The consumer-generated content revolution in the marketing industry is an obvious step for companies. Essentially it's a way to get free publicity and content. The problem is, in the not too distant future, all these consumers generating content will start to ask themselves why they're not getting paid, eventually leading to, "What the hell am I getting out of giving this company my content?"
The obvious answer is-- distribution. They're providing content producers the audience they crave. But if every company has consumer-generated content, then the differentiation is diminished and it becomes a distribution channel filled with crap just as as any other.
At that point we're back to square one: a medium in need of better filtering. The parallels between "consumer-generated content" in marketing and blogging seem appropriate. They're both ways for regular Joes to have their voices heard.
What we're finding in the blogosphere is that when you have millions of voices, you need a way to filter the signal from the noise. Things will be no different in the world of consumer-generated content. After all, we all have limited time and attention, and if we make too much effort searching for good content, we won't have any time left when we finally get there.
Clearly, marketers who figure out how to filter and repackage content will stay ahead of the crashing wave of consumer-generated content. One could argue that the Converse Gallery is providing such a filter already, separating the wheat from the chaff, the bearable from the boring. Assuming the Gallery continues to demonstrate its ability to identify content worth watching, people will keep going there at least for a while.
Interestingly, the filtering process we are describing here is not much different from the role an editor at The New York Times plays-- identifying all the "news that is fit to print" and therefore worth reading. TV Network programmers used to be credible sources of filtering, but they have lost credibility by delivering inconsistent quality over the years.
Ironically, as marketers consider becoming "filters" for content, they will be taking their cues from the early days of radio and TV. In those days advertisers actually created the programming, interspersing it with marketing messages. Ultimately, most marketers got out of the content creation and filtering business because it just wasn't a core expertise. One can't help but wonder if this latest trend will end up on the same scrap heap.
Of course, all of this presumes that consumers will continue to be willing to play along and create content for free that marketers can in turn exploit. This assumption is not only worth challenging but also provides the springboard for the next big idea.
Consumers will inevitably get tired of giving away their content as they see more and more companies like MySpace make millions without sharing a penny with the people who created their content. Sure MySpace provides a value in exchange for the user's content, but this value will undoubtedly be eclipsed by the next generation of social networking sites.
So, marketers who figure out how to filter quality content and share revenue with the consumer could end up being the big winners. The seeds for this model have already been planted. Website creators currently share revenue with Amazon via their affiliate program and Google via its Adsense network. It's not a huge leap of faith to imagine marketers paying on a cost-per-play basis for content that attracts other consumers to the marketer's website.
That's where we're headed: The branding opportunities of the future lie in filtering, repackaging and ultimately paying for quality content. Companies that figure out how to actually help people spend their attention more effectively will be richly rewarded. Think about it-- less and less onus is being placed on who creates the content, while more and more is placed on where you found it.
Just ask YouTube: It's a destination, a repackager of content. Part of its magic is that it allows anyone to put a YouTube video on their own website. As a result, the site's branding seed spreads far and wide. If YouTube now moves to reward those content providers who attract the most visitors, you can be assured this "site dejour" will be the "site of the decade."
Noah Brier is a senior writer/futurist at Renegade Marketing Group, the same company that Drew Neisser co-founded in 1996. Both of them spend a lot of time generating forward-thinking content for aggregators like this one. Both welcome your comments at either [email protected] or [email protected].