Home Book Reviews The Content Trap, Part IV: Everyone’s a Media Company
The Content Trap, Part IV: Everyone’s a Media Company

The Content Trap, Part IV: Everyone’s a Media Company


If I value a book section based on the number of pages I have highlighted, the winner would be Part IV of the Content Trap, which rightfully advances and supports the points made previously with both evidence and conclusions.

Dr. Bharat Anand starts this concluding section by discussing early predictions that targeting, measurement, and interactivity would dramatically improve Internet advertising. All those predictions were wrong. Click-through rates for most ads average 0.1%. Advertisers remain unable to determine an accurate ROI. Marketing executives are unable to determine if their digital advertising campaigns are worth it. The assumptions made that more people looking at ads would translate into better ad effectiveness were wrong.

Before you can figure out how advertising works, you have to understand whether it works. The fact that someone buys a product may have nothing to do with whether or not the buyer was exposed to a product ad. Advertisers target specific consumer groups and seek media channels where they are most likely to find their desired consumers. Dr. Anand identifies this as the endogeneity problem and states that the question to solve is, “does advertising exposure lead to product purchase, or do consumer preferences result in both ad exposure and product purchase?” He discusses an exercise performed by eBay by which they tried to separate the effects of paid and organic searches. They concluded that paid searches using your brand are essentially a waste of money and, as a result, stopped bidding for the keyword eBay.

Anand discusses the utilization of CMSs (content management systems) as tools to effect user-centered marketing. CMSs are used by organizations to “upload, display, organize, store, and manipulate content on their websites.” The Huffington Post, for example, was one of the first organizations to use its CMS as a tool to drive traffic around search and social media to directly connect content with conversation. By doing so, they found that it was a great tool to track ad performance.

Crowdsourcing creative is another form of user-centered marketing, as are partnering and co-creation. Getting consumers to like your advertising is one advancement, and getting them to like your product is another step up, but best of all is when they tell others about it. The latter, viral advertising, is an expression of user connections. Buzzfeed is another one of the most successful businesses that built itself virally. Connections are about making people connect; get the first part right before you attempt to sell into your connections.

According to Anand, advertising today is consumed by three questions: how to reach more eyeballs at the lowest cost, how to preserve ad revenue in a world of falling ad prices, and what new metrics to use in a world of digital advertising, social media, and hypertargeting.  Each of these questions and the traditional mindset form the Content Trap. The premise of modern and effective advertising is about sharing, networks, and communities. Conducting an effective campaign can only come from understanding user connections. Management teams need to understand how the economics of any business change when the business becomes another product or company’s complement. That understanding comes from recognizing product connections.

Anand notes that companies that understand product needs, context, and strengths should create a network effect around the product, and users will become advertisers through viral campaigns. The real tension in advertising and marketing is not between traditional and digital; it’s between product- and user-centered thinking. Great campaigns create authenticity, user-centricity, and consumer trust. It is important to understand the connections between brands and users and between users themselves. Companies that can manage the connections will succeed.

The remainder of Part IV details the author’s experience creating HBX, Harvard Business School’s first online offering, which involved transforming its pre-MBA courses the summer before  matriculation into online courses. For those in the education field facing similar challenges about what part of the curriculum should go online and how to do it, these chapters are worthwhile reading.

When I pen a book review, I typically write a couple of pages about a few key concepts and whether I recommend it. I have so much to say about The Content Trap that I split my review into five parts, just to break up the comments and provide a little more understanding of  key concepts. Perhaps I enjoyed reading it because so many of the concepts and tactics discussed are within the capabilities of an online post secondary education institution like APUS. Or, maybe it was because I’ve been an avid observer of, and commentator on, business models throughout my career and recognize that mastering these concepts can make a difference in the scalability and success of a business in the digital era. It’s most likely because Bharat Anand provided the missing link for me between content and successful products. It’s the connections! Let me know your thoughts after you read it!

*Author’s note: Unless otherwise noted, the factual observations and images included herein are the intellectual property of Dr. Bharat Anand and/or Random House Publishing Group.




Wally Boston Dr. Wallace E. Boston was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of American Public University System (APUS) and its parent company, American Public Education, Inc. (APEI) in July 2004. He joined APUS as its Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer in 2002. In September 2019, Dr. Boston retired as CEO of APEI and retired as APUS President in August 2020. Dr. Boston guided APUS through its successful initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association in 2006 and ten-year reaccreditation in 2011. In November 2007, he led APEI to an initial public offering on the NASDAQ Exchange. For four years from 2009 through 2012, APEI was ranked in Forbes' Top 10 list of America's Best Small Public Companies. During his tenure as president, APUS grew to over 85,000 students, 200 degree and certificate programs, and approximately 100,000 alumni. While serving as APEI CEO and APUS President, Dr. Boston was a board member of APEI, APUS, Hondros College of Nursing, and Fidelis, Inc. Dr. Boston continues to serve as a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA), a member of the Board of Overseers of the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, and as a member of the board of New Horizons Worldwide. He has authored and co-authored papers on the topic of online post-secondary student retention, and is a frequent speaker on the impact of technology on higher education. Dr. Boston is a past Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the McDonogh School, a private K-12 school in Baltimore. In his career prior to APEI and APUS, Dr. Boston served as either CFO, COO, or CEO of Meridian Healthcare, Manor Healthcare, Neighborcare Pharmacies, and Sun Healthcare Group. Dr. Boston is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant, and Chartered Global Management Accountant. He earned an A.B. degree in History from Duke University, an MBA in Marketing and Accounting from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In 2008, the Board of Trustees of APUS awarded him a Doctorate in Business Administration, honoris causa, and, in April 2017, also bestowed him with the title President Emeritus. In August 2020, the Board of Trustees of APUS appointed him Trustee Emeritus. In November 2020, the Board of Trustees announced that the APUS School of Business would be renamed the Dr. Wallace E Boston School of Business in recognition of Dr. Boston's service to the university. Dr. Boston lives with his family in Austin, Texas.


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