In the second of our series of first-hand perspectives on the world of marketing, our MD Julian shares his experience of how the digital revolution has changed the way we produce and consume content…or not
On Saturday, August 1, 1981 MTV launched with the words “Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll”. It was played over footage of the first Space Shuttle Columbia’s launch countdown from earlier that year, along with footage of the launch of Apollo 11.
I was about to go to university and if you had told me then that I was living on the watershed of the digital revolution, and that thirty five years later I would end up as MD of a creative content agency, I would have had no idea what you were talking about.
Along with getting my degree, my focus from 1981 to 1984 was on surviving my weekly essay crisis, listening to Spandau Ballet on my Walkman and talking about my favourite video on MTV. If asked what I wanted to do I would waffle about a career in either publishing or advertising, or talk vaguely about filmmaking and the power of video. I wanted to edit the next bestseller or come up with that magical strapline that would be on every consumer’s lips.
What hasn’t changed, in my opinion, is the essence of marketing and content.
The power of content
Needless to say my first job didn’t live up expectations. I found myself editing, cutting, pasting and laying out a business magazine by hand – no computers, desktop publishing packages or in fact any technology for us. The first computer arrived in our workplace in 1989 and slowly, but surely, our personal and professional lives began to change.
What hasn’t changed, in my opinion, is the essence of marketing and content. We humans love a good story. It’s why a great book or film can still ignite heated discussion around the office water cooler, down the pub or over social media. The nature of content has remained the same; it’s the way it’s created and shared that’s moved with the times. That I’m reading a book on my Kindle or streaming a film on Netflix doesn’t alter the essential story.
In the ‘80s, MTV inspired me, along with a group of friends, to make our own music video to a favourite John Foxx track, Underpass. We understood, without realising why, that images and visuals are the most powerful way of engaging people. I don’t think any of us are surprised that channels like YouTube have reinforced the power of video and become a way of delivering powerful messages and stories.
If MTV showed me the power of video, my career in publishing was an initiation into all things content. Through the ‘80s, ‘90s and into the 21st century I worked with a host of talented people creating everything from educational textbooks and alternative medicine publications to cookery books, wildlife books and DVD collections. Every new product was painstakingly brainstormed to draw out the unique selling point and develop a rigorous marketing strategy. I came to understand the value of a brand, how it can be nurtured, developed and grown, and how easily it can be damaged without the right care and attention.
During this time I worked closely with a number of agencies and I was attracted and intrigued by the dynamic, creative environment. I envied the challenge and variety of work. So, at the grand old age of 49, I decided to make a move into this exciting, fast-paced world of life as a content marketer. I was privileged that some of my agency contacts understood my passion for creating great content and could see how my experience as a client would add value to the team.
I came to understand the value of a brand…and how easily it can be damaged.
I’ve found that agency life really suits me. I love helping clients to distil the essence of their brand and share the stories that really matter. I feel particularly fortunate because my career began on an unplanned track, but with hindsight I can see that it has always been driven by an interest in creating engaging content.
The digital revolution has now, of course, transformed the way we work and live, but I don’t believe it’s fundamentally changed what people want and need. That’s lucky for me as it means my years in the business have given me a great perspective.
Lots of people come and talk to us about wanting the latest ‘thing’, whether that’s an app, microsite or social media campaign. Of course, we can give them these things, but we always ask first: who are you speaking to and trying to reach? What’s your message? What are your brand values? The technology or the channel should never be the starting point, that’s just the delivery mechanism for a broader strategy.
So, just as when I was in magazine and book publishing, engaging content still sells. We can simply sell it in many more ways than we could before.
And yes, I still listen to Spandau Ballet, just not on a Walkman.