I was asked by the Content Marketing Association to give a talk to their members on my view of the upcoming trends in digital content for the coming year. There's so much I could have talked about but I had 40 minutes so chose to concentrate on some of the macro stuff, and incorporate a nod to the odd really interesting idea that has crossed my path of late.
The positioning of content marketing within the wider marketing mix is pretty interesting right now, given that such a large proportion of marketers agree that it will become significantly more important over the next year, and that agencies of all kinds are converging on it. Yet it's not without its challenges, not least that most clients don't have a defined strategy, dedicated skills or resources, and the fact that (as I quote Josh Sternberg) brands are simply not set up to be publishers.
Thinking about the changing dynamic that is going on between Paid, Owned and Earned media provides good context for this shift. Whilst paid media may not be getting any less important, the increased focus on always on means a greater focus on owned and earned as well as more nuanced ways of using each element, often in support of the others. So as I've said before, the most interesting spaces within the POE model are how they can work together to amplify each other, how content can flow seamlessly between them, and where they overlap.
One of the biggest challenges here is adapting to what Robin Sloan has called the 'Stock and Flow', and the tricky balance of building value slowly over time, whilst adapting to/capitalising on the short spikes of attention. Content distribution (or circulation as Matt Locke called it) thinking needs to adapt to incorporate the bottom-up type of approaches that the internet is very good at, as well as the more traditional top-down type of approach.
Which brought me on to talk about curation - already an overused word, but an increasingly important concept. So here I talked about my vision of the three pillars of content curation, overlayed with the layer of our own actions and decisions, as being central to how we discover content, and how this can also be a model for the approach to content taken by brands. The shifting dynamic in each area of curation is endlessly fascinating I think, so I gave examples of each: the wonderful Maria Popova as an amazing example of a new type of professional curator of culture; The Guardian's Zeitgeist project as a great example of social curation, mashing up analytics and social media metrics to visualise the most popular stories on the site right now; and the super-smart Percolate as an example of how brands can utilise algorithmic curation to 'create content at social scale'. I think bringing these different forms of curation together (as Flipboard does) creates fascinating possibilties.
No talk about trends would be complete without mentioning mobile, but rather than show lots of charts with lines heading northwards I chose to focus on how content is being created and repurposed for mobile devices. Here I referenced Craig Mod's excellent recent post on Subcompact publishing, which talks about how often we take try to skeuomorphically take formats and approaches from one medium and try to make them work in a new medium (newstand being a good example). The interface of touchscreen devices encourages us to be additive in our approaches to content delivery whereas Marco Arment's (founder of Instapaper) The Magazine is an exercise in glorious simplicity that is designed for mobile from the bottom-up. And that's what people want - stuff that works, and enables a great user experience.
I then talked about the 70,20,10 model as a way of working and allocating resource that is altogether more appropriate for the world I just described, and used the example of GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon) and the vertical stack as a way of understanding platform approcahes and the idea of taking data and value from one place in order to deliver a better experience in another part of your ecosystem. This led on to talk about how brands can use the idea of distirbuted and destination thinking to create content that both attracts and is sticky, but also lives out there in the fabric of the web.
To finish off, I talked about how the most interesting places in our industry right now are at the edges, in the art and the science - the programmatic buying of inventory, and the focus on planning for participation and the creation of immersive content exepriences. Algorithmic trading is enabling new levels of granularity and real-time optimisation, and the growth in native advertising formats leading to new opportunities via mobile and interest targeting. Meanwhile all types of agency (including media agencies) are converging around the opportunities provided by content driven solutions and experiences. These two extremes, although in many ways divergent, are leading to a squeezed middle characterised by average experiences, poor creative, lazy targeting. So we are in for interesting times.
My finishing point was to question the term 'Big Data', which I'm sure will feature large in many upcoming predictions posts. Whilst there can be little doubt that the volume, velocity and variety of data that companies can have access to has exponentially increased, and there is a real job to do within organisations to join-up disparate data silos, like Stephen Few I suspect that there are many out there who see the sudden popularity of the term as an opportunity to sell big pieces of kit to large organisations. Just as important though, are the skills to derive actionable insight and value from all that data and if you're not able to do that with the data you already have it's highly unlikely that you will be able to with a big shiny new piece of kit. A great example of how data can add value to what we all do came just recently with the Obama campaign and the prescient marriage of data and storytelling that we were all witness to.
Many of the ideas that I featured here are ones that I have thrashed out here on the blog so my thanks to those who have contirbuted to the debate and a namecheck to some smart folk whose thinking helped me along the way: Noah Brier, Craig Mod, Nick Burcher, Dave Chaffey, Simon Andrews, Patricia McDonald. Maybe one day I'll get around to writing that book.