What is “Content” Anyway?
Creative content. Sounds like a buzzword doesn’t it?
It’s a phrase that has saturated the marketing industry and online platforms. Calls to action like “Prioritize your marketing content!” “Grow your business through creative content.” and “Content is the new currency.” are dominating Twitter discussions, online forums, and blog posts like this one.
But what does ”content” actually mean?
Truthfully, it can be hard to define. Industries, organizations, and individuals tend to classify it differently. Think about your own organization – would your team define it in the same way? Probably not, as its definition can be fairly subjective.
The word “content” as we know it in the creative world, started to make its way into popular vernacular in the last decade. But even though the term is everywhere, thrown around, branded, and even used to categorize a specific type of marketing strategy, its definitive meaning is fairly elusive.
Like the man behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz. Content is viewed as an incredibly powerful marketing tool and seen as this majestic, all-encompassing force. Yet, meanwhile, the average person is left wondering, “What the hell does “content” even mean?”
This question is not an uncommon one. There’s an average monthly search volume of ~42k around this question, and the topic regularly pops up in ClubHouse rooms and Linkedin discussions. Let’s take a closer look at how others have tried to define the concept, and how we define it here at Kaddie.
What the Dictionary Says
Let’s kick things off with the OG resource: good old Merriam-Webster.
Here’s how Merriam-Webster breaks down “content”:
- Something contained – usually used in plural.
Examples given by M-W include “the jar’s contents” and “the drawer’s contents.”
But the plural usage and general sentiment about containment don’t align with what we mean to define.
- The topics or matter treated in a written work.
This definition feels a bit closer since it’s tied to the publishing world. But the problem here is that content nowadays is often highly visual and auditory, extending far beyond the written word.
- The principal substance (such as written matter, illustrations, or music) offered by a website.
But what about content that is deployed in a real-life application?
Although these definitions cover a few of the important aspects of content, let’s consult some alternative dictionaries in search of a more comprehensive definition:
MacMillan Dictionary has the same definitions as Mariam-Webster but also adds:
- The amount of a substance that something contains.
This feels a bit vague, don’t you think?
Searching further, we can find another definition in Collins Dictionary as:
- If you refer to the content or contents of something such as a book, television program, or website, you are referring to the subject that it deals with, the story that it tells, or the ideas that it expresses.
Even the numerous dictionary definitions seem to be lackluster. None of the definitions seems to fully capture everything that “content” stands for.
What Pop Culture Says
On the other hand, let’s take a look at how pop culture would define content, starting at the opposite end of the spectrum than the traditional dictionary resources: ye old Urban Dictionary.
Urban dictionary takes a more cynical approach, classifying “content” as:
- The shit that people post online for maximum views.
Honestly? That feels a little closer than some of the traditional dictionary definitions. But we still are challenged with the imposed online limitation.
Some might argue that it’s truly impossible to define the word, aligning with a suggestion from French Economist Olivier Blanchard, that a definition isn’t even possible:
- The thing about the term ‘content’ is that it’s just vague enough to mean everything and anything, which is to say it doesn’t mean anything at all. It’s essentially a word that means “stuff to fill an empty space with.” It could be photos, video, marketing copy, thorough analysis, poetry, farts, vacuous nonsense, cat hair, or cheese cubes. The only thing it hints at is that there is a finite volume of the space it must fill. Ironically, the word itself is a vessel for more content: Here’s an empty word. Now fill it with meaning.
What Marketing Industry Says
Although this term is commonly used in the marketing industry, even the marketing gurus of the world have a difficult time putting the abstract definition to words:
Let’s look at a few examples:
- @contenttribe: information that is useful, has a context, easy to consume, device-agnostic, shareable, and nonintrusive.
- Lance Buchanan of Seo-E-.com: the simplest definition of content can be expressed as a formula: content = information
- The Word Factory: content is the presentation of information for a purpose to an audience through a channel in a form.
- Tom Webster of Facebook: I’ve always hated the term, to be honest. It reminds me of the eternal cereal box disclaimer: Contents may settle due to handling.
- Market Muse: information that is relevant in a given context and has a form shaped by the medium through which it’s transmitted.
As you can see, sentiments and definitions about the word vary. Even in an industry that prides itself on the stuff, the mixed results still feel somewhat mediocre.
What Kaddie Says
We define the term as:
- The creative expression of a brand — through photo, video, design, copy, audio, animation, or print — born from the brand’s strategic business objectives, offerings and purpose.
But of course, this is our own subjective and personal definition of the word. And it’s certainly different from the others provided by the other sources examined here.
What’s in a Name?
As we’ve seen, the definitions are broad, varying, and inconclusive.
So it begs the question: is the definition we give the damned thing even important? If we want to get really philosophical here, we could even go as far as to ask if what we name something ever matters?
To us, sure, it does matter. Because the word encompasses everything we do!
But not everyone feels that way. We love the term, some people feel ambivalent, others despise the term and its loose definitions. Many more remain in a state of constant perplexion about it.
Still, this expression will likely stick around. Because there’s no other word that has been able to satisfy the needs of such a large umbrella term.
We’re content with it. How about you?