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What is the balance between creativity and data when making branded content? And what exactly constitutes your content?

Wired Magazine recently published a profile of photographer Platon, who has taken portraits of some of the most powerful people in the world (Obama, Putin, Zuckerberg) and some of the most influential artists (Woody Allen, Prince, Susan Sarandon).

In the article, Platon says, “Photography is just the technique, it’s the grammar, but it’s never the content.”

This is a very interesting point. If the photography isn’t the content, what is? And what does this mean for the other kinds of content marketers are producing?

Platon’s photography is remarkable because he finds the emotion, story and character beneath the exterior of a giant international “brand” of a person. The content we create to promote must be viewed in this same way. Infographics, white papers, videos, status updates and posts we create aren’t the content — it’s the technique we use to deliver the content that is the message of the brand. The content is always the message.

And yet …

The godfather of communication theory, Marshall McLuhan, famously stated “the medium is the message.” By that, he means the method we use to communicate influences the message itself — the medium is “any extension of ourselves.”

On one hand, Platon is saying that the photography (the medium) isn’t the message, but a technique. McLuhan says the opposite, the message is so greatly influence by the medium that the medium itself becomes the message. It’s an over-simplified argument, but it’s one that content marketers should know how to answer. Is the medium a technique or the message?

For example, is a breakup that much worse when it happens over text? Does the medium change the message? Does it make it that much terrible?

The creative in me wants to side with Platon. We all want to think we’re creating something so captivating that it transcends the medium. But the scientist in me agrees with McLuhan, that the reason Platon’s photographs are art has more to do with the still life (and often very close) representation that allow us to inspect the subject in our own time and space.

This is the balance of the content marketer. We have to pick the right medium to deliver content effectively (McLuhan), but also create something that stands out as remarkable, and doesn’t just rely on the medium to do the work for it (Platon).

Getting on Twitter because that’s what businesses do, or sending regular emails because it’s best practice isn’t enough. You have to be good at it, and definitely better than your competition.