Chaos Theory and the NFL.


If you've been in the digital industry for a while you’re probably bored of hearing grizzled veterans regretting the diminished frontier spirit of the old internet, before the walled gardens of social media turned everything into an ad platform.

But chaos lives. The internet is still out of control (phew).

Of course, we’re all trying to figure out what to do with the horribly chaotic bits (trolls) but I am fascinated by the way this chaos is being channelled.

My current favourite example is the frenzy of live events where content is disseminated in real-time, to an audience of rabid, gregarious and often half-drunk smartphone warriors. Here, in the realm of World Cups, general elections and royal weddings, the rewards for marketers are great – huge audiences, all looking at the same thing and, increasingly, fully engaged online. But the pitfalls are there too, how do you carry your flag through this chaos without getting swamped by the hordes?

In the last few years the live-blogging of events has become the norm. Let’s take one of Apple’s keynote speeches; it used to be that to follow one of these presentations live you’d have to visit the one or two sites that had invested in a robust enough server architecture to handle the huge volume of requests from avid tech consumers. Even then, the experience was hit or miss, waiting minutes for an unresponsive page that, when it finally loaded, hadn't actually revealed the new iPhone but a bathetic “Steve Jobs, looking good in his trademark jeans and turtle neck.”

Social media changed all this, making every live event an opportunity to be a global spectator by following a hashtag, joining in with friends on Facebook and actually becoming part of the conversation.

Meanwhile, the BBC was pioneering the true live blog, offering minute-by-minute updates of sporting events within a page framework that didn't need to be reloaded by the user, matching their experience on Twitter and Facebook. Alongside the constantly updating commentary users were also invited to contribute, seeing their contributions on Twitter and by SMS become part of the live feed.

An organisation like the BBC is rare, one that has a huge, loyal user base that sees them as the default option for live events. More often, such events are experienced across channels (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Vine, WhatsApp…) in a disparate, schizophrenic dance between nuggets of live content.

Here is where the chaos lives.

Remember the first 3G contracts a few years ago? The big selling point was getting a package of the goals from Saturday’s football available on your phone (in spot-the-ball resolution). Now you can see them all for free, moments after they happen, recorded on Sky+, filmed on a smartphone and posted to Vine/Instagram/Twitter etc.

A rights-holder’s worst nightmare.

How do you combat such outrageous free-booting? You give it away yourself, in better quality. All the goals, great plays & gaffes broadcast on all channels within minutes.

The king of this approach (and the reigning champion of content marketing) is the NFL (National Football League), a multi-billion dollar organisation that takes digital very seriously.

The NFL puts up every significant play as a clip, within moments. Touchdowns, sacks, all of it. Shortly after a game finishes a highlights package is available to watch for free. Bear in mind, the NFL also streams premium video of live matches from the same website (with subscriptions in the order of £100 per year) and are now taking bids for exclusive online broadcasts of games from the likes of Apple, Google and Amazon.

Of course, the NFL are also lowering the boom on any publishers using unauthorised content, therefore shrinking the competition. Nonetheless, the core approach is fascinating – here is a huge, enormously successful organisation effectively aping the ruffian behaviour of users to ensure they are the primary source of this shareable content – they own the chaos.


Whatever your business, be it a regional or global brand, the content you produce plays a vital role in your success. You know that… hence you’re reading this.

A well formulated and executed content strategy not only drives more traffic, at the core, it defines what your business is and helps build a strong connection between you and your audiences.

So let's quickly look at why developing a coherent content strategy is important and how setting clear goals and understanding your audience will elevate your online performance. 

What is a Content Strategy?

It's basic right? Content is at the core of how you define the way your business presents itself and an effective strategy should look to ensure that tone of voice, messaging and the core values are surfaced across all channels, from service or product pages on your website, to blog posts, through social media updates blah blah blah.

But let's keep it simple - your content strategy should be a clear roadmap that connects your marketing activities to your business goals. Align to your customer’s wants and needs and engage them at every interaction point and boom, you're in business. 

Who are my Audience?

You likely start all your projects with this chalked on the wall because your business knows “exactly” who its customers are right? Sounds obvious but we often find its not been done forensically enough (not based on data), is too old (more than 12 months ago - forget it) or its a spin off from some brand work that was legitimately aspirational but doesn’t face the reality of who you your business is actually engaging today.

So start (or circle back) with audience research, building out those personas to understand their ambitions, their lifestyle, their pain points or concerns, and crucially their wants and needs - in your context. 

Do I need to tailor content?

As part of your research find out where your audiences spend their time online and how they interact with content: Some may spend time thoroughly researching a product or service, whereas other audiences may want their content to be quick, snappy or easily digestible in the form of a video, infographic or short blog posts.


Ultimately, the key is to produce a strategy that creates the type of content your customers want to see:

  • What are the problems that your product or service will help them solve?

  • Who are they most influenced by?

  • What voices influence their behaviour?

  • What type of content do they consume?

  • Where do they consume content and engage with brands?

Different Content, Different Objectives

 All content is not born equal: When producing your strategy, it is important that the objectives for each individual piece are defined, that these fulfil your marketing objectives and tie to the overarching goals for your business.

There are various content frameworks that exist to aid content development in this way, but one that is popular and effective is Google’s hero, hub and hygiene method: It provides a framework on developing content to achieve different goals and gives guidance on the effort needed to create each type of content.

Hero Content

Hero content is essentially campaign content, it is big splash ideas designed to appeal to a large audience with the aim of telling your brand’s story at scale. 

Ways of measuring hero include the amount of PR mentions or links from authoritative domains plus social interactions and mentions of your brand across all channels. 

Considering the scale of hero campaigns, this content is not regularly produced and is reserved for peak promotional times where it’s important for a business to stand out from their competitors.

Hub Content

Hub content is the stuff that keeps your audience engaged, it expands on the themes of product or service level content, educates users and helps create a connection between themselves and your brand.

Hygiene Content

Hygiene content is the bread and butter of any website, it is the BAU content for products and services, it is SEO focused and targets important keywords at a product, service or guide level.

How do I manage all this?

Content development is only one part of the ongoing work needed when working with an effective content strategy. We call it “feeding the beast” because it really is the fuel in your brand vehicle and once you start you really can’t stop (if it’s delivering results) but that’s where performance measurement comes in.

Your greatest gift in managing the outputs from your hero/hub/hygiene style efforts is to understand If your content is working. To truly deliver results your business must first understand the objectives and goals of each piece of content to effectively measure its success. That as a guiding light from day 1 will let you slow down, speed up, stop or start new content briefs and projects.

Remember - content strategies are not set in stone. They are living breathing things and should adapt and pivot as insights become available and your brand naturally evolves.

If ever you want to chat content and explore new initiatives we’re always here to help.

want to speak to one of our experts?

Alex Lee Thumbnail
Alex Lee
UX Lead
Alex is an award-winning producer with over a decade's experience in the industry. Alex has a wealth of experience in the creative and digital arenas with extensive knowledge of websites, mobile apps and social media campaigns for blue-chip global brands such as Sony, Pepsi, Tesco and Red Bull. Alex's mix of creative and development expertise ensure a strong connection between clients and the agency team.
Alex Lee Thumbnail

Alex Lee

05 Feb 2016 - 7 minute read
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