For the past couple of years content marketing has gotten hot. So hot, in fact, that it became one of the most talked about aspects of digital marketing (even though content marketing is older than your grandpa). That heightened popularity led to many brands and marketers taking a stab at what they believed to be content marketing. Now, the industry is seeing a backlash because so much content is being released to the world only to die a long and quiet death in the dark corners of the unvisited internet.
That backlash can been seen in a piece written by Mark Schafer of BusinessesGrow.com titled Content Shock: Why Content Marketing is Not a Sustainable Strategy. In the article, Schafer brings up the fact that more and more content is being pushed out by brands. He then posits that we’ve reached a tipping point where people can’t possibly consume more content than they currently are and, in order to be successful, marketers need to invest more in content than they ever had before to the point where it’s no longer worth it. For that reason, Mark says marketers should stop focusing so much on content marketing. Shafer has morphed his original theory over the years, but I intend only to address the original article.
I love how Schaefer views content marketing investment as a way of “paying people to view your content” and I've been thinking about the article a lot since I originally spoke about on the podcast Below The Fold. Let’s be honest, Schaefer is probably much smarter than I am; however, having spent a great deal of time creating and executing content marketing campaigns, I feel some parts of his theory are flawed.
While it may feel like people are at their content consumption limit, they’re not, and history is backing me up
We’re not at a point where we can’t consume more information than we’re consuming now. It just feels like that. It always has and it always will.
This has been a common theme for media analysts throughout the decades. After the spread of the printing press, some thought there were too many books and that they were simply becoming a distraction.
At the height of cable TV, the overconsumption of broadcast video and information overload became popular tropes in the media. Some articles suggesting that 40-50 channels was simply too much to watch and that viewers suffered from “channelization.”
The fact is, we can now and will almost indefinitely be able to consume more and more information. Part of that deals with the way information is presented. Audio clips and video allow us to consume information in a much more efficient manner than text for example. Just imagine how much more information we’ll be able to not only consume but internalize with technologies like 360 video, virtual reality, and augmented reality.
The main reason information overload resonates and will continue to resonate with us is because the illusion of too much information is actually a symptom of lack of focus. New media are pushing out old media in the game for our attention, and because we hold onto old-world ideas about people who read books as being superior to people who watch TV, we desperately want to fight the battle on behalf of the old-media.
To a degree, almost all of marketing is content marketing
Everything we create is content. Content isn’t simply articles, images, and videos.
This one is pretty obvious. Web pages, radio ads, billboards, videos, articles, infographics, interactives--these are all content. Anything we create in order to relay information and incite action is content. There’s no way around it. The solution is not to stop investing so much in content; the solution is to create better content, something I’ll touch on later.
The volume of content is growing, but don’t neglect decay, new users, and new platforms
There are stats often brought up in these debates about how quickly the internet is growing, which state that there are 571 new websites and 68,000 blog posts created every minute. Those are pretty deceptive numbers though. Yes, the internet is growing, but those numbers include the kinds of sites that nobody sees. They include machine generated pages, archives, private pages, and the kinds of sites that call the seedy underbelly of the internet, “home.” Those actually make up a pretty big portion of the internet.
Using that stat alone fails to acknowledge that information on the internet decays pretty quickly. Domains are registered but sites are never built. Blogs are started and abandoned like so many new year's resolutions. Content that was once thought great is replaced in the internet hive-mind by content that’s better. Content has a shelf life, which is great news for us marketers. That means you could walk in at any moment and be king of the content hill. It just requires the ability to tell a good story and give your audience what they need.
Additionally, you have to take into account the fact that there are more and more people hopping online each day. This is especially important if your strategy involves younger or international demographics.
Finally, don’t forget about new platforms. While it’s more difficult to get noticed on Reddit now, that wasn’t the case a few years ago. Just like Digg before it, Reddit matured and became saturated. But who’s on the next “Reddit”, cashing in, unbeknownst to their competitors?
You don’t always need more money to win, your competition probably isn’t that great at content marketing either
The article operates under the assumption that the amount of content is increasing at the same rate that the quality of that content is increasing, which is false due to the fact that new platforms with big audiences open up on a regular basis.
As I addressed earlier, the amount of content produced is increasing, but not nearly at the same rate that some would have you believe. What’s even more important to understand is that content quality might not actually be increasing at all. In fact, on some platforms like Quora, many users believe quality is decreasing.
If you define “quality” as production value, how expensive (in dollars) something took to produce, or how much time something took to make, then perhaps “quality” is going up. But, in practice, quality has very little to do with things like resources spent or production value and has everything to do with storytelling and serving audience needs. One need only to reference past winners of the Doritos Crash The Super Bowl contest, Dollar Shave Club, or Paranormal Activity (which had a budget of $15,000 and ended up grossing $193 million) to see that you can create some pretty compelling content with far fewer resources and win.
People are searching hard for great content and often, they just can’t find it. Despite the fact that they’re literally surrounded by productions with famous celebrities, giant budgets, and oodles of production help, they invoke the words of the great Bruce Springsteen, “57 channels and nothin’ on”. In some markets, the audience is in a proverbial content desert, looking for their oasis and only able to find expensive, but unsatisfying rocks.
You've got this
If your content doesn’t do well, maybe it’s just because it wasn’t good content. The fact is, there’s a steady stream of new platforms, new viewers, and new tactics. If you know your audience intimately, can tell a good story, and understand the inner workings of your targeted platform, it’s possible to create consistent, successful content with minimal investment.