What is content anyway?

Brilliant Noise - what is content

In a piece for Campaign last week, Dave Trott recounts a story about a roundtable on the future of content, attended by senior ad people. He says that he asked for a definition of content, and the event left him with the following impressions:

I began to get the idea that what content actually is wasn’t important at all. Content is seen as just stuff. The stuff that goes into the space that’s there to be filled.

It doesn’t matter what the content is, the new delivery systems are the exciting part. There is my problem with the word ‘content’. ‘It doesn’t matter what the content is.’ The content is now just something to fill up the space; the delivery systems are what’s important, not the content.

I would have been interested to be at that roundtable and see the discussion unfold, because I don’t recognise the definition of content that Dave came away with.

There’s a sophisticated and mature community around content. It’s made up of people like Kristina Halvorson, Margot Bloomstein, Ann Rockley, Karen McGrane, and many more. I’ve yet to encounter anyone in it who would define content as stuff to be delivered.

For what it’s worth, here’s my definition of content:

Information or an idea that means something to a person in a specific time and place.

Good content starts with your user/customer/audience. You identify information they need or an idea they will be engaged by, that has a meaningful connection to your brand. You choose the right format to convey it effectively. You select a publishing channel so that it reaches the right person at the right time.

When you start with the user, it’s hard to get obsessed with the delivery method as Dave Trott suggests the content industry is. People don’t buy because of the delivery method, they buy goods. The delivery is incidental: they just want the thing they’ve ordered to get to the right place at the right time. Content is the same.

A good content strategy will see a brand utilising push (social, paid, email) and pull (website/organic search) channels to get the right content to the right user at the right time. Yes, the delivery is important, but it starts with a need from a user, and an idea about how the brand can meet that need.

Dave Trott isn’t the only person to be questioning the word content and its definition. It might not be the most exciting or evocative word, but it is a shared, established vocabulary. And what’s more, there are practitioners, agencies and brands that have strong definitions for content, focusing not on delivery channels, but on ideas – ideas that mean something to our audiences.

Are you struggling to define content in your organisation? Get in touch.