It’s 2:48pm on a Sunday, and this is how I’ve spent the past few hours:
Woke up at 9am
9:04 am: Watched the Great British Bake Off, Season 6, until 12:30 afternoon.
12:33 pm: Put my hair in a bun and headed on the NQR down to the office.
1:25 pm: After deleting the Facebook and Twitter apps from my phone this past week due to a Brave New World-esque addictive-like use, spent the afternoon messing about on Photoshop to make a new collage for Instagram. So much for ridding myself of social media.
2:53 pm: Got onto my site to create my next blog post, which is what my “Writing Sundays” are actually for.
To say Netflix and social media are addictive is not a new conversation. There are media theorists aplenty asking what it means for the collective productivity when tech companies engineer their products in a way that practically hijacks our minds, feeding on our most addictive tendencies. I’ve got my two cents on the matter, but that’s for another blog post.
What’s the most ironic about my lazy Sunday morning is that I was quite looking forward to writing this post. Blogging is my favorite part of the job, which I’m looking forward to having more time for now that I’ve got my lovely hire, Zara, to help me out with more client work. Anyhow, here I am at 3:02 pm, feeling mentally spent, as though I’ve come crashing down from a sugar rush, strewn with guilt that I’ve consumed so much more “content” than I would’ve liked.
(As a general rule, the word “content” with no identifying adjective annoys me because it’s way too general, lumping the kind that makes you feel icky and having wasted your time with the kind that really educates you, making a small difference in your unique life in some unique way.)
“Snackable” Content is Highly Caloric
It’s that very feeling of the sugar rush that venture capitalist Matt Hartman at betaworks told me once in an interview that he’s out to combat. He invests in companies that offer sustainable, smart content that people enjoy but don’t obsess over, instead of slimy, trendy, addictive content that goes viral but quickly falls off the attention cliff after a couple of months or even years, because the businesses themselves perform a lot better in the long run. That’s true, he says, even if the company kept replenishing their profiles and sites with “snackable” content once the world got bored with the first batch. It’s like eating three bags of potato chips a day. After a while, you’d get grossed out with potato chips even if you generally really like potato chips in moderation.
With content with intellectual integrity, on the other hand, the audience doesn’t resent reading/watching it, and in turn, doesn’t resent the brand as a whole. As a brand, when your audience starts to feel like you’ve wasted their time, it’s hard to come back from that, both from a reputational and financial standpoint. Facebook and Instagram as brands themselves are dealing with it now, as the movement to sign out for good is taking the world by storm. Games like CandyCrush, Words with Friends, and 2048 have already lost this battle. Even figures that were once successful are deadbeat because what they do doesn’t really help anyone. Remember Perez Hilton? Ryan Seacrest? Perhaps this is telling of the future of the Kardashian dynasty, Tasty Videos, “the lifestyle influencer”, perhaps even Netflix on the whole. Nobody scrolls through that content for three hours and walks away saying, “wow, I feel better for having done that.” For a business, that’s a problem.
Meaningful content means churn rate stays consistent over a long time. You don’t leave people after two years feeling like, “oh my god. I have to get this out of my life.” Hartman himself said, “Younger people are much more savvy about how services are trying to rehook them, and that’s an instantiation of this idea that ‘I want you to respect my time.’” Amen.
Here’s our official mission statement, which can be found on our About page:
Studio 96 is committed to producing content with intellectual integrity, reflective of both the creator’s and the brand’s skill, potential, and individualism.
This is our mission not just because we’re tired of boring, sugar-rushy content filling up our screens, although we are. It’s not even just our mission because we are in such awe of a brand’s skill and uniqueness, although of our clients we are, too. This is S96’s mission because at the end of the day, creating meaningful content does much to ensure you’ll have customers in the long run.
Why The Great British Bakeoff?
Now, a bit of Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood judging decadent scones and sweets isn’t going to end my world, but since I’m not a baker and have no plans to become one, it does feel like a bit of a waste of my time.
But here’s why it’s not entirely the sugar-rush type of content, either: for all I know, passionate bakers might glean immense insight from the contestants’ skilled techniques.
When I watch The Great British Bakeoff, I very much enjoy it but walk away feeling like I should have probably done something else for the past three and a half hours. But just because I feel that way doesn’t mean they aren’t providing meaningful, sustainable content that people care about, hence why it’s been running for six seasons and continues be in successful production.
If you get the chance to observe my Nanny Valerie watching the show you’d see what I’m talking about. As a proxy for the larger audience of technical bakers, my Nanny always states what the master amateur bakers will say or do before they do, as they follow up with the camera about why they’re adding the butter this way or stacking the cake that way. She marvels in the intricacy of the bakers’ piping, and criticizes them when they knead the dough too much, shaking her head with pursed lips in expected disappointment when the bread comes out too tough. The Great British Bakeoff confirms her knowledge about baking and gives her more, and so she loves it. People who binge this show because it’s fun and entertaining walk away feeling slimy. People who binge it because they feel like they’re learning walk away feeling educated and excited to get baking. There’s a niche who cares about the craft or art or science, and there’s everybody else who consumes it because they just sort of like it and stop following you in a year.
One could argue the same relationship exists when it comes to make-up artists vs. general fans of Kylie’s Lip Kit Instagram, or adventurous fashion connoisseurs vs. lifestyle followers of Chiara Ferragni.
It is very difficult to navigate this line between creating meaningful content for your unique audience and creating the sugar rush type that works for a general whole. For that reason, it’s more important than ever for brands to be wary of getting too excited when they get a lot of clicks or likes really quickly, because it might not mean that much if they’re not developing a consistent audience but one who ends up resenting them. We’ve just drafted a blog post for a client, BrandTotal, about this very idea, referring to what Alon Leibovitch, BrandTotal’s CEO, calls “vanity metrics” (will link to it when it’s published!). A company can get clicks through the wazoo, but who’s clicking? Why do they care? And what does their care mean for the bottom line in the long run?
In building a blog, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s easy to track views and clicks and shares. It’s much harder to figure out why people care. But when you’ve found a niche that does matter to people, you grow. That’s called building a sustainable brand. But you have to start from the bottom up, where you first generate meaningful “parts”—blog posts, pictures, videos, recipes, whatever—that engaged readers directly respond to. Once you’ve nailed that niche, the sort of abstract nature of the “brand” follows. That’s why running brand awareness campaigns in early stages of a company is a waste of money and time. Meaningful content is the sort that encourages people to respond and question, because that ultimately means a shorter conversion journey. Meaningful engagement is the best proxy we have to measure how applicable that blog is to real peoples’ lives. We do know that sugar rush-y content is not thought-provoking because it’s not helpful, and most importantly, not directly relevant solutions to the questions of peoples’ lives.
So thanks, Mary Berry, Paul Hollywood, and the BBC, for giving the world’s technical bakers a really fantastic show to watch. Not so much thanks for those like me without adequate self control to stop binging TV series. With the former, we wish you all the best.