The New Rules Of Content

If brand-conscious Martians landed on planet earth and wanted to market themselves, and we offered them the following two choices, which do you think they would choose?

-       Option #1: A large heterogeneous audience that may or may not be paying attention, measured with analog tools that take some time to report.

-       Option #2: A large homogeneous audience that is demonstrably paying attention, measured with precision, in real time.

The obvious answer for most would be #2. And eventually, traditional media companies won’t survive if they assume that advertisers will continue to prefer #1.

But it’s not playing out that way in the market right now. And unfortunately, instead of talking about how and why #2 isn’t being chosen by more advertisers, our industry is talking more about how to create higher-performing digital content.  List after list about content strategy, form factor, device utility, content length, key word search and a host of others.  The content needs to be more snackable, more buzzworthy, etc.



However, content isn’t the variable here. The same kinds of stories and ideas still make you laugh, cry, or switch to another program (or video). Length, discovery and form-factor have always been variables, because content doesn’t often conform to rules, it conforms to consumption behaviors.  Twenty-minute pieces of sheet music to two-minute doo-wop to back to eleven-minute Phish jams.  The real variables here are technology and data. Instead of focusing on “new” rules of content that are useless or wrong (a recent Wired piece comes to mind), we need to look at the way that technology and data inform the creation process, delivery, and consumption of content.

Technology & Story Structure

Technology is creating new and easier ways for stories to be consumed. Netflix’s resurrection of “Arrested Development” will be one storyline told from various points of view.  While rare, this idea isn’t new.  But the non-linear capabilities of Netflix mean that any individual’s experience of the content will be affected by the order in which the story is consumed.  The content itself is not changing, but the combination of consumer behaviors (binging, participation) and new streaming technology and UX are what created this opportunity.   

Other examples of how technology gives content creators new ways of telling stories abound. Arcade Fire’s music video for “We Used to Wait” dynamically incorporates the viewer’s personal images via Google Street Maps. The Johnny Cash Project lets artists re-interpret frames of videos. We partnered with Taco Bell to produce a crowd-sourced documentary at SXSW.

Mark Suster refers to participatory production (as opposed to mass consumption) as Torso TV.  It’s the middle ground between long-tail and traditional – where, in my opinion, the innovation comes, driven by technology and data, and not by “rules.”

Measuring Turn-Offs

The same Wired article I criticized earlier contained an interesting insight in data.  Producers have always collected information about what people like, but CBS’ David Poltrack points out that now they can better understand people’s turn-offs, which is just as important.  The current tracking of this is based on new technology and prior psychology work around the human feelings of disgust.  How producers may put this to work is anyone’s guess – but if dislike is equal to like in importance, we have an entirely new field to mine for years to come.

Predicting Success

Digital channels now provide numbers on what was once traditionally immeasurable content.  Sharing, conversation, comments, and consumption in digital channels both reflect and drive consumer interest and behavior. Amazon has chosen to invest in pilots similarly to our traditional studio system, but they are able to use data and habits to more accurately predict the outcome – after which they will invest in a series.  Netflix has used data to inform the ingredients of content creation.   If you think about it, “from the producers of” or “the latest album from” are analogue versions of today’s Netflix data.  So the data is informative around the content, but it’s not driving “rules” for content.

Moving Forward

The previous forms of TV-based measurement, as much as our current advertising system is built on them, would simply be unacceptable if offered from scratch today. But as we try to figure out how to help the digital market grow, let’s stop trying to change or conform content. Instead, let’s focus on the technology and data that will make it a reality.

6 comments about "The New Rules Of Content".
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  1. Dan Auito from Next Century Studios, May 7, 2013 at 1:18 p.m.

    Given that only 3% of the population is ever really interested in one specific thing at any given moment, it may be best to give them a variety of choices to find what it is that they DO need at the time the message is received. I've tried to do that with giving them options like this Find a fill the needs they have at that exact moment they need them. :-) Great article Eric!

  2. Patrick Reynolds from Triton Digital, May 7, 2013 at 1:51 p.m.

    Violent agreement doesn't begin to cover it! To survey when you can census makes less and less sense each day.

  3. Bruce May from Bizperity, May 7, 2013 at 2 p.m.

    Social media has changed how you approach a target market. If all you do is market consumer brands where there is little or no sales process then traditional marketing is all you’ve got but if there is a professional sales process involved then social marketing does change the rules of the game. Painting every business segment with the same brush does not allow you to develop strategies that are best suited to specific clients and the advantages they bring to the table to leverage social content.

  4. Mike Einstein from the Brothers Einstein, May 7, 2013 at 2:11 p.m.

    Assuming digital represents Option #2, how do you rationalize display-ad CTR's that average fewer than one in one thousand?

    The fact is, the only thing being "measured in precision" here is an audience that is demonstrably paying absolutely no attention to the ads - despite the fact that each and every one of them carries the same "click here" call to action.

    Next you'll be claiming the CTRs aren't really as dismal as they appear once you back out all the fraudulent clicks.

  5. Eric Korsh from DigitasLBi, May 9, 2013 at 11 a.m.

    Of course I like agreement, but disagreement is good too. Mike - good comments on some of the digital measurement pitfalls. CTRs and Display are only one sliver of what's possible - and when we're talking about content (as opposed to ads which you are referencing) then the engagement criteria and KPIs go straight past CTRs to more performance oriented measurement. And it still beats offline measurement capability by a country mile.

  6. Patrick Reynolds from Triton Digital, May 9, 2013 at 11:12 a.m.

    Digital does not equal Display.

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