The MediaPost blog Online SPIN has a post today by Cory Treffiletti of Catalyst S+F, "Content Beats Targeting -- 'Nuff Said" that is well worth the read and a second thought. "Content is king" is one of the verities of 21st C marketing. I also had to be impressed by Cory's reference to the science/art trope. (Cory writes, "It [marketing creative] is the art behind the science [data-generated 'production' -- analytics, targeting]. Science is certainly important, but science without art is useless." For some years, one of my professional commitments/enthusiasms has been the Institute for PR, which has had the mission: "Delivering the Science Beneath the Art of Public Relations.")
Cory's blog, however, raises a provocative issue beyond the verity.
In a sense, the science of marketing, including PR, mostly focuses on the "easy" stuff -- the analytics that are designed and designable through the digital analysis and logarithms that we didn't have ten years ago. (Is the "work" done and the wisdom gained only if we can build a dashboard?).
Myself, being more of an artist than a scientist, I'd never claim that marketing scientific method could isolate the characteristics of good creative in a predictive way. But there is so little effort in exploring the characteristics of good creative in even a sufficient way. In my experience, in the classroom (in front or in the seats) or in the PR agency, I've never had a creative session backgrounded with research that asserts: sufficient characteristics of a successful creative strategy for this kind of challenge are A, B, and C. (Some of that is implicit -- it's why there are always a few grey-haired types in the creative session; intuitively they have a feel for "what works." Like the recently popularized Steve Jobs persona, they know it when they see it. All that makes a nice Mad Men episode, but I'm sure glad my dentist doesn't operate on such fundamentals.)
Especially as we write, teach, and set examples for young professionals, we are limiting our potential and our ability to serve clients when we don't turn the scientific lens on content as well as on audience/production.
There is some good research on content analysis that has clear predictive (and proscriptive) implications: see David Michaelson and Toni Griffin's IPR research paper, "A New Model for Media Content Analysis." Also, take a look at the work of Marianne Gobeil at Leading Communicators for research-based content effectiveness. There is provocative research going on in neuromarketing (see the Neuromarketing blog for just some examples), but I don't know of much connecting-of-the-dots going on between neuroscience and day-to-day marketing practice. I find that the more sophisiticated folks working in infographics have some deeply useful insights about how content can be created, perceived, and internalized (for example, see the work of David McCandless and Tom Wujec's work on Visible Innovation; reflect on all the infographics-of-the-day in the media). Finally, the cultural studies folks, linguists and semioticians, text-analysts remain for the most part uninterested in marketing, unless they are providing a political critique of marketing's sins.
So we've settled it. Content is king. Let's assume this isn't the end, just the beginning of the discussion.