things were a heck of a lot easier before social media. If you were a big business you created a campaign, like the Geico cavemen, plastered it as far and as wide as possible, and sat back to see what happened. You used the same images and ideas for television, print, and outdoor. If the reports showed the campaign didn’t work, you blamed the data collection technique or some other random element. After six months, regardless of whether the campaign worked or not, you scrapped it and started over with a brand-new one. If you were a small business, you sent some fliers in the mail, created a cute little Yellow Pages ad, ran a local radio ad, and waited for people to come in. If you were really forward-thinking in the late first decade of the 2000s, you did some SEO! Wow! Now, if you truly understand how marketing works today, you know there is no individual six-month campaign; there’s only the 365-day campaign, during which you produce new content daily.
Attention spans are shortened, channels have multiplied and everyone is fighting to cut through all the noise. Society now moves instantaneously, no one wants to wait, no one reads, no one has the time or is interested in having their day interrupted by ads. It is a buyers market and it will remain so. To reach consumers, gain a competitive edge, businesses need to create content that is engaging and serves a purpose. A thirty-minute tv sitcom on Thursday night split up by commercials every few minutes seems antiquated in this new landscape. Ahh the good old days, when we shared a few more popular references than an overbearing commander and tweeter.
The blogger, YouTuber and social media magnet now dominate the ecosystem. The brilliance of social media is that the platforms use people’s own content to sell products to themselves. The collective need to be continuously entertained has reduced the power of direct consumer messaging. The trick is that it needs to be non-intrusive. Vaynerchuck explains:
….today marketers don’t have to intrude on the consumer’s entertainment. In fact, it’s imperative that we don’t. People have no patience for it anymore, If we want to talk to people while they consume their entertainment, we have to actually be their entertainment, melding seamlessly into the entertainment experience. Or the news experience. Or the friends-and-family experience. Or the design experience. Or the networking experience. Whatever experience people are seeking on their preferred platforms, that’s what marketers should attempt to replicate.
And Graham McDonnell, International Creative Director at The New York Times agrees. While speaking at the Awwwards Conference in New York this past December, he shared the techniques the Times in-house brand studio uses to create interactive marketing strategies for a variety of brands, and how they deliver significant measurable results. In short, he believes that in order to sell your product or service, the advertising message must be embedded within content the user is seeking:
“in a perfect world branded content it’s content that like said early it looks like sounds like and it even feels like what the native content and it’s it’s around the only difference is it’s paid for by a brand to sort of promote products or service in some way obviously this is a really simplified view of it but in a nutshell it’s essentially what we do at the studio”
In my eyes, these changes are good. It means that consumers have choice, that substance matters. That style and the delivery systems are no longer obstacles to message makers and communicators. It creates energy and jobs. Global manufacturers turn to individuals and start-ups to break out of their corporate molds. For example when make-up companies turn to video bloggers to sponsor their streams. McDonnell presents this approach as an analogy of mixing vitamins in with the ice cream.
.”.. basically the brand is the thing that you want the audience to digest. Okay so this is the message now they don’t want to they don’t like the taste of it they’d rather be consuming something they do like, so what you do is you hide it in something they do like to digest and this is usually the story okay sounds kinda deceitful but it’s not really because the audience is still getting what they want and the brand is still injecting this brand messaging in it’s much more digestible if it’s in something they like.”
The power of storytelling
How has the role of the content strategist changed over the past decade? The content strategist must now think in terms of multimedia, not only that the content is clear, useful and effective, but that it is being delivered appropriately in the media it will be consumed. The content strategist must find a harmonious balance between the needs of the business and the consumer while being non-intrusive.
The role is complex, the individual must interpret research findings; create lasting maintenance plans and business processes for content, while guiding the development of new content. They must build a structure by creating taxonomies and metadata frameworks. They should digest analytics and monitor effectiveness.
The content strategist frames the story, both for internal and external audiences. A story that supports the goal and mission of the organization they serve.
Creating skillful native content has little to do with selling and a lot to do with skillful storytelling. In the right social-media-savvy hands, a brand that masters native content becomes human. Though of course the topics of Campbell Soup Company’s posts on Facebook will probably be vastly different from your mother’s, they should still look and feel like something a real person, whether a friend, acquaintance, or expert, would write. When native content is skillfully delivered, a person will consume it with the same interest as he would anyone else’s. – Vaynerchuck
Content strategy was once considered a task web designer would take on as part of building a website, but its definition has grown and expanded quite a bit in the past ten years. In short, the content strategist is a valued full-time job: they define and manage the voice of the organization, taking on critical importance in the information age. Even the term “content creator” has crept into the modern lexicon. In a society where you are your digital presence, content defines you. Long live the king!
Resources & References
Casey, M. (2015). The Content Strategy Toolkit: Methods, Guidelines, and Templates for Getting Content Right (Voices That Matter). New Riders. Retrieved from https://www.amazon.com/Content-Strategy-Toolkit-Guidelines-Templates/dp/0134105109
The Discipline of Content Strategy. (2008, December 17). Retrieved from https://alistapart.com/article/thedisciplineofcontentstrategy
Content Strategists: What Do They Do? (2020, January 18). Retrieved from http://contentini.com/content-strategists-what-do-they-do
A Checklist for Content Work. (2011, March 08). Retrieved from https://alistapart.com/article/a-checklist-for-content-work
The New York Times Storytelling Techniques for Brands | Graham McDonnell. (2019, December 10). Youtube. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=yAWFjiaK1Ek&feature=emb_logo
Vaynerchuk, G. (2013). Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World. Harper Business. Retrieved from https://www.amazon.com/Jab-Right-Hook-Story-Social-ebook/dp/B00BATNNZY
(2012, March 21). Andrew Stanton: The clues to a great story. Youtube. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KxDwieKpawg
Filmmaker Andrew Stanton (“Toy Story,” “WALL-E”) shares what he knows about storytelling — starting at the end and working back to the beginning. (Contains graphic language …)
Storytelling Keynote at Google B – Doug Stevenson, CSP. (2019, February 08). Youtube. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nq2Fb0AkcgI
Business Story Selling – Sell It with a Story – Doug Stevenson. (2014, July 08). Youtube. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VUlbuxoeZMQ
Number of smartphone users in the U.S. 2010-2023 | Statista. (2020, January 21). Retrieved from https://www.statista.com/statistics/201182/forecast-of-smartphone-users-in-the-us
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