The Content Trap: Navigating Digital Platforms Effectively

Post by 
Somachi Egejuru
July 4, 2020

fter reading The Content Trap by Bharat Anand, my perspective into the online content space has been thoughtfully challenged. At Limitless, we develop strategies for YouTube, where we enable brands to take an unconventional approach to video - we know they deserve more than 30 seconds of screen time.

So, like pretty much everyone, we are in the content business.

The whole premise of the book heavily challenges the idea that quality of content is the defining variable that determines success or failure within media-driven businesses. It also goes into detail about how we like to view new technologies or platforms in the polarising way that one's success has to come at the detriment of the other, ignoring the complementary relatedness between 'old' and new. In the marketing industry, all the talk is about how budgets are shifting to digital from traditional, how traditional is dying and digital is rising etc.

Ultimately, the key message is that if you just focus on content, believing that to be the solution to your need, whether that's growth or beating competition, you will lose. This is an example of falling into 'The Content Trap'. Instead, you need to focus on connections.

The connections triad

There are three main types to watch: User Connections, Product Connections and Functional Connections. I highly recommend picking up the book to learn more deeply about these areas and also find examples of those who navigated change well... and those that failed. From now though, we're just going to talk about content in the media/marketing context that we operate in.

User connections

Everybody creates content for the end user, whether that's a Facebook post, or 30 second spot. Today, with digital platforms, more data and information into the end user, we are said to understand who we're trying to reach very deeply, possibly even more than they understand themselves. In the marketing context, this leads to 'hyper-targeting', extremely granular approaches that segment users and aim to deliver messaging highly tailored to them, almost on an individual level.

However, the most highly valued and coveted form of marketing is 'word-of-mouth' recommendations, travelling from peer-to-peer. Hyper-targeting, when done extremely well with the aid of data speaks to the end user on an individual level.

If a message is exclusively tailored to one user, how is it supposed to travel?

User connections focus on the links between users, their interactivity.

Essentially, the social media space has connected literally billions of people through a common device, yet extreme customisation can hinder the extraction of value from those connections. This can be seen through network effects and crowds, where the effectiveness of content increases as more people join in. Think UGC and all of these '#challenges' on Instagram. With each person that joins in, awareness is increased, the best example of recent times is the 'ice bucket challenge'.

When creating content, one of the main focuses should be 'How does this tie people together?' 'Where are the common links?'.

Within our series', we tend to work with well known media personalities or 'influencers'. Why? Their following provides a common link between groups of people, this makes it more likely they will engage with the content we produce, because even if they are not aware of the brand hosting the series, the expressed interest in the personality piques a certain level of interest. People are more likely to share content when they find a common interest.

"Do you follow ...? Did you see that video with ... they were in?"

There is a popular marketing influencer that advocates creating up to 5,000 pieces of content a day, focusing on individuality... however, going down that route will have you stressed, broken down, with mounting costs, more data than you know how to deal with, unclear barometers of success... ultimately in the rabbit hole of The Content Trap. Instead, focus on the relationships between your ideal customers, their common interests and you'll find they will successfully do most of the lifting for you. Create to connect.

Product Connections

The second type of connection is the link between products. Mainly getting into where people believed innovation and new products were going to cannibalise existing ones. However, this looks from another angle: the complementary relationships between products, how they support each other.

In the advertising world, programmatic digital advertising 'ad tech' supposedly came to 'replace' TV advertising, that nobody really watches. If that was the case though, we would see an immediate shift, last year an estimated $140 billion was spent by advertisers on TV... That's a lot for something people don't really see.

Direct-to-consumer brands, who through their online origins, have 'figured out' the new way to advertise through measured channels like programmatic, Facebook, Instagram and Google. Yet, a lot of them have started to spend on less measurable channels like TV and OOH (out of home: billboards, buses etc.).

3 screens, 1 user. Instead of looking at silos, consider the connections between products and their usage.

One of the key points that should not be overlooked is the following: Be wary of when your product is someone else's complement.

This is difficult for companies, agencies in the service industry. Our success depends on the overall business success of the client, ideally we want to contribute to that. However, the content we produce is ultimately a complement to their product. Do you need to produce content? No. In a world full of competition, your external shell is what differentiates you from competitors in the marketplace - that is where content is effective. In the long run though, no matter how good your content is, if your product doesn't stack up, you won't go far. Expand to preserve.

Functional Connections

Finally, we move onto the importance of context. This relates to the idea of integration and taps into the role strategy plays in success.

Functional connections are the web that links each section of your marketing efforts together. In a more analog world, tasks were siloed and looked at on an individual basis, you go to your media agency for insights into where you place ads, your creative agency for what you display, then work with your PR team to amplify the message. Strategy was generally more implied, the success of a campaign was purely based on how many people saw it.

Cube Turning Illusion

Now, technology has opened up the opportunity to increase the effectiveness of brand communications for those who are able to plan towards the conditions they operate within on platforms, Instagram is much more polished, highly visual and almost idealistic. Twitter is a hub for conversation, YouTube for longer-form videos, Snapchat high impact visuals. Here is the thing, most of you reading this interact with all of those platforms throughout the day, what you do on each is the variable.

Yet, we just see brands taking adaptations of their 30 or 60 second spots, distributing them across these platforms and across programmatic formats. The best brands understand context.

As a marketer, you need to consider how you maintain relevance as your target users move across the platforms, and where you can identify connections.

Many in the marketing world are used to segmented differences between media and creative. "Let's put $2 million into making these ads and $8 million into pushing it". Subjective metrics like 'lift' are then analysed, and many presentations are made containing a lot of acronyms 'CPC', 'CPA', 'CTR'... to justify the expenditures. Your budget goes much further once you are able to think in terms of connections. Dare not to mimic.

Getting Out Of The Trap

Do you sometimes feel yourself getting into 'The Content Trap'? Wondering the real impact of your digital strategy on business results? Lush withdrew from social media entirely. The reason being that they feel it is 'difficult' to talk with their customers, blaming algorithms - with over 1 million followers, maybe they just were not saying something that interested them... food for thought.

The digital landscape can be admittedly tricky to navigate, however, with over 4 billion users on social media worldwide, never has there been the opportunity to reach a large number of people in such concentrated spaces. To make effective use of this, don't analyse content specifically, analyse connections: once you do this, it enables you to free yourself from too much scrutiny on your content.

User connections: 'Create to connect' - Success comes not just from creating content, or the “best content”, but from creating content that connects users.

Product connections: 'Expand to preserve' - Success increasingly comes not from preserving your content at all costs, but from unearthing related opportunities close by.

Functional connections: 'Dare not to mimic' - Success comes not from viewing content decisions or mimicking competitors’ content choices in isolation, but from recognising them as part of a connected whole.

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