Why are we leaning into peak content?
And what happens when we start leaving our consumers behind?
Hi. Hey. Hello. Hope your 2022 is off to a great start. This is the ninth edition of The Other 90. If this is your first time, welcome! You can read the archive here.
Let’s start here:
There are sometimes #StrategistProblems that are actually just regular people problems amplified; the types of things that are a hindrance to living life normally that become more of a challenge when your job is to properly understand and seek truths from within the lives of others. Right now, I'm wrestling with one in a major way. Quite simply, there's too much content.
Now I know, and fully acknowledge, two things about that statement:
It is by no means an original thought.
I am, in this exact moment, subjecting you to content about how there's too much content, therefore unleashing some type of Beetejuice-esque force upon all those who consume the remainder of this post.
So why is this a strategist problem? Like many of you, I spend my day in meetings, working on decks, talking with teammates, etc. But to do my job well - the job of a strategist well - I also need time to be fluent in worlds my audiences spend time in (especially if those subcultures are different than ones I might normally spend time in). This is, generally, a core competency of a strategist, and one that I've spoken about before - a good strategist has compassion and empathy for the people they are speaking to, and one form of that compassion is in trying to understand their expectations and behaviors as best as possible.
It's a given then that at some point in my day-to-day I need to consume enough to make me confident in the decisions I am making for clients & team members. And that consumption... well it's a lot. Some days, to be able to pass the bare minimum of "knowing", I am reading dozens of newsletters, checking in on multiple Discord servers, loading Twitter every 10 minutes, listening to podcasts while I walk the dog, and more. What happens when attention is so split that you can't even call it attention anymore?
And that's sort of where my brain has been lately. I've added much more to my consumption diet than I've removed. I'm fat on links in my Pocket account and thin on time to read them. Insert third metaphor here that I'm too distracted to write at the moment (hence my point). Some days, I feel overwhelmed by what I am supposed to know, and if I skip a beat, the barriers to re-enter the "discourse" will only be that much higher. If I feel this way when it's literally part of my job as a strategist, what does that mean for the everyday consumers I'm trying to talk to?
This clip of Paris Hilton and Jimmy Fallon talking about NFTs has been floating around my corner of the internet this week, and I think it does a good job of illustrating the problem. Think about how many things you need to be plugged into when it comes to current NFT/web3 culture for this conversation to have meaning. Think about the hoops we are asking folks to jump through at the most basic level. As we get swept up in what's next, it can be easy to rush there without laying groundwork. We're seeing that happen with many brands right now in the web3/NFT/metaverse conversation1, but that’s just one example of the wider issue.
When we forget who we're for, we forget the already existing barriers that we need to be focused on overcoming. How about this for a barrier: according to GlobalWebIndex, only 23% of Gen Z thinks social media is good for society. Millennials feel slightly better, at 25%. But no generation went higher. Every single time a young person opens a social media app, that thought is ticking in the back of their head.
Another barrier: 36% of Gen Z says they spend too much time on social media.
And another: 38% of Gen Z says they worry they spend too much time on their smartphone.
First off, statistically, this doesn't mean young people are using social media or their smartphones any less. But the fact that there is an almost inherent guilt hanging over any use of the internet and connected platforms is pretty important context for how we as strategists should be doing our jobs. These unspoken barriers should be forcing us to focus on building value, not clutter, and truly tuning ourselves to what role we play in enhancing the lives of the people we are talking to, not feeding their FOMO around content that they will never catch up to the speed of.
A few years ago I helped create the Science of Hype, a formula that argued the 3 factors you need to create outsized influence in culture are novelty, scarcity and influence. I've gone to great lengths over the years to explain that not every brand needs hype to succeed, and that only certain kinds of moments should lend themselves to this kind of thinking. Unfortunately, I think I'm losing that argument. Brand after brand after brand are launching whatever works to get the fleeting spike of impact and be Twitter's main character for a day. The advertising landscape has shifted toward content for content's sake when our audience is feeling it less and less.
So that's how a real person problem has morphed into a strategist problem. Too much content, focused on the wrong things, merely adding to the clutter for a consumer that doesn't have the time (or the positive mindset!) to take it all in. Any loss of focus today might eventually lead to lost (or never found) consumers. The risk of overdoing it in spaces & places that people aren't asking for us to be in is too high, and hype has a place as a tool, but not as a constant. I hope we think about these things more as we evaluate the work we make in 2022.
Speaking of content, creators are getting pretty peeved that they aren’t being rewarded very well when their content goes viral.
No link, but good luck to anyone launching a campaign around the Super Bowl or the Olympics this year. Extra credit to those doing both!
To be clear, not everything brands are doing in that space is bad, but let's be honest - a lot of it is.