This is my attempt at synthesizing ideas and concepts from Bharat Anand’s excellent book The Content Trap. Errors in interpretation are my fault. Credit for the insights is entirely Bharat’s.

Jul 25, 2019

Content is a curse. It causes you to think you can make what’s going to delight users. It causes you to ignore their contributions. It causes you to focus on your own content rather than how to get the best content in the world — content that anyone can make.

The current media scenario

The content industry is characterised by cut-throat competition, worsening financial outlooks, a passive management response, and management disagreement on how to respond to changing dynamics.

Content companies face a two-fold challenge: how to get noticed in a world with staggering choice, and how to get paid. Regrettably, responses to these challenges tend to have 3 counter-productive expressions:

  1. Obsession with isolated triggers rather than recognizing conditions that make them spread
  2. Effort to preserve content at all costs, rather than seizing opportunities around it
  3. Search for quick wins and “best practices”, instead of first-principles and capacity building

Superior content is great. Superior strategy is better

Great content — by itself — does not guarantee long-term success. Growth and innovation often come not from better content, but from effective strategy around it.

It’s up to you to figure out what this strategy is. For publishers like The Economist, it is the provision of Status as a Service (“I am smart because I read the Economist”). For the New York Times, it is the provision of Virtue as a Service (“I help speak truth to power because I subscribe to the Times”). And for a platform like TikTok, it is Amusement as a Service (“I am not bored when sitting on the toilet because I can consume short videos”).

Content is important for each of the 3 examples described above. But strategy is what helps move companies from mere commodities to brands that consumers love.

Don’t just create great content. Think about the overarching strategy — think through how content fits in the larger narrative.

Getting your strategy right

Get the functional (what will this content be used for), user (who consumes this content and what do they do with it) and product (how is this content consumed) connections around content right. To do this:

  1. Figure out which customers to go after and what they really want.
  2. Form a worldview about how customer behaviour is changing, but never start with your content while doing so. If you’re a content-creator, don’t start by understanding what you offer to users. Start with a view of how people are finding out about content, how they’re using content, and how they’re buying products related to your content.