When I was a kid, I was always jealous of Dave. Dave had the newspaper route in my neighbourhood. He delivered the Spec (Hamilton Spectator) every night. The law of newspaper routes was that unless he moved away, I would never get that route. Every Christmas, Dave was showered with tips and presents. My envy was palpable, especially when my mother placed a few dollars in his purple Crown Royal “tip” bag. All I could get was a magazine route. In case you were wondering, no one gave tips to the Consumers Distributing magazine delivery boy.
Around this same time my sister and I would still fight on who had to get up to change the channel on the TV when a show ended. The good TV with the remote was conveniently upstairs for my parent’s use. There was only 10-12 channels anyway.
We listened to the radio, read the newspaper, we watched the news. It was so neat and compartmentalized.
Everything slowly changed with CNN in the 80s, the Internet in the 90s and mobile phones in the 00s. New forms of media have led to a proliferation of information and noise. Noise paralysis is a disorder that we all cope with in our own ways. It is neither neat nor compartmentalized.
Take a minute and think of your own day and the bombardment of information that you receive. What would be your unscientific count of the tweets, posts, feeds, emails, texts, chats, searches, alerts, calls, games, apps, articles, videos, songs, stories, shows, and movies that you consume? Throw in all of the forms of advertising that you consciously or subliminally consume—how many pieces of information is that per day? 100s? 1000s? A couple of years ago I remember reading a study that predicted that in 2015 that there would be 15.5 hours of media developed per person per day in the US. Whether that prediction is right or wrong remains to be seen, however what it ultimately means is that in our own way, we have to tune out. We can’t absorb everything that is thrown at us. We all know that person who doesn’t do Facebook, or own a TV, or is unaware of Netflix. They’ve created their own filter.
What does this mean for brands, organizations, and even individuals who want to break through the noise? How do we cut through this noise? It’s tough. Is it possible? Yes.
Imagine a spectrum. At one end it was light, and at the other end it was heavy. Now imagine we thought of the different types of content that would be along that spectrum. What would be at the light end of content? A tweet? A photo? We can probably say that social content can be the lightest form of content. It’s also fairly cheap to produce. Now think of the far end of content. Heavyweight. We could think of research papers and television advertising as being time consuming and expensive content. Games and films could be super heavyweight, but not a regular content format for brands or organizations to take on. Now think back to the spectrum or middleweight content. We could think of that as journalistic in nature. A news story: high quality storytelling supported by a high quality visual or visuals.
Brands and organizations are moving to middleweight content or branded journalism because with all of the noise it is increasingly seen as a way to cut through. It is logical in a way. For decades PR firms worked hard to get their clients stories in print or on the air, and they still do. Over the past few years we have seen a tremendous increase in the co-option of the journalistic form. Why? First because it is a successfully proven mechanism for sharing stories and messages. Second is that, today, newspapers, television and radio no longer have a monopoly on content distribution. Even if we get a positive client story in the Globe and Mail, the Gazette, and the Star, we won’t likely get one the next day, week or month. What if our target audience forgot their newspaper at their door or didn’t have time to read it on their tablet that particular day? What about all this noise?
GE is the poster child of middleweight content. (Full disclosure, GE is a client of GroupSJR which is an H+K Strategies Company.) It publishes its own stories every day, or 365 days a year. GE actually does this on a variety of different platforms. GE Reports is their corporate narrative. It replaced the antiquated newsletter, with developments and stories of interest, supported by high impact visuals. The Txchnologist is unbranded content but “sponsored” by GE. These stories are intended to engage technology enthusiasts and are more likely to be picked up and shared in its unbranded form. Ideas Lab is GE content with a public policy audience focus. These aren’t the only content platforms. There are specific country platforms in Canada, France, Malaysia, and the European Union, all with a different focus or emphasis.
GE recognizes that breaking through all the noise won’t happen every day. They are ok with that. By creating high quality branded journalism every day in conjunction with sophisticated analytics and amplification processes, they will reach everyone they want to over time. It’s a long play, but with patience comes success.
I have no idea what ever happened to Dave. I leveraged an early growth spurt, exaggerated my true age, and became a caddy at age 12. A few dollars and free hot dogs in exchange for heat exhaustion and cigar smoke. In retrospect, I still think Dave won, but that era of neat and compartmentalized media are sadly just fond memories with a sprinkle of envy.