We at Bibblio were invited to 'PACE: The Future of Content', an event hosted by our development partner Pragmatic, with a particular focus on content-driven businesses, publishers and brands that publish.
On 27 June 2019, I attended this London event and enjoyed talks by Gina Roughan (Director of Content Services at Zone), Dmitry Shishkin (Chief Content Officer at Culture Trip), Gay Flashman (CEO at Formative Content) and David Lockie (CEO at Pragmatic). The afternoon was hosted by Dave Savage, who runs the Tech Talks podcast.
Thanks to David and the Pragmatic team for putting on an interesting event! Read on for my takeaways from each talk.
Specialist content, data and authenticity FTW
Dave kicked off the event with mentioning three things he thinks will continue to win the attention of people. Firstly, people face specific problems and they want specific answers:
"If you were starting a blog today, you certainly wouldn't start a blog on generalist marketing. Specialty is key, to make you stand out in the ocean of podcasts for example."
Secondly, Dave believes data is going to play an even bigger role. He notices it from his own behavior as he tries to get a grip on engagement around the podcast episodes he puts out there. The last thing Dave does before he goes to bed at night is check how many plays the podcast has had - and it's the first thing he does in the morning.
But while data is brilliant, Dave exclaims, it also told Netflix that Adam Sandler was the biggest film star in the world (and he doesn't believe that to be the case). Quality is absolutely key, and good content is driven by authenticity and passion. He drove this third point home by telling the story of The Startup Van - two guys kicking off a channel for entrepreneur entertainment by parking a Volkswagen van right outside Web Summit, and getting the greatest minds in there to do an interview, for free. The sponsors followed soon after.
The era of the customer is here
Gina from Zone, part of Cognizant UK, shared her insights in the first talk. Her introductions tell us we have arrived in the 'Age of the Customer', as companies who put the customer at the heart of their business are winning. Just look at Amazon and Netflix.
Surveys show that customer experience (CX) is found to be more important than price, which makes it integral to commercial success. Gina concludes: "We all know this. As humans we want something that's seamless, easy-to-use, really clear in its communication, informative and entertaining."
To reach the level of great CX, creative intuition alone is not enough. This needs to be interwoven with data and technology. But beware of the limitations, Gina mentioned, as GDPR and/or working with platforms for children bring limitations for the latter two categories.
For the future of content, she'd like to take personalisation to new heights, ridding the internet of spam and bad targeting by brands worldwide, bringing back the creative, human factor. The way for data to support the 'humaneness' is to target actionable audience insights.
Let user needs drive your content creation
Next up was Dmitry, CCO at Culture Trip. Before joining the global 'hyper-growth startup' earlier this year, he worked at the BBC for over two decades leading digital development of many news websites in foreign languages. Dmitry quipped he was offered his current job due to a LinkedIn post the people at Culture Trip stumbled upon, so he highly recommends posting on the professional social network platform.
Culture Trip is a media business which operates on the intersection of travel and entertainment, currently amassing 20 million monthly users to their platform which they monetize through affiliate links. They work with many, local contributors around the world. In his talk he zooms in on the role he had at the BBC and has at Culture Trip - being a mediator between editorial and product.
To push both departments to deliver their very best, Dmitry talks about determining specific target groups based on their needs. At Culture Trip they have found distinct groups with particular, cultural mindsets such as: 'Update me', 'Educate me', 'Inspire me' and 'Divert me'. However, there are some notions that are true for (almost) everyone, Dmitry explains:
"Nobody wants to be a tourist anymore - everyone wants to go off the beaten path. We dug a bit deeper and we found that people are still interested in the popular sights, but with a twist. People want to experience 'slow' and 'fast' culture: not only museums, but also street art. Not only restaurants, but food courts as well."
Not only do you need to look at user needs, but also at what stage they are, and create specific content products for it - items with a specific format, goal and expiry date. A few stages Dmitry points out are "Inspiration", "Orientation" and "Booking", but also "During the trip" and "After the trip". SEO is vital for creating strong content for the stages. That's why Dmitry pulled in the Head of SEO into his senior leadership team - to send a strong signal to the entire organisation too.
The next challenges for Culture Trip are a) getting even better at classifying users according to their needs and b) communicating to internal commissioners and external contributors what content they exactly need. Dmitry will continue to focus on getting people's attention at the top of the funnel ("Inspiration") - to be there for people who've only just started thinking about a trip.
Position your brand as trustworthy
Gay, founder and CEO at Formative Content, has a similar focus at her corporate marketing and media agency. In her talk, she explains her goal for clients is to build them brand awareness through mostly organic traffic to the top of the funnel content. The secret sauce to making this happen is bringing clever storytelling to complex subject matter and focus on what makes the brand different.
Gay depicts the challenging background in which people in media and publishing are now working in - there's a crisis of trust in content among audiences. It's also an opportunity, she explains:
"Organisations worldwide, especially large corporations, can position their brand as trustworthy, through what they say and do. It's about getting attention, connection with audiences and building trust."
To see this in action, Gay shares about the work Formative Content have been doing for the World Economic Forum to support their mission to "make the world a better place". Formative Content acts like a newsroom for the Forum, with two editorials meetings daily. They publishing many posts on site and social, including 50 videos a day. Gay called it a quality, volume play:
"It's about turning up every day and turning it out all the time. Building trust takes time, and you have to keep speaking to your audience. I recognize that this (volume play) would be a challenge for smaller organizations - it's about being consistent whatever you choose to do."
Purpose will guide content businesses in the world of games, robo-journalism and AR
The last presentation of the afternoon was by David, founder at Pragmatic, a WordPress agency and the organizers behind the PACE event series.
He kicked off by confessing he spends lots of time on Twitter, and he's brought a 'filtered version' of what he comes across on the future of content to us attendees.
Some brands are navigating their way to the future of content successfully. He's particularly impressed by Red Bull, who went from (just) selling sugary, caffeinated drinks to being a full-blown, purposeful media company. He mentions the recent Red Bull venture into esports as well.
David declares the future of content is "totally nuts" (but good to keep an eye on to see where the world of content's heading). He shows us some examples to back up his claim:
- AI content creation. The example given was Dreamwriter, a Tencent-designed robot journalist that takes input from, in this case, audio - and video streams at a conference, and publishes an article, including images, quotes and summary, seconds after a speaker left the stage. Read more about Dreamwriter and other AI content creation tools in this Niemanlab article.
- Chatbots. One-to-one search engines could become mainstream soon. The chatbot looks at your particular data set and your particular query, then comes up with the answer you need (and not a result page you have to scroll through and assess). This chatbot could very well have the face and voice of your favorite celebrity too.
- Augmented Reality 'try-on' technology. David shows us the example of tech that allows the user to view a different hair color in live mode. AR has come a long way, and automatically detects the user's hair strand by strand. This results in a high quality 3-D view.
David continues talking about how to monetize the amazing content we have been and will be creating. He believes the current ad-model is broken and favors innovative ideas such as the services offered by Coil. They send payments via the open standard Interledger Protocol, which allows any currency to be used for, among other things, paying publishers when readers consume your content.
Thanks again for the invite, Pragmatic team! I very much appreciated the shout out to Bibblio in David's presentation during a segment on recommender systems too. I'm looking forward to the next PACE event.