Debate Team (Part 3): Does the future of media companies, ad agencies, and content marketers lie in technology or content?


Boris Grinkot and I have debated this content vs. technology topic on the blog in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, and in Part 3 we’re going to take a look at what your peers had to say.

But first let me say – of course there is no one right answer to the above question. This is simply a thought experiment.

thinkingBy going through the process of trying to answer the question, we clarify in our own minds (and hopefully yours as well) the complex interplay between technology and content in your marketing campaigns. Which is more important? In truth, there is a sort of quantum entanglement between the two. So perhaps we can think of this question as Schrödinger’s content.

With that said, here are the answers that we think are the cat’s meow…

Digging for gold

Content needs technology to deliver it. I see it as a two-sided coin. Some folks are going to manufacture the coin and some folks are going to dig the gold.

– Katherine Andes, Web Content Developer at Andes & Associates

The message is the message

I’m on the side of content and strongly believe that McLuhan was wrong – the message is the message.

Form can only enhance a message, not replace it. I sit and watch TV and after every ad, I find myself saying, “that’s a bad advertisement.” Consumers are not children – we really do know the difference between talked at and with. Talk with us, and we’ll respond. Talk at us and before you’re done, we’ve already left the room or muted you.

– Erica Friedman, Social Media Optimizer at ALC Publishing

I’d like to ask Stephen Sondheim if he is a “melody person” or a “lyrics person”

I think that the technology versus content debate is a false dichotomy. It’s not about balance, but about harmony. It’s about the dance. Technology and content either work together to create impact and meaning or they work against each other to create noise and step on each other’s toes.

When they work together, it’s because technology’s impact, without content, lacks meaning, so it has figured out how to make the content accessible and approachable; it’s because the content has figured out that meaning can’t live as successfully in a vacuum as when it leverages the visual and physiological assists of its environment.

When they work against each other, it’s because they’re competing. They distract from each other, they try to outshout each other, they try to be the star of the show instead of the team they were meant to be. When they work against each other, they fail.

The needle and the thread shouldn’t be arguing about which of them is more essential to the art and science of sewing on a button; they should be working together to sew on the damned button. The thread and needle are means to an end. So, to the question of which is more important, the needle or the thread, I would submit that the answer is: the button. For “button,” substitute “communication.”

Thus ends the philosophical portion of my program. I’ll just add three pieces of practical information.

(1) Research at Harvard’s Mind, Brain, Behavior Initiative suggests that most of our decisions are completely irrational and unconscious – and that much of the time we’ve made a decision before we even start consciously thinking about it. What that means is that we make our decisions and then retrofit our rationale into the decision so that it will make sense to us. When we’re trying to understand something, we may be completely unaware of how content + technology are affecting us.

(2) Jakob Nielsen has lots of data about how technology affects comprehension. When you put something on a computer screen, comprehension is automatically reduced by 25%. And we know that people don’t read websites; they scan. This says to me that technology and content must work really hard together to support the communication strategy. Technology giveth and it taketh away. (Interestingly, it’s not as hard to read on the Kindle as it is on a web page. Perhaps that’s because the Kindle’s page layout replicates a book’s layout — no fancy schmancy bells and whistles, a single page with content, no scrolling.)

(3) Whether people lean more heavily upon technological or content assists to garner meaning depends largely, I think, upon their generational cohort. In 1964 we got Understanding Media by Marshall McLuhan; in 1999 we got The Cluetrain Manifesto by Rick Levine, Christopher Lock, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger.

– Vicky Jones, Principal at Victoria Jones Strategic Marketing Communications

Content…the world is content, without content it’s just a ball of rock floating in space

The book and the newspaper in the 1700s were no less a technological marvel in their day, than an iPad is today. For that matter, the tribal story teller was a technology of sorts. He had to speak well, be amusing, animated.

One of the things I do is compose Spanish Jazz. You might as well ask me which guitar makes the best music… the answer is none. My skill makes the music, the composition, the technique, mood and tone. I can compose equally well on an expensive or inexpensive guitar. Are some guitars better than others? Sure. But I know of no guitar that can play better music than the musician wielding it.

Content… your life and all its meaning is content.

Give me good content…written on the back of a coaster if need be…and I’ll find you someone who will read it and love it.

– Steven Grindlay, Strategic Marketing Maven at Xross The Line Marketing and Advertising

Content. Content. Content.

We still have copies of all the work we have produced during the past ten years and our clients are still using much of it. Good content retains its value.

During that same decade I have literally thrown away tens of thousands of pounds of computer equipment which has done its job, become obsolete and been written off. Investing in good technology is a worthy aim in the short-term, but it has no lasting value.

Tom Mountford, Senior Editor at The JMS Group

Related Resources

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

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

Search Marketing: Tips on mastering the latest innovations in this mature category

Photo attribution: karola
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