Content is always an important element of the marketing mix, but I’ve been giving it more thought than ever in my role as co-head judge at the World Media Awards for international content-driven campaigns.

I’ve also been thinking about apathy - the great marketing enemy of the moment. We plan, we create and we invest but when that effort is met with consumer indifference our optimism is crushed, along with our brand and commercial metrics. Whilst we despair of apathy, we embrace its destroyer: attention. Attention is fast emerging as the most valuable marketing currency – if your consumers take note of what you are doing, then you are winning.

It makes sense, but how do you earn that attention? This brings me back to content – the attention seeker. Content is the most elastic word currently in use across the industry. It is used with increased frequency but with an inverse sense of clarity regarding its definition. Dave Trott rather brilliantly recently described content as “something to fill up space” – and to an extent that is true. It is there to fill up a space, but how we fill the space is up to us. Consumer attention is finite, whereas brand messages are infinite. Advertising addressed that by interrupting, but content asks permission and consumers have every right and opportunity to decline or, indeed, to accept and then dismiss and disparage.

That being the case, brands needs to ask themselves several questions before creating and distributing content.

What business are you in? Brands are not (usually) publishers – they are brands and they have their own defined role and purpose. They need to be authentic and have a point, ubiquity is not a goal per se, bandwagons are bad – sacrifice and selection are good.

What do you want your audience to say about you? Content is wonderful at “one-to-one-to-many” communication - people share content and make statements about your brand on your behalf. Be clear on what you want that message to be. We should realise also that sharing content is primarily a wonderfully nuanced way of making a personal statement – I am clever, I am connected, I am funny. Understand that, embrace that and create accordingly.

Are you going to use a media partner as the distribution mechanism? If so then ensure they reflect and represent your brand needs - otherwise you risk great content being compromised through a lack of credibility

What type of content should be produced and what consumer need is it meeting? Sometimes it should be useful, sometimes is should be entertaining. It likely depends on where in the purchase journey the consumer is. The challenge is that the consumer, their needs and their journey to purchase is complex and unpredictable - and increasingly so.

To help with this last point, at MEC we have developed a new approach to understanding the consumer decision making process (called MEC Momentum) which is based on the latest thinking into the psychology of choice and it demonstrates there are two key elements to every purchase journey:

The Passive Stage: Consumers are not making decisions but are forming opinions.

The Active Stage: Consumers want to make a purchase.

Our studies demonstrate that the Passive Stage is of particular interest as the higher your consumers’ “Passive Stage Bias”, the less price sensitive they are, the fewer competitors they explore and the quicker they make decisions.

Content has an important role throughout the journey. It may differ according to audience, category and country but this role can be enhanced by using insight into the different mindsets that sit behind these two stages to plan content that fits. A broad observation is that the Passive Stage is focussed more on entertainment and long form. The Active Stage is more information and knowledge-based and often shorter. What Momentum certainly demonstrates is that content does not usually work best in splendid isolation – it may “fill a space” but it must share that space and add value.


By Alex Altman, Managing Director at MEC Global Solutions & co-head judge Of the World Media Awards

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