Debate Team (Part 2): Does the future of media companies, ad agencies, and content marketers lie in technology or content?

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Around the MarketingExperiments labs, we are constantly debating the future of Internet marketing. Unfortunately, for the really big picture stuff, our normal answer of “test it” simply doesn’t work. So in the spirit of Jerry Springer, we’re airing our dirty laundry and bringing the debate straight to you.

But there’s a bit of a twist. In this debate, we’re forcing our team to take the opposite opinion of what their day-to-day role would suggest. On Wednesday, Boris Grinkot, a technology (among many other things) guy wrote a blog post I intend to use in my annual review saying how vital high-quality content truly is. Today I dive into the bits and bytes to make my argument for the importance of technology.

Use our Twitter and comment features to tell us who (hint: not Boris) you think is right.

Here’s the problem with great content. I can’t find it. There’s simply too much of it.

Sure we have Google, Facebook, Twitter, iTunes, and Bing to help us hunt through the haystack and find that glorious hidden needle. But my argument is this. These technologies don’t help you find quality content; they help you find content that is good at gaming the system. To see why, let’s take a trip in the Wayback Machine…

800px-Altamira,_bison,_museum_02The first few thousand years of content

From “Lothar hunt well” to “And that’s the way it was,” great content has always been controlled by technology. In those days, content creation was limited to those that had access to the means of production – whether that be a cave and some pine tar, basic literacy and a quill pen, Guttenberg’s famed press, or a contract with CBS.

This was both a blessing and a curse, of course. We were not bombarded by endless Facebook status updates about the joy of eating grilled cheese sandwiches. At the same time, content was limited to what people with money could sell to an audience with at least some critical mass.

Creative destruction of creative endeavors

While we all know what has happened over the past few decades it’s still worth asking the question…what the heck just happened? Because it has happened so darned fast. As Joseph Schumpeter said, Economic progress, in capitalist society, means turmoil.”

And turmoil is the right word. While Johann Gutenberg’s technology reigned supreme for hundreds of years, content distribution technology is lucky to last longer than Steve Guttenberg on “Dancing with the Stars.” Or even the viability of the previous reference. (Gutten who?)

Yet herein lies the opportunity. Throughout history, as one technology has overtaken the next, the content producers that have survived and thrived are not those that produced the best content, but rather were the most technologically savvy. To annotate Marshall McLuhan, “The technological medium is the message.”

From “All the News That’s Fit to Print” to “Pretty Much Anything that PopsWalter_Cronkite_on_television_1976 in my Head”

As I started this post by saying, great content is everywhere. Of course, so is schlock. So in my argument for the centricity of technology for any content-generating company, let me make clear that content is still king. You need (to hire or be) a top-notch writer who provides compelling content.

But that’s just the beginning. Without savvy use of technology, that king has no empire over which to rule. In the music industry, savvy bands have adapted by going from producing albums to producing singles (Radiohead even made money by giving the music away for free).

The smart advertising agencies look past the thirty-second ad and big media commissions to integrated brand promotion – like Sally Hogshead creating a tropical island next to Manhattan’s Hudson River to generate $30 million of free publicity for the Fine Living Network. And the savvy media companies are already taking advantage of Apple’s iPad by developing content specifically for it. (Why must a sitcom that tells a story in three minutes and 12 second be forced to fit into a 22-minute window?)

More news, still paper

This doesn’t mean old media is dead. It means the launch of smart media. A traditional newspaper might be a great avenue for serious, in-depth analyses of news and business for high-net worth individuals. Yet that organization can repackage that same content in a different way with opinion pieces posted on a community-based website that drives sharing and comments among a tech-savvy, middle-income audience.

So don’t just rely on creating killer content for everything. Leverage technology:

  • Shop around – Find the right technology to bring that great content to your audience – or as I said so flippantly before – make sure you’re gaming the system to get your killer content seen. I’m not going to give you specific advice here because it depends so heavily on your audience and objective and I’d be in way above my head. But there are a slew of resources on this subject – from niche magazines to entire Internet communities. Find your golden apple. Or perhaps red Apple iPod nano.
  • Find 12 degrees of content reuse Use the same piece in 12 different ways using many different technologies to reach people the way they want to be reached. Twelve, you say? How did you come up with that number? Extensive MarketingExperiments research? No, I just randomly pulled it out of my head (I like eggs). But to show you how possible it is, let’s see if I can come up with 12 possibilities for reuse right here and now.
  • Let’s say you’re an environmental organization and you interview the CEO of a new, organic laundry detergent company. You could post that interview to your website in the “news” section (1), include a quick synopsis in your email newsletter (2), include extra questions that didn’t make it into the official article on your blog (3), tweet the biggest lesson learned from the interview (4), include the interview in a quarterly printed newsletter you send to major donors and prospects (5), make a Scribd or Issuu version of that newsletter so everyone else can read it on their mobile device (6), podcast (7) and YouTube (8) recordings of the interview, start a discussion around the interview’s subjects on Facebook (9), add the audio files to the iPhone app that updates all of your members to the latest news (10), turn the interview into a press release that you distribute to broadcast and print media (11), and tell Kevin Bacon about it (12).

  • Tie it all together – I use the above example part tongue-in-cheek, part seriously. With so many free and low-cost opportunities (not counting man hours, of course), it can certainly pay off to just throw your content onto as many technological media platforms as you can find and see what sticks.
  • The next level is to hone your use of different technologies into one go-to-market plan that guides your audience from capture to conversion using your content marketing funnel. For example, you might tweet a link to a blog post that promotes a website that has a sales message (keeping a close eye on the metrics all the way).

    By doing so, you’re leveraging each technology for what it does best. Twitter offers a very low level of engagement but is a great way to promote content and grab new eyeballs. A blog offers a medium level of engagement and provides the chance to tell enough of a story to convince someone to invest an hour with you for a webinar. In that hour, you can provide valuable content to your audience that also illustrates your value proposition and drives prospective customers to the ultimate sales message – perhaps a phone call to a sales rep.

  • Experiment. Refine. Experiment some more. – Perhaps you can tell from our name, but we’re into this kind of thing. Technology brings opportunity. And it also tends to bring real-time, measurable information. So run tests and see what works best for your audience.This is the excitement of a technology-centric future. There is not necessarily one right answer. I started my career writing print ads that ran in USA Today and Wall Street Journal. Now I’m writing blogs. Same skills…but finding the right use for them. Through testing, you can take the same basic content and gain measurable results to help you guide your investments based on ROI…not on some blog post some guy wrote.

This blog post would have never worked in a newsprint forum. It’s meant to be shared, reused, and built upon by the readers. So take advantage of the technology you have in your hands. Tweet and comment about this post. And show Boris, once and for all, that I’m right and he’s wrong.

Related Resources:

Debate Team (Part 1): Does the future of media companies, ad agencies, and content marketers lie in technology or content?

Online Marketing Optimization Technology: We have ways of making technology talk, Mr. Bond

Technology Blind Spots

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6 Comments

  1. Doug Kessler says

    Nice one. As a creative director, my appreciation for the power of technology is growing every day.

    Three key technologies that are rocking our world these days: analytics, lead nurturing and A/B or multivariate testing.

    All three can contribute more to the success of campaign than a clever headline ever could (though clever headlines are still valuable).

  2. Nick Van Weerdenburg says

    Content is changing in marketing and become vastly more important. It’s moved from the background, supporting the sales process, to the foreground, doing most of the selling. Content is more critical then ever because the Internet provides so much of it, the customer will only consume the best, most focused content to his needs.

    Without the Internet, there is no access to that content, and the customer needed to rely on the sales person and the sales process. But by removing the sales person, there is no feedback. Hence the need for analytics and A/B or multivariate testing. Lead nurturing to me is critical as value-add facilitation of the content to the customer.

    As a result, Marketing is Becoming Like Software Development.

  3. Glenn Jewett says

    There is no doubt, technology has been able to redefine what is “good content”. Keyword prominence, density and relevence have caused a shift in content, both structurally and in depth. Keyword Prominence pushes an exact word or phrase up to the first row. Keyword density isures that individual words can trump the expansive and thoughtful descriptive narrative. Then to forever seal the deal, Relevance strolls on in to be sure that we never deviate far from the keyword(s) for fear of damaging prominance or density. It is at this precise moment that the true artist emerges. Within these constraints, some can lament the straitjacket on their creativity while others manage to put together highly rated content that engages the reader and moves them to a desired outcome. Personally I have found a new use for images (with proper ALT TXT)to help flesh out the story wordlessly. We catch the eye with the proper image, cause the reader to assemble various thought threads, with artful casualness and yet leave the balance we create with the words untouched and count the anticipated actions.

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