As a product of the rapid pace of technological change in the last 20 years, content creation today is an intensely competitive industry. Things have moved so far from having only a handful of radio stations or terrestrial television channels as to be unrecognisable, and today any brand or individual can be a publisher, chasing audience engagement across a plethora of platforms.
And, on top of this proliferation of content both professional and personal, you have the rise of content marketing. Some 80% of B2B companies have a content marketing strategy and getting heard among the noise can be difficult. Short of spending time and money building a reputable content marketing team, many brands chase new technological developments in order to get ahead of the curve. At the Digital Publishing Innovation Summit in San Francisco, Mitchell Linden, SVP of Product at News Corp, presented on the state of digital publishing as it exists today and the complications that arise when the channels for distribution are proliferated.
In his presentation, Linden recalled the first time he heard the word ‘content’ used in the context of media. Bill Gates’ famous 1996 announcement that ‘Content is King’, to Linden, represented the first time tech’s impact on the media became tangibly apparent. Companies that previously considered themselves news outlets, or media businesses, were now suddenly in the content industry. As the industry has developed, the key players are just one of myriad voices, and brands are equally capable offering themselves as authorities on their industries through interesting and engaging content.
‘In the late 90s, I worked on a video streaming service,’ Linden said. ‘This is about seven years before Netflix. And it failed miserably, because consumers were basically using a dialup modem, the cost of digitizing and storing the video was extremely expensive, and it was obsolete two years later because formats kept changing. And, ultimately, it’s because consumers weren’t ready to start watching on this big contraption of a computer that they had. So it’s all about a very rich series of events that enabled trends to happen.’
What this meant to Linden is the realization that a company needn’t be setting the trends to be successful. Rather, it’s integral to recognize where customers are consuming video content (or any content for that matter) and be able to deliver it to them there. This also fully applies to written content. Rather than getting swept up in the next big trend or looking to disrupt an industry in its entirety by championing new tech, companies should first look to their consumers.
News Corporation once owned the journalists who created the stories, the technology with which the stories could be realized, the delivery network, and then got it to the reader. The reader would then respond only by spreading the story among friends and family or, at the most extreme, write a letter to the editor. ‘Now, anybody can be a journalist.’ This loss of power and authority from the hands of publishers means that they now have to follow their customer, where previously the opposite was true.
Companies are no longer competing only with their direct competition in content creation, they’re dealing with anybody who decides to create it. As soon as the platforms on which to publish content became readily available, every company became a publisher. ‘What it really starts to launch is an engagement economy,’ Linden adds. ‘We now have everybody participating very much in the publishing world, so it’s not just the voice and the ear, it’s now a dialogue and a discussion.’
Content should not exist without the company creating it being prepared to engage with their audience. Linden tells his journalists to ‘stop typing stories, and start telling stories.’ This means employing all the different media at the journalist’s disposal to tell the story in the most engaging way possible. The same applies to branded content. If video will be more engaging, produce video. If text can best explain the story in a nuanced way, use text.
The central distribution platforms for content are no longer owned by digital publishers. This means companies are forced to chase their audiences across platforms and with a content strategy all too often every bit as fragmented as the industry. To ensure that your content engages readers on a level deeper than the throwaway click and bounce visits which many publishers find themselves plagued with, be sure that it not only aligns with the brand image but offers genuinely interesting and engaging insight. If a company as large as News Corp is being forced to rethink its strategy, perhaps your brand should follow suit.