The popular view is that traditional media is dying as we all stop reading the newspapers and instead pass our time on Twitter and Facebook. For the generation that grew up with the Internet, the idea of reading traditional print media and watching the 6 o’clock news is an anathema. They get their news and perspective from a raft of sources: friends, Internet friends (bloggers, communities etc), people they follow on Twitter and of course online media. But it would be wrong to say that the media’s role has been relegated to a bit part. The media still fuels the vast majority of twitter feeds for the adult world for example. Indeed without traditional media, Twitter and Facebook would be very dull places. Sadly the direct consumption of that media has dropped as people opt for the 140 character summary. This is unlikely to change very soon. Society now expects us to cram more and more and more in to our day. In turn we are evolving as entertainment, news and perspective consumers into a population that expects to have its content delivered in a concentrated form. We expect the middle east crisis, Iraq, Afghanistan and the latest jobless report to be summarized into a sentence or two. We may be willing to look beyond the headline but a 5000 word article is just not going to be read, unless it is an amazing read, regardless of its import. For journalists this is a nightmare come true. These people were/are trained to dissect the news and give us the important perspectives. They don’t even try to do that in 140 characters, or even 140 words in most cases. But the future of journalism relies on their ability to adapt to this evolution in consumer behavior. Some journalists get this and are embracing the opportunities online brings. Many are simply ignoring the winds of change and are hoping that consumers will simply go back to the good ol’ days, or at least their publishers are. This isn’t going to happen just like we haven’t all ditched our cars and gone back to riding horses. So, the media must adapt and adapt fast. Here are some of my thoughts on how it could adapt:
1. Fragment even faster. The media has become fragmented but instead of fighting it it could champion it. Instead of subscribing Forbes we can subscribe to Quentin Hardy. Instead of making the magazine the icon, make the reporter the rock star.
2. Create a new content model. We currently have news, news analysis, features etc. This model hasn’t changed much in the last 100 years. Why not have news analysis pieces and features that are 200 words long but link to ten separate features that are also 200 words in length? In other words make a 2000 word feature a collection of 200 words articles that fit together.
3. Charge by the article not by the magazine. We have all got used to iTunes and paying 99c or $1.29 for a track. Why not offer news related content on the same basis from rock star reporters?
4. Personalize it. For over a decade the media has talked about making news more personal. It hasn’t really happened. My homepage gathers a bunch of news from traditional sources. It doesn’t to appear to have learned anything about what I like or don’t like. At least half the content gets ignored and much of the rest gets only a cursory view. It’s time for the media to REALLY act in this area.
My view is simple. The media has all the assets to succeed. It has talent and content. It simply needs to rethink its channel strategy. We all care about the media and we all want the media to succeed but that doesn’t mean we always will. A diminishing role for the media is a realistic prospect but it isn’t inevitable.
PS – I just realized that most people stopped reading (even if they started) some 3000 characters ago.
Across America it’s back to school time. Families are getting used to packing lunches, the joys of nightly homework and arranging after school activities. It’s also a time when work calendars fill up as people return from vacations, supposedly refreshed. Of course in America they don’t take the long vacations that are common in countries such as France and Sweden. Instead they stretch to ten days, or two weeks if they are feeling particularly brave. Either way, Americans are now ready to do battle with the economy while their kids do battle with mathematics and English. In the world of communications and marketing in general, the summer is a quiet period where only a real crisis will garner much attention. The Fall on the other hand is a period where news floods out as businesses launch products and make acquisitions. The flood of news does of course make it harder to get people’s attention. You are, after all, competing with others for your fifteen seconds of fame (the Internet equivalent of Warhol’s prediction). So does this make sense? I appreciate it is difficult to get things done over the summer when so many people are away and the argument goes that: what’s the point of announcing things when nobody is around to read about it? I’d argue that in the age of social and online media, the summer is no longer a dead time for getting attention. It is merely a dead time for people seeking it. While I was away I checked on the news, industry and otherwise, everyday on my iPhone and I’m not that unusual. With today’s technology people hear about the news whether they are at work on a south pacific island. So it makes me wonder whether companies should rethink summer media madness and use the fact that attention is easier to get to their advantage. Perhaps, therefore, it’s time for us communications folk to go back to school…
My wife is convinced I have ADD. She may have a point in that I struggle to stay focused on anything for longer than 20 minutes and in truth I struggle to read most newspaper articles in their entirety without my mind wandering off. Part of my problem is that I struggle with content that doesn’t grab my attention and then make a serious attempt to hang on to it. Like my own blog for instance. I need content that gets me thinking, makes me laugh, cry etc. A good book, movie or TV show can do this for millions but what is it about this content that keeps us engaged while other content causes us to head for the coffee maker? The answer to this question has enormous importance for people in marketing and yet when I’ve subtly, and not so subtly, asked this question to marketers they, like me, have no real answer. Like me they tend to… well, make something up.
If like me, you decide to look up on the web what keeps people’s attention you will find some pretty weird blog posts that tell you to use the word ‘and’ a lot and to put confetti in your envelopes (I pray that doesn’t happen to me). Indeed it seems that to holding people’s attention either nobody has written the definitive work, OR the person that has figured it out is Warren Buffett or Bill Gates.
And yet, just as we all like to get attention we all love to give our undivided attention to great content. Just think about the number of times when talking to friends to talk about books, TV shows, movies and concerts you’ve seen, read etc. It seems we like both the process of being engaged AND the process of reliving that engagement. When I started work the founders of my company spent hours each week recounting lines from various Monty Python films or shows. They derived huge satisfaction from this, much more in fact than they did from the actual work as far as I can tell. That level of engagement is a marketers dream. Yet I doubt for a second that anyone who had responsibility for the Python franchise knew why people loved their content. They just knew they did and they made every effort to take advantage of that.
Of course it may be that trying to capture engagement in a bottle and analyze it is a fruitless exercise. It may be that the ingredients of fun are a secret we shouldn’t learn. That said, authors, movie makers and comedians do have formulas they use to create successful products. We all know that these formulas fail from time to time though. Witness the Bruno movie that repeated the Borat formula. In other words even the best of us know only parts of the formula. As a result the secret ingredient that makes an idea work either shows up and turns it in to good work, or takes a vacation and leaves us bored and rather annoyed.
What is clear is that humans love to be entertained and engaged. We love a book (Kindle) that we can’t put down. We love a movie that makes us laugh for days afterwards. I for one have no idea why we crave this in the same way we crave food that is bad for us but we do. We seek out great content as if it were that food. Unlike fattening food, however, this content stimulates our brain and gets us thinking. Sometimes it gets us to think about profound issues, and sometimes it gets us to think about topics so irrelevant we get to escape our daily lives for a few minutes.
In short, therefore, it seems clear to me that the marketer who could figure out some magic formula for grabbing and keeping our attention will make billions. Until then we will all keep guessing at that formula time and time again. Sometimes we will succeed and other times we will fail. But at least we’ll have fun trying!