We’re all familiar with the notion of lifetime customer value – it’s probably one of the most useful concepts in marketing. It encourages long-term thinking and a focus on total customer experience, including a thoughtful selection of audiences and marketing messages. The goal is to cultivate relationships with customers who will prove most profitable for the brand.
The concept of “lifetime value” is just as valuable when you extend it into other areas of marketing, particularly content development. But when content marketing professionals get together, you don’t hear much about the “lifetime value of content.” Instead, you hear a lot of talk about real-time content and real-time marketing.
Real-time marketing is the perfect buzzword if you want to sound smart at a marketing conference, but it’s actually one of the worst ideas in our industry. Real-time content is tremendously difficult to scale, and even more difficult to monetize.
Let us explain why by taking a closer look at the biggest “case study” in real-time marketing – Oreo’s “Dunk In The Dark” tweet.
Five years ago, Oreos, the cookie brand, supposedly stole the Super Bowl with its famous tweet. Breathless accounts of that episode make it sound like an event of historic proportions, just shy of the moon landing.
The problem is very few people actually saw that original tweet, as it happened in real time. At the time of the tweet, Oreo only had 60,000 followers, and you had to click a link to see the actual “Dunk In The Dark” image. Meanwhile, do you know how many Americans buy Oreos every single year? Around 20,000,000. Dunk in the dark indeed…
The Oreo tweet only became famous because trade journals like AdWeek celebrated it. How many of the mentions and retweets that followed were by marketing insiders, and how many were by regular consumers and true Oreos fans?
We would argue that the Dunk in the Dark was great for winning awards and impressing other marketers, but not great for selling more Oreos. Even if you disagree with the assessment, how many times has Oreos managed to repeat this success? Or was it more of a one-off lucky punch? Exactly.
Think for a moment about how illogical “real-time marketing” is as an idea. You spend all this time and energy and money to staff a war room, you tweet something and then usually the half-life of that tweet is around three hours. That’s very tough to scale.
The smartest content companies already know this. Smart content companies avoid “real-time” marketing like the plague. Why invest in something that loses value immediately?
So, what’s better than real-time marketing? All-time marketing, with content that has staying power.
Take Netflix. Netflix produces thousands of content assets but avoids investing in two types of content: news and sports. Why? Because they have no shelf life and disappear too quickly. You only watch the Super Bowl once; it has no “lifetime value” for future users.
Instead, Netflix buys durable content. Take, for instance, its shows based on Marvel characters, like Daredevil. This content is not new or created on the fly. Did you know the first Marvel comic featuring Daredevil came out in 1964? Even Jessica Jones, the youngest superhero among that bunch, has been around since 2001.
Old things that last forever are more valuable than new things that last a minute.
And this concept has a name - the Lindy Effect. Before you dismiss this as a bunch of fluff, consider that it has been explored by probability theorists like Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of “Black Swan” and “Skin in the Game.”
The Lindy Effect is named after Lindy’s Deli near Broadway in New York City. Broadway actors would gather there after their performances and speculate about their job security. They tried to guess which of their shows would close soon, and which shows would stick around and continue to employ them.
These actors stumbled upon a power law that essentially says that the longer any content – or any idea really – has been around, the more likely it will stick around. Age is an indication that content is time tested, that it creates value and will continue to perform.
Now, how would you apply this idea in content marketing?
Well, you might say to yourself, “We’re running a bunch of campaigns. Is there anything in our campaigns that is not decaying in performance? If so, let’s continue to run it.” Or you could say, “Let’s review the content we’ve published the last couple of years to see which of it worked best. Let’s learn from that and run it again, maybe turning it into a series.”
A successful content series, such as Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends Report, can run for decades and create huge brand equity that continues to build on itself. And once it’s been around for a while, the Lindy Effect says it’s likely to stick around.
This isn’t a complex idea. But capitalizing on it requires that you resist the urge to chase shiny new things and buzzwords. For some reason, marketers are particularly prone to give in to that urge.
So what’s the takeaway here? Don’t just ask how well a piece of content is performing – ask how long it has been performing well. Time may be the most underrated KPI in marketing.