Content Shock: The Aftermath of the Storm

Last week, content marketing consultant Mark Schaefer published a blog post called Content Shock: Why Content Marketing Is Not a Sustainable Strategy.

In it, he described a future where small content producers are driven out of business as the cost of capturing consumer attention rises and bigger content producers with deep pockets succeed with their ability to pay higher prices.

In a situation where content supply is exponentially exploding while content demand is flat, we would predict that individuals, companies, and brands would have to “pay” consumers more and more just to get them to see the same amount of content. …

Over time, the low budget content producers are eased out of the consumer mindshare as we “pay” more for their attention. … The economics created by Content Shock will eventually drive many content creators out of business.

Well. The outcry was swift and fierce.

Other content marketing leaders, such as Brian Clark of Copyblogger, Robert Rose of the Content Marketing Institute and Jay Baer of Convince and Convert, disagreed with Mark. Brian went so far as to say he was “skeptical” of Mark’s “hyperbole” and “sensationalist and untenable conclusion.” Ouch.

A funny thing happened on the way to a blog post

I found the whole event quite interesting and illuminating. Before it all started, I’d actually been noodling around a blog post of my own. My working title was Have We Reached Peak Content Marketing?

You see, Mark isn’t the first to draw attention to a very real problem in the world of content marketing: The more content there is, the harder it becomes to be heard.

Mitch Joel discussed this in early October 2013 in a blog post called The Failing State of Content Marketing. The first line of that post: “Simply put: there is too much content in too many places.”

Also in early October 2013, Joe Pulizzi tweeted this slide from Doug Kessler.

Doug, of content marketing firm Velocity Partners, has a marvellous SlideShare on the problem of content volume. It’s called Crap, and if you haven’t seen it, it’s well worth a read.

In November 2013, Marcus Sheridan published a blog post about what he dubbed the “digital land rush.” He describes a similar problem — that there’s only so much attention to go around.

Those companies that started early with blogging and social media easily captured a lot of attention because there weren’t that many blogs or social media profiles to follow. Those starting now (or in the future) face a much harder fight to gain fans and readers.

because so many businesses are aware of the need to not just have a website but dominate from a content and platform perspective, the “rush” is fully on, with “land” in every industry becoming more scarce by the moment—something I feel will crest within the next few years, leaving many on the outside looking in.

No one called him sensationalist.

Some things can’t be disputed

Out of all this chatter, a few things become clear: There’s a lot of content out there — more every day — fighting for a limited amount of consumer attention. This was known decades ago.

In 1997, David Shenk wrote in Data Smog: Surviving the Information Glut that “information, once rare and cherished like caviar, is now plentiful and taken for granted like potatoes,” and “too many experts spoil the clarity.” He wrote this before social media and blogging took off — imagine what he’d say now!

Something else the industry agrees on: The more consumers are bombarded with junk, the stronger their filters become, making it harder for the worthy content to get through.

The more consumers are bombarded with junk, the stronger their filters become.   Click to tweet

But it will get through. And this seems to be the main stick in the craw of Mark’s dissenters. They believe there’s still a way to make content marketing viable, deep pockets or no.

Shel Holtz points to better filters:

At a talk, lecturer and author Clay Shirky famously noted that the problem with finding the information you wanted wasn’t that there was too much information. “It’s filter failure,” he said. The filters are getting better and better, though.

And a PR plan:

…the simple act of publishing content won’t cut it. It never has. You’ll need to earn readership, which you can do through a solid PR plan..

Mitch Joel touts distribution:

If your brand is trying to identify why the content isn’t working, please take a much closer look at what the distribution strategy is of your content. You do have a distribution strategy for your content marketing platform, right?

Joe Pulizzi mentions niche:

This is where so many brands go wrong…they think they need a lot of readers/engagers to be successful with their content marketing. Sometimes, it only takes one (some content programs are geared toward just one company, or even, one individual). That is why this thing is so powerful.

The content marketing bottom line

Let’s cut straight to it. This content marketing thing — is it really worth it? Can it really succeed, now, in 2014? Even starting from scratch?

I say the answer is yes, it can. The right quality content, aimed at the right people, using the right distribution channels can break through.

If it couldn’t, we wouldn’t be seeing success stories like Groove, a software startup that last year started content marketing their way from $30,000 to $100,000 per month in sales. Just 5 weeks into their blog strategy, they had attracted 82,629 unique visitors, 5,256 email subscribers, and 535 new trials of their help desk software.

It’s getting harder to succeed with content marketing, but sooner you start, faster you’ll get there.   Click to tweet

That said, it’s wise to remember the Chinese proverb that says the two best times to plant a tree are 20 years ago and today. It is getting harder to find success with content marketing, but the sooner you start, the faster you’ll get there.

About the author: I'm Jennifer Tribe, a content marketer and publishing strategist with nearly 20 years of experience backed by a journalism degree. I’m here to help you get more from your content marketing program.See more posts by this Author


on content marketing & book publishing


    • JenniferJennifer says

      Thank YOU, Mark. You’ve raised a very important issue and I think it’s great that so many people have joined the discussion because of your post. A lot of people agree with you, but you’ve also faced some pretty harsh criticism. You’ve handled it all with good grace and professional aplomb.

      In all the 300+ comments on your post, has anyone raised the topic of guerrilla marketing? Thirty years ago, Jay Conrad Levinson recognized the need for effective marketing tactics for the little guys, those without deep pockets. In the ’80s, these tactics were about how to break through in an advertising world where big brands controlled the airwaves and publishing media. Now those some types of tactics are needed in content marketing.

      I don’t disagree with your point that it’s becoming increasingly harder to be heard with content. It will take a combination of stellar strategy, well-targeted content, persistence, and creativity to make it work. Not every company will be able to pull that combination together — fair enough. I just don’t think it comes down to a pure cost equation.

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