dart boardAccording to Ben Elowitz, CEO of Wetpaint, “content is no longer king.” In an article Elowitz published on All Things D this week, he states that the evolution of the internet has killed that mantra, and content and distribution have parted ways making way to disaggregation. He explains that content is a means to an end, and that end is an audience, particularly for advertisers who pay to reach that audience. Therefore, he believes that content shouldn’t be the goal, audience should. He writes:

“[Media] companies have sunk billions into content management systems — using CMS as the cornerstone of their modernization — under the impression that they traffic in content. But they don’t. They traffic in audience. And how much have they spent on audience development systems? Not much, if any at all. Distribution decisions are just as important as content decisions in building and serving an audience, and yet they’re being largely ignored. The myopic focus on content over distribution is widespread, and it’s a bad business decision.”

Elowitz offers three steps that media companies need to follow to succeed in the future.

  1. Put someone in charge of audience development, and that role should not be an editorial position. It should be its own discipline.
  2. Adopt an audience development strategy using the data available to them to select the best content, distribution channels, and timing for publishing content.
  3. Be systematic in audience development which will turn audience development into an important competitive advantage.

I can understand the point Ben is trying to make — that many media companies don’t prioritize the wants and needs of their audience — and his three suggested steps are ones that every online publisher should follow. However, I disagree with the idea that content and distribution have parted ways. I actually think they’re closer than ever.

It’s true, as Elowitz states in his article, that content distribution is no longer linear. However, that simply means the importance of understanding your audience and publishing content that will appeal to that audience depending on where and when they consume it brings the two disciplines together in a tight relationship. It’s a fundamental principle of marketing that applies to delivering content to an audience just as it applies to delivering messages about products to consumers. If you don’t know who your audience is, you’re throwing darts in the dark.

Without content, you can’t attract an audience. You might know who you want to reach online but without relevant, authoritative content that meets the wants, needs, and expectations of that target audience, you can’t get to them. Few online advertisers (with experienced media buyers) would purchase ad space without knowing who the audience is for the content on the page where the ad will display.

Content attracts the audience, and offering that content through appropriate distribution channels gives it broader exposure to the “right” audience. In Kick-ass Copywriting in 10 Easy Steps, I refer to this as the “Four Rights” — the right message, to the right audience, at the right time, and in the right place. Without the four rights, you’re content, distribution, and audience will be wrong.

In other words, content, distribution, and audience need to get along brilliantly. If any piece is missing, your results will suffer.

What do you think?

Image: Cleferson Comarela Barbosa