December 2-5, 2007  |  La Quinta, California
Published: December 04, 2007
Content isn't king anymore

Rather than focus on matching a brand's message with the best content, Andrew Heyward, former CBS News president, explains what's next for marketers and publishers.

Finding the right content used to be everything for marketers who held firm to the mantra of "content is king" as if it were gospel. But that old adage no longer holds water, according to Andrew Heyward, senior advisor at Marketspace.

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Rather than focus on matching a brand's message with the best content, Heyward told attendees at the iMedia Agency Summit at La Quinta, Calif., to focus on context.

"Users determine the context today," Heyward said. "The users pick the media environment that they -- and we -- operate in. That can be a scary thing, but the challenge is to think of ways to create community and content that people engage with."

While Heyward conceded that a world with more user control may be a terrifying one for marketers who are accustomed to carefully crafting a brand's message, he pointed out that the industry has powerful tools at its disposal to shape the user experience.

According to Heyward, platforms like Facebook have gained prominence because they've found one of those drivers in the form of location, with the early iteration of the social network focusing on reaching users across college campuses. Similarly, sites like have used identity as a tuning instrument to reach users based on how they see themselves. By contrast, sites like The Knot have used a life event -- marriage -- as a point of entry, while other sites put their focus on interest-based communities.

For Heyward, these are drivers that can be used by marketers and publishers alike, who increasingly find themselves in the same boat of having to connect with users in a world increasingly dominated by a handful of media conglomerates.

"These days, the unit of value is the consumer himself," Heyward said. "With all the acquisitions, just a few companies -- AOL, Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft -- are becoming a threat to publishers and agencies."

On the publisher side, Heyward says he sees the conglomerates as a threat because the ad network model has quickly out-flanked the smaller sites. But for agencies, the reach of the big players and their focus on analytics, technology and strategy has become a threat to advertisers. The solution, according to Heyward, is to use what he called "new rules of engagement."

As a primary rule, Heyward explained that marketers must always provide value. Citing the example of The Knot, Heyward showed how one site could "overwhelm" the category, giving consumers a one-stop-shop for all things related to weddings.

Heyward illustrated his second rule, affinity, by talking about a site created for the Phoenix Suns. According to Heyward, the site works because it presents users with an array of tools to connect with a larger community of fans.

Talking about simplicity, his third rule of engagement, Heyward explained that sites like Yelp, which actually make users' lives easier, succeed because they ask very little of their users and deliver a lot in return.

Stressing the value of return, Heyward explained that his fourth rule, recognition, helps marketers engage users because it provides a reward for interacting with the brand. As an example, Heyward spoke about a milk campaign that featured a video game. While Heyward observed that it was too early to determine the success of that campaign, he said it could pay dividends because it gives users something more than they had expected from the brand.

For his final rule of engagement, Heyward stressed the importance of the web itself as a tool. In what he called "working the web," Heyward urged marketers to take the bold step of ceding some control to users. As an example, Heyward pointed out that Dell, which had taken some hits for its customer service, had launched a site that allows users to share tips and provide input for new products.

While Heyward said the idea of giving up control can be a risky one, he pointed out that it also can be rewarding. In the case of Dell, Heyward said users have come back to the brand because they feel like they are a part of the computer giant.

Michael Estrin is associate editor at iMediaConnection. Read full bio.