How Southeast Asian Start-ups Can Avoid These Three Digital Content Traps

Content, it turns out, is not always king

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BY Tanya Mariano - 09 Dec 2016

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

In the digital age, the companies that will succeed are those that are in on this little secret: it's not about creating the best content, but using content to connect users.

Or so claims Bharat Anand, the Henry R. Byers Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School and author of The Content Trap: A Strategist’s Guide to Digital Change.

Anand’s research expertise is in applied and empirical industrial organization, with a particular focus on competition in information goods markets. In his book, he looks at a range of businesses to see how they have hurdled the two major challenges that companies today face – how to get noticed and how to get paid – and outlines three digital content traps that businesses might fall into.

Here’s how to avoid these missteps and help your company thrive in a digital world.

Success doesn't hinge on creating stellar content

If you think producing great content alone will win you tons of customers fast, you may be headed for failure. Today’s digital landscape dictates that conversation, rather than just information, is the key to success.

Focus, instead, on connecting your users with each other.

Anand takes the case of Schibsted, a large Scandinavian media company. In the immediate aftermath of a crisis, a news organization’s first instinct would be to publish more content, typically articles reporting on details surrounding the incident. But when Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted in 2009, the company noticed that messages posted by users on their website were mostly questions about how to get from one place to another, as well as offers from motorists to shuttle other users who were stranded.

Within a few hours, the company had rolled out an app that allowed people to talk to each other and arrange carpool rides, among other things. In this way, Schibsted had capitalized on user connections via an app in order to drive traffic to their website.

Don’t fixate on just one form of content or product

Focusing on just one core competency and protecting its value by charging steep fees may seem like a good idea, but Anand warns against it. Instead, look around to see whether there are opportunities nearby – other products or services, for instance – whose presence could increase the value of your own offerings. In Anand’s words, this means relying on product connections.

In the music industry, for instance, many blame piracy for the decline in CD sales. Anand argues that value, however, was not shifted to just the consumers but also to other companies with complementary products, like MP3 players and smartphones and digital broadband access for streaming music.

“Thirty years ago, concerts were advertisements for you to buy music; now with content prices harder to control, free or cheap music is the advertisement for seeing a live show,” he says in an interview published in the Harvard Business School Working Knowledge website.

Don't be a copycat

Context is crucial. What may have worked for one company may not necessarily work for another. Implementing a paywall worked for The New York Times, but other publications are doing just fine without one. Virtual gaming currency worked for Chinese tech giant Tencent, but not for Facebook.

The key is to listen to your customers. Traditional businesses may have thrived with a singular focus on just product and/or content, but in today’s hyper-connected world, it's the customer that should take center stage.