Content Isn’t King

At a conference, I was asked a question about the role of content, and someone quoted the phrase: “content is king”, but has content been dethroned?

To frame the answer requires some context of understanding of the expression. “Content is King” is usually used to illustrate how organizations should prioritize resources when there aren’t enough to go around. It tells us that developing the right content is essential – fundamental – and definitely not the place to compromise. Rahel and I, and many others who we respect greatly have used the expression and many may still use it today.

However, there’s a downside to this expression. Calling content “king” is prioritising the tool over the objective. Similarly, when we say “content first”, it should be in an effort to help transition people who are focussed on “mobile first”, “print first”, “visual design first” or similar, to a less format-led way of thinking. After that first transition, we should very quickly move on to clarifying that the strategy of the business is always priority, and that content is not a goal in and of itself. Content is not king.

When they’re consuming content, users want to accomplish something. They might want to learn, evaluate, understand, use, install, enjoy, be inspired, and so on. For this to happen, we must transmit knowledge from the organization to the user. That, in turn, needs content. In that paradigm, content is two steps removed from the objective itself. This is true in B2B and B2C enterprise on all points on the “enable vs persuade” spectrum. If an organization is selling or informing or training, content is the asset, or currency, that needs to change hands in order for the objective to be realised.

This focus on the objective rather than the asset is the reason to change focus from content to organisational strategy. Tom Johnson in a post on “I’d Rather Be Writing” ( and by Gerry McGovern on “New Thinking” ( have both discussed similar themes. We should avoid attachment to content, as with new times and channels, its value can depreciate, and it must be replaced or refreshed ruthlessly according to current and future contexts.

This whole perspective runs counter-intuitive for communications professionals who have either internalised content as their own value to the organisation or internalised the idea that raising the perceived value of content is essential to getting resources behind it.

But content is not the content professional’s value-add. The value-add is the skill of knowing what customers want and responding, to help them “get stuff done”. Content is simply the tool. To change others’ perception of the value of content to win support, it helps to acknowledge that content perception is a side-effect of its power to solve business problems. Or, at very least, changing the perception of content is a part-effect of the main focus: raising the perceived value of the content professional’s role in making sure users have a great experience with your brand.

Instead of saying to people who don’t care about content – but who do care about user satisfaction and profits – that they should start, then asking for resources to make better content and then impact user satisfaction and profit, start with the opposite focus. Assert that you have ways to improve user satisfaction that will advance the organization’s strategic and financial goals. Show how you’ve aligned your initiative with what your analysis has said the users want and need. And that you’ve done it in the context of organisational goals. Show them how you could make the necessary changes to how customers are served. Then say you’ll need resources. Some of those resources will go into content and some of it into infrastructure, and the result anticipated for the business is X and for users is Y. That’s a message that any business person can appreciate.

In short, content isn’t king. It’s the filling in the sandwich – between user needs and the business interests – exactly where it should be.