The Past, Present, and Future of Content – And What to Do About It


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Content is an ever-evolving work in progress and so is how we think about it. This paper intends to help you better grasp an understanding of what content is, where it has been, where it is now, and where it’s going. In the end, you should come away with a stronger appreciation of why it matters and—perhaps more importantly—how to derive success from it.

Point of View by Kevin P. Nichols, Director and Global Practice Lead for Content Strategy, SapientNitro

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The Past, Present, and Future of Content – And What to Do About It

  1. 1. POINT OF viewThe Past, Present, and Future of Content –And What to Do About ItBy Kevin P. Nichols, Director and Global Practice Lead for Content Strategy, SapientNitroSMContent is an ever-evolving work in progress and so is how we think about it. This paperintends to help you better grasp an understanding of what content is, where it has been, whereit is now, and where it’s going. In the end, you should come away with a stronger appreciationof why it matters and—perhaps more importantly—how to derive success from it.So, first things first. What is content? It’s not just words on a page; it’s actually morecomplicated than that:• Content is a physical asset that communicates an idea or concept.• Content is recorded by video, image, text, or other means, for future use.• Content has a creator and a consumer, though they can be one and the same.HISTORY OF CONTENTThe above definition is open-ended for a reason. Content is complicated, and it is bestillustrated by examples. Let’s turn to a brief history of content to shore up what content is andhow we think about it within the context of content strategy.Our first record of content appeared as prehistoric cave paintings thousands of years agofrom the Neolithic era. Then, we saw the invention of the alphabet and papyrus, essentialto recording, storing, and exchanging content. Later, movable type and Gutenberg’s pressallowed for mass distribution.Throughout the 1800s and 1900s, content evolved through film, radio, and television, changingthe way content is communicated and creating a proliferation of information. Next, we had thepersonal computer and TV networks—leading the charge from analog to digital and foreveraltering the course of content.In the 1990s, the “global village” was born. The World Wide Web, content providers likeMicrosoft and AOL, and digital media exploded. The 1G mobile phone came along changinguser control and access of content. In the 21st century, Skype, Firefox, the iPad, and 3D TVmade an appearance. And, with the blogosphere, apps, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and otherforms of social media, individuals are now creating content of their own. Today, we are seeingmore emerging technologies and content than ever before.This broad spectrum of audio, text, video, and images all constitute what we call content. © Sapient Corporation, 2012
  2. 2. POINT OF viewCONTENT TODAY: THE UGLYContent has the opportunity to both benefit and hinder businesses and brands. Let’s lookat the ugly side of content where there’s room for improvement.The first issue we’re seeing is that platforms are overloaded. With so much content outthere, it’s hard to filter through it. We’ve reached “filter failure.” In the digital landscapeespecially, content is everywhere. The statistics are mind-boggling: As of June 5, 2012,search engines indexed 7.02 billion unique web pages.1 As of March 2012, 585,000iPhone apps have been created. 2 And, every single day, we see the creation of 2 millionnew YouTube videos, 140 million tweets, 1.5 billion pieces of Facebook content, and 10million Tumblr posts. 3In addition, content is often treated as an afterthought. While some businesses arerecognizing content as an asset with a direct cost and return, many have yet to realize thebenefit. Many businesses aren’t thinking strategically about their content, simply becausethey don’t yet see the value.For those businesses that are recognizing content as a crucial piece of their strategy,they must still fight an unruly ecosystem. These businesses are asking, “What do we dowith our content? How do we harness its power? How do we meet the demands of ourcustomers?” It’s a tricky problem that has yet to be completely sorted out.And then there’s the growing cynicism among consumers regarding the perception ofbrands. In November 2011, Havas Media surveyed 14 countries and 50,000 consumersto look into how consumers view brands and what kind of relevance they have. What theyfound was staggering: 70% of people would not care if brands ceased to exist. 4CONTENT TODAY: THE BEAUTIFULContent strategy has gained much more recognition and attention in the last few years.In 2008, a Google search of “content strategy” yielded 286,000 hits; today, it’s over 4.2million. This jump is forcing businesses to rethink content and how to apply and mature it.Let’s delve into what’s working now.For one thing, businesses are starting to understand that content is a business assetrequiring a strategy, a plan, and a long-term vision. In the past, businesses have mainlyfocused on turning their content into revenue. But today, more businesses are recognizingthat regardless of whether they sell their content, it’s still an asset.1 www.worldwidewebsize.com2 © Sapient Corporation, 2012
  3. 3. POINT OF viewIn addition, multi-channel is no longer a “nice to have” but a business necessity becauseit drives the customer and content experience. Many businesses are successfullyharnessing the power of multiple channels like web, mobile, in-store, and apps, amongothers. And while many content management systems today promise the ability to pushcontent once over several platforms, there will be huge growth in that capability.One of the most radical shifts in content is the concept of the consumer as his or her owncontent publisher (e.g., Pinterest, Tumblr). The “global village” has evolved to the pointwhere we can communicate with anyone, anywhere, at any time. Also along those lines,we’re seeing a surge of user-generated content (UGC) for brand and product evaluation(e.g., Yelp, GrubHub, Angie’s List). Consumers can now weigh in on brands and actuallyshape brand perception.Lastly, there has been massive growth in technology. Immersive content experiences areone of the ways technology is advancing. A good example of this is the 360-degree videofrom yellowBird. 5 With it, the user can drag and click the video for a unique perspective.We’re also seeing these developments in gaming, where there is a huge degree of userinteraction. Other examples include mobile 3D video and speech recognition.THE FUTURE OF CONTENTIntelligent content through computers and technology is not only here to stay—it’s poisedto become even smarter and more sophisticated. Consider this: instead of taking pictureswith a phone, you’ll soon be able to take pictures through wearable technology. It’s not justscience fiction anymore; in fact, Google already has a patent on eyewear that will capturevideo and images, and there are other wearable products in development right now froma range of companies. What else can we expect to see in the next few years?Mobile as a “right hand”There’s no doubt that mobile is integral to our lives and it will continue to evolve as auniversal remote, controlling everything from cars to appliances. It will function as apersonal computer, creating even more options regardless of place or context. And it willcontinue to make strides as digital wallets take the place of the physical bank cards, creditcards, loyalty cards, and more.Voice over touchVoice will continue to evolve as well, controlling web browsing, texting, TVs, and cars.Consider Siri, Apple’s iOS personal assistant application. Apple is also in the processof creating a voice-powered TV. Voice will also rise in popularity thanks to additionalregulations against behaviors like texting while driving, which increase the demand forhands-free interactions.5 © Sapient Corporation, 2012
  4. 4. POINT OF viewThe influence of gamingAs gaming goes mainstream, consumer demand for immersive content will spill intoexpectations for other parts of their lives. This demand will surely cause immersivecontent to seep over into other mediums, such as mobile and web.The future also holds big changes regarding the regulation of content, and today’s“wild west” will soon be gone. Though the results remain to be seen, expect to seemore limits and regulations on cell phone use, cyber-bullying, plagiarism, andintellectual property protection.In addition, a new Senate subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law willhelp protect Americans’ privacy in the digital age. And consumer protection ofprivacy will impact how large corporations, like Google and Facebook, which usedata mining and measure customer information in terms of what they can or cannotdo with it.SO…NOW WHAT?Today’s content landscape is fairly thorny. Because of that, I’ve created the SixCommandments of Content Strategy to help navigate it as well as future-proof it foremerging technology and changing trends.1. Thou shalt treat all content as a brand asset.All content, including content that is not marketing messaging mission or criticalto the conversion of a customer, is brand content. As such it is a brand asset. Thus,support content, product specifications and content that is for investors all contributeto the brand experience. Content is the life force of a brand, because:• It is how a business engages its customers.• It is what a customer directly experiences.• Like product and service, it frames the customer perception of a brand.Content can allow the brand to be more viable, and it can help create effectivecommunication to reshape how consumers perceive that brand by not only givingthem rich, meaningful content, but transparent, honest content too.2. Thou shalt know that content has a measurable ROI.Content has a measurable cost and creates results. We can use many metrics andKPIs to find out whether it’s effective. Examples of content value include increasedoperational efficiencies, lower publishing costs, fewer content errors, and increasedcustomer conversion and retention. Recognizing this helps businesses understandwhy they should invest in content. © Sapient Corporation, 2012
  5. 5. POINT OF view3. Thou shalt think of content as an investment.When businesses invest in their content experience, they will see content as anecosystem that requires care, seeding, and feeding. A new site or design is lost if contentisn’t a major part of that investment. Remember:• Without content, brands don’t make money.• Content as an afterthought won’t produce miraculous results.• Silver bullets won’t augment a lack of content or an inept content department.• Content requires continual creation and attention.4. Thou shalt place the customer at the center of future opportunities.At SapientNitro, we call our approach to content strategy “closed loop.” This meansthat we provide a content lifecycle that is extensible and scalable, uses a system that iscyclical and sustainable, and allows our clients to maintain their content experiences.This method relies heavily on measurement—and optimization—to make sure the mosteffective content is reaching consumers.5. Thou shalt use traditional practices to drive the best content experiences.It’s best to create solutions that don’t rely solely on data mining, which can compromisecustomer privacy. Instead, build solutions that leverage surveys or A/B testing to find theefficacy of content solutions and user patterns. Transparent user-centric solutions to getcustomer data will trump any solution that is evasive, and this will become even moreimportant as tighter regulations dictate what customer information can and cannot beculled.6. Thou shalt push for taxonomy and metadata excellence.Taxonomies (a way to organize, categorize, and classify information) are the driving forcefor search, navigation, personalization, cross-sell and up-sell, and recommendationengines. And metadata should also be designed to support multi-channel, systemintegration, and portable content experiences. It’s necessary to create high-calibertaxonomy and metadata standards. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Kevin P. Nichols is Director and Practice Lead for Content Strategy at SapientNitro. A Harvard graduate, he executed his capabilities in the Sabre Foundation before traveling to Bosnia and Herzegovina, where he was Webmaster for Physicians for Human Rights. He went on to Sapient Corporation as a UX Lead for global brands on Web and CMS projects. Kevin played a key role in launching MIT’s Open Courseware project, and as a Senior Consultant at Molecular, he led UX teams for global brands. He went on to become an independent consultant at Kevin P. Nichols’ consulting, before returning to Sapient as a Director of Content Strategy. © Sapient Corporation, 2012