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Ambi Parameswaran lists ways media companies can define their digital blueprint based on Bharat Anand’s analysis in ‘The Content Trap

The Valentine’s Day of the year 2018 in my mind belongs to a girl from Kerala. Her ‘eyebrow-lift wink’ performed in a blink-and-miss scene in an innocuous Malayalam movie song, became the social media sensation of the month, at least till the diamond heist [or should I call it the PNB heist] started grabbing headlines.

What makes something as innocuous as a ‘wink’ go viral? And can any lessons be learnt from that? The obscure Malayalam song did not have the heavy duty star power of yet another viral hit that we saw in India a few years ago: Why This Kolaveri Di. At least that song had the power of a big Tamil film star.

In his book The Content Trap, professor Bharat Anand of Harvard Business School explains how content creators need to learn new tricks to survive in the digital age. Anand says, “The process of creating content has not changed much in some domains [such as writing a book or performing at a concert], while it has changed radically in others. But in every case, managing content couldn’t be more different than it was even a few years ago. The reason is connections”.

All content creators [the author included] live in a mindset that he calls ‘content trap’. This makes content creators obsess over isolated triggers rather than recognising the conditions that make them spread. It makes them take efforts to preserve content, and not focus on grabbing the opportunities around it. They define narrow boundaries. And finally content creators look for the best practice believing that there is one right approach while there may be none.

For example, my own wonderment is about the fact that what worked for Kolaveri Di was not what worked for the ‘eyebrow-lift wink’ song. Professor Anand argues that the way out of this chakravyuh of the content trap is to discover the power of connections. The author has outlined three such connections — connections between users, connections between products and connections across an organisation’s activities. These taken together can lead us out of the maze of what he calls a content trap.

While the book presents these concepts what was indeed enlightening were the examples, and unlike most American professors, Professor Anand has looked at examples from around the world. The way a small newspaper in Scandinavia managed to escape the death spiral that all newspapers are in; or how The New York Times succeeded in creating a pay wall after failing once by offering several options and understanding what its readers wanted. Indian examples such as the rise of Star TV on the back of Kaun Banega Crorepati gets an in-depth analysis in the book.  

The examples drawn from diverse content domains, newspapers, music [how the decline of music CD sales and value has a negative correlation with the price of concert tickets; music concerts are the primary revenue drivers for stars], television, digital media all of them find mention.

This is not a book meant for light aircraft reading, unless you are flying to an important meeting at your New York City head office to unveil the content strategy for your brand. It is a must read for anyone in the media, entertainment and content creation business. But I think it is also a very useful read for all marketing professionals, who are struggling with the concept of content marketing.

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