Content – My window to the world
I grew up being told my source of information and my guide to great language are the BBC World Service and The Statesman print. Soon, The Economist joined the group when I was declared old enough to understand its content. Till then, it was all about the Queen’s English. I devoured the content and it fascinated me infinitely. And I wasn’t alone in my pursuit of knowledge. That was the world. Content was king.
The mediums grew in numbers and formats. Technology took over, and the distribution of knowledge became faster and more specific. While basic information is now available at a mere click of a key—something that previously used to be a struggle to acquire—research now has become more meaningful with in-depth detailing and exploration. Imagination has been replaced with inquisitive exploration, and visual creativity with pre-made videos on YouTube. But content is still king.
Don’t pester me – The voice of the new consumer
The evolution of digital really is the evolution of human ambition and enterprise. The digital consumer of today is an evolved consumer; much unlike the consumer even a decade back. Consumers have now evolved from being digital explorers to digital natives. Their habits and behaviours have evolved along the way and so have their expectations. They would willingly turn a blind eye to dazzling banner ads and read content that interests them instead. Display ads lost their sheen when the bubble of fascination burst, and the new generation was born into a world that always had banners. In fact, they proactively exercise the choice to blank out ads with ad blockers. The promise of the digital medium as a two-way street became a massive responsibility once the metrics started becoming significantly sharper to almost having a God-like controlled future predicting outcomes or turning their head away when the outcome is different. As per Page Fair’s 2017 Adblock report, India today has more than 136 million users who have installed ad blockers, resulting to a loss of billions of dollars for publishers. It is safe to say that in this cat and mouse game, between the marketer and their audiences, marketers are constantly playing catch up with the ever-changing needs of their consumers.
Digital – The new hand maiden of the King
It is in this context that content was again declared King. I am always reminded of Howard Gossage, the Socrates of San Francisco’s quote here, “Nobody reads ads. People read what interests them. Sometimes it’s an ad.” Hence, marketers, in their constant pursuit of that valuable and elusive asset—consumer attention—have started creating all sorts of content and throwing it at consumers without the knowledge of what they want to read. Volume has therefore become the name of the game. And the digital platform has given marketers the ability to churn out and distribute content with great speed. It is as if we’ve started believing that only if we create more content per second, will we be guaranteed more consumer attention. This has led to a situation similar to this:
Vanity metrics – Missing the wood for the trees
Now, the focus has suddenly moved to vanity metrics like shares, comments, followers and likes. This is where things get a little hazy. While it is true that content provides a direct connect with the consumer and a great deal of influence within the relevant environment, in this brouhaha of creating more and more content, we seem to have lost sight of the ‘consumer’. The opportunity that digital provides—of hyper relevance and hyper targeting—also assumes that we as marketers are able to understand our audiences at a more granular level. We need to comprehend how technology is changing consumers and how it can be used to increase our understanding of consumers. How has technology impacted their needs, desires, fears and anxieties? What are their ambitions and hopes? We need a far deeper, more nuanced understanding of our consumers to be able to exploit the benefits of digital media to the maximum. We have to go beyond scenarios like this:
It is not that we don’t try to understand our audiences. However, the insights get buried under the weight of the vanity metrics that we use to define our audiences with. These metrics give us a sense of comfort, but obscure the real truth. We need to accept the fact that our audiences are not merely a number.
Make the King a humble servant
Only once we accept this fact will we be able to create content that will connect with our audience; content that they will find relevant and useful. Audiences seek content that informs and engages them; content that eases their life in that moment. The need of the hour is to create content that will create those moments of magic for them. This can only happen when we understand our audiences better, when we connect with them as individuals and not just as numbers on spreadsheets. It is time to give audiences the respect they deserve, and what better way to do but make the king of communication, content, their humble servant.