Fifteen years ago when I first got into interactive marketing the product manager ruled. Brands thought hard and paid a lot of money for user experience designers to think about the types of interactions to deliver online, and how to create new ways of servicing customers in the virtual space. Content management systems were expensive, enterprise installations that serious online brands invested in out of an appreciation for the value of creating destinations that were fresh, current, and relevant for its audiences. Forrester’s Digital Agency Wave Report was the industry bible that could raise or dash the fortunes of interactive agencies large and small based on their appearance or absence in the ‘magic quadrant.’
But then things changed. Agencies realized that focusing on web builds created on-going challenges for their revenue streams, and advertisers continued to struggle with adapting to an online world that was taking a growing share of consumer attention. The consumer behavioral shifts created new challenges that the broadcast world never encountered but also provided opportunities for targeting messages to specific target segments more effectively, increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of the media spend.
And somewhere along the way the voices of the media side of the interactive world became dominant, almost obscuring the site/platform experience conversations. The biggest events in the interactive agency calendar are no longer Forrester conferences but (the seemingly constant) Digiday conferences. The most coveted title isn’t Experience Design all-star but Media all-star (congrats, by the way, Jordan Bitterman).
But I wonder if that’s about to change again, and the reason for wondering is the growing appreciation of content as an effective and increasingly essential mechanism for promoting a brand and its products and services. Content marketing agencies like to argue that marketers should stop talking about what customers want and ‘be’ what customers want. Brands across B2B and B2C are increasingly appreciating that delivering high-quality, helpful, entertaining content is one of the best ways of driving customer affinity. What sometimes seems to be less appreciated, however, is that great content is increasingly not a single asset – article, video, or infographic – but an intelligent weaving together of assets around a central theme. In other words, a customer experience.
Too often the impact of great content is diminished by a failure to consider the full experience customers have while interacting with it. It’s shocking to me when I choose to watch a featured video on a publisher’s site only to have a video ad, somewhere deep down on the page, start playing automatically. That, to say the least, is a bad experience.
Immersive content experiences, so far best exhibited by publishers like the New York Times (Snow Fall, The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek is a great example http://www.nytimes.com/projects/2012/snow-fall/#/?part=tunnel-creek) offer multiple avenues of exploration within a “single” story. Video, infographics, and sub-stories are integrated in seamlessly (and beautifully) to add detail and context.
As leveraging these immersive technologies inevitably becomes easier and cheaper, marketers will not be able to rely on a single writer or video team to develop content that stands out, and the skills normally associated with Product Managers and User Experience leads. Naturally I do not mean to imply that experience design experts and the creative process by which marketers and agencies conceive of and develop high-impact content experiences should outshine the innovative ways in which media planners drive attention to those experiences. Rather, I encourage those marketers and agencies to recognize content development for what it is: a full customer experience that requires planning and thoughtful consideration for how to make those experiences great.
Chris Marquardt, 6.1.15