In related news … Media is dead. Long live media.
Pundits are calling it: content is dead. Or at least lazy content is dead. Or it’s not dead, you’re just doing it wrong. Everyone’s got a perspective. There’s a reality, though: content has been at the forefront of the communications and marketing lexicon in recent years, but we have reached peak content. Perhaps instead we need to look at what that means, not just what people are saying.
Here’s my take: screw the buzzwords. Smart communications and marketing isn’t simply about creating the shiniest bells and whistles, or dropping everything you already know each time a new buzzword or platform arrives on the scene. Instead, it’s understanding the levers available and when to pull which ones (more on that in a bit).
So what are the pundits really saying?
The latest buzzword (content) may be nearing its end. Its death may be hastened by the lack of a consistent definition of what content is. Content marketing. Content strategy. A website. Video. Infographics. Whitepapers. Blog posts. Press releases. It’s atomizing all of that. It’s anything and everything you want it to be, but if you slap on the word content people will listen.
And then there’s media (hence my subhead). This is a particularly fascinating word, since like content it has many meanings. Ad agencies have media buyers. Journalists are media. Companies have a media section. We talk about paid, earned, shared and owned media.
Architecting a Solution
As content and media have increasingly merged, it’s that much more critical to look at the fundamental way we architect a smart communications and marketing plan. By grossly oversimplifying it, I view it as a three-part process:
- Listen. Identify what your audience and customers are looking for based on what they’re actually saying, not what you assume. Then build your story around that.
- Customize. Find the various pipes that will most effectively convey that story to your audiences. Then customize your story according to the dimensions, bandwidth, and requirements of each pipe.
- Engage. Finally, build, rent, buy, or pitch the editors of said pipes to fill them with the right “stuff” (aka, content) and advance the conversation in both directions (there’s a reason this isn’t simply “Distribute”).
The pipes (channels), the capabilities of those pipes (multimedia), the neighborhood each pipe reaches (target audiences), the gatekeepers of those pipes (editors or advertisers) – that all may change year-to-year and day-to-day. But the strategic approach to finding the right pipes and filling them with “stuff” in a manner that best achieves your strategic objectives and your audience’s needs will continue to be the guiding function of our industry. No matter what buzzword we choose to use.
This Has Happened Before
The history of SEO is a telling example. A decade ago, it was the Holy Grail. SEO allowed well-paid consultants to get you the top search result and generate traffic, by using some sort of black magic. But at the end of the day, Google (the pipe owner in that situation), adjusted its algorithm and continues to do so to focus on displaying quality, relevant, sharable content at the top of its results pages.
Sound familiar? SEO merged with communications to turn into social media marketing (again, an oversimplification but accurate), which then merged with media and journalism to become content.
Throughout that transition, there were experts at manipulating the algorithm or techniques to their advantage. But those experts were ephemeral. Those that have stood the test of time are the architects, those who understand the principles and strategy behind which pipes to use and when.
The pipes are changing, they have gone from physical (fax machine, newspaper, broadcast TV) to digital (website, mobile, etc) and are shifting to virtual (VR, Google Glass, whatever’s next). The owners of each pipe need to constantly adjust to how the pipes work, the nuances of the chemistry that each can carry, the shifting capacity and networks of each.
The Bottom Line
A successful approach to communications and marketing starts with a story, a story that’s relevant and informed by what your audience wants. Then customize that story for your audiences and get it to them in the places where they pay attention and respond back – which leads to a feedback loop to adapt the story as needed.
The process of getting your story to those audiences involves many different types of pipes, but the expertise of filling the right pipes with the right substance at the right time is not going away. In fact, with so much noise to cut through, that is only going to grow in importance.
So maybe content is dead. Maybe media is dead. Or maybe, just maybe, the buzzword era is dead (or maybe I’m delusional).