Business Blog,  Open Sky Copywriting

Bill Gates’ Secret to Being Useful From 1996

In 1996 Bill Gates said that content would be the future of the internet. Nearly 20 years later, we can see that he was bang on. In fact, the internet is flooded with content: games, articles, cartoons, videos, memes, podcasts, music, streaming audio and video, and web apps.

To the annoyance of many, corporations have begun to catch on to this as well. We get bombarded with content that just doesn’t matter to us. But any smart organization knows that if they are going to provide an attractive user experience, they have to provide content that matters to the user.

From the beginning, Google’s goal has been to deliver the most pertinent web pages that will provide answers to the questions being asked.

Facebook has changed it’s news feed algorithm this year, limiting the amount of business posts that show up on your news feed.

Aggregate and content curation websites have risen in popularity and have received a lot of attention (as well as funding) from investors.

Because now that we have all the content we could hope for, we are desperate for content that matters to us personally; relevant content.

Great content is created with the user in mind. What kind of experience are they hoping for? Can you deliver an experience that they weren’t expecting, but still catch their enthusiasm? Digital content has to be interactive.

If people are to be expected to put up with turning on a computer to read a screen, they must be rewarded with deep and extremely up-to-date information that they can explore at will. They need to have audio, and possibly video. They need an opportunity for personal involvement that goes far beyond that offered through the letters-to-the-editor pages of print magazines. – Bill Gates, “Content is King,” 1996

Remember booting up a computer in 1996? If you had a computer that booted in under 60 seconds, you were on top of the digital world!

Anyway, the expectations of users haven’t changed. We all want deep and up-to-date information that we can explore at will. When you offer “the opportunity for personal involvement” you’re making a connection with the user on something that they care about.

Even if it’s a blog post, there needs to be conversation and an emotional experience. The same goes with marketing or advertising. The best marketing is relevant to the wants and needs of your customer.

You should be creating content that answers existing and prospective customer questions and solves their pain points. The best answer optimized for multiple channels will be the winner of this game. It’s no longer a game of numbers, but instead [it’s a matter] of relevance. – Jason Miller, Senior Manager, Content Marketing, Marketing Solutions at LinkedIn.

Relevant: having direct bearing on the matter in hand.

Synonyms: applicable, appropriate, apt, suitable, fitting.

A blog post that touches on your customers budding fear and provides useful insight to help them breathe easy will establish an emotional connection between you two. They will want to read more from you. You’ve  become useful to them which makes you relevant, not just because you were interesting, but because you were able to help them in a time of need.

Understanding your customer’s anxiety, excitement, fear, humour, and scepticism not only helps you serve them better, but it also fuels your advertising. Marketing that promises the solution they’ve been hoping for is much more valuable to your customer than marketing based on how many awards you’ve won.

Of all the 2015 predictions that flooded my news feeds and timelines, this one stuck out the most.

Your most important skill as a business owner is the ability to listen. That’s discovering what matters most to you customers and the language they use when they talk about those matters. It’s observing your customers initial reactions to your product. It’s finding out all the unique ways they use your product even beyond what you designed it for.

Listening is easy now. You have the Internet and social media at your disposal. Communicating with customers is easier and much more affordable. Collecting emails and sending out a survey to get customer opinions is completely free and easily implemented.

Here’s another prediction from Bill Gates’ 1996 essay:

Over time, the breadth of information on the Internet will be enormous, which will make it compelling. Although the gold rush atmosphere today is primarily confined to the United States, I expect it to sweep the world as communications costs come down and a critical mass of localized content becomes available in different countries. – Bill Gates

The amount of information available on the Internet is staggering, but for most of us, big data doesn’t matter. You want localized data. Even in a small town of 2000 people, much of the community is on the internet, sharing information in some way.

You have access to Facebook groups, census reports, media surveys, municipal by-laws, and non-profit statistics all in one place. Localized data is just as accessible as global data, and it’s more valuable in most circumstances.


Provide your customers with content (and advertising) that matters to them. It might mean you’re creating less, but that’s OK if you’re listening more.

You’ll be able to track the rising quality of your content. You’ll have more returning visitors and repeat buyers. More people will thank-you for your content, even if less people are seeing it. But as any news editor knows, stories that people want to read get the most attention. And for businesses, that means mores sales.

News and magazine editors know about “relevance.” They have to know which stories their readers want to read the most. Read about how editors determine relevance and how that applies to your business.


Bill Gates 1996 Essay – Content is King

Jason Miller Interview on ScribbleLive


[Originally posted January 12, 2015]

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