How to get to grips with the fourth wave of content

Riding the fourth content wave
Riding the fourth content wave

It's no longer 'one size fits all', but about the customer-decision journey. Your strategy requires some big thinking, but a small-scale approach, writes Mhairi McEwan.

First we had web pages filled with text; then rich content such as infographics and video; then came personalised content where your visitor profile informed what you saw. Now we have the ‘fourth wave’ of content… 

Some call this the advent of the ‘marketing app’, where content is being presented in smaller, more accessible pieces that engage audiences in different ways. Dulux’s ‘Mouse Painter’ allows consumers to see what their living room would look like in a different shade, IKEA offers an ‘Augmented Reality’ catalogue and Volkswagen has pared down its website into digestible sections.

Supporting this, brands that previously worked with a lead agency now have multiple partners and thrive on cross-functional collaboration, often with a blend of specialists, to bring deep expertise. Marketers, therefore, need to refine and broaden their capabilities to harness new opportunities:

Don’t rely on the lead-agency model 

It’s hard to be creative. Coca-Cola was a classic example of a brand with one master hero campaign annually, born in the US and given to individual teams for the year and to local agencies to cut up and repurpose. But its ‘liquid and linked’ approach now means anyone can contribute from anywhere. The ‘Share a Coke’ idea – with the named bottles – was trialled in Australia and then rolled out in other markets. "Content is a sweetshop," according to Jim Willows of Porsche. "Choose the bits you like." Find multiple sources of creativity, beyond the traditional agencies, and embrace specialists, even if it presents challenges to existing ways of working and operations.

Think big, start small, scale up

Be insightful about your consumers and the effect you want content to have on them. Have a big idea and big vision at the start, but, rather than going in all guns blazing, go in small and test to find out what works, then invest in it. (The Dove ‘Sketches’ campaign is a great example of this.) Empower your teams to take risks and fail, but ‘fail forward’. Content wave four is perfect for a smaller-scale approach – but it’s critical to avoid losing sight of the big idea, and ending up being fragmented and incoherent.

It’s not a funnel, it’s a clock

Content used to be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach – for example, a TV execution that you would repurpose for a period for other media. Now, however, it’s about the customer-decision journey and the role a brand can play in that by adapting content forms for different people at different interaction points. And brands need the operational set-up to be fleet-of-foot in responding. 

Creativity vs clickbait

Content has to be more than just ‘clickbait’: it demands being sensitive to what consumers want in that environment, creatively speaking, and what role your brand can play. 

With changes in algorithms on platforms like Facebook and Google, it’s less important that people click through, and more important that they find what they are looking for. Brands providing content that works for their audiences, that they read and engage with, do better in search and, of course, in building productive relationships.

Hero, hub and hygiene

Good content falls into one of these categories: the first offers content that’s shareable and entertaining; the second involves smaller, more experimental campaigns that can really catch fire with the right backing; and the third is about clearly delivering what users need. So make sure you fully embrace and surf the opportunities posed by the fourth content wave.

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