Content without walls: what comes next

In an industry that loves buzzwords and handles, this is the new one for 2010: content without walls. It’s a fancy (or succinct) way of saying that your brand needs to live wherever and whenever a consumer wants or needs access to information or entertainment.

After all, our media habits have become increasingly complex. We get our fix of content from books, ads, podcasts, magazines and movies.  And we access it from smart phones, tablets, TV sets, and digital billboards. Not to mention search, shared links and social media.

So what does this mean for content creators, advertisers, brands? Does this suggest that we simply make sure every TV spot also gets posted to YouTube and a brand’s Facebook page? Is it all about the many different places we can put a piece of content so that it lives on every imaginable platform, ubiquitous and impossible to avoid? Is it merely about portability from one device to another?

Content can live anywhere, but is that enough?

“Hey, we can put our spot on cable, on smart phones, embed it in a tablet ad, or  play it in back of a taxi cab. While we’re at it, why not project it onto the sides of urban buildings, too.  Let’s leverage that production budget.”

That may work in some cases. I watch at least as much TV on my iPhone as I do on my Samsung flat screen. And I probably sit through far more ads on YouTube than on television.  (That way I get to pick only the good ones.)  But the expression “content without walls,” could, in some cases, make us lazy if all we do is place the same idea in lots of different places.

I much prefer the idea of “engineering your presence,” a term I first heard from Michael Calienes. It suggests you need to be everywhere, but not always with the same content. Chances are pretty good that customers don’t want the same thing on a tablet as they want on TV.  The information that appears on your packaging is unlikely to double as an iPhone app. And while an honest to goodness testimonial — inspired by an effective conversation strategy — might work from a blogger you actually trust, or a friend on Twitter, it typically makes for some pretty boring advertising.

Instead of starting with the content we have, we should consider what our customers want. We should write strategies and creative briefs that offer insights about a customer’s relationship to media, content and community, not just to the brand, product or category.  Does she want to be entertained or informed? Is she interested in listening or sharing or co-creating?  Is she influenced more by friends or trusted bloggers? Are we creating a series of messages we hope will get noticed?  Or are we producing applications we know will get used?

Sticking a TV spot on YouTube no matter how many views it gets may be content without walls. But it probably won’t break through all the barriers standing between you and a loyal customer.

This post inspired by a great conversation with my brilliant colleague John Moore.

Photo by: Alex Webb

14 comments
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SJ Petteruti
SJ Petteruti

Excellent piece. One great example of this that I always come across with our clients is a lack of imagination when it comes to the call to action message for banner ads. So many companies are still ingrained in the print medium they fail to recognize the added benefits of being able to interact with an ad online, and the integration between advertisement and company website that can come with a great PPC campaign. Just because they look alike doesn't mean they should be treated the same way. It's akin to sticking a video camera in the back row of a theater and calling that the movie adapatation of a film.

Jeremy Morris
Jeremy Morris

Edward

I agree....but I think we need to go further. As a consumer I don't want to see ads on TV (where I'm forced to) let alone other platforms I use (and pay for) to communicate. Putting ads on the web, even on YouTube channels or Facebook fan pages completely misunderstands how and why people use the web.

Advertising is a result of top-down command and control thinking. It worked when people were limited to narrow entertainment choices and when millions could be captured by just one 30 second spot. Consumer information was scarce and product choices limited. Things are different now. Consumers have information and power. They use the web to solve their challenges and research their choices.

In this context what companies need to do is understand and serve their customers - provide clear, relevant content that explains what they stand for, why their products and services are relevant and valuable, that they are truthful and can be trusted, and that they're staffed with talented, innovative, passionate individuals who care about providing great customer service. Oh, and a user experience that actually helps people complete their tasks.

Storytelling continues to be a hugely important requirement for companies. But different stories. And different ways of telling them. Companies need a content strategy. Most have never even heard the term.

There are a few companies that get it for sure - usual suspects like Apple, Pixar, Nike, USAA, Kodak - and lots of opportunity to help others. One thing's for sure - the future has little or nothing to do with advertising.
.-= Jeremy Morris´s last blog ..3 Things Every Company Can Learn From Pixar =-.

Jeremy Morris
Jeremy Morris

Thanks for the comment Edward. What I've found is that many marketers will likely nod sagely at points like your five mindset changes (which I completely agree with) and then go away and keep doing the same things they always have!

The challenge is to really get inside what the points mean and the implications for how companies behave - in totality, not just the marketing folks. The saying "the brand is the experience" has never been truer.

(Love the idea of an "Interest plan" btw :)
.-= Jeremy Morris´s last blog ..3 Things Every Company Can Learn From Pixar =-.

SJ Petteruti
SJ Petteruti

I have to say that as both a consumer and a marketer, I appreciate commercials when they are done well and will even stop my DVR fast-forwarding to watch them. I think of the recent ads from Old Spice as one example. Entertaining while advertising is a great tool when it goes hand-in-hand with strong inbound marketing techniques (bringing content and information about your product to the people who are looking for it). It's all further proof of how brands need to incorporate both outbound and inbound marketing going forward.
.-= SJ Petteruti´s last blog ..What is the Optimum Density for your Keyword(s)? =-.

edward boches
edward boches

True on all counts. Though I hope you know I am coming from the same place; in fact I am arguing against doing just that: sticking a spot on YouTube. Big believer that there are five fundamental marketing mindset changes necessary. Use in my presentations but haven't posted. Marketers need to think:
Community not Audience
Content not Message
Engage not Target
Collaborate not Penetrate
Interest Plan not Media Plan

Agree also on what I call conversation strategy (same as content strategy?): http://bit.ly/9rODT8
Oh, BTW, I am also a fan of Pixar. http://bit.ly/gzy9j

Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

Mike Scheiner
Mike Scheiner

First, I do agree that a smart strategy must be able to live and scale to speak directly to its audience in a compelling way. Some brands (and agencies), are quite comfortable with recycling creative for a variety of channels and treating it as "this ad goes here" strategy. Which we all know doesn't work, because not everything translates that easily from one platform to another, and the audience engages and expects something different from each channel. For example, Mullens recent work Zappos that was discussed in the NY Times clearly speaks to a "content without walls" strategy. Along with executions for TV, print and social media, was the experiential part of applying messaging on the plastic bins at airport security. Which is brilliant, because it takes advantage of what is going inside the bins, shoes! So smart. Another insightful post Edward, thank you.

edward boches
edward boches

Mike
Thanks. This will be the big topic by end of the year as mobile, tablets, web, outdoor all offer us screens. Not only that, just read that Yale is going to teach projection techniques as screens becoming a big part of theatre as well. More screens? What do we put on them?

Harrison Bailey
Harrison Bailey

Lately, I've been considering what effects, if any, a "content without walls" market approach might have on luxury brands. Whereas the methodology of decades past has afforded high-end industries, such as fine automobiles, fashion houses, and restaurants, the ability to allure consumers largely based on mystique, illusive luxury, and less frequently, genuine quality and service, technology and the subsequent pressure to build an accessible brand presence, threatens to unveil at least a few facets of the luxury market. Whereas discerning arenas for consumer-brand interaction have been crucial throughout recent history, a "content without walls" strategy calls for an increased push into new, more accessible avenues of communication. As you mentioned, perhaps the potential for engineering will enable high-end companies to effectively structure their presence in a way that sustains their allure; yet, they will, nonetheless, be forced to increase accessibility, the antithesis of modern luxury brand strategy. I'm curious to see, as these institutions are backed into the corner, if new luxury brands will emerge based on, not only some of the existing qualities, but also a technological superiority. In the future, companies that best access and interact with their respective consumers could become the most coveted; better yet, perhaps a societal change will occur wherein perception of true value is altered all together. If the later, by chance, happens, it's my hope that quality service becomes, once again, a widespread corporate priority. I know I, for one, have visions of genuine customer service dancing, at least somewhere, in my head.

Harrison Bailey
Sophomore
Design & Management
Parsons/New School

edward boches
edward boches

Interesting idea re whether a luxury brand should be exclusive vs elusive. David Yurman advertises on billboards. Luxury brands like Mercedes have for years reached downward to entice those who aspire to luxury whether they can afford the high end or not. But with things like addressable TV coming, and the same filtering available from most web interactions, luxury brands can target and deliver different messages to different folks. At the very high end, we're probably not looking at people who are anxious to join the crowds and the democracies of social media anyway. Unless, of course, they're techies.

Max Goldman
Max Goldman

I think the main point is one simpler than budget considerations or what demographic might use which media - having a 'trans-media' strategy is a great way to keep up consumer interest and stimulate conversation. If an iPhone app is the same as a TV ad is the same as a banner.. things get stale pretty quickly. Something different on each, and I find a campaign naturally far more engaging..

Jackson Wightman
Jackson Wightman

Thanks Edward.

Shades of McLuhan with a twist. It is a great point about starting with the relationship the prospect has with the medium/content and developing material from there.

I think, as you allude to, the problem currently lies in reduced budgets and a belief that throwing something into a zillion channels is a wise idea given these constraints. Perhaps this will change as certain new channels mature and as the economy emerges from the downturn.
.-= Jackson Wightman´s last blog ..Please don’t thank me for the follow =-.

Michael Calienes
Michael Calienes

Thanks for the shoutout, Edward. It's an excellent point and it's something I think about every time I see a post mechanically plugged into Facebook from twitter. Sure it's efficient, but it confuses those who solely live on Facebook. I've been told by Facebook friends it's annoying -- and I agree. After all, what company would run the same ad in People magazine as they would in the Robb Report? Understanding these walls exist is critical for us as communicators. But it's also important to understand that these walls are porous. If the content we create is good enough, Facebook users will happily leak it out onto twitter and other networks, and vice versa.

Matt Churchill
Matt Churchill

I think this is spot on!

It's important that before the creative process begins, the marketing team involved listen to what the brand's consumers want.

It's all well and good spending 100k on a flashy video for example, but if the majority of your customer base or potential consumers aren't aware of YouTube, then what is the point?

As ever, tailoring relevant content for specific communities is key if a brand wants to achieve the most interaction.
.-= Matt Churchill´s last blog ..Learning Vocals =-.

edward boches
edward boches

It goes without saying that we should put our TV spots on the web, especially if they're great and people might want to seek them out. But how about a brand channel for On Demand that can tell a deeper story. Or figuring out what your "gift of content" should be in an iPhone app. (Timberland helps you find places to hike; WholeFoods could offer you recipes and calorie information; Lumber Liquidators gives you environmentally friendsly digital floor samples). All of which might be totally different from the conversation strategy a brand practics on Facebook or the content it shares via Twitter, or the knowledge it collects, aggregates and makes available with social bookmarking. The same customer for the same brand wants and needs different content and utility in all the places he or she engages. Smart brands a. acknowledge this, b. have a strategic approach to figuring it out and c. demand a content team that can deliver across all the channels.

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