Digital content includes the words, pictures/images and videos that we traditionally think about. But it also includes other things that haven’t always been traditionally at the forefront of content – it includes understanding how different technologies consume and display content, how that content needs to be architected to be able to be displayed and to be found, and how users want to consume that content based on devices and technology platforms.
Woah! Does that mean content is no longer king?
I fundamentally believe that content is king. But content can no longer drive other things – like layouts and designs and how it is consumed. WHAT???? (all the content people are freaking out right now).
So fundamentally – digital content is any content that exists in the form of data. But creating digital content has taken on some new meanings.
I’m not a know it all. In fact, I think that any one who wants to be considered digital can’t be a know it all. The space evolves way to fast for anyone to be an expert. I would actually consider myself a generalist, because as the space has evolved its driven deep subject matter expertise in things like content, analytics, AI/ML, voice, IoT etc. So I know a little about a lot of things and look for those who know a lot about minimal things to know that I’ve found a great partner. So for these reasons, this is a brief digital content history.
In traditional content, it was the content that drove the design and layout of pages. It did even in the first iteration of websites. To some degree it still drives some website or larger screened experiences.
There was the initial launch of the website. It could have some text and animated GIFs and maybe some photos. There was the abysmal digital magazine (gosh remember that?) – where we tried so hard to take an actual magazine and put it online. We calmed down and at some point were like “hey, let’s just PDF the darn things and put it up on the site.”
I recall the launch of parallax websites – because it was a way for imagery to be the true driver of the experience rather than the words. It was revolutionary and it was beautiful. Parallax websites were revolutionary because it got digital content out of this box that we were all stuck in, and closer to that magazine like experience we were hoping for online.
Then we realized content needed to be found and devices began to rapidly change and social media launched. Content as king became even more apparent, but what did change dramatically was how content’s ability to drive design took a massive shift.
Devices and technology began to drive layout and design and content design was now required to take somewhat of a back set.
If you don’t agree with me, it probably means you didn’t make the leap to what digital leaders are looking for when they are hiring. Just saying.
Here are some very real examples:
Remember flash? Well that has been a slow and agonizing death (yes, it’s still dying) – but what was most frightful for content creators when this became a reality at the time, was the basic ability to play videos and be able to view animation online. HTML5 jumped into be the saviour in this situation, but the truth was the death of flash was driven by technology and device changes. Video content was not at the forefront of that decision making. (The rivalry between Apple and Adobe also probably played a part in this – and the fact that iPhones weren’t going to support flash – but whatevs).
In 2005 YouTube launched and in 2007 the iPhone launched. Maybe a coinky dink – maybe market stressors provided ample opportunity to solve for the flash crisis. Whatever it meant – video content consumption changed. What it needed to be viewed changed. What it needed to be found changed. Decisions on using your own player or a social player changed. Whatever decision was made was driven by the technology changes and device changes and therefore meant that the content couldn’t drive the design.
Not true say you? I say try making a video that is longer than 45 seconds and see where you net out with that.
Usability changed as a result, and many content creators began to realize that social channels dedicated to videos were a better place to play than prop technology, because it made finding their content easier and it was where people who wanted to watch videos were. It was where they realized that they could try to make that 5 minute video all they wanted, but the costs and the consumption wasn’t really working out.
Twitter drove us to the 140 character limit – though newly expanded to 280. As it turns out, Twitter’s decision to extend the character limit on tweets has done little to change how people use the service. So um yeah – what was that about content driving design?
Realistically speaking, do you think that based on the size of your watch screen and it’s underlying technology that it is content that dictates what get’s displayed? I would argue… not really. However, I would also take it one step further and argue – how users use it and what they want to consume will have huge influence in driving design.
Welcome UX and IA teams.
We have screens on watches on fridges in cars and this is going to continue to evolve. What we are going to see, is an evolution in what ends up being the simplest way for content to be consumed unilaterally by all of these things. We are going to continue to push the concept of “publish once and be everywhere”, for cost reasons: companies don’t have limitless buckets of money to hire 8 million specialized resources because we have 8 million ways to display; for logical reasons: why do we need to do this 8 million times in 8 million ways; and for future reasons: things are moving to voice which means content is going to be forced to do different things online, and with the rise of AI and ML content is going to be shaped and designed at times without human intervention.
Because of all of the above – content cannot drive design.
However, though it cannot drive design it still is king. So fundamentally it does mean that you need to be better at creating compelling, unique content. It also means that you need digital content specialists (IA/UX/SEO/digital copy writers) to help you prep your content for digital consumption and to meet new legal accessibility requirements (otherwise you should probably just publish paper copies).
And while I make no claims in being a digital expert, I do know this – if you want to show digital professionals that you have evolved past paper thinking… it means that you need to know how to make content king when it no longer drives design. It means you understand that how it is consumed will be dependent on how the device and therefore the underlying technologies flexibility in its UI exist.
This post is incredibly timely based on my discussions and posts surrounding customer experience. The Big Data talks is about all of this. Leveraging data throughout an organization to understand the customer journey, in order to enhance the customer experience. This is what is going to differentiate brands.
In October of 2014, Loyalty 360 reported that Mercedes Benz CEO advised that Customer Experience is the New Marketing. I am in fact a Mercedes Benz owner. I love my car. In fact, when I gotten into the market for an entry level luxury car 4 years ago Mercedes was my front runner. I test drove Audi, Lexus, BMW and Mercedes Benz a number of times. In the end, Benz won out anyways.
It was the first time in my life that I truly understood a man’s obsession and love for a vehicle. When my dad suggested that I go to Wal-Mart for all season mats and a snow remover, I looked at him like he has a third head. Was he nuts? I wanted all Mercedes Benz things for my baby. I wanted to be part of the Mercedes Benz experience. I wanted to be known as a Mercedes Benz owner, because to me it symbolized that I had the best. It meant that I was going places, and I was going places because I wanted the best out of life.
This is branding at its strongest. Having a customer associate their lifestyle and personality as a reflection of a brand because of what that experience means. I give leniency on the road to other Benz owners, I tend to look for parking beside other Benz’s because I already know those owners will respect my car, and should we happen to see each other getting in or out of our cars their is always a friendly nod and smile.
I recently had to switch banks because of an employer change. I took a day off of work and made sure to take care of it all because I wanted peace of mind. So you can imagine my surprise when over a month later my car payment bounced in my old account causing an NSF charge that pushed the account into an overdraft that I didn’t have.
Switching my banking information with Mercedes Benz was fairly simple compared to some other companies I had to deal with. I just had to send an e-mail with a scanned void cheque (unlike other companies that required me to fill out another PAP agreement, provide ID, a void cheque and either fax or go in in person).
Mercedes Benz claimed that they had not received the e-mail despite me forwarding through the e-mail I sent to them originally a month prior.
They needed more time to investigate and in the interim a second attempt for payment went through the old account with a secondary NSF charge. Thankfully this time my bank reversed the charge because I had put a stop payment on the account.
In the end Mercedes agreed to reverse the NSF. I felt really elated. So thank you Mercedes Benz Financial for doing so.
But what could have been done to make it a better customer experience for me and ensure customer retention?
- Mercedes Benz Financial could allow customers to change their banking information on their website. This is where customers go to check their balances and payment history, and would make tracking of online activity and confirmation so much easier.
- Empower customer services representatives to be able to to act immediately for the customer rather than confining them. By looking at the activity on my accounts, calls made, and the correspondence they would have noticed that I had been with them for 4 years, there had never ever been a missed or bounced payment, and that my finance was coming up for renewal.
- The data Mercedes Benz has on me would have given them pretty powerful insights into my behaviours, patterns and interests. They also have had call profile outlining the reasons I call them and whether I am difficult or easy to appease.
Using these insights and empowering their reps can save them thousands of dollars in efficiencies and provide a best in class customer experience. While I can’t say that I would change my car (because I do love the brand and the car), I do see great areas of opportunity for a beloved brand to kick things up a notch, to provide an even greater brand experience.