Niche, Owned, And Package-Agnostic: Three Rules for Modern Content Marketing
tldrYour favorite tv show exactly when you want to watch it is going to beat out Avatar any time. The success of basic newsletters are living proof that we care far more about content than packaging. Here’s three ramifications for marketers thinking about where they take their content over the next few years.
I can’t tell you how excited I am to have a Paul Graham-esque post based on a question or comment from my six year old. Here goes.
While putting my daughter to bed a few weeks ago, she asked me her normal question:
Tell me something interesting!
She asks the same question every night and I was plum out of facts about dinosaurs or elevators…So instead, I mentioned to her that when my parents were kids, TV was black and white.
She was shocked.
But then I realized I could one up that.
Black and white to color wasn’t actually the biggest shift over the past fifty years. I dropped the bombshell:When I was a kid, I had to watch whatever was on TV at the second I turned it on.
The horror. No skip. No start from beginning. No media library at my fingertips. And no endless doomscrolling through derivative Netflix shows.
It was so surprising to her, I didn’t have the heart to share the complexity of needing to schedule my day around when Buffy aired.
On a total side note, her immediate response was “what, there was no skip?! Not even for the scary parts?”, which is a great reminder about how core values props for the same product can differ for different personas.
Massive Amounts of On-Demand Content Is Far More Impactful Than Color
Black and white TV may feel hopelessly outdated but the right show, even in black and white, is vastly superior to an immersive 3D, Dolby Surround Sound, 1080 HD show that you have no interest in watching.
Content packaging matters but I honestly believe most people would rather watch a classic movie in black and white in a 4:3 ratio than a technically impressive but overwhelmingly meh 3D movie (*cough* avatar).
This is particularly relevant given the new release of the Apple Vision. Augmented reality, mixed reality and what Apple calls Spatial Computing has never really taken off yet.
As Tim Urban’s review of the Vision says:
It’s not just me. VR blows everyone away when they try it, but it seems to have a hard time hooking people for the long run. After a major wave of hype in the mid-2010s, VR receded into the land of subcultures. And the question is: Is there some fatal flaw to the concept of VR that will always prevent it from achieving mass adoption? Or are we some tipping point away from VR exploding into the stratosphere like the computer and smartphone?
I don’t know what the answer is. But I do know that if I had to bet on one premise for the next ten years, it's that spectacular yet niche content will beat out whatever visual tech comes along .
1.Content may matter more…but it’s getting harder to choose which content you consume.
If you accept the argument that the content of content is more important than form, the question switches to what content you consume. And we are increasingly less in control of what we read. In a great article about The End of the Social Network in The Economist, it’s clear that we are reading more on social media (40% up from 2020!) but that we don’t decide what we read there anymore.
The striking feature of the new social media is that they are no longer very social. Inspired by TikTok, apps like Facebook increasingly serve a diet of clips selected by artificial intelligence according to a user’s viewing behaviour, not their social connections.
So content is king but our readers are no longer as empowered to choose to read out stuff. More so, even if we did cultivate certain content we follow, as long as we are consuming it on a platform, it can be turned off overnight (eg Substack getting penalized by Twitter). The main takeaway is that audiences need to be owned. And the only way to own them…is to produce content that blows them away to attract them to your email list, Discord server, Slack group or Telegram channel (like, say, mine).
2. Content will continue to become more niche.
I’d prefer a black and white screen of my favorite TV show than a fully immersive 3D version of Happy Days. I assume you would too. Super relevant content is always going to win. But if content is all that matters, we need to recognize that content only matters when it matters to a specific reader.
And with the explosion of internet content (which will only get worse with more AI content), what matters to a reader is almost certainly to be a function of ongoing nicheification. The demise of Quartz, Vice and Buzzfeed make it eminently clear that content for the masses will never outperform content for the one right person .
Packaging doesn’t matter…and lowest common demoninator-ing your content is hopeless. It didn’t work for Buzzfeed and it won’t work for you. As Ernie Smith poignantly shares in Neimen Lab’s 2024 predictions for journalism:
I think we’re at the point where, if we want to solve this problem of informing audiences, we need to do the hard work of finding them and engaging them at their level. And that means going niche.
3. Focusing on packaging is more of a waste of time than you think.
The last thing is that we may chase sexy things and want to make the coolest videos but we don’t need to. The most successful newsletters in the world, like Substack, offer what would historically be seen as black and white internet - light on multimedia, light on fancy CSS. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating going back to listserve Unicode,. But if Packy McCormick and Ben Thompson are happy with rich text, your content should be too.
The Bottom Line
Since my interesting facts for my six year old need to be a little less drawn out….let me just summarize this here:
- Own your audience
- In order to do that, create content that is as custom tailored to your audience as possible
- Spend less time worrying about the packaging
Of course, I tried to tell my daughter these three takeaways…but it was pretty clear she was smashing her mental skip button as hard as she could.