Content + Mindful (pronounced “content and mindful”) is designed to be a content strategy resource for professionals, like content strategists, in the business of creating content, structuring content, marketing through content strategy as well as provide insights for those who consume content.
To make sure we are all on the same (digital) content page, let’s ask the question…
What is content?
Content is a medium containing symbols and values that can comprise of a mix of words, images, sounds and visual actions. The business of content is concerned with how those elements are created, strategically arranged, integrated and structured to produce a desired feeling, experience or message among an audience.
Content is what gives a previously blank slate medium like an ad, web page, video or social media post meaning and allows it to communicate desired information and experiences to others.
Why focus on content and content strategy?
I could focus on covering the popular Kardashians. But in case you haven’t noticed, like the Kardashians, content is everywhere. So pervasive that, like a fish, we swim through a vast sea of messages trying to grab our attention. Yet, as a fish is unaware it moves through a medium called “water,” you and I are barely conscious of all the content clutter around us. It’s true. Even as the average person is exposed to over 5000 ads a day and the average American household consumes nearly 8 hours of content through our TV. Ah, not so fast. That’s not including all the content flowing from our smartphones.
However, businesses and governments are very conscious of all this content.
They, content creators and content strategists like myself spend hours and billions of dollars trying to create just the right ads, websites, TV shows, blogs and news content. And because they know the level of messaging clutter you wade through is so overwhelming, folks like us work hard to create exceptional content that’s able to pierce through the snow-blinding clutter and get noticed. When successful, those are the shows, ads and viral web links we tend to share and talk about.
So many content choices. Yet, like a Turducken (stuffing the meat of a cooked duck in a cooked turkey), creators and businesses add even more content into all that existing content. An effort to ensure that every blank space, web page, piece of entertainment (Netflix is slowly incorporating ads) around you is filled with a brand logo, a promotion or an advertisement.
Why all this effort?
Businesses and organizations understand that content is power.
When content is distributed on platforms like advertising mediums, social media, digital media and devices, those who wield the content gain the ability to affect emotions, inform opinions, drive actions and, in times of conflict and struggle, rally people to fight for causes.
Why? The Guy-Fawkes-masked vigilante, from V for Vendetta it best:
“Because while the truncheon may be used in lieu of conversation, words will always retain their power. Words offer the means to meaning, and for those who will listen, the enunciation of truth.”
People respond, change or adapt based on their personal understanding of truth. Content helps people articulate those insights on truth. Whether that is coming to the belief that the right toothpaste will make you popular or that you deserve to be happy or comic sans is a superior typeface to all others (yea, I said it, Caslon Bold Extended), content helps you create a mental path and framework to drive future beliefs, values and actions.
Powerful, strategic content enunciates a personal truth and provides direction.
A personal truth can become “the right sneakers make you cool” or “my life isn’t as good as my peers.” For visual content, that personal truth can be a user interface on a device that feels “just right” or an image of a fashion model that makes you think, “that’s what true beauty looks like.”
For content creators and content strategists, that means content that gives you or the masters you work for, power. For content consumers, it demands that you need to be more conscious of your content experiences as they seek to influence you or help define your personal truths for you.
With the power to create content comes great responsibility.
Inventors, who may pat themselves on the back for their ingenuity, unique insights and brilliance, can still fail to realize the true power and implications of their creations. There’s a joke that the final words before the end of the world will be “Eureka! It worked!” The creation of content is no different.
Take Facebook. Originally created to help college students share pictures and text with each other at Harvard, then other college campuses, then nations, grew into a global platform for users to create and share content – including allowing users almost unbridled ability to create content.
The power of content creation. “Eureka! It…worked?”
Facebook’s intent by owners and current shareholders (like myself) was to focus on being an advertising platform for users to share content and use the information gathered from that content to better target consumers with advertising. Now, like a like a car with the emergency brake off, it’s suddenly rolling ahead of its owner down the hill and gaining speed. Executives are now desperately trying to stop its own creation from getting away from it as the Facebook global community has the ability to post and share content that can potentially affect elections, subvert democracies globally and fomenting tensions between groups.
Content created and shared in social media forums like Reddit and Twitter produced chatter that claimed a pizza shop in Washington DC was the center a pedophile sex ring run by a presidential candidate with children held in the shop’s basement (there is no basement – and no captured children). The owners of the business were sent numerous threats and eventually, a 28-year-old man from North Carolina, showed up at the shop with a rifle to do his own “investigation.” He fired several times. Luckily, no one was injured. Though his intentions started from a somewhat admirable but mislead intent to rescue defenseless kidnapped children, this situation could have become deadly.
Content creators and content strategists. A wake-up call.
I love my work and success as developer and strategist of content that serves that fragile marriage of art, technology, psychology and commerce. As an advertising creative director, media producer and content strategist lead, my work has helped clients sell clothes, home goods, health care services and even weapons systems. As you hear client praise and industry awards and people saying, “Oh, I saw that ad. Pretty funny” or a client loves that you drove click-throughs rates up, it’s easy to stay focused on soaking up compliments on the business side of my work and simply stopping there.
Yet due to the growing examples I mentioned, I can’t help but wake up to the indifference pertaining to the collateral damage related to the creation of content and the new methods of distribution. It stays on my mind as we live in a world where there is more information available to the masses than ever before, yet people seem to know less and less as the wealth of information actually drives them to retreat and push away to avoid being overwhelmed.
People sometimes sling content at each other more like rocks (e.g., a viral Facebook post or email) just grabbed off the ground than thoughtful exchanges. Content delivered under brands or symbolic ideas can help us make better, faster, satisfying decisions. Yet in the extreme cases, like sloganeering, some are using branded content or content gatekeepers as a replacement for honing and building personal insights and knowledge.
Knowledge is indeed power. However, it’s not always growth or learning.
How Tony Stark, Alfred Nobel and me got woke.
This story of creators and inventors coming to grips with the effects of their creations is an old, repeated story. Take the fictional weapons maker, (Tony Stark a.k.a. Iron Man). Stark, a billionaire boy genius (we may differ a bit here in both money and intelligence) used his talent to build powerful ideas in the form of defense technologies. Self-impressed with the power of his creations, wealth and adulation, he was more cavalier to the full impact of the use of his creations and saw his work as just business.
That changes after he is injured by a terrorist group who have acquired and are using his own weapons against him and the good guys. He escapes by creating a badass suit of armor. Home safe and eyes opened, he sees how his weapons are also being used by others for nefarious purposes and on innocent people. He realizes his business is not just about selling his inventions. Woke, he uses his new suit and technologies he’s created for a greater good. And in Marvel Comics’ case, the company that owns the Iron Man character, billions of sales.
The creator of a real dangerous weapon. Alfred Nobel.
Alfred Bernhard Nobel was the Tony Stark of his time. A Swedish chemist, engineer, inventor, businessman and philanthropist, he’s known for creating dynamite. He began to see the destruction his invention wrought. A feeling further prodded by an obituary for him accidentally published when newspaper confused him with his brother. The paper wrote a scathing condemnation of him for his invention. Woke (like Stark), Nobel decided to leave a better legacy. Today, we know that as the Nobel Prize and its to effort promote humanity’s steps forward in areas like science, literature and peace. I’d throw in revered German designer Dieter Rams, who now regets becoming a designer and the excess of design, but that’s for an upcoming blog post.
Content demands for marketers to have strategy and for consumers to understand it.
True utilization and the command of power is all about understanding its advantages and unintended consequences. Think of the atom. Depending on how you split it (literally), it’s a power that can create cheap energy in one application (nuclear power) or destroy entire cities instantly in others (nuclear bombs). It’s how people apply and respect that power that makes the difference whether is a force for positive change.
Adding strategy to content. How content makers and content consumers can move forward together.
“You just spent half this post telling me how dangerous content is. So stop creating it,” says a future post commenter. To which I’d reply, “It’s not that simple.”
Or the straight-up answer, “nope.” Here are the reasons why.
1. Content is not going away.
Like the atom bomb, you can’t make the technology simply disappear from the world. The technology genie is out of the bottle. The only way is forward. We can’t avoid; we must deal with it. Our future with it is now based on the choices we make around it. Who gets it, who uses it and how it gets used. Same is true with content. That is why we have to focus even more on how we create content and how we choose to consume it.
Also, if you’re reading this, you are interested in content. And to satisfy that, people need to create it. Content and sharing content is how we learn from each other and grow. When that stops, growth stops.
2. Content is good and bad. Often at the same time.
Many good things we want in our lives or that make our lives better also have downsides. Drugs that save and extend our lives often have side effects. Ask a chemotherapy patient. People you love can hurt you the most. And, as I said, content is the lifeblood that helps people get access to goods and fuel our economy. We would not be even close to achieving the economy we have without content-driven advertising and digital marketing.
Randall Rothenburg, author of Where Suckers Moon: An Advertising Story, gives the game up on marketers role and focus on content and marketing to drive sales.
“The myth was that the client was the marketer. In fact, the client was the (content) publisher. The (advertising) agency acted as the broker for the publisher.”
Content feeds the strength of our economy. According to the financial analysis firm Global Insight, content delivered through advertising helps drive more than $5.2 trillion in sales and economic activity annually throughout the U.S. economy. That represents 20 percent of the nation’s $25.5 trillion in total economic activity. This economic stimulus it provides throughout the economy is attributed to more than twenty-one million jobs, or 15.2% of the U.S. workforce.
With that in mind, at what point should issues and stories creating collateral damage force us to stop creating and producing content that drives economic value?
In life, we usually move forward with imperfect choices after coming to the calculation that the overall benefits are worth the risk.
3. The bad side of content is within our power to control.
We often don’t think of repercussions of content. Rather, we treat it indifferently. That leaves us open to unnecessary risks and damages that could be minimized.
And that’s where we as a society often fall short. In the Empire Strikes Back, Yoda warned Luke Skywalker, “ Never underestimate the powers of the emperor.” Many issues around content occur simply because we underestimate the power of content has over us and how it actually shapes lives as we engage it.
An example that still blows my mind. We DON’T teach financial literacy in school. A decision or lack of effort that leaves millions vulnerable to being fleeced in financing a car, to investment fees to rent-to-own services to credit cards by other who simply understand math and interest rates. Personally, I think teaching someone to understand a devious bank loan in a financial course is more important than a history course explaining the threat of The Spanish Inquisition (But noooooo one expects The Spanish Inquisition!).
As an informed public is better able to seek out and consume important content, we reduce the need for legislation and empower people to be able to drive results that serve our best interests and personal goals. That alone helps minimize the effects of harmful or malicious content.
4. Don’t hate the content player. Hate the content game.
And the game has changed.
The digital age and the low cost around of the distribution of content have changed the game on the effects of and how we access content.
As we become a digital world that’s all about information, we don’t experience products in stores as much anymore. Instead, one-click digital showrooms like Amazon allow us to experience products as content (digital images and text). Less touch and feel and more looking at pictures and reading the tantalizing copy. And if you’re like me, a disappointing product that arrives on your doorstep every once in a while.
The UI (user interface of a website) and it’s ability to deliver a good experience can affect your experience with a company as well as their sales.
As physical connections diminish, content, especially digital experiences, are becoming the lifeblood for experiences and relationships between companies and between individuals.
5. The area of the biggest change. News.
Years ago, broadcasters ran news divisions as public news services in exchange for access to airwaves. Journalism was also run and a quasi-philanthropic endeavor as wealthy, family-owned newspapers like the LA Times, once owned by the Chandlers and the Sulzbergers, current majority owners of the New York Times invested resources into reporting. While not always perfect in covering news, their wealth generally (not always) kept their organizations shielded from commercial and governmental influences when publishing content.
That has changed. Not just from wealthy families selling their newspapers. Declining revenues and audiences, the rise of new digital content properties and more and cheaper choices have forced most content to need to pay its own way. That means news can’t just be news and published for simply news’ sake or to inform the public, it has to generate revenue. In the digital age, that means it must attract eyeballs and pages views.
From arguments about fair and balanced to claims of fake news.
As the traditional gatekeepers of content lose prominence, good or bad, one thing they did was enforce a certain standard for content. While that did keep out a broader spectrum of content options (I hear your long-standing complaint conservatives and socially touchy viewpoints – that’s why Fox News was just waiting to be born), it did impose some guardrails on accuracy that helped us. A broadcast or cable network can’t outright lie about an issue or subject matter – or at least there are some mechanisms for redress. Just a few weeks ago the Washington Times had to print an apology for its coverage of Seth Rich and the implication that an apparent robbery and murder was instead an operative murder via a Democratic Party-led effort. Short on facts, Fox News eventually issued a public retraction on the article it published on DNC staffer Seth Rich’s murder. ABC News reporter Brian Ross was suspended for reporting that Donald Trump was a candidate when he directed Michael Flynn to make contact with Moscow (he was president-elect at the time).
Content is “buyer beware.”
While broadcast is still held to a higher standard, claims on the web and pure digital posts can float. Often loosely linked to hard facts, such posts can exist more like unverified whispers campaigns than real news. Non facts or conspiracy theories can be fueled and shared as fact, becoming a force multiplier by the wishful thinking of those who want to believe them. It’s also fueled by the content’s ability to stay in an information ghetto or bubble (within a boutique website or subreddit) below the radar for attention for being verified.
When the truth is uncovered, rare is the honest, retraction, but rather more often a quiet deletion or re-phrasing of the claim without mentioning the now inconvenient fact. Often a change too little, too late for the consuming public. As Mark Twain once said, “A lie will fly around the whole world while the truth is getting its boots on.”
As the standards for information on the Internet are not always trustworthy or held to account, we and content consumers must now spend more energy treating much more content with skepticism.
6. Are you being informed, sold and entertained?
Another effect of the fall of traditional media. As revenue models fall, the clear lines between entertainment content and advertising or advocacy content have blurred.
Content still must provide value. But to stay alive without public funding, content’s ultimate master now must be commercialism. However, serving commercial needs, and possibly shareholders, is not always the same as serving the public interest. This drives the rise of click bait and focusing on content that creates attractive drama and controversy rather than information. The need to draw you in may become more important than the need to inform you.
Headlines like, “Life’s great. No worries” doesn’t attract eyeballs. To compensate, more media is supplemented with addictive and emotional plays on content consumers, creating a hyped-up level of drama and alarm.
Though individuals may not be able to put their finger on it, they feel the effects from this change. The residual exposure from this type of content disturbs or depresses them often leaving a content experience with a residue of fear, anger, and a sense of being incomplete.
7. Content is now empowering individuals.
Technology is power. If the consumer were a superhero, we’d be in a state where we are wondering what to do with the content superpowers bestowed by the new technologies and democratization of content. Before you were just Peter Parker, an ordinary content consumer. Now you have amazing new content powers like creation and access to data. As the Amazing ContentPerson:
- You have the power to settle a bar bet in seconds with a Google search.
- Someone is wrong on the Internet? You must save them from their misguided beliefs. Up, up and away with a Twitter post!
- Don’t like your restaurant? Will you use your content superpower to hurt them with an angry (or true or not) Yelp review or Facebook post?
- Don’t like a person or a group’s protest? Use your doxxing (posting their identify or contact information) power to encourage employers to fire them or nudge others to threaten to visit their homes.
As Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben said to Peter “with power comes responsibility.” Your new power as a content creator forces us all to make choices about how we use our new abilities. Do I use my X-ray vision to help a child stuck in a well or do I leer at the swim team taking a shower or steal top secret information behind walls in an office building? The choice is ours.
When it comes to content, we have the right to be armed…with words and ideas.
We call it the 1st Amendment.
While guns are a form of power that some are adamant about, as V mentioned above, so are words.
While The 2nd Amendment may allow for arms to be used for defense, the 1st Amendment is also a weapon as it empowers us as individuals and organizations to return fire and defend ourselves through ideas in words and thought. And like guns, those who can weaponize ideas through words and images can wield superior firepower. I’d argue more than guns. Every four years, American citizens and political leaders and political operatives wage a battle of words to assume power and control over the direction of the country.
Thank God, we don’t use guns.
Companies and organization understand this. And they are heavily armed. It’s why they hire ad firms, content strategists, media companies, public relations firms and sophisticated surrogates to go on TV or write in print as part of their arsenal to defend their ideas and fight in a marketplace of ideas. When content is used and weaponized in media, the level of sophistication deployed and the people spending hundreds of hours figuring out how to get you to buy more bottled water is enormous.
The content engagement with consumers is currently asymmetrical warfare.
Currently, it not a fair fight. But an imbalance not deviously created. It’s more like the way we have gotten fatter because of sugar. Once rare, our bodies leapt at the chance to have some if we were exposed to it. Now ubiquitous, our bodies still treat it like it’s rare and still craves all of it, though it is plentiful. In the same way, our ability to use technology and techniques to communicate is outpacing the average person’s ability to prepare and keep up with the technologies and consequences of absorbing so much unfiltered content.
In the new environments, engagements in the new content area now create collateral damage. That’s a bit what this blog is all about. A way to arm both sides. Content + Mindful.
To give tools and strategy to content creators content strategists and developers on how to reach people with great engaging content.
Providing tools and understanding to defend yourself when ideas become weaponized and making sure the decisions you make about content are your own.
Weekly I’ll have a post for content creators (Content Strategy) and one for content consumers (Content Mindfulness). Whether you are a content creator or consumer, I invite you to read both sides as I think both sides of the content equation, creator and consumer, can learn from each other.
Content creators can better see how your content can affect consumers. And consumers see the ways organizations are seeking your alignment with their products and ideas and how you can demand that content creators step of their game in giving you what you want.