Before You Build A Content Factory, First Build A Listening Factory!

Last week we talked about the consumer-reach challenges surrounding digital (bot fraud, ad blockers, losses due to charges by the programmatic ecosystem, etc.). But all media are struggling to deliver the same kind of consumer impact they were able to deliver in the not-too-distant past.

Television, once a bastion of reach, frequency and impact, today is fragmented through the enormity of channels across cable and satellite. And now there is even further fragmentation through digital-only channels like YouTube, Hulu, Amazon Prime, as well as Comcast and other distributors, who are all competing for the same eyeballs. Radio is fragmented along similar lines.

We don’t really need to go into the downward spiral of print media, as it is well-documented. The only two relatively stable media in terms of audience delivery are outdoor and cinema (although that last one very much depends on the movie industry’s ability to deliver blockbuster content).



This is a real problem, because in the war on audience, there is an escalating battle between an audience equipped with software to circumvent or block out the very messages that pay for all the good stuff, versus content creators and distributors.

I was in Brussels last week to deliver a keynote at the UBA Trends Day. The UBA is the Belgian ANA, and its Trends Day is an impressive one-day event with over 1,300 attendees, of which a good few hundred were marketing and business students whose attendance was sponsored by a bank.

One of the speakers, Thomas Kolster — director of the Copenhagen-based Goodvertising Agency — asked the audience by show of hands who was using ad blockers themselves. About 10% of marketers raised their hands, but of the student group, who all sat together in the auditorium, almost 100% of hands were raised.

So no wonder the industry is looking for new ways to connect brands with consumers. One of the most-quoted strategies is to develop “content factories” that have the ability to break through with engaging storytelling efforts so attractive they will be welcomed into consumers’ social media feeds and other digital platforms.

This may very well work. But I would like to argue that before you start creating engaging content and try to influence people’s opinions and perceptions about your brand or service, there is another thing you must do first. Before you build your content factory, build a listening factory.

It is critically important to understand what people are saying about your brand and category today. I’m not talking about how many positive vs. how many mean tweets you receive, or how many glowing reviews you have on review sites. And I am definitely not talking about “empty measurement calories” such as "likes," shares, or numbers of fans.

Your listening factory needs to deliver a deep analysis of what people are saying, where and when they are saying it, in what context they are saying it, what tone they use, what cultural tribes they are part of or refer to, and so on.

Really, truly understand the existing conversation you are part of today, and then figure out what you might be able to contribute to that, and when and how it would be appropriate to insert yourself into that conversation. Then, and only then, do you stand a chance of perhaps being accepted instead of being blocked. Good luck!

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