This deserves to be written in bold and all caps and reiterated in every conversation we have about creating digital experiences. As an industry, we spend far too much time thinking about the creative look-and-feel and user experience of what we create. Of course these things are important, but they should be secondary to the core idea and, more importantly, the long-term content vision. Most ideas are pure tactics that serve a short-term objective, but these could be made stronger if we push to think about all digital experiences as living, breathing organisms.
For instance, for the United States Marine Corps we approached the creation of our digital properties with a more traditional publishing model. To grow and sustain our audiences we partnered with the USMC Division of Public Affairs as well as other military news organizations to provide our digital experiences with relevant content. It has been my experience that this evolution is the hardest thing for marketers to wrap their heads around strategically as well as to plan for from budget and management perspectives.
This shouldn’t be surprising. Most brands are created to produce specific products, not to be content creators and curators. But in our current dispersed digital world, content is the fuel we will all need to engage our target audiences. We can credit social with forever changing our audience’s expectations. And we can take it a step further – if we blame MTV with shortening attention spans, social media might just hold the title of obliterating it. In today’s world, information is consumed through headlines and tweets. In fact, blogs can be considered long-form content. This has completely altered the content pipeline and forever changed the cadence, weight, and style of content we need to produce.
Of course, there are a number of brands doing things right. American Express’ Open Forum is a great example of a brand that for years has provided content across platforms to small business owners. Qualcomm released a platform called Spark that allows for the creation and publishing of content to engage, inspire, and promote the sharing of ideas. Another recent standout in my mind is Toyota. One campaign it unveiled at SXSW this year was a website called Prius Projects that shows how “Prius people are making the world more interesting.” Through this website Toyota asked Prius enthusiasts to share their passion for their vehicle by contributing ideas on how to make the world more like a Prius. The project that amazed me was the reinterpretation of a Prius as a bicycle. The vision they came up with is an energy-efficient, technology-advanced bike that can be shifted with your mind. Think shift up, and it shifts up. Completely amazing, but what was even more exciting was hearing Bob Zeinstra, national advertising and strategic planning manager for Toyota, say that the company’s objective from the beginning of the project was to continually create interesting and unique content experiences. This is the mindset more marketers need to have.
So, if content creation is the mindset we need to adopt, then the filter that should be applied to all ideas is one of designing for mobile first. This is because people now spend more time in mobile applications than they do online. As I discussed in my last column, this is going to be a problem for brands, seeing that 79 percent of Fortune 500 companies don’t even have a mobile-optimized site. This issue is also being exacerbated by the fact that the largest social publishing platform for brands, Facebook, has an anemic mobile platform that doesn’t allow audiences to engage with the application and experiences they have created. By thinking mobile first, brands will be able to answer and plan for any platform issues early. Also, the reduced screen size helps to prioritize the content and messaging. This will in turn make it easier to be consumed on every device.
Content creation and continual publishing can be difficult and brands are going to need strong partners to help them create and maintain these experiences. People have talked for a long time about how traditional agencies need to be more digital and digital agencies need to be more traditional, but I believe the answer lies in being platform agnostic and content creation focused.