September 2016, article published originally in Spanish in La Vanguardia
Superglue for media and brands? New content is changing everything
The standout content of 2017 will resemble that of 1843. If we want to rise above the ocean of content, we need to distill down to infinite quality
Enter this room and write thinking you are god. This has been, apparently, the instruction received by journalists when writing articles at the prestigious weekly The Economist since 1843, the year of its creation. Legend or reality, this publication currently has a circulation of over 1,5 million copies (that is, over a million and a half people pay to read its content, either on paper or digitally, something quite extraordinary in times like these). The Economist is the quintessence of journalistic credibility and content quality in the world of business. The idiosyncrasy of a medium created in the 19th century demands that journalists usually do not sign their articles or that they have defended such controversial themes as drug legalization or unrestricted immigration, in addition to having recommended the prosecution of noted political leaders such as, for example, Bill Clinton. All this with rigor, informative excellence, and chiefly from a novel angle.
Those who disposed of the best content were going to win the battle for audience attention, key both for the media and for the brands that use them as advertising support
Undoubtedly, it is interesting to see how the quality of the content created by their journalists has, from the beginning, stirred the interest of a cultivated elite, permitting the publication’s continued editorial independence to this day.
Shortly after the birth of the internet in 1990, and before the unimaginable inflation of web pages that came later (in the format of blogs, social networks, etc.), an idea began to install itself in the minds of many: that content is king. That is, those who disposed of the best content were going to win the battle for audience attention, key both for the media and for the brands that use them as advertising support.
Nonetheless, years later, a debate is arising around the idea of what is content, audience, and quality. One type of content with a notably high audience has been reality shows. In Spain it began with Big Brother (now in its 17th season, amen). At the show’s launch the audience was above 50% (one of every two television viewers in the year 2000 watched Big Brother). Fortunately, with time the viewing audience of reality shows has dropped considerably (when reality shows are down, the world wins and it is a better place to live). But we cannot say we’ve won the battle because this type of show has mutated into talent shows (cooking, singing, and similar) with a stable audience between 20 and 30%.
Evolution of the audience for some reality shows in Spain (sources: OMD, Kantar)
We have just seen two examples, two models, two cases of strong audience. Now that 25 years have passed since the arrival of the “commercial” internet, what elements will build the content of the future? The first and most significant, sorry to be boring, is that the future of content will be like the past. That is to say that the standout content of 2017 and probably of 2018 or 2032 will resemble that of 1843. In other words, nothing new. If we want to rise above the ocean of content we will need to distill down to infinite quality. Here, each person will define quality as they see fit. In some way this will continue being the central nucleus, that which in one way or another stays immutable.
We are tired of searching on the internet. Now we want to find.
If we separate ourselves from this nucleus we can observe in the outer rings of the circle some rapidly-moving elements that make up a new era of content, both for brands and for media (or at least those that do it well). If I had to describe it I would use a series of “names” for this content. Ideas like “distrified,” “alused-concentrated-organized,” “episodic,” and “interactive stories” come to mind. Let me explain:
This is a mix of distributed and amplified, and it refers to the need of brands and media to assure that, beyond creating quality content, the next challenge will be to reach the largest number of people possible. We will see how those companies emerge (some already have) that take charge of professionally distributing content, with the ambition of reaching a larger audience. And yes, it’s false that thanks to social networking content goes viral. In fact, for example, recent studies that measure the organic impact (that which can be obtained for free) of brands (of any kind) through Facebook (the world’s leading social network) have fallen dramatically in the last 48 months, these days dropping below 2% in some cases. That is, if you have 500.000 likes on a brand, you will only be impacting about 10.000 additional people with your content. Thus you need someone who will expand your reach, and the more the better.
Organic reach on Facebook of corporative websites (source: EdgeRank Checker, 2014)
This refers above all to media more than to brands in general. What do businesses like Spotify, Netflix, Yomvi, or the Financial Times have in common? We are tired of searching on the internet. Now we want to find. In other words, these companies generate a very focused content in a given area (music, movies and television, breaking financial news,…) and they offer it to us, concentrated in a specific place (their platforms), in a tremendously organized and accessible way. These companies make it much easier for you than the general internet. And this is of tremendous value to the audience—and they pay for it.
Marketing was invented to try to influence consumers’ purchasing process. A typical way of doing it was by means of campaigns. The campaigns were essentially structured around two ideas: few executions (an ad) and repetition of the same (the more the better). Today, the brands that know how to create content do so by means of thinking episodically. It’s not about typical episodes. They can be very short. However, it is a way to create values around the characters portrayed therein that somehow reflect on the brands that support them. “Coca-Cola True Friendship” is a good example. So, too, was the great George Orwell with his adaptation of “The War of the Worlds” which rolled out live over the Columbia Broadcasting System in 1938 (see, almost 80years ago) and kept the nation on the edge of its seat?
Of special interest for communication media (or those brands that wish to emulate them) raise the debate these companies are based on, audience versus quality. The media industry has had to evolve rapidly in recent years to stay relevant in the minds of their audiences, leaving behind more purist journalists and giving way to a new species of journalist that entertains more than informs and that, above all, develops and better maintains certain communities. In parallel, the way in which the news of the future is presented will change considerably. Leaders like The New York Times, for example, hand-in-hand with content presentation specialists like T-Brand Studio, are beginning to create digital content that is much more attractive for readers (full of images, interactive graphics, videos, sound, and editorial quality). Form and content. Yin and yang.
This is only just getting started. Let the games begin. With which I return to the beginning of the article, that communication media are facing the challenge of having to satisfy their readership communities but at the same time they must create a content of extreme quality. Which of the two to satisfy first? Is it possible to combine both? What model do we want, Big Brother or The Economist?