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The real reason why content matters

The real reason why content matters Rebecca Lieb

Ten years ago, the extra magic ingredient was search. For the past five years or so, social media has been the de rigeur term to describe product and services offerings. Suddenly, all that's changing again. It's not cutting edge digital unless it's connected to the word "content."


This is both good news and bad news for those of us who have been preaching the content gospel for years (even before -- and during -- the whole search thing). Suddenly (suddenly?), content matters. It's taking center stage. It's noticed, acknowledged, and important. That's the good part.


What's the bad? With attention and a bit of notoriety comes backlash. It's inevitable. It's human nature. It happens with celebrities, health fads, diets, fashion, and whatever is cutting edge in digital marketing and technology.


Even a recent New York Times op-ed decried the term:


"The first time I ever heard the word 'content' used in its current context, I understood that all my artist friends and I -- henceforth, 'content providers' -- were essentially extinct. This contemptuous coinage is predicated on the assumption that it's the delivery system that matters, relegating what used to be called 'art' -- writing, music, film, photography, illustration -- to the status of filler, stuff to stick between banner ads."

Hate the word if you want to, but it's still easier to say "content" than to say "writing and music and film and photography and illustration," not to mention "video and charts and audio and other media."


Rachel Lovinger at Razorfish blogged a very apt response:


"Hating on the word 'content' is like a chef saying 'I don't make food. Food is what people get at McDonald's.' Well, there probably are chefs who feel that way, but it's based on a fallacy. At the same time, I would never, ever refer to my favorite chef as a 'food maker.' The word 'content' isn't perfect, but I don't want to see it vilified. We need words to be able to talk about these principles and practices."

Honestly, I don't care if you call it content or not (let me know if you come up with something better). But what matters is...why it matters. Here is why content matters:


Content is the atomic particle of all digital marketing. Everything. There's no owned media without content. There's no social media without content. And there's no paid media without content. And there's certainly no media-media, as in actual digital publications, without content. Pushing back even earlier, when you search, you're searching for content. Even email marketing, once the darling of the digital arsenal, now relegated to wallpaper status (but still critically important), is a container for...you guessed it: content.


Content is seminal. I believe the reason it's getting all this attention (let the haters hate) is the growing realization of how much it actually matters.


There's a surge of industry momentum around content now, too. Adobe recently confirmed it will merge its Creative Cloud Suite (PhotoShop, Illustrator, everything needed to publish digitally) with its Marketing Cloud, everything you need to advertise (and measure) in display and social media. Oracle is acquiring tools like content marketing startup Compendium. Oracle also snapped up Eloqua. The big guns of digital marketing, advertising, and CRM are suddenly, blazingly, coming to the realization that content makes it all possible.


So maybe you'll never derive contentment from the word "content." But it's high time to give the concept a second thought. Because really, isn't content the alpha and omega of everything you're doing in digital marketing?


Rebecca Lieb is an analyst, digital advertising/media, for Altimeter Group.


On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

Rebecca Lieb has published more research on content marketing than anyone else in the field.  As a strategic adviser, her clients range from start-up to non-profits to Fortune 100 brands and regulated industries. She's worked with brands...

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Commenter: Peter Johnston

2013, November 19

Cutting edge digital??? Digital is now thirty years old. Where have you been?