The Past, Present, and Future of Content – And What to Do About It

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					          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.

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 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 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.


                                                                                   © 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.

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.


                                                                                   © 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.

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

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

Description: 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. Point of View by Kevin P. Nichols, Director and Global Practice Lead for Content Strategy, SapientNitro
About SapientNitro, part of Sapient®, is a new breed of agency redefining storytelling for an always-on world. We’re changing the way our clients engage today’s connected consumers by uniquely creating integrated, immersive stories across brand communications, digital engagement, and omni-channel commerce. We call it Storyscaping, where art and imagination meet the power and scale of systems thinking. For more information, visit