King of Hearts

Content vs. Experience—Who’s King?

There’s an expression that’s been floating around for a while: “Content is King.” But is that really true? Let’s challenge that for a moment.

After World War II, North Americans entered a phase where the profusion of products was like nothing the world had ever seen. Affluence and new technologies converged to produce wondrous appliances that could wash our clothes and dishes, fly hundreds of ordinary people through the air on long haul flights, transmit television broadcasts into every home, put every kind of new treat on our tables, and treat virtually every minor ailment.

Enter the era of brands. Into this cornucopia of new products emerged a set of great brands that promised us quality, consistency, trustworthiness, and proven results. From Crest, to Kellogg’s, to Tide, these trusted marks exuded personality and dominated our imaginations—and wallets. They made sense of the new abundance, gave us signposts so we could make sound decisions and stick to them.

Then, with the advent of information technology, a new revolution occurred. We raised our expectations and started demanding that brands entertain and educate us—beyond merely making purchase decisions. Branded content and branded entertainment came into being. Websites needed to be more than just corporate information, they needed to be filled and updated with stimulating content. They became “destinations” and “portals”. Whole communities gathered around some of these digital portals. And these communities demand content. Hence the term “Content is king”.

But consumers today are far more resourceful and independent than they were when our parents were children. Far less passive. Today, anyone can create content, and sometimes highly entertaining content at that. All you need is a Mac, or an iPhone camera, or a simple design application, and you can create and broadcast your own content. You can amass a fan base of millions, in fact, through your own homemade content.

As a result, what people today prize more than anything else, is experience. Experiences that are inspiring—unique. Experiences that are worth posting and sharing and discussing. What brands today have is the opportunity—and pressure—to create are multi-sensory experiences that are not easy to replicate by users themselves. Experiences that transition seamlessly from a digital screen, to a physical environment, to a tactile object, to a person-to-person experience, and back to the digital environment. Experiences that are greater than the sum of their parts. And that touch us both emotionally and intellectually.

Therefore, it stands to reason that content without an experience design behind it— can prove to be a colossal waste of money. And experience design that is not deeply connected to a underlying brand strategy—can be a missed opportunity. All three layers must line up.

So, in this worldview, Content isn’t king. Experience is king. Content is merely the pawn. And Brand Strategy is the power behind the throne. In an upcoming post, we’ll explore examples of branded experiences that are intimately connected to a thoughtful brand strategy.