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Fixing the simmering discontent about content

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Content is the KingEspecially in the digital world, we live in it is true that “Content is king”. Unlike even a decade ago, when smartphones were far less evolved, “content” almost always meant the written word. Today, the term has become more generous, including in its ambit photographs, infographics, videos, podcasts etc. Even the Whatsapp messages that flood our inbox every day- memes and all- are “content”.

Even as this veritable all-pervasive explosion of content is taking place around us, spare a thought for how we consume content. How many of us still read newspapers in physical format versus keeping abreast of news via online editions, newsfeeds or news apps? Or maybe catch up on streaming videos offered by TV channels? Reading newspapers clearly needs more time and concentration than browsing a news web page or watching a video.

Despite pretensions to the contrary, human beings are not designed to multi-task. In the “here and now” there can and should be only one activity that occupies our attention. But in today’s world, we attempt to multi-task so often. The imagined sense of control we have thanks to smartphones and tabs contributes to shrinking attention spans. Don’t believe me? When was the last time you zipped through a three-minute video in one minute, just because you did not have the patience to listen? Or watched the entire three minutes without being able to later recollect what it was all about? As consumers of content, whether we are readers, listeners, viewers or even speakers, we are not as patient and focused as previous generations were.

Shrinking attention spans have implications for creators of content. Verbose content is no longer acceptable. Anything that does not fit on one screen may not be read. There is a premium on content that can “engage” the audience. And since all content has some marketing motive behind it, the call to action must be clearly conveyed. Depending on the medium the content is delivered through, additional efforts may be needed to make the call to action unambiguous. For example, your brand research may have come up with a winning brand name for your product. But because it is quirky, its spelling may not be intuitive. So when you ask your audience to visit a website or download an app with that quirky name, spell out the name clearly in the video/podcast/radio ad.

The digital world has democratized content by making it easier for people across socio-economic strata to access it. Also, digital content straddles multiple generations of consumers- and perhaps those with different language preferences as well. People in their seventies might consume the same content that their teenage grandkids do (ok.. not always, but you know what I mean!). Maintaining consistency is another major challenge for content creators. Take TV ads for example. Most commercials are filmed in one language (say Hindi or English), after which regional language versions are created using voice-overs of translated content. Due to differences in language, copy that had “punch” in the original version may seem “flat” in another language. Worse, the emphasis is on translating the letter and not the spirit of the advertising copy. Watch out for examples on national TV channels if you don’t believe me.

A related aspect relates to using a suitable writing style and tone (this also applies to scripts for videos/podcasts). Your choice must depend on who you are writing for, the nature of what is being written and the platform on which the content will be hosted/delivered. A formal style that is “prim and proper” in terms of choice of words, syntax, spellings etc. is what you need when writing for something that will be mainly read/seen/heard by Gen X folks. But if the audience is primarily Gen Z or Millennials, irreverence, abbreviations, slang and a dollop of emojis is perhaps acceptable. [Let me warn you that such content may eventually also be consumed by Gen X- so a dash of caution is in order]. ?

Another challenge faced especially by writers of marketing content is that their clients are usually keen to pack available digital real estate (websites, blogs, newsletters, brochures etc.) with the gory details about the features of their products and services. This is natural- but spare a thought for the target audience for whom the message is intended. It is important to present information in a way that makes it easier for the audience to see how they benefit from the product or service. This ability to write copy from the audience’s perspective seems to be another dying art in the increasingly crowded world of content. Not surprisingly, there is a lot of mediocre and “me-too” content that leaves the audience with the feeling “so what’s new about this”? Hardly the sentiment you want to evoke in your audience at end of a million-dollar ad campaign, right?

But all is not lost. There are many who appreciate the challenges of developing content for an audience in the digital world. Some are Digital Natives who are not that familiar with the conventional content, while others are Gen X stalwarts who (think they) have been able to make the transition successfully. They can help produce content that is clear, concise, engaging and error-free. And it goes without saying that it must be original (or at least, not plagiarised). To benefit from the power of content, make sure that your content (whether you create it or commission it) has all the above qualities and not just a couple of them. Discerning customers have high expectations, and if content writers cannot rise to the challenge and change (or choose not to), they will soon become irrelevant.

– Article by Anand Krishna

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