Six MORE reasons you don’t need to worry about “content shock”

Posted on May 13, 2014 4:36 pm by | Content | Brands | Marketing

Content ShockFour months have passed since I argued that “content shock” is a bogus concern. In those 16 weeks, I have seen nothing to change my mind, but I’ve seen much that reinforces my belief that content remains a principal, viable and effective means of communicating and engaging with your audiences.

Marketing consultant Mark Schaefer resuscitated the issue that has been kicking around for hundreds of years, that there is too much content. Mark revived the idea with a new twist: Instead of expressing concern about the impact of an abundance of content on the consumer, he argued that the volume of content will render it essentially useless to the producer. Because consumers will have so much content available to them, it will become exponentially harder for our messages to break through, rendering content an uneconomical tactic for everyone except those with the deepest pockets. “Eventually,” Mark wrote,  “a ‘cover the world with content’ marketing focus will not be a long-term sustainable strategy for many businesses.”

As I’ve watched the content space over the intervening four months, I’m more and more acutely aware that brands don’t need to cover the world with content in order for a content strategy to succeed. Here’s some of what I’ve noted that continues to support content as a key strategy:

If there’s too much content, why are publishers desperate for more?

“Consumers’ appetite for content on a 24-hour basis is at an all-time high, and many publishers are struggling to keep up,” writes Frank Besteiro in AdAge. In order to satisfy consumers’ appetite, many are turning to content exchanges, which “enable publishers to buy and sell content at scale, increasing traffic to their own articles, filling gaps in their coverage and opening up new revenue streams.” If these exchanges—from Cox, Gannett, Hearst, Tribune Co., and others—aren’t an opportunity, what is?

Niches are getting nichier

Your ability to target content of interest to y our audience vastly increases the likelihood of the content reaching that audience—and tools that help are getting better and cheaper. In fact, Facebook has launched Audience Insights that lets you learn more about your target audience with geographical data, purchase history, top page likes, languages they speak, and more. Matt Southern, writing for Search Engine Journal, “With Audience Insights you can learn how many people on Facebook live near your stores, you can get to know their interests, along with their past purchase behavior and shopping habits (online vs. in-store).” That’s data you can use to increase the odds in your favor.

In The New York Times, Robert J. Moore shared a recent example of a video that succeeded even though it never went viral. “As it turned out,” Moore writes, “our video was tailored to such a specific viewer that anyone who got the joke was an ideal prospect for us and would share it with like-minded friends. Within a few weeks, one of those…leads…became our biggest customer to date, doubling our monthly revenue.” Moore calls this an “unscalable” tactic, something that works but doesn’t produce proportional results on a larger scale. A local restaurant leaving a takeout menu on your doorstep is another example of an unscalable tactic that succeeded long before there was an Internet.

Here’s another example of content’s effectiveness in a niche: In Redwood City, California, police posted images of stolen property to Pinterest, leading not one but three people to identify the rightful owner—and this was the fourth person to get stolen property back thanks to a Pinterest post. Try telling the Redwood City Police Department that their content has been lost in the flood! And Redwood City isn’t the only police department to achieve demonstrable results by sharing content on Pinterest!

You can even succeed with an audience of one

Some very smart marketers have figured out that they can produce content destined to reach just one person and still reap the benefits. UK bank NatWest has produced a series of Vine videos that answer the most commonly asked customer service questions. When someone queries the company about one of those issues, they respond with a link to the Vine video that provides the answer. Of course, it’s likely that many of those following that customer will also see it, which is cream on top of a very satisfied customer.

Customers of Warby Parker, meanwhile, have received YouTube replies to individual queries. In this example, a staffer named Taylor answers a question from @JessBassist, but even though it was a one-to-one response, it has been viewed more than 3,000 times:

Content is getting shorter

People can consume a lot of short content in a brief amount of time. In fact, according to a Washington post story, the digital world is increasingly hard-wiring us for short content.

An Instagram photo takes a few seconds to view. Vine videos last only six seconds. As Vine opens its new searchable website, many are speculating that more brands will tap Vine as a marketing tool. If you think about how many people skip 30-second pre-rolls on YouTube whenever they can, it’s easy to see the benefits that will accrue to brands through the creative use of Vine videos. By the time you’d click away from a 30-second pre-roll, you’re already done watching a Vine.

Experimentation and innovation win eyeballs

The content ecosystem evolves and changes moment by moment. Staying current with new avenues for content, as well as the successes of early adopters, can help you draw attention to your material. For example, social media agency Laundry Service has found that using an Instagram photo instead of stock photos or studio shots in ads produces more engagement. According to an AdAge piece, “Using regular photos, the company saw a 2.35% click-through rate. With Instagram-style shots, that increased to as high as 8%. When tying ad performance to sales, Laundry Service saw conversion rates increase by 25%.”

GE is among the companies that tapped into the photo-based question-and-answer app Jelly (from Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, experimenting with the tool just to see what results it might produce. This is an important tactic (as I recently suggested). If it turns out to be an effective tactic, then you’re among the first brands to get attention among the app’s early (and influential) adopters.

Most of your content competition is crap anyway

Google has been incredibly clear about the changes to its algorithms, particularly its Panda update: Original quality content wins. Fortunately for you, most of the content produced by most brand marketers is garbage. If you produce quality content, it doesn’t matter one little bit how much total content volume exists. Yours, cream that it is, will rise to the top.



  • 1.I am glad that you wrote this follow-up post, Shel. I read the pieces you and Mark wrote a few months ago and listened to your discussion on Mitch Joel's podcast. In this follow-up post, you emphasized an important point that I have been thinking about - content marketing can be successful if read by just one person.

    As part of an ongoing project for a business school, I interview and write up stories about the school's clients experiences in executive education programs. These stories give an inside glimpse into how participants have used their learnings from the program to address specific business challenges back on the job. While the number of people reading these stories is very, very small, we have metrics to show that the stories have played a role in a number of new sales among executive education buyers. For me, this is a success.

    It seems that many of the content shockers are focused on numbers. I would obviously rather have a handful of people read a story that leads to direct business results as opposed to having thousands of people read the same piece but it doesn't result in any action. Quality is better than quantity. There is a big difference between "content popularity" and "content marketing". For all the reasons you mention, the latter is here to stay.

    Kevin Anselmo | May 2014 | Chapel Hill, North Carolina

  • 2.After posting this, Kevin, I saw another article pop up in my stream:

    The key passage: "Taulia is not interested in appealing to the masses or tallying up a massive view count. Instead, this brand takes on an approach known as narrowcasting. In other words, Taulia creates videos to appeal directly to its niche audience and target buyer personas." That approach "has influenced more than $125M in marketing pipeline based on lead interactions with video content."

    Shel Holtz | May 2014 | Concord, CA

  • 3.I'm not sure any of this refutes the existence of content shock, as I understand it. It points to some approaches that can help you get your content consumed, but the end result is that it takes more resources (time, money, personnel) to make that happen and that seems to be growing more difficult all the time. I also wonder about the relevance of the first point, I think publishers are crying for more content because they have laid off all their paid staff and now are looking for cheap/free alternatives. They, too, realized it is getting too expensive to create the quality and volume of content required to get noticed and now are looking for alternatives.

    Michael Miller | May 2014 | Toronto

  • 4.Thanks for the comment, Michael!

    While I didn't refute the existence of content shock in this post, I do stand by my original post: It doesn't exist. There is no mystical magical point at which there is suddenly too much content for it to be economical for marketers to engage in content marketing. Marketers have always had to be smart about what they do; they've always had to find ways to break through the noise. To complain that the tactics employed three years ago don't work means you're not paying attention to current trends. It's our job as marketers to figure out what works today, not 18 months ago.

    We've been hearing that there's too much content since Aristotle made the claim. We heard it with the introduction of the printing press, with the introduction of public education, and several years ago Steve Rubel insisted we were approaching "attention crash." None of it ever happened. This is just another one of those assertions and it won't happen, either.

    As for publications struggling for content, I doubt it's the result of staff reductions, since they've also turned to contributors who either don't get paid or get paid per click (think of HuffingtonPost and Forbes, for instance). The report on content exchanges was clear that the problem is an insatiable public demand for more and more and more content, which means people are consuming exponentially more than they used to.

    Shel Holtz | May 2014

  • 5."To complain that the tactics employed three years ago don't work means you're not paying attention to current trends. It's our job as marketers to figure out what works today, not 18 months ago." Not disagreeing with any of that, Shel. I don't feel it changes what I believe to be the case: that content creation is a bigger drain on resources now than in the past. Absolutely, you have to be smart and look for the tactics that deliver the right ROI. I think the "I" part of that acronym is getting bigger, though. Maybe it will cycle back down with a pending innovation/idea/whatever. Time will tell.

    Good for you for keeping the comments open in the wake of many others shutting them down, or talking about, by the way.

    Michael Miller | May 2014 | Toronto

  • 6.Excellent Shel. One more...VCs, including Netscape founder Andreeson, are putting big money behind news media organizations. The startup news media area is getting insane.

    Joe Pulizzi | May 2014 | United States

  • 7.Moderating comments takes maybe five minutes a day, Michael; and that's what Akismet doesn't catch. I'm not ready to shut down comments in order to save five minutes a day!

    Shel Holtz | May 2014

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