One size doesn’t fit all — Three content imperatives

This first appeared on in early January. You can access that here

As we enter 2017, it is a good time to do some fresh thinking — although these days, most of what we believe to be fresh has, perhaps, already been proposed by someone, on some platform, somewhere. Therefore, at the risk of sounding repetitive, I will try to air my views on how I feel the content business could change in 2017. I promise to keep it short.

Who’s the audience? This question has yet to be answered satisfactorily. Because even as there are many writings dissecting how digital is going to change the world of content, most of these either approach it from a monetisation point of view or assume an almost homogenous audience. But when you look at the data, that is anything but the case.

For example, there are three areas no one is really talking about:

1) Are we creating enough relevant content to make the young, post-millennial crowd care about important issues?

2) Are we really serving women content that is more than just television soaps and fashion tips?

3) How do we introduce meaningful content to millions of new rural internet users?

Each of these segments has distinct content requirements. Each of them needs to be reached and engaged with in different ways.

1) Getting the youth to care

Millennials, rather post-millennials, are hot property for most marketers. But they are a difficult and fickle demographic too. The need is to present substantive information to them in an engaging, contextual, approachable and unbiased manner.

Established mainstream media houses have rolled up their sleeves to ride this wave. So have the new digitally-native disruptors like ScoopWhoop, along with a bunch of social-media powered viral content players like The Logical Indian and The Political Indian.

However, most of the content being churned out is fairly shallow, relying primarily on entertainment or culturally popular tropes to attract traffic. The audience is not being viewed as serious information consumers, but rather, as a tool to achieve virality.

But data indicates a hunger for information: 80 percent of youth (18 to 24-year-olds) use the internet as their first source of information (as per the Google State of Mobile Internet Report, 2016). The report also states that the youth spends, on an average, at least half an hour every day browsing for information, and that 55 percent of them do research online before any buying decision.

What we need to realise is that these will be consumers of serious content tomorrow; part of the decision making process.

Organisations that can speak to and empower this section may find a whole new market for themselves to occupy and mine. How? Try using popular themes/memes, explainers, infographics, engaging multimedia versions and community involvement. How you distribute is also important — for instance, Snapchat and Instagram might be better ways to express short-form information than to expect people to come to a website.

2) Who is serving the ladies?

In my opinion, women have been underserved and taken for granted by most content outlets for far too long. The content provided has stayed limited to entertainment and fashion. Why is it that we can’t think of leveraging content in a way that brings millions of women into the fold of news, information, and problem solving, in a meaningful and empowering manner?

Women need a breadth of information from a trusted source with which they can engage. The daily range of information that women look for is wider than men. For example, typically, a man looks for general news, politics, sports and gadgets/tech, whereas a woman is not only interested in news and politics, but also in things like career, health, family, parenting, lifestyle and wellness.

However, the way they interact with information is different — it is not a second-by-second pinging on their phones, but fewer and more substantial pieces of content that attracts them. Similarly, because the sense of community is stronger, sourcing content through a network of contributors will lead to more interaction, engagement and trust.

The time is ripe for a digital product that can be informative and empower the growing woman digital user. After all, it is a significant market segment, which is growing phenomenally. According to data by Google Survey India, in association with Pew Research and ShesConnected, about 60 million women are online in India, of which over 24 million access the internet daily. Also, importantly, 75 percent are in the 15–34 age group. Moreover, the Google State of Mobile Internet Report states that both working (approx. growth rate 100%) non-working women are the fastest growing segment (approx. growth rate 250%) of internet users in India.

3) Is there anything for rural India?

Without a doubt, this is the next frontier of digital growth. The need for quality information is paramount, but most content producers are more than happy churning out low quality entertainment content or sensationalistic news that will get advertisers reach.

If we go by a BCG report, then the number of connected rural consumers is likely to increase from about 120 million in 2015 to almost 315 million in 2020, a jump of almost 30 percent every year. This means that almost half of all connected Indians will be rural users. Further, more than 60 percent of rural users have been online for less than two years, which means most rural users are still relatively immature digitally, and their usage patterns can be expected to evolve as they gain experience.

This is the opportunity. But, how can a primarily urban media deliver content in the correct tonality and maintain empathy?

By viewing rural India as a real place, not as the stereotype that mainstream media does. Rural content doesn’t only mean farming-related issues and folk art-related entertainment. People in rural India are just as curious about the rest of the world as they are about governance, infrastructure, career, healthcare and gender issues.

This could be well achieved through a network of citizen journalists from every block and panchayat. This could be interspersed by expert contributors on issues that involve topics like personal health and career. And to close the loop, providers of content can position themselves as tools for better governance and an information source for local authorities. (This model is being executed well by Gaon Connection in UP)

Further, for the purposes of rural India, a destination website might not be a wise strategy. Instead, a strong WhatsApp and social media strategy will be key. Creating an early beachhead through meaningful content should be of paramount importance to any content business. And yes, monetisation will not be an elusive goal.