Aren’t We All Content Companies?

ramsey-ddt“Data Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Ramsey McGrory, CEO at AddThis.

The formula used to be simple: In order to drive a transaction, you needed a combination of compelling creative and a clear message delivered at a reasonably appropriate time.

But the times, consumers and companies are a-changin’. Today, brand engagement is about a combination of content, creative and commerce. And with the rise of the cross-screen consumer, the lines between experiences have blurred, leaving brands scrambling to identify the right advertising, social, content, commerce technology and service partners needed to drive consumer engagement. Agencies are in constant defend-and-pitch mode, while the IPOs and M&A markets are heating up, too.

What’s happening here is that we are in the midst of an industry-changing paradigm shift. It’s no secret, but brands and retailers are starting to view themselves as content companies. The markets are consolidating around the cross-screen approach and concept.

In one of my last pieces for AdExchanger, I explored the evolving data landscape, creating a simple quadrant chart for anonymous, personal, online and offline data sources. My intent was to show how data, in its many forms, is the lifeblood of consumer engagement for digital companies. Put more plainly, the decision whether to use data was made years ago; the regulatory, privacy and transparency discussions are “how” questions, not “whether.” Ignoring the tin-foil heads and Tor crowd, the majority of consumers embrace responsive design and content that mercifully tries to engage them when and how they want to be engaged (ads are another story).

The consumer journey now spans multiple devices, and the lines between content, ads and commerce have faded. The content owner’s plight has left major IT players and consumer-tech companies hustling to assemble the best possible solutions stack to manage these large amounts of data and provide transparency and unprecedented insight into every step of the consumer engagement with your content, be it on your own site, on someone else’s, such as Twitter and FB, or across the Web, where you don’t control the conversation.

A Moving Target

Publishers and brands can’t keep up with all the change. They simply don’t have the capital or know-how. Companies, including Adobe, Yahoo and Amazon, all attack the consumer-engagement problem with different approaches. At their core, each is a different combination of content creation, distribution, discovery and monetization capabilities. Adobe, for example, has added Efficient Frontier, Demdex, Omniture, Neolane and others to its content-creation platforms to build out the tech, software and services stack that they monetize in a SaaS model. Yahoo has acquired a ton of properties and technologies – here’s the long list – but it produces and licenses a massive amount of content that is distributed worldwide and monetized mostly via media sales. As we saw last week at TechCrunch Disrupt, Marissa Mayer views Yahoo as a personalization company.

Amazon builds a huge distribution network with intelligent product recommendation (discovery) tools, which is monetized via ecommerce, cloud services and, more recently, ad sales. Each can be viewed as a content company focused on leveraging its core DNA and advantages to engage consumers more deeply for themselves or others.

With personalization becoming critical to online experiences as opposed to being a nice surprise, discovery takes on even greater importance. In this context, discovery is about more than offering consumers the opportunity to explore content that you’ve offered to them based solely on their interests. It’s about allowing consumers to move beyond your walled gardens to explore content that may not be directly relevant, but may actually offer an opportunity to retain, grow and convert new and existing customers.

The Bottom Line

So what does this all mean if you’re a publisher or a brand? The consolidation of advertising, content and commerce experiences demands that you are connecting your strategies around each of these in an efficient alchemy that is both beneficial for the marketer and unobtrusive and compelling to the consumer.

You must think like a content company and build compelling cross-channel experiences that are in tune with the consumer, their environment and devices. If you have the capital and know-how, do it yourself. If you don’t, work through someone with scale.

Either way, if you do it wrong or not at all, your customers or brand advocates won’t be fans for much longer.

Follow Ramsey McGrory (@NYCMcG) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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