How "Content" became the "Idea" killer.

Content has become the 'mother' of all marketing buzzwords: Content marketing, content curation, branded content, digital content, sponsored content, content agency. Google offers more than 69 million hits for the search term "content marketing", which the technical press and experts produce every week with numerous articles and discussions. Every day somewhere in the world, a fancy content marketing congress with a title like "Content - The Future of Marketing" takes place.

Content – What is that anyways?

It's a strange thing: A truly coherent and generally accepted definition of this new miracle weapon of brand management does not exist. On the contrary: It seems almost as if the eloquent content fanbase avoids this definition out of fear, as such a concretization would break its spell. It's entirely clear what content is. It's content! Everyone talks about it so it must be important even without a definition.

Well, according to, content is "something that is contained: the contents of a box". For example, content is what I put in the trunk of my car: Shopping, sports equipment, rubber boots, holiday luggage, warning triangle, etc. Depending on how great my trunk is and how much packing talent I have, the amount of different content my trunk varies. And is transported from the A to B.

To continue the metaphor: Digitalization has created many new, chic luggage compartments with its new communication channels. They can supposedly relay any content faster and more efficiently. And because it looks so chic and so different from the old classic trunks, we've begun to think more about the chicest trunk than what we put in it, namely the idea. Earlier this year, even Joe Pulizzi, founder of the American Content Marketing Institute, was unable to avoid the realization: "Somewhere along the line, we became infatuated with the tools and less concerned about what we put inside them."

In the beginning, there was a problem. Then the question arose of whether marketing can contribute to the solution. If so, then it was the job of brand advertising to communicate the solution to the problem with the most impressive story possible; the famous "big idea". And then they were looking for the right luggage spaces, i.e. media channels, to be able to communicate the story as effectively as possible to as many people as possible.

First the container, then the content?

Today, there's still a problem. And marketing isn't always the solution. But if it is, then we’re increasingly spending less time looking for the "big idea" and more for the fanciest trunk, meaning transport containers for our ideas. How we fill it afterwards is suddenly not that important. That's why we call it content today. And no longer an idea. Or even "big idea". That would make the content too important. And distract from the great trunk. First the idea, then the means of transport (the channel) is no longer valid. The main thing is that we use the right trunk. Because it's new. Because it's chic. Because it's there.

Just one thing: In all the years I've been working for car brands, I have not come across a story where someone goes to the dealership and asks the dealer to show him the most chic trunks he has in stock. Sure, for a father with an extended family, it's a crucial purchasing criterion. But just as it's perhaps also the question of whether you can play videos in the back on long rides. Whether the car still delivers driving pleasure with a full load. Whether there's a roof rack for the kite equipment. Whether you can be seen in front of your buddies with it. Whether the fuel consumption is socially acceptable. And so on and so forth.

In other words, you first look for the car that fits your own concept of living, expressing your own character you use to present yourself. You look for a "big idea" on wheels. What's later transported in the chic trunk is then part of that presentation or its consistent implementation.

Mind you: I'm not talking about an "either/or". Not analogue versus digital. For me, it's about protecting what really moves brands: "Big ideas", packaged in good stories. For such ideas, there's always the right media "trunk" in the end.

Not much helps

Content by itself is not an idea. And neither will it be in increasing quantity. Therefore, our job as marketeers is not to produce as much content as possible for a brand. There’s too much of it already. And much of it doesn't help. Just because there’s still room in the trunk and you've just bought ultra-chic ski boots, it still doesn't make much sense to take them on holiday to the Baltic Sea, right? Right.

Rather, our job as marketeers is to motivate consumers/customers with our ideas to engage with the brands they entrust to us. Reach their hearts and minds with our ideas.

Our job as marketeers is to achieve the optimal desired response from our customers with as little content as possible.

Our job is to produce content that is valuable and helpful. And differentiating and relevant for the brand. And if we succeed, then the result deserves to be called "big idea" instead of just "content".

Share article

Talk to us!

Hubertus von Lobenstein Managing Partner

Ziegelstr. 16
10117 Berlin