It’s Time to Combobulate

Combobulate. I love that word. Let me explain.

The BBC recently did something revolutionary for a 93-year-old media company. It dropped its channel-based television and radio divisions and reorganized itself around “content and audience-led divisions.” Basically, it will have two main divisions – BBC Entertain and BBC Inform – which themselves will be made up of new divisions, such as BBC Youth and other audience-focused groups.

Now, does this mean that you won’t be able to watch BBC on that thing that is connected to the coaxial cable on your wall? Or does this mean that you won’t be able to listen to the BBC on that box that connects to radio waves? Or course not. The BBC is simply recognizing that the lines between device and service are blurring more substantially than ever.

Before digital, of course, the lines were so clear that no one even considered the possibility of them blurring. The device defined the service, and the service defined the device. TV, for example, was both the device used to consume the content and the kind of signal used to deliver the content. People eventually differentiated between delivery methods – “cable TV” or “satellite TV” or “digital TV” – but the device was the device. TV signals (and programs) went to a TV. Radio signals (and programs) went to a radio.

TV teams created TV experiences. Radio teams created radio experiences.

Today’s devices and experiences have come unhooked from delivery methods. It’s no longer simple to answer questions like these:

  • What is TV? Is it a device or a service?
  • Is radio an appliance or a way of receiving audio content?
  • What is mobile? Is it a phone or any device that’s untethered? It’s certainly not about screen size. The new iPad Pro has the same screen size as the Packard Bell desktop computer that I used until 2001 (yes, I know).
  • What is social media? Is it defined by the applications that have the ability to connect with other people? Or is it just connecting with communities online? For example, is Reddit a publishing network or a social media platform?

The answers to these questions are best argued over a great glass of red or a nice pale ale. My point is that the BBC has recognized something that’s becoming increasingly important for all businesses to wake up to. We content professionals must stop organizing ourselves around channels, platforms, and outputs as we’ve done for the last decade. We have to stop matching new digital channels stride for stride, one team on this channel, another on that. We can’t keep piling on new output-based teams: tech docs and brand and PR and customer service and social and social CRM and web and blog and email and and and.

This realization hit me full-on two weeks ago when I was helping a large retail company construct a content marketing approach. They were struggling with which channels the content marketing team should own. I suggested that they change their mindset and construct teams around audiences rather than around products, channels, or technology platforms. As we sketched out this approach on the white board, the pieces just fit. Suddenly, content became cross-functional, cross-product, and cross-channel. The goal of repurposing their content and communicating it across all these silos fell into place. We had discovered – as the sign in the Milwaukee Airport says – a place to recombobulate.

As we all think about ways to drive content forward strategically, we can learn a lot from that 93-year-old media company. We too can redraw the lines within our organizations to reflect the blurring of lines all around us.

Let’s combobulate around content.



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