battle content shock

In January, I wrote a post called Content Shock which explained that we are entering a new phase in the evolution of content-based marketing. There are primarily two dynamics driving this change:

  1. The amount of content on the web is literally exploding. By 2020, the amount of web-based information (most of it consumer-driven) is expected to increase by 600%. Think about that for a moment. If you can imagine the vastness of the Internet today, in six years we will have six of those.
  2. Today an average American spends about 10 hours a day consuming content, a number that has risen steadily year by year. But there is a threshold to the amount of attention we will be able to devote to content, which will further challenge a marketer’s ability to get messages through to their audience and stakeholders.

I wrote about a third factor — the development of advanced content filters — as another emerging issue that will make it harder to get our content to emerge as the signal instead of the 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.

But I concluded this post with a tantalizing question …

Where do we turn to win in an era of Content Shock?

It’s hard to deny these facts or the implication that in an eco-system of way too much stuff, SOMETHING is going to 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 affects of this trend are going to vary wildly by industry so this is not necessarily a doom and gloom scenario or the “end of content marketing” as some have contended. I explained that in detail in a follow up post on Arguments Against Content Shock. I also explained that content shock can be seen as a positive for many consumers.

However, many businesses are already struggling with the cost and complexity of competing in a world being covered up in content. Here are brief descriptions of 10 possible strategies to 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 if you are in this situation, but you have to be first and overwhelming. This is an uneasy fact we don’t often discuss but it is true. The strategy is:

  1. Find an unsaturated niche.
  2. Produce a volume of quality, helpful material aimed at relevant platforms.
  3. Never stop producing content.

Dominating a niche early has extremely important long-term value because the 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 an established audience rises to the top.

2) Content Partnerships

If our “pipeline” to consumers is being strangled, create new content partnerships through innovations such as:

  • Brandscaping — Combining audiences by cooperating on co-branded content.
  • News jacking — A term coined by David Meerman Scott, newsjacking describes a process to align your brand message with breaking news events so you ride a wave of traditional media coverage.
  • Sponsored content — A range of alternatives ranging from paid 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 is a 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 content clutter.

3. Content as social currency

breaking badThere is an entire science behind associating content with self-identity of your content consumers. In other words, we consume and share content if it reinforces something about our self-identity. We choose our content like we choose the clothes we wear or the car we drive.

Here is a small example. I noticed on the web that many people I admire were watching Breaking Bad. I began to watch this show because I emotionally associate with these friends.

I posted about my progress with the show as a type of social currency to demonstrate that I am part of the cult around this 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 get smaller chunks of content through the pipeline? This would explain innovations such as Vine, Pinterest and infographics.

5. Understanding and working through advanced content filters

Jeff Domansky described the current state as “a drunken frat party” of content. Every search algorithm is going to be working hard to personalize the delivery of content 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 straight-forward: Create useful, relevant content and optimize it in every way so it shows up at the top of Google search.

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 filter and produce content in forms that can be absorbed and displayed by these algorithms?

6. Eyes on entertainment

In my classes, I emphasize that a focus on consistently producing content that is RITE — Relevant, Interesting, Timely, and Entertaining — will drive the right behaviors to produce shareable content. Of these, I think 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 featuring popular songs and entertainers like Coldplay. That kind of multi-million-dollar quality is not sustainable for most businesses and will hasten the exit of marginal content producers. I think this partially explains why Chipotle’s leading competitor Qdoba just filed for bankruptcy, a victim of Content Shock.

7. The paid imperative

As Christopher Penn recently wrote, success in the future probably can’t depend on organic reach alone — we will have to have some paid component of a content strategy.

This hand is already being played for us, 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 a key idea.

8. Hit ‘em where they ain’t

If your competitor has overwhelmed the market with blog content, try videos. If videos are saturated for your business, start a podcast. Are there alternate platforms like Slideshare, Instagram, Pinterest or Google+ where you can make a mark?

In other words, look for alternate delivery channels. Should your business be on the lookout for the next big thing?

9. Borrow a Bigger Pipeline

Most people only look at “paid media” or “earned media” but there is an increasingly powerful third alternative: Borrowed Media.

Return On InfluenceIn a recent Marketing Companion podcast, my co-host Tom Webster commented that the top search results for a new shoe he was looking to buy were all blog posts. Not articles in trade magazines. Not content on the shoe company’s website. Not organic news results. Blog posts.

Let that sink in.

As I wrote in my book Return On Influence (a thorough tutorial on this emerging channel), we are in the era of the Citizen Influencer where passionate, trusted experts wield an incredible amount of power over loyal audiences. Companies are now beginning to recognize this as distinct marketing channel and must develop a core competency in the art and science of influence marketing. 

In the past 12 months we have seen the beginning of influence marketing departments and even boutique agencies working this niche.

10. Human Connection. 

Every week I receive heart-felt messages from members of the blog community like this: “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, and it is not something I can fake. I really do care about you and I work hard to write in a way that earns your trust every day.

Connecting in a human way is what leads to that trust. Trust leads to loyalty. And I believe that loyalty trumps everything else I have written about in this blog post.

I sincerely believe that “be more human” is the killer app for Content Shock. 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.

Isn’t that the ultimate goal for a person, a business, or a brand? What ideas did I miss here?

Illustration courtesy alpha coders free wallpaper of the movie 300

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