Content is more than king. Or queen. It’s the whole royal family.
We live in the Age of Streaming Content. Netflix and Disney+ and Amazon Prime (among others) attest to this. The continuous rise in subscriptions for these services are proof that a certain kind of consumer has decided to support video content with their own dollars as opposed to third parties. In other words, people who have had it with traditional television advertising.
It’s not the least bit controversial to say people don’t like much advertising. There are exceptions, of course, but in general, traditional ads have always been an intrusive way to promote brands. Rare is the place where the medium and the message align perfectly (Times Square, say, or the September issue of Vogue). Scott Galloway, an entrepreneur, business professor and tech thinker, calls network television advertising a “tax on the poor”. (How much of a tax? NBC’s new streaming service, Peacock, seems to have put a very specific dollar value on it.) If you want to understand why certain TV rights fees continue to skyrocket (for sports, say) it is because there are so few television products that consumers across demographics are willing to support in real time. What’s worse: it’s not just television advertising. It’s all advertising. And it’s not just a question of quality. More significantly, this feeling is about saturation and trust.
And this is a major problem. Because advertising makes the world work in many ways. At its best, advertising functions as a product differentiator, crafted by skilled professionals to grab your attention and convince the consumer of a need they never knew existed But many brands have handed over important aspects of this essential communications tool and they are paying for it, and will continue to do so.
The print media has seen their ad dollars sucked into the gravitational pull of Facebook and Google. The sole survivors of this reality are niche and luxury print publications and, less often, established media brands that have figured out cross platform content, especially video (Bon Appétit is a great example of this, though the entire Condé Nast stable does an impressive job). These media brands understand the realities of today’s media and ad spending and have long understood that good advertising is also good content. Print’s great value and advantage has always been engagement. Consumers trust quality when attached to empathy.
The perfect marriage of these two things shows effort.
Brands that can show this win loyalty. Brands that can do this and create good stories around themselves hit home runs. These are brands that allow their customers to see themselves and their values in the stories they push. These are brands that speak with their audience, not to them. These brands create conversations.
What does this mean? It means that content is the only marketing tool left. Stories work because humans are born storytellers and have been since we started huddling around firepits hundreds of thousands of years ago.
Content allows brands that truly care about their message to tell their story in a context that is friendly and relevant. Owning the entire environment is owning the context and that is the essence of content marketing. Content is respectful and empathetic and when well done lacks the friction that traditional advertising has a hard time overcoming. (The less disruptive an ad to an environment the better – hands up if you’ve purchased something via Instagram, for example.) Content works so well that brands are often willing to be third-party advertisers in another brand’s content marketing, leveraging both the quality of the medium as well as the publisher’s brand halo.
Traditional marketing and advertising professionals, the attention merchants, have been joined by almost everyone else (on the internet, in the media, IRL!) so that everything, really, is now marketing. What is an influencer but a living and breathing attention merchant? This is the reality of the world and so brands must try new ways to reach a consumer already engaged by something else. And if a tactic works, and then works again, a marketer might begin to take that audience for granted.
Content is hard work and quality is harder work still. Brands that decide they want to reach an audience on the audience’s terms are the ones showing they truly care about the right things. And caring doesn’t mean you scream about the brand and only the brand. Because there are channels for that. Good marketing strategy is simply about being better, doing better and selling better.
Content is what’s left. It adds value by engaging on a deeper and more impactful level. Quality content respects the intellect and autonomy of its audience and removes the temptation to abuse trust. Watch this sweet 7-minute animated film. It was just nominated for an Oscar. It was backed by Dove. Which you only know if you sit through the end credits.
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