We're in a golden age for content – so is yours good enough to compete?
It’s nearly 10 years since Chris Anderson published The Long Tail, a seminal book that helped define the rules of business for the digital era.
As the internet drove down the cost of distribution and production, he argued, so the economics of doing business would change. Without the physical limitations of shelf-space, for example, online retailers could offer customers almost infinite choice – making niche products and services commercially viable for the first time.
The long tail is only half of the story, however. At the head of the distribution curve, according to Anderson, a small number of ‘hits’ would reach huge audiences, unhindered by geography, production limitations or physical distribution capacity.
We can see these ‘power law’ distribution curves everywhere. Technology giants such as Google and Facebook amass huge audiences for their services, and powerful network effects build massive barriers to entry for potential competitors. And the economics of the power law apply to content, just as they apply to selling music or sharing photos. Just 20 per cent of YouTube accounts are responsible for 97 per cent of all video views on the platform. Fewer than 0.003 per cent of readers generate 20 per cent of all comments on the Guardian’s website.
As a consumer, this is creating a golden age for content. I no longer have to rely on a newspaper editor, TV executive or radio DJ to decide which stories I read, which programmes I watch, or which music I listen to. Instead of flicking through the pages of a magazine on my commute to work, I use Twitter to crowdsource content discovery from hundreds of experts. I can find individual features, articles or episodes from publishers all over the world, from huge global corporations to individual bloggers.
But for those of us in the business of content marketing, this is a challenge. We’re not just competing with other brands in the same category, or with other brands at all. We’re competing for the attention of customers who are overwhelmed with choice, and who no longer have to put up with mediocrity.
Get it right, and the upside is enormous – think of Red Bull’s audacious space jump, or the latest Nike Football World Cup blockbuster. But if we’re honest with ourselves, is the content that we’re producing good enough to win in a world where the power law of distribution applies?
That means our recipes have to compete with Jamie, Heston or Gordon, as well as other retailers and an army of amateur bloggers. It means our travel guides have to be better than Condé Nast, Time Out and Rough Guides. It means our witty tweets have to stand toe-to-toe with @stephenfry or @rickygervais.
In short, it means we have to be more ambitious and insist on the highest standards, commissioning the very best talent to produce content that is genuinely worth the attention of our customers.
Jon Davie is UK CEO at Zone. He tweets @JonDavie