5 Questions To Make Your Digital Content Better

On September 26, 2006, the modern era of marketing began. Facebook – already enjoying viral growth among academic institutions – opened its accounts up to the public for the first time.

Facebook in 2006 – opening the door to modern marketing…

A month later, in October, Google bought YouTube, making a powerful statement that the future belonged to video.

These two elements – social media, and online video – remain the fundamental building blocks of online content: the levers of all the change we’ve seen over the ten years since, across every device.

While many commentators talk about that change as the only constant worth considering, we take a different view. At the same time as staggering technological change has transformed marketing, there’s been a new and deeper understanding of the fundamentals of human decision-making – which have not changed for tens of thousands of years.

To communicate with people today, you have to understand both radical change and extreme continuity. You have to use the basic “System 1” shortcuts of human decision-making to get the most out of the myriad of new platforms, tools and features you’re confronted with on a weekly basis.

Later this month, we’ll be launching a new version of our award-winning ad testing methodology, specifically designed to test digital content. A free webinar will lay out its new capabilities and the philosophy behind it.

As a taster, here are the five questions we feel you should be asking about every piece of content you create – online and offline.

  1. Will this work meet long-term goals for brand growth as well as short-term activation objectives?

The measurability and precision granted by digital platforms have led to a golden age for activation: the IPA’s latest book by Peter Field, Selling Creativity Short, documents a boom in short-term activation objectives for creative work. But as it also points out, this has come at the expense of long-term goals – and it’s the long term where creative work really proves its effectiveness. Choosing between them is a false binary: you can have work that pays off in the short- and long-term, but you have to keep long-term goals in mind to get there.

  1. Will it complement what you’re doing in other channels?

Multi-channel work is more efficient than single channel work – at least to the point where diminishing returns set in. That doesn’t mean a one-size-fits-all approach is right – we’ve known for years that some content that shines on TV gets lost online, for instance. But there should be continuity across channels in terms of the story you’re telling and the assets you’re using (see question 5).

  1. Will it use high-reach digital channels?

As the work of Byron Sharp and the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute has repeatedly shown, what drives growth is increasing sales among your low-frequency and non-buyers – which means you need reach, and in most cases this should be your main concern when investing in digital. In How Brands Grow 2, Sharp and Jenni  Romaniuk demonstrate that the double jeopardy effect holds for social media platforms – in other words, if someone’s using a minor social media platform, they’re probably also using Facebook. Go where the people are.

  1. Will it make people feel good?

Like we said above, technology changes, but the brain doesn’t. The Affect Heuristic holds online and off – if people feel more, they buy more. Positive emotion is still the primary goal of good content.

  1. Will it make good use of my brand’s unique assets?

Fluent mental processing of a brand relies on recognition of its unique assets – name, logo, colours and slogans, and for video content characters, sounds and situations. These should never dominate content at the expense of positive emotion, but good content makes good use of them. Online content is no exception – in fact, with the tiny margins of engagement social media sometimes delivers (a half-second’s attention on a scroll-through), deployment of these brand assets is critical.

These five questions are a checklist not just for your work, but for assessing each new technological development. If they can help you get closer to yes on the five questions, it is worth considering. If not, it may be a shiny object too far.


At System1, we help the world’s largest advertisers make confident creative decisions that lead to transformational business results. Our ad testing platform (Test Your Ad) and our concept testing platform (Test Your Idea) quickly predict the short-term commercial potential of ads and ideas. Complementing TYA and TYI is Test Your Brand, our brand testing platform which measures the impact of ads and ideas on brand health.
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