“There’s an issue around generation Y and the portrayal of stories… This is a problem news publishers have: people are interested in what they are saying, but (the problem) is the way they are saying it.”

That was a throwaway comment from Deloitte Digital senior manager Matthew Guest at the International Content Marketing summit on Wednesday, but one which shows that the makers of branded content are being more wily and effective in getting people to pay attention than traditional news outlets.

Guest came armed with some stats:

— Deloitte expects there to be 700 million smartphones and 125 million tablets shipped this year – bringing a fair bit of credence to Deloitte’s statement that “In 2012, many people’s living rooms will boast more computers than cushions.” 

— At the same time, attention spans have fallen rapidly, from an average of 12 minutes attention to one task in 1998, to five minutes today

His advice for how to reach a modern audience in this world? Make it useful, make it fun, market the hell out of it, and get lucky. 

Most traditional content producers are pretty good at the first two (if they’re not they are probably in the wrong business) – but it’s the latter two suggestions that publishers could particularly benefit from.  

— Market the hell out of it: Guest says most digital engagement is the result of traditional marketing channels. If you want people to read your content – to subscribe to your publication etc, just pushing it through social media isn’t enough. 

Guest warns that while even the majority of digital laggards are on Facebook, Twitter is full of early adopters and newer social media such as Pinterest and Instagram are effectively an “irrelevance” when it comes to mass audiences.

— Get lucky: It may not sound exactly like advice, but Guest argues that you can’t rely on a small number of great pieces of content pushed through one channel to reach an audience – you have to push lots of content through many channels: “You can no longer make big bets – you have to play a portfolio game.” 

Reach is everything for branded content, but most publishers are playing the same game, and they are increasingly going to compete with branded content. If content marketers take Guest’s advice, publishers should probably be paying attention too.