Something happened to me recently. My title went from “Editorial Director” to “Content Director.” My job description changed but minimally; the changes more reflected the work I already do and have been doing for quite some time.
But first, let’s step back a bit and examine the word “content.” It’s both misunderstood and overused and that’s a dangerous combination. It runs the risk of becoming a redundancy, or worse, a buzzword, like “boutique” or “bespoke” (this is also happening to the lovely word “curate.”) But the word is also important. Because I believe we live in a world where almost everything is content.
The content era
Everything – from nacho chips to shoes to television – throws content at us and it is this content that makes up the stories of our lives. That sounds grandiose, I know, but think about it.
Nike is a content provider. Sure, it was providing content when it printed “Just Do It” on t-shirts but now its shoes are content too. In fact, one could argue that Nike running shoes are social media hubs.
A few years ago that sentence wouldn’t have made any sense at all and now it’s indisputable. Not only can the shoes sync to an app and measure the development and rhythm of your jogging regime, your shoes can broadcast this to your peers around the world. So Nike shoes are content.
In my work, or because of it, I’ve argued for years that airlines are content providers. Think of a flight as an immersive media experience. You travel and you are surrounded by media: both your own and what the airline provides in the forms of print, audio and video (and, for some, in the form of digital as well).
The travel industry, with its built-in narrative and movement, is well placed to create an unbroken circle of meaningful messaging to an engaged public. I think we’re seeing this with hotels, as well.
And if one can let their imagination go, this is true of almost anything: Any place where people congregate, whether it be virtually, socially or for purely commercial reasons, can be and is a content hub.
From custom publishing to content marketing
Content marketing is a phrase we hear everywhere now but the idea is old. Humans are storytellers. If you want to connect with them, tell stories.
A Content Director’s role, then, is to ensure that brands are leveraging their own narratives in compelling ways to successfully engage with the population. And this is the crux of the evolution from “publishing” to “content.”
Custom publishing was kind of a less sophisticated form of content marketing. Even the term “custom publishing” refers to a time when an overall media solution wasn’t really something anyone could wrap their head around.
The Custom Publishing Council, for example, is now the Custom Content Council. The logic was and is semantic but also unimpeachable: Publishing sounds like a “print” word.
To further the point, I attended the International Content Summit last November in London, a conference organized by the APA, the U.K.’s version of the CCC. (The P in APA stands for exactly what you think it does but let’s face it, ACA sounds awful).
Until recently, media was created in silos. So you had your Web team doing one thing, your print team doing something else and so on.
We still see that now in some companies, where communications, marketing and branding are housed in different departments and each department is competing for budget.
Custom publishing was a kind of “either/or” affair with little integration between print and Web (or, later, mobile and apps). Content marketing sees a bigger picture and gets to the heart of what “custom media” has always been – a more sophisticated, more immersive branding and marketing tool.
But as the public’s sophistication grows, industry will have to grow too. The market is a multimedia, multitasking, on-the-go place. It doesn’t sit still. And it doesn’t understand why it can’t get what it wants when it wants it.
We live in a world where the platforms we use need to fit the strategy of our choosing. In the past, most content strategies were reversed – the strategy fit the platform. That’s over now, just another quirk in our Content Revolution.