Future Media Success Is More than a Path

Immersive technologies offer incredible new media experiences. These paths give us the opportunity to develop new ways of interacting with our communities.

We will create incredible experiences that alter the very fabric of our lives. As the media we use becomes accepted, case studies will emerge showing how brands compelled people with remarkable moments and applications.

Consider the movie Her and the role of personal artificial intelligence avatars in society. You may think it’s far off, but the MIT Media Lab is already working on a similar project involving personal robots. Perhaps social validation via Facebook won’t mean much when we can simply ask our own personal Carla Jung what she thinks about our deepest fears.

Whatever you think of personal AI, we are entering a time when rich media will be served to us in cars. We’ll receive directions, have tweets read to us, view overlay screens, place entertainment consoles in the rear seat and more. Watches empowered with technologies like Google Now already prompt us in our ear buds that the subway stop is just two blocks to the right, and that waiting for the third train will actually save us time.

Those are just two obvious examples of the near future or the not-quite-adopted now. Yet, these portable media offer brands and content creators new paths to explore. It’s always been this way.


During Halloween 1938, the United States experienced the incredible impact of radio drama via The War of the Worlds. No one expected such a captivating tale. Radio moved from a medium to gather around and became an incredible, dynamic imagination machine. Broadcasters were outraged, and Orson Welles became one of the world’s great dramatists.

Every entertainment podcaster today and every bad alien movie (Cowboys and Aliens comes to mind) can thank Orson Welles and CBS for breaking new ground and creating a compelling experience with an already established medium. Welles and CBS in turn surely thanked H.G. Wells for his brilliance in novel form, all the way back in 1898.

Data and Visual Media Offer Paths

I am struck by two common themes in online marketing today: the overwhelming movement towards analytics and the increasing drumbeat of visual media. Both are necessary movements — ones I have touted, too — offering paths that lead to better relationships with customers.

Paths are important, but you need levers. That is the issue with today’s data and visual media conversations. They fail to blend levers with paths.

Data points the way to better engagement or more conversions, but you need to compel people. Data only gives us the preferences of the moment and an understanding of community needs. If we fail to build strong levers, people look for a different resolution to their needs.


Today’s marketing experts talk about visual media, but often don’t know how to develop and use illustrations, graphics, photos and videos. So we hear a lot of chatter about visual media but see few levers. If there was ever a medium in which to show and not tell, this would be it. Instead, we have road signs in the form of blog posts that point out paths, but don’t compel people.

Boring “me, too” campaigns ensue. The first ones work. But as the signal gets noisier, common content approaches fade to black. While the path is correct, the levers are weak. They lack creativity.

What’s another store selling its wares on Halloween? How about flipping the paradigm and making fun of your overwhelming box store experience with a Shining tribute, one that speaks to your target customers (30- and 40-something families with kids)? Marketing paths need creative levers.

Compel Us


Levers compel us. Paths give us a means to create levers, but we need to do more. We have to tell interesting stories and innovate upon the current level of useful content.

Shooting photos in Washington, DC can be tough. Some subjects are so well photographed you really have to look for a different perspective. I often look for a high or low point of view, or shoot at night, or use a long exposure.

A common subject becomes compelling, more interesting. The Washington Monument takes on a different look in the fog with a long exposure. It’s spooky! A fitting shot for a Halloween week.

You’ve got data. You know you need to become more visual. What are you going to do to compel people?

The Snackable Misnomer

Throughout the social media marketing web, photos and video and infographics are often discussed as “snackable” content. Calling rich media snackable is a big misnomer (Image by decipherment).

Bloggers began using the term in the late 2000s as a means to describe short content. However, since then the mobile web dominates online media consumption and the sheer volume of blogs and print content has increased. As a result, visual media has become more than a cute hors d’oeuvres to augment online media offerings. Instead, visual media have become the necessary hook to capture customer interest.

Calling rich media snackable is a failure to see the dynamic draw of visuals, and how they serve as an essential first step to engaging others in a possible customer journey. Rich media often serves as the first touch, the means to draw interest and start someone on their web journey. Using my former colleague Beth Kanter’s Ladder of Engagement metaphor, today’s rich media often serves as the first step on the ladder.

What was considered primary media is rapidly becoming boring and unreadable to more and more causal web users. Many consumers won’t dig deep without a clear interest.

Rich Content Creation Takes Time

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Creating rich media that is easier to consume is just as time intensive as text, if not more so. Setting up a professional video or photo shoot takes hours, not minutes. That doesn’t even include editing time. Yet bloggers who think they can run a corporate Instagram account with casual one-off “snacks” shot on their smartphone wouldn’t know that.

Graphic design is also time intensive.

Then consider the amount of time it takes to write and produce scripts, and short but powerful captions. These things need sharp catchy text and strong calls to action, if the ladder is to be climbed. I used to dismiss BuzzFeed until I dug a little deeper into its format. I realized how much effort goes into each article.

When rich content is created, you need a method to disseminate it. Whether through an organic community or a paid one through native advertising or earned media through pr mechanisms, you need a community to serve your time-intense rich media.

It’s In the Way That You Use It


So you can see rich media is not really a snack, unless you deploy it strategically in that manner. More and more brands are meeting the mobile trend by using rich media as the first step on their ladder of engagement.

If you are operating from the standpoint that print is the center of your content offering, then it makes sense to treat rich media as snackable. But the sea change that is occurring in online media consumption may force a strategic shift.

More online content leaders and increasingly the agency community are coaching their colleagues to use visual media as a primary vehicle. In that vein, Tenacity5 is releasing a blog post, slideshare deck and eBook tomorrow filled with simple tips on how to use visual media on a variety of networks.

One of the reasons we engaged in the effort was the snackable issue. We see the concept of using rich media as window dressing or secondary content as a strategic error. And we are seeing the shift in the marketplace, too. Tenacity5 is only one year old, but three of our six clients are leading with visual media as primary assets. It’s time to educate the sector about this shift.

What do you think?

More Evidence that Visuals Far Outpace Text

Digiday surveyed attendees of its Agency Innovation Camp about how visual native ads stack up against text based native ads (hat tip: Richard Binhammer). More often than not, attendees favored visuals by 75 percent or more.

The below infographic states attendees opinions about native advertising environments.The survey does not have enough of a sample to be scientifically valid (80 attendees), but it does fall in line with general trends in the movement towards a visual Internet.


The evidence continues to mount. As a strategist if you don’t include at least a hybrid visual/text approach to your content creation, then it’s fair to expect mediocre results. The argument that higher quality written content will still survive may be true for a select few properties, but the margin for success will continue to narrow.

Whether it’s photography, graphics or video, every piece of content today must communicate visually. The visual cannot be bolted on to content as an afterthought.

The purpose of said content — from an ad to a highly detailed piece of content that is text driven — must include visuals that are intentional in purpose. Visuals convey the meaning of said communication clearly and consiely, much quicker than the words do.

Text in many ways works with the visual to tell the richer story. Many won’t read all of the text. In fact, if someone is reading content on a smartphone, it’s likely they won’t get beyond the first paragraph. But the words are there in a transmedia sense for those who want to go further down the proverbial rabbit hole.

What do you think?

The Medium Is the Method

Say what you will about Marshall McLuhan and the timeless media theory debate he inspired, “The medium is the message.” If you read his work, you come to appreciate how much he anticipated, from the destruction of privacy to the dramatic impact that electronic media change inspires.

While I believe a brand experience transcends any singular medium, I do believe the ability to navigate media change marks the successful communicator. Stasis in tactical approach is the fastest way to make oneself irrelevant. Communicators need to adapt methods to rapidly evolving media.

The medium becomes the method. At a minimum it defines the tactical approach.

Consider the mass scurry that occurs everytime Google alters its algorithm or Facebook changes its interface. Communicators across the Internet write posts telling peers and clients What It Means. Media change defines the communicator’s approach. On a larger scale, those channels must evolve frequently to remain prescient in the face of fast moving trends, such as integrating contextual data, visual media consumption, widespread spamming based on their systems, and more.

Worked Over By Media


McLuhan said that “all media work us over completely.” He meant from a sociological perspective. Media defines our behavior, from consumption to interaction. Technology evolution defines the medium itself, forcing networks and traditional media to evolve or perish.

Doubt me? Go to your favorite restaurant and leave your phone in the car. Then watch everyone else use their phones. They ignore their dinner mates, or share conversation points with them, or even take a selfie (mates are optional). The smartphone defines our experience, both at the physical level as well as how we present our experience online (true or false).

Consider how integral social has become to TV’s existance. Yesterday’s True Blood season premier was promoted with a preceding social TV marathon. Those social media updates usually occur on mobile phones and tablets while people watch the show.

Keep in mind the iPhone was first introduced to the market in 2007. Android entered our worlds one year later. In January, 2014 66.8 percent of Americans owned a smartphone, according to Comscore. Thorough society-wide changes occured in less than a decade.

The Media Debate

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Last week I added my voice to the on and off again debate of whether (independent) blogging is dying. It was the first time I outright said that blogging is probably not a smart primary tactic for a significant group of companies.

Why say that? Online media has changed in the past 10 years. The difficulties and slow rewards of daily blog production in the face of other content creation options makes blogging less attractive in my mind. I would weigh other tactics first.

The discussion spawned here by the movement towards visual literacy saw some severe reactions defending text-based communications. Certainly text will not disappear, but I do beleive it will become a secondary form of content presentation as evidenced by significant trends. It’s not that photos are becoming dominant, it’s that people increasingly prefer video, photos, graphics, podcasts, etc. over text. That trend will only increase as more content is created and mobility continues to dominate Internet access.

Even discussions like this written post are becoming more of a niche form with every passing year. There will always be some who prefer to weigh their thoughts through the written word. But like the senior executive who doesn’t understand how to integrate travel itineraries onto their smartphone, we will be surpassed by the media change. Unless we adapt to the medium.

The medium is the method. We have no choice but to change or become irrelevent.

Usefulness Is Just a Baseline

A butterfly uses its wings to fly and find food as well as escape from danger. The wings are very useful, but it doesn’t stop there. The presentation of the wing extends beyond baseline utility to serve as a visual Darwinistic survival tool. Wings are unique from species to species, providing a means to camouflage the butterfly from various environmental predators.

In our little echo chamber, the words usefulness and utility are often bantied about when discussing successful content. I could not agree more, usefulness is an absolute necessity for successful content. Yet, it’s not enough. Usefulness is just a baseline.

What do I mean by that?

If brands deliver self-centered content and social updates, they won’t attract people no matter how good or entertaining they are. Useful content is absolutely necessary. Brands must deliver information that customers need and want, not messages, positioning, or other forms of promotional self-congratulational back pats. Customers just don’t care. This is why Jay Baer’s book Youtility was so important for the industry (see my review here).

At the same time, while usefulness is almost always a must for successful content (damn you, Buzzfeed), alone it is increasingly not enough. Many, many useful pieces of content, from blogs to slideshare presentations, are published and shared every day.

Some say it is because of content shock, and that’s a fantastic conversation. I’ll say that while useful content is critical, if it’s presented in a boring, non-distinguishing manner, it will likely fail today.

Infotainment: Usefulness Plus Engagement

Information Growth

When you read Mary Meeker’s 2014 Internet Trends report consider how the quantified act of sharing information is growing on an exponential basis. You can see why providing a simple primer may not be enough today, and definitely not tomorrow. There is much more competition thanks to mobile phones (see the full report), and as a result, content needs to be better engineered to distinguish itself.

Content must be useful, and it needs become easy and fun to read/watch/listen. Specifically, content creators need to reimagine their approaches to:

  • Provide visual information that works well on mobile phones and tablets.
  • Integrate text information with strong visual information to provide depth.
  • Entertain and deliver a pleasing presentation that makes content enjoyable.
  • Offer consistent — but not necessarily frequent — quality that integrates well with an overall brand experience.

These points were made over and over again at Demand Success last Friday. Whether it was Avinash Kaushik‘s fantastic keynote (pictured below), Ann Handley‘s speech on quality content and writing, or my Content Boom panel featuring Richard Binhammer, Nichole Kelly, Christopher Penn, and Joe Webster, speakers emphasized the need to deliver appealing content. Usefulness was almost always cited, but visual presentation and appealing/entertaining delivery were consistently referenced as must have factors, too.


Most importantly, a customer/stakeholder centric north star was cited as the underlying current for all content. I remember coming up in Washington, and being told how important it was to come to meetings well-dressed and with my information rehearsed, including how it mattered to the other party. It seems that while intuitive in business meetings, we fail to bring the same level of customer-centric care and attentiveness to our marketing content.

Even automobile manufacturers understand the need to provide information and entertainment in one systematic experience. This is the way people — customers, stakeholders, and employees — want to receive information today and in the immediate future.

So, if your content is useful and you have a good distribution strategy (that’s another post in its own right), but it still is not going anywhere, then consider the presentation of that information.

What do you think?

Visual Literacy Means Better Thinking

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog about the world moving from text-based to visual communications, an underlying angst was touched upon. A fear exists that visual literacy may mean more ignorance and the general dumbing down of society as a whole.

First, let’s be clear. Visual literacy is not a new concept. It dates back to the sixties.

The recent media trend towards communicating with video, pictures and graphics has inspired people to building methods of encouraging visual literacy. The Internet world has started wrestling with this as an entire culture, but some thought leaders were earlier in driving visual media. Others have even published a strong how-to book for marketers looking to master visual in the social context.

Yet the tension remains. What will a society where people learn and communicate visually — and struggle with reading and writing — look like?

Will we become a society of ignorant fools? Will superstition and bogus news stories dominate our thinking? Will violence and polarizing behavior continue to trend upwards? Will there be so much visual bait demanding our attention that image pollution and desensitization are the next battle after content shock?

This is the End


Context means everything in this conversation. Ignorance or lack of education has been best typified by the inability to read or write effectively, the common definition of illiteracy.

People who were bright, but didn’t know how to read or write effectively or didn’t have a college education were dubbed “street smart.” This is how we were raised to think when I was a kid (back in the neanderthal era). I know I’m not alone.

When someone from this kind of upbringing encounters an inability to speak and write well, we think illiterate. This also assumes ignorance. Afterall, the written word was the foundation of civilization, preventing us from sinking back into the Dark Ages.

This well-rooted historical view creates a prejudice steeped in an increasingly archaic definition of information literacy.

Once can come to understand concepts and communicate extremely well through other means. And if the devolving state of writing coming from most college graduates is any bellweather, let us hope some improvement in communication arises soon.

And the Beginning


We as a species process visual information faster than than the written word. We come to understand objects as infants and toddlers well before we can read or write. I’ve heard that we understand visual information 500 to as much as 60,000 times faster than text.

Perhaps visual is the way we are meant to digest information. It’s just that historically we needed a Gutenberg press or its derivative to exchange ideas. Now we just need an S5 or an iPhone.

As we move forward into an era of visual learning and media, it could be argued those of us who only use and understand text to communicate will become the illiterate ones.

Now that’s a scary thought.

Using objects to learn from as opposed to words may lead to more and faster growth of knowledge. Those who master visual learning may be able to create and evolve ideas, concepts, and technologies faster than their counterparts in prior eras. They will need to build from a foundation of knowledge. Innovation requires understanding the current state of things, and the historical predecessors that got us to the present.

Traditionally, ideas and concepts have been retained for our reference through books, papers and articles. This was the classic role of the library. In the modern era, right or wrong we find this information through Wikipedia, Google, and other perhaps more qualified sources online.

But some search on YouTube for answers now. One of my favorite sites to search for photography information is KelbyOne. There are tons of answers to all sorts of questions, but the answers are in a video format. I prefer this kind of reference information than reading my Nikon D7100 manual or the Adobe Photoshop help guides.

Libraries recognized visual literacy well before it became hot as a trend. Microfiches, video libraries, etc. have all existed for decades. Now the visual may become the primary media form within the libraries of the future. And perhaps those libraries will only be online with a Siri-like interface much like Neal Stephenson envisioned so long ago in Snow Crash.

Part of literacy in my mind is being able to delineate quality information from bad data. In the visual world, that includes producing and consuming quality media in a loud world.

People struggle with seeing things and understanding whether they are real or fake. They think the unfiltered is filtered and vice versa. They believe the video clip rather than question if it is a screenplay. The infographic is trusted even if it doesn’t cite sources.

Separating good visual commmunication from the bad, the signal from the noise, will mark the literate mind of tomorrow.

What do you think?