„Content“ is such a vague word, that it may be difficult grasp how it relates to the real world and those who „consume“ (I prefer experience) it out there. Based on several months of serious market research (well, observing people on the train), I want to point out the three types of content consumption patterns I identified.

What do you think of, when I say „Content“? Is it the typical blogpost? A viral video? Or a social media posting?

Depending on what you know best, the answers to this question will vary.

As I write this very post, I am sitting on the train, commuting to work. 3 hours a day. Even if it is tiring, I can’t stop thinking that there is an upside.

(Source: Giphy)


Why? Beyond the fact that it allows me to read posts and books or write my next blogpost, it gives me the opportunity to just observe people: what they do while commuting along with me.

Some read books or magazines, others close their eyes and listen to audio content (music? Podcasts? Audio books?). More and more of them use their smartphones to distract themselves from the boring ride.

(No this is not just another post about the rise of mobile web traffic.)

I don’t mean to be a creepy marketer but… I just love to observe these people with regards to how they consume content, regardless of the format.

Rest assured, I don’t spy, I never read the actual conversations or content being consumed, but I just want to do a little empirical „research“ as a marketer… I find it very interesting to see which apps they use, how they consume content, and how they interact with it.

Based on several months of watching people use their phones (that’s market research, baby!), I’ve narrowed it down to three types of content types.

I often use these three when thinking about content strategy & reader engagement and I think they might help some differentiate between all these types of content out there.

Three types of content based on interaction

For the sake of context: I observed these content consumption patterns in Germany while commuting to work with people from different age groups. There are differences between Germany and the US / or other countries in terms of segments and how, where and when people consume content.

However I do think that these 3 categories will work in many contexts, even if the proportions and variables may vary.

Let’s take a look at the three content categories:

Passive / static content is content that is consumed by a person in a passive way, i.e. without interaction. News articles from big publishers, books or magazines (online & offline), information that is searched to answer a specific question & multimedia (music, TV shows or movies).

(Source: Giphy)

Social content is consumed via social media and / or intended for it. People checking their Twitter feed, Facebook etc. Serendipity is king here.

Content is consumed either in a semi-passive way (minimal interaction with the device) or more actively (resharing it, commenting, liking etc.). You are looking at videos on these platforms, clickbait content, cats, funny and inspiring quotes, Status Updates from friends and curated content.

(Source: Giphy)

Conversations are also a type of content category in this case because it speaks to the need of people wanting to connect with each other. Here in Germany, I am regularly amazed by the number of people I see using WhatsApp over their phones!

Virtual one-to-one communication has really taken off in the past few years, which I see as a result of the content shock: as platforms get more cluttered with content, people seek more direct communication with individual people, either directly with them or with groups of people.

These conversations get a huge share of a person’s attention throughout the day thanks to these means of chatting with each other. But you’re also looking at SMS, phone calls, face-to-face conversations…

[Tweet „Content is defined by how people experience it“]

How can brands fit in?

The question I often ask myself as a marketer is: how could a relevant brand fit into each type of content? (I’m a marketer, so of course I’m trying to think how a brand can fit in there).

For static / passive content

For static / passive content, advertising / native advertising & PR are obvious answers. Ideally your brand has also become a popular destination for passive content consumers, as you built a plattform for your (content) brand, delivering valuable content based on their interests.

For Social Content

When it comes to social content, it is essential to understand who and why people interact and share on social. Mark Schaefer has covered this topic extensively in The Content Code. If you are a conversational brand, it will be easier to create a conversation. If you are not, it will be harder but not impossible, if you understand your customers and their fundamental needs.

Social Content is mostly about creating buzz and getting attention. Buzz marketing (therefore the brand) will create conversations around something remarkable, These are your experiential marketing actions, guerilla marketing, viral videos… (nowadays this is called content marketing as well).

The hardest part: what about conversations?

How to brands fit into (not create) conversations? How can they be part of it without having to launch it? I’ve been thinking about this one for months…

One way brands can regularly be present in conversations between people is by delivering youtility on a regular basis. Find out what people (who are both potential customers, maybe one of them already is) talk about with each other and how brands can deliver content which is useful in a practical way. It solves concrete problem which people talk about in casual conversations.

Second, I personally believe that companies need to take more stands. People often debate and exchange ideas, based on beliefs and values. Too many brands make the mistake of not wanting to anger anyone and they deliver neutral, often boring content. Take a stand dammit, choose a side and help people to make an argument.

From a psychological point of view, businesses who want to fit into conversations need to understand what would lead those people to think of a piece of content or a brand by themselves. In order to do so, you need to understand what trigger(s) they can leverage, so that they become top of mind. There is an excellent explanation with concrete examples of triggers in this post, which you might want to check out.

What are your thoughts on this categorization? Do you think of other ways brands can become so top of mind, that they find their place in conversations (online & offline)?