In January, I wrote an article called “Content Shock” that explained how we are entering a new phase in the evolution of content marketing. Two dynamics are driving this change:
1. The amount of content on the Web is exploding. By 2020, the amount of information on the Web (most of it consumer-driven) is expected to increase by 600 percent. Think about that for a moment. Imagine the vastness of the Internet today. In six years we will have six of those.
2. Today, Americans spend about 10 hours a day consuming content-a number that has risen steadily year after year. But there is a threshold to the amount of attention we will be able to devote to content, and this will further challenge a marketer’s ability to get messages through to his audience and stakeholders.
I wrote about a third factor—the development of advanced content filters—as another issue that will make it harder for our content to emerge as signals instead of noise.
My conclusion was that these pressures are bound to thin the herd. Content marketing as we know it will not be a sustainable strategy for some businesses, and it will become more difficult and expensive for almost all of us.
I concluded the article with a tantalizing question: How can we win in this environment?
It’s hard to deny these facts or the implication that, in an ecosystem of too much stuff, something will have to change. But what?
How do we break through this information density and win in a hyper-competitive content market?
First, I need to emphasize that the effects of this trend will vary by industry, so this is not necessarily a doom and gloom scenario, or the “end of content marketing” as some people contend.
However, many businesses are already struggling with the cost and complexity of competing in a world covered in content. Here are brief descriptions of 10 ways you can break through.
1. Shock and awe
The only sustainable content strategy is to find an unsaturated niche and overwhelm the Web with so much quality content that search engines only discover you. Effectively, you are creating content shock for your competitors.
You don’t necessarily have to be the best content creator, but you have to be first and overwhelming. This is an uneasy fact we don’t often discuss, but it’s true.
Dominating a niche early on has extremely important long-term value because search engines will continue to recognize and reward the authority you accrue. Great content does not rise to the top. Great content from dominant websites with established audiences rises to the top.
2. Content partnerships
If your pipeline to consumers is being strangled, create new content partnerships through:
- Brandscaping: Combine audiences by cooperating on co-branded content.
- Newsjacking: A term coined by David Meerman Scott, newsjacking describes a process to align your brand message with breaking news so you can ride a wave of traditional media coverage.
- Sponsored content: A range of alternatives ranging from paying for news placements to paying bloggers for editorial space.
- Native advertising: Techniques that embed commercial messages in the editorial copy of news and information channels.
I’m not sure how sustainable these strategies are in the long-term, and they are not without controversy. There’s danger when you cross that line and turn your content/news site into an infomercial. Still, this trend is going to heat up because traditional news sites are desperate for revenue streams, and marketers need new ways to cut through the clutter.
3. Content as social currency
We consume and share content if it reinforces something about our self-identities. We choose content like we choose clothes or the cars we drive.
Here is a small example: I noticed that many people I admire were watching “Breaking Bad.” I began to watch the show because I emotionally associate it with these friends.
I posted about my progress with the show to demonstrate that I am part of the cult around the television series. It was not even a conscious act, but the content I consumed and shared subtly became part of my identity.
4. Atomizing content
If people don’t have time for long content, can you give it to them in smaller chunks? This would explain innovations such as Vine, Pinterest and infographics.
5. Understanding and working through advanced content filters
Jeff Domansky described content’s current state as a drunken frat party. Every search algorithm will work hard to personalize content delivery, and advanced new filters like Zite will make it even more difficult to break through with new ideas and products.
The content marketing formula used to be pretty straightforward: Create useful, relevant content and optimize it in every way so it shows up at the top of Google.
That is about to become infinitely more complex. In addition to personal filters, cognitive computing platforms like Apple’s Siri or IBM’s Watson use content as fuel. What does marketing look like in that environment? How do we align ourselves with these filters and produce content in ways these algorithms can absorb and display?
6. Eyes on entertainment
Focusing on consistently producing content that is RITE (relevant, interesting, timely and entertaining) will drive the right behaviors to produce shareable content. Of these, the big word for the future is “entertaining.” But this is not necessarily going to be easy.
Look at what Chipotle is doing to sell burritos—producing multi-million dollar mini movies that feature popular songs and entertainers. That kind of multi-million-dollar quality is not sustainable for most businesses, and will hasten the exit of marginal content producers. This partially explains why Chipotle’s leading competitor, Qdoba, just filed for bankruptcy. It’s a victim of content shock.
7. The paid imperative
As Christopher Penn recently wrote, future success probably can’t depend on organic reach alone—we will have to have some paid component.
This is already happening, isn’t it? With Facebook’s organic reach diminishing year by year, companies have no choice but to pay for sponsored posts that can reach a larger audience. New platforms that integrate with traditional advertising and media will be key.
8. Hit ’em where they ain’t
If your competitor has overwhelmed the market with blog content, try videos. If videos are saturated in your industry, start a podcast. Are there alternate platforms—Slideshare, Instagram, Pinterest or Google+—where you can make a mark?
In other words, look for alternate delivery channels.
9. Borrow a bigger pipeline
Most people only look at paid or earned media, but there is an increasingly powerful third alternative: borrowed media.
In a recent Marketing Companion podcast, my co-host Tom Webster commented that the top search results for a new shoe he wanted to buy were all blog posts, not articles in trade magazines. There was no content on the shoe company’s website, and no organic news results.
Let that sink in.
As I wrote in my book, “Return On Influence,” we are in the era of the citizen influencer where passionate, trusted experts wield an incredible amount of power over loyal audiences. Companies are beginning to recognize this as a distinct marketing channel, and must become competent in the art and science of influence marketing.
10. Human connection
Every week I receive heart-felt messages from members of the blog community. Here’s an example: “Each morning I sit down with a cup of coffee and your latest blog post. I feel like you are a friend sitting across the table from me giving me a daily marketing lesson.”
I work hard to create a true connection with my readers; it is not something I can fake. I really do care about you and work hard to write in a way that earns your trust.
Connecting in a human way is what leads to trust. Trust leads to loyalty, and loyalty trumps everything else I have written about in this article.
“Be more human” is the content shock killer. The best way to build long-term relationships that lead to business benefits isn’t going to be through backlinks, sponsored posts or native advertising. It is going to be through authentic human connection.
Be more human.