Learning From Nomads in the Age of Content Marketing

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Consumers have become digital vagabonds, and brands should follow.
Consumers have become digital vagabonds, and brands should follow. Credit: iStock/Maxiphoto
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Recently, there has been an increasing amount of noise suggesting the death of content marketing. I'm not surprised, honestly. The phrase has certainly been abused and distorted to the point where almost everyone is either claiming to supply, support or optimize it.

"People are getting lost in a tsunami of content," one VC recently told me. He's no longer investing in content or media businesses.

He's right, you know. Our culture is reaching a tipping point, given the massive amount of content that's being created and that people can access at the flick of a thumb. Not helping matters: people have become digital vagabonds. They're loyal to no one media channel, and they're harder to reach. Of course, that hasn't stopped marketers from trying. Many brands have wasted time and money amassing huge social followings, when in reality their actual reach is drowned in all the noise.

Content can still have an impact. But the new reality is that content strategies need to be nomadic.

Similar to a nomad, content cannot sit in one place; it can no longer have a centralized home. It must adapt to the environment it lives in for the moment, and continuously learn from those that interact with it -- knowledge that will shape its next iteration.

In one sense, the stories that brands tell have to adapt. However, the brand's guiding editorial voice has to stay true to itself, no matter what. Nomads may seem adrift, but I would say they are more focused than anyone on knowing who they are.

Publishers were the first to meet this reality. Media brands had to translate their personality, not just on a dot com, but on every platform. They adapted, evolved and, in fact, cemented their narrative from this experience. Cosmopolitan, a sibling of my company within Hearst, is a great example of owning this strategy. Cover their brand identity on any one of their stories, no matter the channel, and you'll find tremendous consistency in who they are and what they believe.

This needs to be the standard for brands, as well. But far too many today are lost without a tone, a point-of-view or a guiding editorial process rooted in the culture of their audiences. The problem is how splintered the marketplace is for brands and content partners. Too many outsiders translating a brand's beliefs in various forms. The result is no single perspective that stands out. This explains why brands are consolidating their partners, building in-house studios and committing to longer publisher partnerships.

It is more important than ever for brands to know who they are. Successful brands will have to inherit the traits of modern publishers:

  • Be authentic to your audience - plan around their needs and motivations to create trust.
  • Be agile - Test and learn; meet your audience on their ground, not yours.
  • Be focused - Don't be everything to everyone; success will be found with sub-cultures and niche audiences more than scaled plays.