POINT OF view

The Past, Present, and Future of Content – And What to Do About It
By Kevin P. Nichols, Director and Global Practice Lead for Content Strategy, SapientNitroSM

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. So, first things first. What is content? It’s not just words on a page; it’s actually more complicated 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 CONTENT The above definition is open-ended for a reason. Content is complicated, and it is best illustrated by examples. Let’s turn to a brief history of content to shore up what content is and how we think about it within the context of content strategy. Our first record of content appeared as prehistoric cave paintings thousands of years ago from the Neolithic era. Then, we saw the invention of the alphabet and papyrus, essential to recording, storing, and exchanging content. Later, movable type and Gutenberg’s press allowed for mass distribution. Throughout the 1800s and 1900s, content evolved through film, radio, and television, changing the way content is communicated and creating a proliferation of information. Next, we had the personal computer and TV networks—leading the charge from analog to digital and forever altering the course of content. In the 1990s, the “global village” was born. The World Wide Web, content providers like Microsoft and AOL, and digital media exploded. The 1G mobile phone came along changing user control and access of content. In the 21st century, Skype, Firefox, the iPad, and 3D TV made an appearance. And, with the blogosphere, apps, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and other forms of social media, individuals are now creating content of their own. Today, we are seeing more 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

POINT OF view

CONTENT TODAY: THE UGLY Content has the opportunity to both benefit and hinder businesses and brands. Let’s look at 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 out there, it’s hard to filter through it. We’ve reached “filter failure.” In the digital landscape especially, 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, 585,000 iPhone apps have been created. 2 And, every single day, we see the creation of 2 million new YouTube videos, 140 million tweets, 1.5 billion pieces of Facebook content, and 10 million Tumblr posts. 3 In addition, content is often treated as an afterthought. While some businesses are recognizing content as an asset with a direct cost and return, many have yet to realize the benefit. Many businesses aren’t thinking strategically about their content, simply because they 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 do with our content? How do we harness its power? How do we meet the demands of our customers?” 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 of brands. In November 2011, Havas Media surveyed 14 countries and 50,000 consumers to look into how consumers view brands and what kind of relevance they have. What they found was staggering: 70% of people would not care if brands ceased to exist. 4 CONTENT TODAY: THE BEAUTIFUL Content 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 4.2 million. 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 asset requiring a strategy, a plan, and a long-term vision. In the past, businesses have mainly focused on turning their content into revenue. But today, more businesses are recognizing that regardless of whether they sell their content, it’s still an asset.

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www.worldwidewebsize.com en.wikipedia.org/wiki/app_store_(iOS) http://contently.com/blog/how-much-content-is-on-the-web/ http://www.havasmedia.com/2011/11/meaningful-brands-havas-media-launches-global-results/

© Sapient Corporation, 2012

POINT OF view

In addition, multi-channel is no longer a “nice to have” but a business necessity because it drives the customer and content experience. Many businesses are successfully harnessing the power of multiple channels like web, mobile, in-store, and apps, among others. And while many content management systems today promise the ability to push content 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 own content publisher (e.g., Pinterest, Tumblr). The “global village” has evolved to the point where 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 actually shape brand perception. Lastly, there has been massive growth in technology. Immersive content experiences are one of the ways technology is advancing. A good example of this is the 360-degree video from 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 user interaction. Other examples include mobile 3D video and speech recognition. THE FUTURE OF CONTENT Intelligent content through computers and technology is not only here to stay—it’s poised to become even smarter and more sophisticated. Consider this: instead of taking pictures with a phone, you’ll soon be able to take pictures through wearable technology. It’s not just science fiction anymore; in fact, Google already has a patent on eyewear that will capture video and images, and there are other wearable products in development right now from a 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 a universal remote, controlling everything from cars to appliances. It will function as a personal computer, creating even more options regardless of place or context. And it will continue to make strides as digital wallets take the place of the physical bank cards, credit cards, loyalty cards, and more. Voice over touch Voice 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 process of creating a voice-powered TV. Voice will also rise in popularity thanks to additional regulations against behaviors like texting while driving, which increase the demand for hands-free interactions.

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www.yellowbirdsdonthavewingsbuttheyflytomakeyouexperiencea3dreality.com/showreels

© Sapient Corporation, 2012

POINT OF view

The influence of gaming As gaming goes mainstream, consumer demand for immersive content will spill into expectations for other parts of their lives. This demand will surely cause immersive content 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 see more limits and regulations on cell phone use, cyber-bullying, plagiarism, and intellectual property protection. In addition, a new Senate subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law will help protect Americans’ privacy in the digital age. And consumer protection of privacy will impact how large corporations, like Google and Facebook, which use data mining and measure customer information in terms of what they can or cannot do with it. SO…NOW WHAT? Today’s content landscape is fairly thorny. Because of that, I’ve created the Six Commandments of Content Strategy to help navigate it as well as future-proof it for emerging 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 critical to 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 contribute to 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 effective communication to reshape how consumers perceive that brand by not only giving them 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 and KPIs to find out whether it’s effective. Examples of content value include increased operational efficiencies, lower publishing costs, fewer content errors, and increased customer conversion and retention. Recognizing this helps businesses understand why they should invest in content.

© Sapient Corporation, 2012

POINT OF view

3. Thou shalt think of content as an investment. When businesses invest in their content experience, they will see content as an ecosystem that requires care, seeding, and feeding. A new site or design is lost if content isn’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 means that we provide a content lifecycle that is extensible and scalable, uses a system that is cyclical and sustainable, and allows our clients to maintain their content experiences. This method relies heavily on measurement—and optimization—to make sure the most effective 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 compromise customer privacy. Instead, build solutions that leverage surveys or A/B testing to find the efficacy of content solutions and user patterns. Transparent user-centric solutions to get customer data will trump any solution that is evasive, and this will become even more important as tighter regulations dictate what customer information can and cannot be culled. 6. Thou shalt push for taxonomy and metadata excellence. Taxonomies (a way to organize, categorize, and classify information) are the driving force for search, navigation, personalization, cross-sell and up-sell, and recommendation engines. And metadata should also be designed to support multi-channel, system integration, and portable content experiences. It’s necessary to create high-caliber taxonomy 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

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