Many things in this world are scarce. Content is not among those things. As content distribution costs have gone to zero, content has flooded the world. Which makes it hard to find exactly the content you need.
Over-abundant content – User-generated, curated, “fake news”, etc. – has simply created a new problem: The problem of Relevance. In order to find the Relevant, we have to slog through acres of the soggy, muddy Irrelevant.
The big platforms are all about delivering Relevance. Google delivers relevant search results, Facebook and LinkedIn deliver relevant updates from people you know, Amazon delivers relevant products, Netflix delivers relevant entertainment. Each firm’s multi-billion dollar spend on algorithms is, at the end of the day, all an attempt to deliver relevance.
Don't have billions to spend on algorithms? Ask questions.
Media companies and marketers who DON’T have billions to spend on relevance algorithms don’t have to roll over and die, however. They can do something very old-fashioned: They can ask questions.
It’s stunning how few content companies ask questions. When they do, 98% of the time it’s just surveys, which typically take far more effort than they give back in reward (vs. quizzes, which engage your brain by challenging your understanding of the world or yourself). Content and media businesses think of themselves as information producers. But there’s already too much information being produced. What people need content and media businesses to deliver in 2017 is fine-grained Relevance.
Media companies can create an "experience" that delivers relevance.
Media companies are poised to deliver Relevance the way local restaurants can deliver a terrific dining experience. You don’t need scale. You just need to be attentive, which means understanding your audience, which requires asking questions. If the current hegemony of the Relevance behemoths (Google, etc.) seems unstoppable, keep in mind that McDonald’s, Burger King and other fast food chains used to be much more dominant than they are today. Huge tends not to stay huge forever.
Let’s distinguish ‘Asking Questions’ from ‘Making Inferences.’ My 10-year-old struggles with making inferences, and so do online advertisers. When I visit the website of a company whose product I’ve already purchased, I suddenly see their ads everywhere. (Where is Google’s ‘I ALREADY BOUGHT ONE’ button?)
Inferences may be out of date, or they may just be silly. Or mildly offensive, as in cookie-driven ad networks’ assumption that due to my 45+ age I need specific products related to sexual performance.
Why Infer, when you can simply Ask?
There is inherent power in simply asking questions.
It’s so inexpensive to ask your audience questions and to remember the answers, and knowing your audience is the Most Important Thing. It requires no Big Data, no Artificial Intelligence. It simply requires an interactive content platform attached to your customer database or CRM, and then some people to write those questions.
When you ask your audience questions, 3 things happen:
- People appreciate your interest (if it seems focused on meeting that person’s needs better) because people like being asked about themselves
- You get to know your audience better.
- You deepen your audience relationship (which is your ‘moat’, as NYU’s marketing genius Scott Galloway has pointed out.)
Just ask questions. Lots of people will interested in the answers you gather, including:
- Other audience members (we like to know what our peers know/think)
- Advertisers/sponsors (who can market/sell to your audience better when they know more about them)
- Employers (who can hire better when they know more)
Also, when people answer your questions, GIVE THEM STUFF. There’s a world of Controlled Circulation media predicated on this quid-pro-quo: You tell us lots of info about yourself, Dear Reader, and we’ll give you this free, info-packed content. That business model has been challenged in recent years, but the core idea of ‘get to know an audience really well, and sell that knowledge’ hasn’t really changed.
Question: Have you started asking your audience questions yet?