Content Marketing 2020: my journey as the product, the producer, and now the platform

By 2020 75% of all mobile traffic will be video…( -Cisco ) Whoa…

To say things are changing rapidly is an understatement. What are you gonna do about it?

1998. I’m hiking a glacier in Chechnya with my buddy Danny, ready to ski down the highest peak in Europe. 20 miles to our South there’s a civil war raging over the attempted Chechnyan secession from the Russian Federation, we can hear and see the explosions over the ridge… Yet there we were, a couple of adrenaline junkie kids from the U.S. getting ready to hurl ourselves (minus helmets) down a sheet of ice.

Perched a few hundred yards away is our buddy Chris, setting up his film (yes, film) camera to capture the action. If the footage is good, we’ll make the cut of Warren Miller’s next ski movie. If it’s bad, we’ll make the movie anyway, but in the end credits blooper reel.

20 years ago I was the product, the guy Salomon and Smith sponsored to demonstrate their wares in action, the more extreme the environment the better. 20 years ago we didn’t have helmet cams, we didn’t have drones with follow-me GPS, we had guys (and gals) with cameras and crates of gear, production was the privilege of the few who knew what they were doing, and budgets made it possible for us to film on a glacier in a war zone, 6000 miles away from home. Our film crew had the skier’s equivalent of the best gear available, and me being a gear junkie, I was hooked. Media was going to be my next career path.

Fast forward 10 years, I’m on the other side of the camera now, traveling the globe making films for brands like Leica, Red Bull, Vans, and Yeti. My business partner and I have carved out a nice niche for ourselves, our arsenal of filmmaking tools growing to match our ambitions as filmmakers. $300k location shoot for a single piece of content? Great. How about we shoot 1000 frames per second, motion control with explosions, and bump to $500k? Yes, please.

For a time life was good, consumer tech didn’t represent an existential threat. Budgets were healthy, we obsessed over lenses and shooting techniques, and spent loads of money and time creating “films”, not “branded content”. We did some amazing work over the years, we created art.

In recent years, though, some cracks appeared in my foundation. I started to question if our work was really helping brands…I wasn’t sure anymore. Everyone loves a great story with ridiculous production value, but was that narrative selling shoes? How could we justify the cost and multiple months shooting on two continents, if the CMO’s nephew just shot some content on his iPhone as a favor to his uncle, and it outperformed our beautiful opus?

Now’s a good time to highlight something very important: technology is the great democratizer. Today, everyday consumers carry supercomputers called smartphones, and they’re using them to tell and share stories faster and cheaper than ever before. No barriers to entry, everybody’s a filmmaker. This is a game changer.

Fast forward a few more years, now I’m questioning everything…people are tired of watching ads, they don’t trust brands, agencies are getting pummeled, ad blocking is on the rise, technology is hockey-sticking, Ai, AR, VR, everyone is a content creator, phones shoot 4k, Red Digital is releasing a phone?? I mean, what the hell is going on?

The world’s changing, I think we get that. But amid all this, something more subtle started happening, a shift. I noticed it years ago in indirect ways, but it started to come at me like a tidal wave.

This shift isn’t in the narrative, it’s not new camera techniques, drones (which are super cool btw) or 5K video, it’s cultural. More specifically, a cultural change as a result of social video and mobile. Technology wins again: it put the power in the hands of the consumer, and the consumer started re-writing the rules by owning the conversation.

Did social media start out as advertising platforms? No, it was created as a place for people to share and connect, the only reason brands showed up was because of the eyeballs. As advertisers we viewed social as more inventory to shove an old model into people’s faces without considering the potential blowback. Now these platforms are losing credibility because they’re alienating their original consumer and rewarding brands. Whether you believe consumers now endure 500 or 5000 brand messages per day, it’s too much.

Some suggestions for advertisers? First, stop barking at me. One-way advertising doesn’t work, I tune out…in fact I’m starting to resent you for it. You want to put a pre-roll video in before I watch a dinosaur video with my 4 year old? No. Go away. Forever.

Publishers are going to wake up to the fact that consumers will no longer accept content pushed upon them; we now live in choice-based, “pull” environment, where the user is in control. If you can’t provide those choices, you simply won’t survive in the new (media) world order.”

-Nikao Yang, EVP, Global Publishing Partnerships, AdColony.

What do we (yes, we’re all consumers) want? I live in social now, I want stories and content that resonates with me, where I hang out. I want real vs polished, I want human vs corporate. I want to engage now, if you make me wait months I’ve already moved on. Don’t find me, I’ll find you. Once I invite you into my life, if you’re good to me I’ll be good to you.

These “new rules” blow my mind. Partly because they’re obvious, but also because they’re an allergic reaction to decades of old school advertising — we as marketers need to learn how to play nice in a new sandbox.

Listen before you speak. Adapt or die. Go back to school. Teach an old dog new tricks. Whatever your catch phrase, stop doing things the way you’ve always done them, expecting different results. That’s called insanity…your audience has moved on.

Before you create, stop and ask yourself the question, does it add value? If not why are you talking about it? To be relevant you have to be a part of the daily chatter. You have to create content like a conversation, good conversationalists don’t interrupt, and they are always available when I WANT to talk. Don’t interrupt my day, let me invite you in.

We also need better tools with which to do our jobs. The same way technology has empowered consumers, technology should empower marketers. Not complicated, bloated, burdensome tech — simple, fast, straightforward, usable tech. Tech that gets out of your way, and lets you focus on learning those new tricks I mentioned above. The consumer has shifted, the channels have changed, but how we produce and disseminate content has not evolved. It’s time for a re-think.

So what are you gonna do about it……I’ll tell you what I did. A year ago I walked out the front door of my business, went home and told my wife and family that I just quit. I was scared, I put my family at risk, I put my career at risk.

You can be part of the problem, or part of the solution. I chose the latter. I dove into tech, distilling everything I’ve learned over 20 years and applying those lessons directly into creating an elegant software platform for tomorrow’s brands, agencies, and creators. We’re calling it ZPPR. I couldn’t be more excited and energized for the future. I have amazing business partners, visionary advisors, and a support team second to none.

Change is not easy, but evolution is what keeps us relevant. No turning back. It’s go time.