Much has been written about the fall of traditional media, but I had a front row seat. I lived through it as a producer for 30-years at one of America's great TV stations, and now I'm on the other side of the equation, managing a thriving marketing firm that specializes in video storytelling and content marketing. How much has the world changed in that span? I went from typing TV scripts on a manual typewriter to writing this blog on a MacBook Pro — a sentence that helps illustrate the dramatic changes in technology that revolutionized the ways information is delivered and the monumental changes in both audience size and expectations. Throw in the rise of search, and the ability of an audience to curate it's own news and information, and you have a new world where brands are basically required to create their own content. How we got here is what's so interesting.
The Glory Days of Traditional Media
When I started at WCCO-TV, Walter Cronkite had just handed over the anchor desk to Dan Rather at CBS, and Dave Moore was still sharing anchor duties with Don Shelby at 'CCO. Those were the glory days of TV news, with huge audiences, and hardly any competition. Sure, the other TV stations also had big audiences, but that was it — cable TV was still in its infancy, and the Internet wasn't even a glimmer in Al Gore's eye (sorry, I couldn't resist). In many ways, newspapers were the only real competition for news or advertising.
What that meant is that a limited number of sources acted as curators of information. People would tune-in to their favorite newscast and/or read their favorite newspaper to get everything they needed to know in one sitting. Like the New York Times says, "all the news that's fit to print."
Back in those days, people worked their dinner schedules around the 5:30 or 6:00 news, their bedtimes around the 10:00 news, and had their morning coffee with the morning paper. Getting information from mass media was that ingrained in the daily routine.
Mass Media Meant Mass Awareness
No wonder brands spent so much money on public relations back then. A big hit on CBS or 'CCO or the StarTribune would get a product in front of a large portion of the population in one fell swoop. One good story would pay for itself many times over. No wonder so many companies spent so much on advertising. Getting onto TV and into newspapers — whether earned or paid — really were the fastest paths to brand awareness.
What does this have to do with content marketing? Everything, because the massive audiences that were available via TV and other traditional channels in the 80s and 90s simply don't exist anymore. Now, cable boxes are a novelty for a whole other reason (i.e. cord cutters), and the audience is splintered across a combination of online and offline streams, sources, and devices. So brands and businesses need another way to build awareness.
"Now that you don't have to worry about the mass media as the middleman for your messages, the quality of your content controls your destiny."
New Media is Different
Now, the most common place to get news and information is your Facebook or Twitter feed, with friends and relatives becoming the most trusted curators of information, not news anchors like Cronkite or Shelby. We've recently seen the dangers of that change with the rise of fake news stories, but even those bogus websites showcase the importance of creating your own content in the new find-it-yourself, only-believe-your-friends world of the internet.
Now it's important to make your own messages, because a) the media messages don't reach nearly as many people as they used to, and b) those messages aren't trusted nearly as much, either. So, the way to break through the logjam of information in this search-first world is to create it on your own. That's why the fall of traditional media really did lead to the rise of content marketing.
Quality Content Matters
But let's be clear, when I talk about content marketing, I'm NOT talking about the marketing-centric, advertorial content that gives it a bad name. That's just advertising or marketing disguised to look like newsworthy content, and I think we can all spot it a mile away. When I talk about content marketing, I mean creating real stories and information that truly answers your prospective customers' questions.
Now that the Google search bar is the first place we ask questions, creating content that actually answers those questions gives you the opportunity to create awareness AND even credibility with your target audience very quickly — as long as that content really is credible.
Now that friends and relatives are the real curators of information when they share it on social networks, you have the opportunity to turn them into your brand advocates expand your audience — as long as your content is credible enough that they decide it's shareable.
Now that you don't have to worry about the mass media as the middleman for your messages, the quality of your content controls your destiny.
Real Information Still Matters
Ironically, the best way to ensure quality is to think like a journalist. Audiences never quit craving real stories and information, they quit waiting for the 5:30 or 10:00 news to find it. They still read plenty of news (and news-style) stories on media websites, they just don't wait for the newspaper to show up on the front porch.
This is why former journalists are migrating to content marketing, because they're used to looking for the facts and information that are relevant to the audience rather than the features that matter to the brand. When you're trying to stand out on a search results page or a social media feed, those are the details that matter. And those are the stories that have the ability to build an audience and create awareness.
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