Why Content is Everything, but Not Everything is Content
by David Sable | Published on May 13, 2019
I recently spoke on a leadership panel hosted by the CEO Forum Group and IBM Watson, where I had the pleasure of chatting alongside Bonnie Kintzer, as well as a few other leaders of various industries. Bonnie is the CEO of Trusted Media Brands, whose magazine publications include historically familiar names, such as “Taste of Home” and “Readers Digest.”
To make a long (but impressive) story short, Bonnie managed to salvage the once-bankruptcompany, turning it around and injecting new digital life and readership into their legacy publications. The financial situation she had inherited when coming aboard as CEO was dire, but when asked why she remained certain they could bounce back she offered a pithy but powerful answer: while their sales might have struggled, their content was good. And when you have good content—a good product, there is always room for success.
Her use of the word “content” struck me as important and telling. We live in a time where the word has not just been overused, but it has been misused. We’re all familiar with the expression “content is king.” But do we even know what content means anymore?
Over the last decade, I can’t tell you how many times clients have come to me with the urgent belief that they “need to produce more content!” Why? Because “content” garners views.
Remember the “Charlie bit my Finger” video from 2007 that now has over 88 million views on YouTube—that’s a lot of eyeballs. Yet despite our viral-obsessed media culture, I’ve always tried to challenge this sort of mentality about content because think about it: what has that video or any other so-called viral video, for example, of a cat pissing on a shoe, done for business or culture? Sure it’s “content” in the broadest sense of the word, but it’s hardly meaningful, memorable, effective or lasting.
If you read my stuff on even a semi-regular basis, you’ll be familiar with one of my oft-repeated sayings: “Digital is everything but not everything is digital.” Allow me to hijack and paraphrase my own thought: “Content is everything but not everything is content.” We consume content non-stop, every day. But the passive consumption of viral videos and ten-second tidbits is a far cry from the powerful and epic content we consume through, say, a 90-minute episode of “Game of Thrones.” Not all content is created equal.
As humans we crave a good story—a story that we connect to. And in the marketing realm, we remain loyal to brands and products that have managed to consistently deliver those stories to us in meaningful ways.
Meaningful ways is why young people, and old, flock to see the Avengers, even though conventional wisdom has it that they won’t watch anything longer than 15 seconds. It’s why “Game of Thrones,” continues to reign when conventional wisdom suggest that only binge-able content is effective.
It is time for us to reevaluate, and perhaps re-label content in all its glory. Let’s just stop treating content as if all its forms are all equal and equally worthwhile. No doubt baby Charlie elicited a chuckle or two from at least one of its 88 million viewers, but is that video truly comparable to GoT, Avengers or a Dickens novel? Listen:
“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”
– Benjamin Franklin
Much of what passes for content today just tells us to look…to be voyeurs. Some content works hard to teach us, and the best of it is memorable and important, but the bulk is mere conceit. And then comes the best content. The content we wait for. Long for. Discuss. Theorize over. The content we don’t just pass along but pass down through the generations…that’s what I want to be and where I aspire my clients to be.