Deconstructing Content

Maybe the medium isn’t the message after all.

atomsWhether you work in a publishing endeavor or in a marketing communications department, you must address the same basic trend: information consumption is becoming increasingly fragmented and customized, with consumers cherry-picking content in terms of both medium and message.

Technological innovation drives this fragmentation, as we can see with the recent emergence of podcasting, satellite radio, and multimedia mobile devices. But it may be a mistake to focus too much on the technology. As the diversity of the technology gives consumers greater control over their information consumption, we might be seeing the limits of Marshall McCluhan’s tenet that the medium is the message. Perhaps the message is the message and the medium is just a container. In that sense, information is like water. As Bruce Lee observed, “If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle.” Yet when you pour it out, water is still water.

This idea underscores the challenge faced by communicators to focus first on the content value they can produce independent of medium. Only after identifying an information need and the resources necessary to satisfy it should we atomize the content for distribution via multiple media. That atomization or deconstruction involves understanding each medium or channel and what it represents in terms of reach or economic value.

In 1997, I wrote a business plan for a new print magazine. The plan described a market need, an editorial concept, and a monolithic business model. The plan depended on numbers of subscribers and advertisers as well as on production metrics such as number of pages, paper weight, and ink. Revenue sources from the Web or other media where considered “ancillary” and non-strategic. Today, I’d plan much differently, focusing on the economic value of the content and the multiple ways it could be delivered.

The challenge is the same for marketing communicators: when using content to develop brand awareness or loyalty, first focus on the unique content value you can deliver to consumers. (What is your unique expertise? What unique perspectives can you offer?) Then consider all the ways you can deliver that value, whether it’s through email newsletters, podcasts, websites, blogs, or another medium.END

David M. Kalman is the president of Terrella Media, Inc. and editor of BrandMagnet.