Success delivering engaging content at scale takes more than desire. The right foundation needs to be in place.
Pivoting to digital: The story of auction houses
For centuries, auction houses have held their sales in front of a live audience. Auctions can be glamorous and exciting, full of drama as items either fetch big prices or fail to sell.
But when the pandemic hit, live auctions with on-site bidders were no longer possible. Sotheby’s and Christie’s, two of the oldest firms in the world, needed to pivot from their tradition of live auctions to deliver virtual events.
The challenges auction houses faced were not trivial. They rely on the buzz that live auctions generate. Simply pointing a webcam at an empty studio wouldn’t deliver that experience. They needed engaging digital content.
The Financial Times recently discussed the transition auction houses face, writing: “Auctioneers bid to clone live experience.” The auction houses have embarked on a digital journey to implement new, more engaging digital content experiences, such as:
- Virtual streaming of events on social media to build a wider audience
- Video profiles of important objects for sale
- Broadcasting bids with running commentary
Sotheby’s CEO told the Financial Times that auctions underwent “a five-year acceleration of digital behavior in the last six months…and as we know with technology innovation, once it’s happened, you don’t go back.”
Auction houses have rallied to produce “splashy digital experiences.” They are now acting more like media companies.
Product companies as media companies
Over the past decade, various consultants have recommended that product and service companies treat their content as though they were media companies. The appeal is basic: media companies tend to have high-quality content that people want to view. If product companies could deliver something similar, they’d have a captive audience for their messages.
Given the waning effectiveness of ads, the allure to marketers of offering “media” is understandable. What marketer doesn’t want to be known for their great content? Some high-profile enterprises have followed this path. One example is the hotel chain Marriott. AdWeek last year wrote that “Marriott is starting to look a lot like a media company.”
Joe Pulizzi, a key figure in the development of content marketing, earlier this year asserted that “all brands are media brands.” He predicts: “In the very near future, the largest product and service companies on the planet will also be the largest media brands.” Product companies need to produce their own content to attract the audiences they want to reach.
Writing in Publishing Executive, Pulizzi warns traditional ad-supported publishers that product companies are starting to compete directly with them: “Take the time to look at your advertisers. How many of them have created their own blogs, videos, and podcasts to reach your audience? Most likely the majority. Are they as good at the media model as you are? Not yet, but they are catching up…especially with the amount of cash they are investing.”
When marketers think about what it takes to “act like a media company,” their attention focuses on the creative side: the talent and activities of “content studios” that produce videos, visuals, and storytelling. These studios may hire journalists, video producers, creative directors, and social media mavens.
But becoming a media brand requires more than talent. Product and service companies can’t expect to deliver richer, more engaging content unless they also consider how that content is managed and delivered.
Marketing, like theater, involves telling stories and keeping audiences engaged. Marketing with content is like producing a play: many activities must be coordinated.
Theater performances require two teams: the cast who are on a stage in front of the audience, and the crew who are backstage supporting the cast. The cast gets the audience’s attention, but the backstage crew makes magic happen from behind the curtains.
The same dynamic is at work with the production of content. Writers and other digital content creators do the work that’s most visible, but they need support from the back end that manages the content to deliver it to audiences.
Everyone understands the importance of the support given by the backstage theater crews. In contrast, the contribution of delivery support in content operations isn’t well recognized. With content, people pay attention to the activities of their colleagues but tend to ignore how the infrastructure they work with affects what can be delivered. Yet these foundations determine what is achievable.
In a theater, the complexity of the production that can be delivered depends on the backstage crew providing support. The same is true of content: what can be delivered will depend on the capabilities of the back end. Content marketers often find they can’t deliver the range of content they’d like to. They need better back-end support.
The secret of media companies: APIs
Media companies set the standard for delivering engaging content. What’s their secret? A big part of their success is what they do backstage. Media companies are big users of APIs to deliver content.
Many content creators don’t know much about APIs. But APIs are very important to the internet. The vast majority of content on the internet is now delivered using APIs. Research on global internet traffic released last year by Akamai notes that “the traffic classified as APIs currently accounts for 83% of all hits, while HTML traffic has fallen to just 17%.” For content creators accustomed to thinking about HTML pages in a browser, this is a big change.
In non-technical terms, an API is a way to request content. You can use APIs to ask questions and get responses. APIs allow content to refresh continually so that people can interact with it and always have the latest information. APIs enable content to be more interactive and hence more engaging.
To act like a media company, product and service companies need to embrace APIs to deliver their content. Media companies, including news organizations, streaming services, and online games, have been at the forefront of innovation in content. They have used APIs to a greater extent than any other industry sector.
Akamai’s State of the Internet Report notes: “Media organizations are the largest users of APIs by a significant margin.” They surpass even tech firms such as SaaS vendors, who are also big users of APIs. “Media as a whole is responsible for almost two-thirds (63%) of hits. This is driven not only by a single large consumer but also by the high number of media sites relying on API traffic. The second-largest producer of API traffic is in the High Tech vertical.”
For media companies, content is their core business. They’ve been motivated to pioneer new approaches to working with content because their revenues depend on content. Media firms such as National Public Radio and Netflix were early adopters of APIs and headless approaches to content management and delivery.
Media companies plan their content more granularly than a normal web publisher does. They think in terms of supplying content to applications, rather than delivering individual web pages. “Applications are different from traditional web pages; they don’t need the information on layout and style since that information is already included at build time. Instead, applications are requesting updated data and images, driven by news cycles, the weather, and sports. Or maybe it’s your gaming and streaming systems getting updates, so you know about the latest releases. The data they are receiving is much smaller when you look at individual requests, but the volume of these requests is only going to grow with time.”
Media companies are prepared to deliver many small updates. They will structure their content into discrete parts, which allows them to provide fresh content at scale.
While APIs can deliver content to web browsers, they are not limited to browsers. In fact, other channels are equally important. Akamai notes: “Smartphones, applications, and embedded devices (such as gaming consoles, streaming devices, and smart TVs) are responsible for at least 66% of API traffic. In contrast, all browsers combined are responsible for only 27% of API traffic.” APIs allow content to be delivered to many channels.
Finally, APIs make content feel more alive. Media firms understand that heavy web pages aren’t engaging. APIs let content be nimble.
Acting like a media company
Media companies deliver engaging content at scale. Their content feels fresh and relevant, so audiences keep coming for more.
Like media companies, content marketers want to provide customers with engaging experiences. Yet they can’t expect their website centric back end will be agile enough to keep audiences engaged. They need to use APIs—it’s the only way they can escape the constraints that prevent them from delivering a wider range of content.
The best marketers, who are pushing boundaries and delivering standout experiences, are the ones who work closely with developers and make an effort to learn how to modernize how their content is managed.
APIs offer the possibility of more experiential marketing.