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Chief content officer role takes center stage

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Last week, Time Magazine released its 100 most influential people. As I was clicking through the slideshow, paying scant attention, one person caught my eye and it wasn't because I knew who he was, it was because of his title: chief content officer.

The individual considered one of the most influential, Ted Sarandos, holds this lofty title at Netflix. That there is such a title is revealing in itself, but that someone who carries that moniker could be one of the most influential people in the world shows just how important content has become.

Netflix, which is a tremendously popular streaming service as it is, took it to a whole new level this year when it started producing original content. Its first series, "House of Cards," starring Kevin Spacey, was released to critical acclaim in February. Netflix took the unusual step of releasing all 13 episodes at once.

But more than anything, as I wrote at the time of the release, "House of Cards" was a brilliant bit of content marketing because it drove audiences to Netflix. 

And it's working. PaidContent reported this week that Netflix had a billion dollar quarter for the first time, driven by solid subscriptions, due in part at least to interest in "House of Cards." Great content drove interest and people came in big numbers as the company added more than 2 million domestic subscribers and a million more outside the United States.

Traditional forms of marketing and advertising have become increasingly clogged. People have so many entertainment options available, it's hard to know exactly how to focus advertising dollars, but if you can create compelling content and people start talking about it, that's better than any advertising you could hope for--and depending on how you approach it, it could cost you a lot less.

"House of Cards" was actually a huge investment for Netflix, costing them a cool $100 million, but it has already almost earned that back with new subscribers in just one quarter.

Seth Godin, appearing at the AIIM conference in March, talked about how it was getting harder to reach customers with traditional advertising, pronouncing that the era of interrupt marketing was over. Using email marketing as an example, Godin said it's tough enough to get someone in your own company to answer your email, never mind the rest of the world. 

Godin explained that in the old model, you got a sales force, created an ad campaign, then interrupted as many people as possible. Every brand you ever heard of grew up this way up until 10 years ago, he said.

But as the Internet has developed, suddenly people weren't interested in being interrupted anymore, and what's more, they had plenty of choices for entertainment. In the old world, there was a limited amount of entertainment. Today, there is too much, so instead of trying to use advertising as the form of communication, you need to use content.

Which brings us back to Netflix and the notion of the chief content officer.

Forward thinking companies that understand that the world has changed need to put content front and center, and for some organizations that could involve creating an executive position to drive content. You might think this is the chief marketing officer's job, and you could be right, but unless the CMO is willing to give up stale brochure-driven strategies, it might be time to create a position devoted specifically to generating quality content.

That means Time might have unwittingly recognized a coming trend, and that the age of the chief content officer could be upon us. Is your company ready? - Ron