Want to truly understand how content is
changing? Then you need to listen to Steve Rubel.
As Chief Content Strategist at Edelman, Rubel
spends his days identifying and explaining the rapid shifts in how consumers access
information, use technology, consume media, and engage with brands.
So, what is this Content Marketing All-Star seeing
in the landscape today? And which emerging trends is he keeping a close eye on?
Check out our Q&A below to find out:
What is your background and what does your role as a Chief Content Strategist
at Edelman entail?
A: I’ve been in communications for more that 25 years. Mid last-decade I helped launched some of the
earliest social media programs in PR.
Simultaneously I launched a blog that
chronicled the challenges and the opportunities the PR community faced with the
rise of social media.
This lead to my hiring by Edelman in 2006 and
I’ve proudly called the firm home ever since – coming up on 12 years.
My role as Chief Content Strategist is to help
us figure out what’s going on with all the different ways people get
information. I look at the holistic media landscape and the entire marketing
landscape to understand the different ways our clients should be considering
going to market and engaging stakeholders.
I would say my role is three parts: I spend a
significant amount of my time – a third or a half – as a researcher trying to
figure out what’s happening outside of our walls by talking with large
platforms, meeting with media company CEOs, and meeting with vendors; another
big part of my job is with others here to synthesize all that information into
a story that we share internally and with clients; finally, I’m out in the
industry sharing what we have learned and our vision of the future.
When you think across different platforms – social media, native advertising
and sponsored content, etcetera – do you see a thread or consistent theme on
what makes for good content versus bad content? Is there a foundational aspect
to what works?
A: I think the word “good” is subjective and it needs to be
The highest-quality doesn’t always win on the
Internet. It’s the folks who also understand the dynamics of distribution, how
technology is changing, and behavioral patterns, who are the most successful.
Let’s take the media world. In the late 90s
and early 2000s when the broadband desktop became a mainstream phenomenon,
Yahoo was the model. It was aggregating a lot of high-quality content in one
place and a group of media companies benefited from partnerships with Yahoo.
Then in the mid-2000s there was a group of
media companies that benefited from developing a search-centric strategy: they
delivered content which answered questions in headlines, things like that, and
they did extraordinarily well.
Now we’re in the social and mobile area, and
another group of media companies – those that understand the psychology of
sharing and how content elevates people’s identities – are thriving.
So, the quality is important but quality is
increasingly table stakes. It’s the folks who understand the dynamics of
distribution and consumption who do well.
you look at both 2017 as well as further out, what are the big content trends
that you’re seeing? What are you keeping a close eye on right now?
A: I think that a lot of us forget that the rise of the
smartphone is only a 10-year-old phenomenon; in terms of mass adoption it’s
even less. It’s only really six or seven years, maybe five years, where it has
become a mass device, and obviously in some countries, that’s still to come.
A lot of the things we are looking at are
driven by the fairly recent rise of smartphones.
One of the big trends is the dynamic that
exists between platforms and publishers/media companies. Depending on the
estimates you read, roughly 70% of the digital advertising spend is now concentrated
in two companies: Google and Facebook.
With that comes a host of issues. For media
companies, it raises the question of how to stay afloat in that dynamic.
We are also watching the concerns marketers
have with digital platforms and ad measurement. Traffic fraud and measuring
viewability is a major issue, and there’s this circle of mistrust that exists
right now between marketers, media-buying agencies, platforms and publishers.
More broadly, there’s this incredible
disruption in the media buying communities as it relates to the supply chain
right now. I think that’s an important dynamic that’s worth following because
it’s going to impact which kinds of content succeed going forward.
does that translate into what you guys do with your clients? Are there any
different approaches that you’re taking or different tactics you’re using?
A: A lot has changed. Let me give you two examples:
When you look at the media side, the majority
of consumption is taking place on mobile and you have two companies that are
kind of polar opposites – Google and Facebook – which control the vast
majority of distribution.
Given that, we’re increasingly working with data
providers to figure out what types of stories, what types of content, and what
types of creators over-perform on social networks. We then try to reverse
engineer what they’re doing and apply those learnings to an audience
development strategy for clients. We also to look at the reporters who are
cultivating strong communities online, and how we can engage them in different
So that’s one way that we’re applying our
thinking in our work.
Then, on the marketing side, our leadership recognized
about five or six years ago that we needed to have a centralized media buying
function to amplify the content we create and the content that we earned to
help it be seen.
That’s not a new idea in marketing, but that
was a new idea in communications. Many didn’t believe in it.
But we saw that not only do we have to
believe in it, but it’s necessary
Finally, are there any trends that you’ve seen emerging in terms of how content
marketers are using data?
A: I think a challenge is that many brands are disappointed
when they measure content marketing performance, but that’s because they’re
using the wrong yardsticks.
Take baseball: If you get a hit one out of
every three times you bat over the course of your career, you’re a
If I told you that you are going to play a
game and you’re going to fail to reach base – you’re going to underperform –two
out of every three times and still be considered a world-class, you would say
But that’s a standard belief in baseball.
There needs to be a reset in marketing around
the expectations of content. For measuring content success, you need the right
It may not be as simple as how many people
read that essay or watched that video. It may also be about whether that piece
started a conversation, or sparked media coverage. And, ultimately, did it
affect a sale.
The problem is that we’re applying metrics, like
page views, from the 90s and the 2000s. Today’s landscape is entirely new and
so we have to change what the expectations and yardsticks are.