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Content: The Missing Link Between the Gadget and the Guru

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Just got back from the technicolor blur called CES. As an observer, I enjoyed browsing buildings and hotel suites filled with the most modern and sleek tablets, building-sized TVs, talking cars, Bluetooth gloves and various other wirelessly connected innovations. Each were accompanied by statistics and quotes about how hundreds of millions of consumers will not be able to deny themselves each of these items. CES is an ultimate gadget fest. It reflects its era. Now is the time for CES to celebrate its renaissance as a trade show, but for me and my company, it's time to return to the fuel that will drive every gadget seen: content.

Content, believe it or not, draws the short stick at a show like CES and in the appmosphere in general. It gets overlooked when hardware companies display new gadgets. It gets overlooked when advertising technology companies talk about how they're going to grow Internet ad spending. In the digital and mobile sectors, networks and brands often underestimate the power of their own curated content because users generate so much of their own, via text and social media. We can text and socialize all day. Facebook has even found a way they believe they can capitalize on it with their new open graph search. But open graph search will only work if we will "like" and "tag" every little thing in our lives. But, just how we all get tired of that guy at the party who wont stop talking about himself, digital mobile and online consumers also tire of hearing others spew random streams of consciousness about themselves. Consumers still want, need and search out high-quality, curated content.

As the CMO of a company that provides a mobile, digital and global platform where magazines can be bought, read and accessed, I am exposed to all sorts of content. And, I've had to learn how to leverage all types of content, from consumer-generated to company-generated to content captured inside the pages of the magazines we offer to grab, engage and retain consumer interest. It's a tricky balancing act. When 15 percent of my reader base will access the content we offer on all three digital platforms (PC/Mac, tablet and smartphone) each month, yet each of these technical platforms offers a significantly different engagement path and reading environment, the way content is delivered to the end reader becomes paramount to success.

I'm responsible for a lot of things on a day-to-day basis, from publisher relationships and subscription marketing, to industry evangelism and partner innovation. The one factor that is a consistent driver of success in all of these is not just the content, but the entire content experience, from the quality levels to the ingestion, appearance and engagement with it. I started in this business as an expert in email marketing. Email started out as a communication tool on a tech platform and eventually morphed into a personal content distribution engine who leverage, influence and power became more relevant than the technology it was delivered on. A smartphone is not as relevant without your email access turned on. Digital publishing is following the same evolutionary path. The power and relevance of content is becoming the driver of the future. It will drive the form and design for tablets and other mobile devices.

Every day I see publishers being more aggressive about presenting themselves effectively on mobile platforms. Incredible apps are great, if you have the content to power the experience. Devices that enable you to be online while you cook your dinner are incredible, if there is content to search or if the device can deliver you a relevant content experience. Today, we see consumers signing up for digital subscriptions at an incredible clip (and it's still growing), but let's look at some other sources. Mindshare Worldwide released a report while CES was in progress about the growing trend of "virtual ownership" being fueled by the proliferation of new devices. Mindshare says that 20,000 new products, from phones and tablets to smart TVs and wearable technology, were launched at CES in Las Vegas last week. No, those zeroes are not a mistake. 20,000. Without the content experience inside them, these devices will become the new-age paperweight.

Norm Johnston, global digital leader at Mindshare Worldwide, believes that this trend will also have an impact on business marketing strategies. For example, Johnston points out, comScore saw a 25 percent increase in sales of digital content and subscriptions last year, which is the fastest rate of all the categories it measures.

We had incredible content for eons. Now that the gadgets are out and digital engagement is on the rise, the gauntlet has been thrown down for the content creators and the digital device designers to find a way to collectively build a future that respects the intersection of device and distribution in a manner that will positively influence us all. I see some leaders and leading companies and approaches emerging. For inspiration in this area, grab a coffee with Andrew Innes at Harvard Business Review on content integration opportunities, or sit down with Ira Dvir and the team at Hipix to see content distribution inside layers of images come to life, or, spend some time with Sinan Kanatsiz at the ima (Internet Marketing Association) to understand exactly how success and standards for success with digital and content marketing are being driven.

These are exciting times and we are all just getting started.

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