A Content Shock Parable: The Consumer View

I recently introduced a concept called Content Shock which created a meaningful dialogue in the marketing community.

The core premise is that we have been in a marketing environment of increasing consumption of content (in terms of hours per day) enabled by tech advances. But eventually, there is a limit. The latest research shows that Americans spend about 10 hours a day consuming content, up from 7.4 hours per day in 2000 and 4 hours in 1980.

At the same time, the amount of available content is exploding, which will place a strain on marketing resources to keep up and even maintain “mindshare” with our customers. It does not mean content marketing will end (I don’t think that will ever happen) but it will have to change, and I challenged readers to think through alternative strategies when their businesses start to see that cliff.

A meaningful dialogue ensued in the comment section, new blog posts, and even personal phone calls. The overarching theme was, “yes, we are already seeing this.”

But there was also some great dissent. In particular I would like to respond to an excellent post by Shel Holtz, an intellect I have admired for many years. In a treatise titled “Six Reasons there will be No Content Shock,” he looks at this from a consumer perspective and represented a dissenting view held by a few others.

You might be surprised to know that I do not believe our views are mutually exclusive. In fact, I agree with him. To illustrate how these views can co-exist, I would like to tell a parable, which is also a true story.

A Content Shock Parable

Long ago, I lived in a little town called Rockdale, Texas (pop. 5,611). There wasn’t much to the town, in fact it only had one fast-food restaurant, Parsley’s Pullet Parlor, a fried chicken place owned by the colorful local entrepreneur and cowboy Harold Parsley.

chickenAlthough he made a dandy fried chicken, Harold’s greatest fear — to the point of paranoia — was Kentucky Fried Chicken. He knew that if KFC ever came to town he was doomed. There was no way he could keep up with their advertising, couponing, and a supply chain that produced a consistently good product at a much lower price.

So in a defensive maneuver, Harold leased empty lots all around town and put up signs that said “Coming Soon! Another Parsley’s Pullet Parlor!” Of course he had no intention of ever building another location. He was just trying to scare off KFC through his apparent market dominance.

As long as Harold was the only game in town, he thrived, but sure enough, within a decade, fast-food chains started appearing in Rockdale. McDonalds. Wendys. Pizza Hut. And no matter how much his customers loved Harold, they were starved for some new content!

For awhile, he was able to survive on his loyal customer base, but month by month his business eroded because now the available dining budget and appetite of even his best customers — a finite amount — was being eroded by the aggressive competition.

And then his nightmare came true. Kentucky Fried Chicken opened its doors, along with highway billboards, newspaper coupons and advertising that dominated the airwaves. Harold soon had to close his little family business for good.

What does this have to do with content marketing?

First, let’s look at why Shel Holtz is correct because from a CONSUMER perspective, they could not be happier!

Sure, people have a limit to how much fast food they could consume, but more channels meant better quality, diverse offerings, and better value. This is the main point Shel makes in his article and I agree that to the consumers, the “content shock” that Harold was experiencing was invisible. Not only did the shock not occur, there was a benefit to all that new content!

But from a business perspective, this “shock” was a disaster. When Harold had the only “content niche” in town, he thrived. In fact people who were hungry for chicken or needed the convenience of fast food had no other place to turn for many years. But as soon as the niche began to explode with competition, the game was won by the brands with deep pockets who could out-gun and out-last Harold.

If demand in the niche miraculously could grow unabated, (people grew more stomach capacity?) Harold might have been able to hang on. But as in every market, including the market for attention, there is an inviolable ceiling at some point.

Emotional connection works with critical mass

Harold still had the quality product and the deep emotional connection with customers to at least keep some share of the dining budget. But people get tired of chicken. When there are so many content alternatives, they are going to naturally go to other places even if they love you. In this case, Harold neither had the critical mass of customers to survive nor the resources to compete with mega corporations now beating him to a pulp in a defined niche of 5,611 potential customers.

I don’t want to get into a discussion of all the business strategies Harold could have explored to survive (even in those pre-Internet days). Remember, this a parable to explain in simplified terms the difference between the consumer view of Content Shock (benign) and the business view of Content Shock (a tremor).

I’m sure there will be much more dialogue on this topic and I am happy to have it happen because these are precisely the discussions that will help us all grow.

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  • It appears your thesis is that competition forces businesspeople to rethink their approach. If so, yes I concur. But that has nothing to do with content. It’s axiomatic. Faced with competition for ANYTHING (customers, attention, football scholarships, book deals) you only have three choices: do it dissimilar from the other guys (differentiation); do it better than the other guys (excellence or value); or do it more than the other guys (scale or efficiency). That is the list. If people are concerned that their content won’t succeed like it has in the past, they need to find a new niche, make better content, or make more content. To me, that is far more about common sense than “Content Shock” or anything of the sort.

  • LizReusswig

    As I read this, I realized you could remove “fast-food restaurant” and insert “newspapers” or any number of changing industries and the result would be similar. From the consumer perspective, it seems that those who are used to one-way of consumption will feel the most shock and those who don’t know any different will probably not feel much shock at all. Thank you, Mark for more “food” for thought! 🙂

  • jogebau

    Ooops, I just released my point of view to your first article here: https://exploreb2b.com/articles/open-letter-to-mark-schaefer-content-shock-stinks but it seems that you are outrunning me. I must say that I disagree with you on the topic, but I thank you for starting the conversation. In my opinion, Jay is spot on. Do it better, do more or find a different job. As with any area of business.

  • The theme of the comment section was more or less in two camps. 1) “I had not really thought of it this way before” or 2) “I really don’t see a need for change, the status quo will not change”

    In either case, the post added value because clearly people were not thinking in these terms, although the alternatives might seem obvious to you. The main theme I see in the world right now is “cover the world with content” without a thought of the long-term implications and challenges.

    Two of the three options are probably not scalable in the long-term for many businesses (more and better), or at least these options deteriorate the value of content marketing, the point I was making in the post.

    That leaves, “do something dissimilar.” That is how I ended the post and to my surprise there were almost no solid ideas. Everybody is stuck on “be amazing” which is simply not practical or sustainable,

    It appears we concur, not certain what issue you may have with the way I presented the ideas.

  • I read your article and I really do not discern a point of disagreement. It’s hard to argue that in the face of increased competition — explosive competition — and finite demand that something has to change.

  • Happy to help Liz.

  • We definitely concur on amazing being a tough assignment. I do think scale is doable, but it requires rethinking who/what creates content on your behalf. I’m calling it Cooperative Content, where you’re working hand-in-hand with your customers and/or broader workforce to create content, not just the regular marketing team.

  • I think I agree with @jaybaer on this one. As much as I’m getting tired of all this content as a marketer, the consumer isn’t. Content shock is apparent to a very select group of people, which are typically in the social media blogger niche.

    The thing is, for consumers, they want content, and they want the best content. Doesn’t really matter where it comes from, who it’s from, etc. They’ll move on to the next option if it’s better, or perceived to be better. As Jay pointed out, there are three options: Differentiate, do it better, or do it at scale. I think that’s why a lot of companies are going the multi-author blog route, because they know they need more and more content each day, but don’t have the capacity to handle it on their own.

    The only people that are getting tired with content marketing are the actual marketers producing it. I remember my boss asking me why we keep publishing content about the same topics, over and over again, because he was getting bored. As much as he’s bored, there are new readers that read that content each time we post it, new people engage with the content, etc. So really, content shock only applies to us, that are bombarded by content marketing each day. If I were to ask my dad if he’s annoyed by the increased amount of content that he sees from brands on Facebook and Twitter, he would say “I didn’t even notice.”

  • jogebau

    I guess we agree on this: Something has to change. But I do believe something will change automatically – the less effective content is, the less will be produced. Until someone finds a way to make it more powerful again. But with all the crap (sorry, just being honest) content out there, quality content is still winning. And quality content is still just as hard to produce as four or five years ago.

  • Hi Mark,
    I read both your ‘Content Shock’ posts back to back. You do mention that technology enables faster consumption of content but have you considered that technologies ability to foster content consumption is only going to get more effective? Also humans do/will not have to always directly consume each piece of content to benefit from the content curated by devices. The internet of things is a likely area where content is ‘scanned’ before an optimum result is delivered for content augmented lifestyle.

    e.g.: The refrigerator scanning through 2 or four(or more) of your favorite food bloggers content to see which ingredients are available for your next green shake before making a suggestion for you based on one specific blogger’s shake recipe. In this example even if the two of us choose the same bloggers in our faves list, we will still end up getting different suggestions from our devices based on the inventory in our smart fridge.

    It is also increasingly likely that, driven by the ever growing privacy concerns the current web may be supplanted by multiple parallel digital network meshes which have their own content thirsty communities (which will prefer to consume from niche-specific meshnets than the ‘mainstream’ web)

    In other words, I do not think there will be any content shock. Too many moving parts for that to happen.

    The appetite for ‘Currency’ and ‘individuality’ of content, the explosion of internet of things, meshnets, new content consumption and creation modalities etc all point to the fact that we content creators will only have to adapt on how we produce and serve content. Content itself will not go out of style for the next 20 yrs or so IMO.

    Great thoughts Mark…way to get the conversation going and minds churning!

  • Several years ago I had a similar line of thinking with the explosion of new tools, services and content sources. We had land lines and TV, but mobile phones arrived and later Netflix. I remember thinking, wow, everyone is offering a new service for a small one off purchase or a small subscription — that’s got to add up and end at some point. In theory, there’s a finite amount of money. People can’t afford all these subscriptions.

    But subscriptions have exploded (and one off purchases [edit]). Apple says we spent $10 billion on apps alone last year — not counting the spend on in-app purchases, of which I’m almost willing to spend any amount to satisfy the educational curiosity of toddler for car rides (PBS has an awesome free app by the way).

    There are also aspects of the long tail at play — the niche Chris Anderson discussed in Free. That content that meets the specific needs, like indie music, or a parent soothing a toddler.

    It comes at the expense of other things. I haven’t had a landline in 10 years. I don’t subscribe to cable. I can access the internet through my phone at a relatively high speed without. AT&T is twice over, with apologies, to Shel, a shell of it’s former self.

    It’s an evolution — I think your analysis of economics is spot on and I love your thinking and fresh perspectives — I just think it’ll lead us to a slightly different outcome.

    Better content, better marketing of that content, and also the pitfalls of gaming and baiting we’ve seen in the SEO community for a decade.

    It’s content marketing darwinism.

  • Yes, I’ve read your ideas on this on one of your posts and think that is a great example of the next-wave thinking that is needed.

  • it is possible for quality content to win but to say that it will always win out is a myth we need to stop perpetuating, It is absolutely possible to dominate search by being first and overwhelming even if you have second-rate content. If you have ever tried to compete through content in a very intense, smart and established market you will find this to be true.

    One small example — I am working with a company who has a new medical innovation. The conversation in this field is dominated by huge, long-established content providers. Their competitor’s content contribution to the field is so vast, my client has little hope of being discovered by conventional means, even if we produce “epic shit.”

    Quality content is not “still winning” in all cases.

  • This is precisely the theme I wrote about today. I don’t see an area of disagreement or perhaps I am dense. Either option is possible.

    I don’t think producing the same content over and over again is going to work long term. My opinion.

  • I do think there is a increasing diminishing return on content purely because competition is rising and web search queries aren’t growing nearly as fast. It’s harder to earn search term rankings and share of search, but the solution then becomes a focus on quality. Will it ever become saturated? Maybe, maybe not… but regardless marketers would be wise to diversify their mix to insure against changes in the ecosystem be it through Facebook’s algorithm, Google’s or shifts in consumer behavior. Great food for thought Mark thank you for sharing.

  • jogebau

    Ok, you misunderstood me there – I did want to say quality content always wins, but it still has a chance. But for content marketing to succeed, we need to put more focus on the quality of content – and less on quantity. The paradigm that more is better lead to a drastic mass of bad content.

    I will not offer any solutions here, just a few thoughts:
    – We need to extend the lifetime of content, good content is still good content after a while
    – We need to become better at targeting our audience, good content becomes bad content when it reaches the wrong target audience
    – We need to slow down content strategies – producing less content but in longer form and more original thought
    – We need to stop repeating each other! Repeating the same posts in different form is really becoming a bad habit of content marketers.
    – We need to stop working in predefined concepts and start thinking out of the box again. That is what made content marketing successful in the beginning.

    This comment is becoming a lot too long – I will write another post about this again tomorrow, it is getting late here.

    Thank you again for starting this – I think what it comes down to is the following: If we want content marketing to stay, we need to think about how it needs to evolve.

    Since you have started this, Mark, maybe we should have an ongoing series about the “content shock” phenomenon? The discussion is really important and while I don’t like the name, it sticks 🙂

  • The amount of content we have to go through each day is staggering. I find myself constantly shifting my daily routine to adjust and to avoid burnout.

    The chicken restaurant analogy was spot on because peoples’ attention shifts on a dime, and before you know it they’ve moved to the new popular thing. I’m sure some witty developer will bring to market an app or site that will quickly make Snapchat yesterday’s news.

    I know marketers are more than capable of creating innovative ways to present content, so I’m excited to see the next evolution.

  • James Curtis

    Lack of mutual exclusivity is a great point — I don’t think I’ve really seen anyone who could be classified as ‘wrong’ no matter what they think; especially at this point in its development.

    I tend to side with the idea of maintaining a healthy fear of content shock.

    I think boiling down the driving factors of the content explosion is important to keep in mind. We’re going to be seeing the effects of changes in the pipeline that Google created for years to come. Content marketing is one of them.

    There have always been plenty of ways for clever or driven marketers to attract customers to their products without directly spending money to get their attention, but none that have had the impact that search engines have had.

    There is nothing new about content creation or marketing, but its value has never been higher, and a lot of this boils back to that Google pipeline acting as a prime driving force. Granted, this is not the only reason why content marketing has become the latest craze, but it is one of the easiest key factors to isolate.

    The way I see it, one of the reasons why contact shock needs to be regarded as a real threat is because, for some companies or marketers, content is becoming a product. In many cases, content is supposed to be an ancillary value provided to customers in order to help attract them to the brand and their products (often via search traffic).

    There is a certain level of investment placed in the creation of this content just like any other marketing effort — in your example $100/hr in 2009. The problem is that content must be consumed in order for it to be valuable.

    It’s kind of the age old tree falling in the woods question. At a certain point, the investment needed for content to be consumed and grow an audience just isn’t worth what it takes to create it. Around that point, the content itself evolves from a valuable resource offered for free into a product in itself. This is problematic if content is not actually one of your products.

    In business/economics/marketing etc., this usually isn’t that big a deal. Diversify, differentiate, scale, be more amazing — and we’ve seen this with the SEO industry already — businesses that put all of their eggs in one basket (Google) have struggled or even been snuffed out as a result, but anyone with sense can see this coming and be smarter with how/where they market themselves.

    The problem that develops as a result is for those whose product is content.

    The risk of content shock poses some very serious questions because there is less liberty to simply try to differentiate or scale and so on because these likely pose a risk to whatever competitive advantages you had anyway.

    I do think that cable TV has illustrated that the explosion can be sustainable because you can always pare down further or find a new spin, though in a lot of cases, the niches that content marketers are carved in are already microscopically more precise than any Cable TV network.

    Finally, taking this back to the whole ‘more, more, more’ thing, and this is what I think is the central point of your argument, because there is so much more content for consumers to consume, there is less ability to properly consume it. Even if X is doing it better than everyone else, or Y differentiates, the consumer’s ability to absorb, process, and distinguish is diminished as a result.

    Pretty sure that was mainly rehashing what everyone has already said, but it is a fascinating discussion. Like I said, I don’t think I’ve read anyone’s perspective and been able to say they’re wrong about anything. For some, the threat of content shock is very real and potentially imminent. For others, it is merely an obstacle at most.

    It’s not my field, but there are probably some pretty cool studies waiting to be done with how well we can consume information in a world of exponential information growth.

    Maybe we can all at least agree that content marketing, from our perspective, is inflating beyond its scope or basically what Daniel Hebert said.

  • tech will certainly increase our ability to consume content to a certain degree but there are still so many hours in a day, right? Still limits. The explosion of sources and channels does not help the problem, it makes it worse for marketers. The competition just gets more crowded Thanks for the very thought-provoking comment my friend.

  • Agree completely Frank. Thanks so much for chiming in!

  • Many thanks for adding to the discussion Ryan.

  • Me too Jason. I hope that is one of the themes that comes out of this discussion. There is opportunity for innovation. Now, who is going to do it?

  • There are studies and basically it confirms my thesis. It’s hard to put a limit on what the cap on content consumption will be but I’m guessing 12 hours a day? It is currently around 10.

  • Dan Hutson

    We were in content overload long before the term “content marketing” came into fashion. We’re bombarded by thousands of messages (most frequently in the form of advertising) every day, so we consciously and subconsciously filter out that which fails to meet a need/desire. The content challenge isn’t that we’ll hit the wall in terms of available consumption time; it’s that we create content that isn’t relevant, emotional engaging and truly helpful to those we’re trying to reach. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your point of view) the vast majority of marketers will continue to produce lazy, cookie-cutter, unengaging or even offensive content that most people will filter out.

    There are very few opportunities out there today to be the only game in town in any business, and it’s been that way for a long time. You differentiate yourself by connecting in an authentic manner, offering answers to people’s problems and tools to accomplish what they want to accomplish, and maybe providing a little more enjoyable/rewarding experience than the next guy. Being “amazing” all of the time is a high bar to jump over consistently, but being consistently helpful and good at what you do is doable.

  • This topic and the two connected blog posts have a lot of people thinking including me. I love the Chicken story. I like the way the feathers were flying in the comments section too – especially Jay’s contribution. It’s amazing how much the supply and demand equation impacts everything from manufacturing to marketing and content development (and consumption). I’ve been operating a business helping other businesses with their marketing for a long time so you might think I should have it all figured out. But this whole “content shock” thing has me rethinking what we supply and the evolving demand for it. What we supply must evolve* with the demand or our business isn’t viable. From a global enterprise to a small B2B marketing agency. It’s the same for any business today as it was for Parsley’s Pullet Parlor back then.

    *The List: 1) Differentiation 2) Excellence or Value 3) Scale or Efficiency

  • And I thought I was going to have an evening of quiet reading. Leave it up to you to bring an essay out of me. 🙂

    Storytime. I finished reading Shel’s rebuttal and this blog a couple hours ago. I’ve been tooling around on my couch thinking this through, and my brother and I were talking about new tires.

    We went in our favorite shop today and we requested a certain brand (Continental) because we knew it was highly ranked and reviewed well. We’ve seen the brand marketed. Luckily because that shop is full of integrity and goodness they stopped us to tell us about another brand (Hercules), that was about the same quality, but almost $200 dollars cheaper (for 4 tires).

    My brother just telling me how he was suspicious at first, because he’s never seen or heard of the other brand. When he investigated more online, he found remarkable reviews and information and is even more satisifed with the purchase. He remarked, “I’ve never seen their marketing so I thought it was low quality.”

    I stopped him, with Shel & your blog in mind, “Cameron…repeat that again.”

    Made me think maybe there really is a degree of content shock we experience because we don’t know else what is out there and that ends up hurting some businesses.

    I asked him if he feels overwhelmed, and he mentioned (referencing to tech/PC sphere) things are just repeated all the time, “Samsung dominates, but what about Leveno? I’ve heard really great things…but I figure I’ll get Samsung” (I am a purely Apple girl, so I won’t elaborate :-D)

    Also we both noticed when we’re under time constraints, sometimes it’s easier to just go with the “safer” brand and whaddya know? It’s because of their deep pockets/marketing – it makes them seem more reliable and we see so much, so we just go with “Continental” brands)

    Daniel Hebert mentioned content shock applies to us marketers, and while I nodded in agreement as soon as I read that (I don’t even want to blog about social media practices anymore, and read less of those now, and that backs up what Baer says – find another niche!)……I think it could happen to the average consumer without them realizing it, just like it did with our tires.

    Not all the great, hidden brands have the same ability to scale. Or what if they can’t find another niche if it’s their passion/talent? Is there enough time for the quality content to finally come through?

    Maybe, maybe not. But that’s how it is. We have the ability to filter and be attracted to niche content. And we’ll continue to find more as we evolve and adapt our interests/needs (i.e. less social media practices, more stategy – but that’s why multi author blogs are brilliant @danielhebert where I can satisfy more than one interest in one place). We’ll always be missing out something niche and badass out there but there is another audience who will experience it. Bummer but I have to accept it instead of frantically trying to consume as much as I can.

    So while I think there’s a degree of shock, it’s not enough to cover up how good we are at filtering and searching for what we want. Smart content marketers know that so they will rock their niche.

    We’ve been filtering all our lives. Which classes to take, which food to buy, who to start a conversation with at a party.

    I couldn’t help but think about how being Deaf means consistent overload of white noise. We read, consume and filter naturally – and not just text. Body language, people writing on paper for us, transcripts in place of webinars, and reading people to figure out who wouldn’t mind the communication challenge and interacting.

    We don’t sit down in shock and say “screw the world.”

    So while I might just want a day with my Deaf friends because it’s “easier” like I might just buy that brand I already know about, it doesn’t lasts. Awesome hearing people appear. So do rad and smaller brands.

    The advantage that prevents from shock occuring at a damaging level is humans tend to be curious, want new ideas or their needs change and evolve. We say, bring it on!

    And that’s why we need a refreshing shift in thinking and ideas on how content could be created, present and consumed…..

    Instead of talking about how people can filter content, why don’t businesses start filtering themselves a bit more? Filter the type of content they produce and channels you promote on. If EVERY brand has a “strong, *integrated* digital strategy” how do you become memorable next to competitors? Anyway.

    My brain is done for now. I know I got adventerous. Thanks to you and Shel (and Baer) for the mind crunch!

  • Mark, One of the many reasons your blog is worth reading is that you’re not afraid to present and credit opposing views. Jack

  • rhonda hurwitz

    I have to quote Gary V. on this one: “Marketer’s ruin everything”. He gives the example of Groupon … when it was new, we all wanted those deals. Now, it’s just spam … DELETE! I am not smart enough to know what will be next, but habits change of necessity. And as for your parable, it makes me want to be the landlord:)

  • Kitty Kilian

    As I am not a marketer but a blog teacher I will add something else to this discussion: I am very surprised at how few marketers, who talk about content marketing all the time, are interested in the driving force of it – good writing/talking/movie making.

    In the end, content marketing is nothing but having an honest and interesting conversation with another human being, be it in writing on a blog or in a podcast or whatever. To have an interesting conversation (and hence become friends or at least get that ‘Twitter handshake’) you need to have something interesting to say.

    Either what you say should be original or very helpful or the way in which you say it – very eloquent or very witty or very well produced..

    Medium, for instance, got very big very fast by only good writing. The ideas are very varied there, not a reason to really go there for one specific subject – it is the writing that attracts text oriented readers. I suspect.

    So – originality and helpfulness is needed, and/or a great way to express it. Preferably both, of course. But marketers, I notice, keep talking about the theory. It remains a pretty empty discussion that way.

    I was thinking about this when I was reading a post by Erik Wittlake, who says he is fed up with content fluff, and wrote a post about it here: http://b2bdigital.net/2014/01/09/change-is-overdue/

  • Well said Dan. Thanks for taking your valuable time to comment.

  • I would add “emotion” to that list. For example, you and I originally connected on LinkedIn, which led to content consumption in two directions through Twitter, the blog, FB, etc. Then we met live and began to turn a weak social media connection to a strong relationship that has led to extensive business collaboration. We have supported each other for years and probably always will because there is an emotional connection that transcends content quality, excellence, value or scale. Right?

    I don’t need 80,000 followers on Twitter. All I need are 12 Billy Mitchells and my business is set.

  • That either makes Jay’s “The List” more complete or it’s now the perfect country song. Well, maybe it needs that prison, momma and train stuff added for that. Thanks for the kind words too Mark. Good things are happening in Atlanta. Please let us know next time you’ll be in town!

  • I love this story on several levels but it is certainly a relevant illustration of content shock.

    Here you have a small brand with NO HOPE of cutting through the tire industry content noise to become the signal. But guess what? THEY GOT THE SALE!


    In the face of overwhelming content and multi-million ad budgets they went around the system and created some incentive at the point of purchase. Why would the dealer recommend a lower-priced, obscure product? Possibilities:

    1) There were financial incentives behind the scenes. Bonuses for volume? Better margins than competitors?
    2) Some emotional connection has been established between the dealer and Hercules (or the sales rep)
    3) Hercules has somehow made a data-based appeal to demonstrate in practical terms a positive customer benefits that will help the dealership in the long-term
    4) Perhaps the dealer has an exclusive ability to sell this product which is only maintained through sales achievements
    5) Perhaps reviews of this tire are being featured on influential non-consumer blog sites that carry weight in the industry

    The list could go on and on. But there is some strategy there and it is working. I think sometimes we get so focused on digital, we lose sight of the 4 Ps of marketing. If a market segment is in Content Shock (like tires) we need to find another way and maybe it has nothing to do with SEO, backlinks and social signals.

    Love it.

    Thanks for the time you took to craft this case study Anne!

  • Thanks Jack. Glad that comes across.

  • Really like that analogy Rhonda!

  • Thanks for adding your wisdom today Kitty!

  • “Baby Got Backlinks”
    “Like Story”
    “Saturday Night Tweeter”

  • As some have pointed to, consumers are becoming more savvy and, generally speaking, more sophisticated with their content consumption (processing, filtering, finding, etc…). So I don’t think the issue is consumer fatigue with content, though many are weary of poor content, but sheer human limitations regarding consumption.

    Harold, in your story, was competing with everything that costs money (rent vs eating out), other food options, and other chicken places.

    To me, this parable points out the most important thing most businesses can do. Harold must make sure that when people are looking for a good chicken dinner they 1) find him, and 2) are persuaded to eat his chicken when they find him. Both of these objectives are served by content, whether content (e.g. website) Harold produces or content generated by others (e.g. reviews).

    That to me is the place to start for most businesses: be findable and be a great find.

  • Respectfully, I suspect you missed the point : )

    I sincerely do not believe more content would have saved Harold in this case study.

    It would be like a start-up waging a content war with MIcrosoft to beat them in the search rankings. There may be ways to win, but I’m not sure starting a content war in that case is a smart idea.

    Thanks very much for taking the time to comment.

  • Jay, you wrote differentiate three times 🙂

    Excellence and scale are ways to differentiate.

  • John Bottom

    Mark – I’ve not read your blog for a week or two and the quality of the thinking in here confirms to me that you have nothing to worry about in terms of the impending Content Shock (which I would simply summarise as competition becoming a little more realistic). And the excellent debate with Jay, Billy, Shel and others also confirm why I always look out for what they have to say (regardless of the quantity of competitive content). Thanks all.

  • Many thanks. Coming from you, high praise indeed!

  • Gerrit Janssens

    Just a question that pops up now here. Would it be possible to differentiate in how your content is perceived and why it is chosen because of the relationship you have built with customers; so people would not just pick your content because of its quality but also because of the person behind the content? Because you really like him/her and his/her approach to what you need?

  • Absolutely.

  • Jay Thompson

    A timely and terrific discussion.

    Completely agree that “amazingness” is not a viable answer. The most effective strategies are those the Pullet Parlor didn’t do: continuously ask and adapt to what its customers want. Instead it chose to be afraid of competition. The focus was external, not a dedication to providing excellence and alignment with a changing consumer. Willingness to adapt to the marketplace separates businesses that thrive vs. fail.

    So too with the tactics of reaching an audience in an increasingly noisy world. Stay connected to the customer, use the latest tools, provide true value (both in marketing and in your product or service) and you have a chance to succeed. If any company is not resilient enough, it will die.

    When I see businesses who have found a solution at one time, they tend to become certain they should just do more of the same. Complacency and stagnation set in, and failure is predictable.

    As a newcomer to the CM industry, I concur that content marketing will fail unless the business strategy is also aligned, and that must be on providing what the audience/customer wants/needs.

  • I wouldn’t call it Content Shock, more like Content Fatigue and that’s normal just like social media fatigue, advertising fatigue and any other kind out there. That’s what pushes us to discover new techniques. Let’s face it, most likely 10 years from now content marketing will be a long gone buzzword. People will still do it but with diminishing returns. And another new kid on the block of buzzwords will dominate and we will all flock to it in order to make a living. But yes, great reply to the rebuttal made by Shel Holz.

  • Thanks for adding your voice to the discussion!

  • Hi Mark,

    Let me say that I’ve really enjoyed all of this. You know how to get a conversation started better than just about anyone out there.

    I’ve read your original post, the scholarly post by Shel Holtz, the podcast discussion between Robert Rose and Joe Pulizzi and Sonia Simone’s Surviving Content Shock post … Whew, see what you did? 😉 Now to get back those hours.

    I love the Harold analogy and understand you don’t want to get into a detailed discussion of all the business strategies Harold could have explored, BUT here’s an example of a local, and very small Seattle hamburger chain that’s survived the attempted beat down from McDonald’s, Burger King, etc…

    Dick’s is an iconic restaurant chain in Seattle. They opened in 1954 with a focus to fresh food, fast service and cheap eats. Not too unusual, but they’ve survived and thrived for a few reasons …

    1. They treat their employees extremely well and are the envy of other fast food chains. Super-low turnover for an entry-level job.

    2. Great relationships with their suppliers. Very, very loyal as they are with #1.

    3. A big focus on community.

    4. Creativity. When they wanted to open a new store, their 6th since 1954, they used social. They built up a voting frenzy on Facebook, asking people to select the new spot and this resulted in some 100,000+ votes. Not too shabby.

    You’d never think a simple fast-food place could be so unique, but they managed to pull it off and compete with the giants. They also have a very appealing story with the above which they know how to utilize.

    To me it’s about the Niche ruling … sure they’re not trying to reach everyone, but they know how to package things like value, loyalty, community and they not only appeal to people’s pocketbooks, and stomachs, but their emotions. Plus they have tremendous brand loyalty.

    For the small fry online, just like Dick’s, you have to earn readership (customers) by focusing on quality, being different, networking, and learning how to properly spread the word … and working hard to produce great stuff 😉 The filters get better. The distribution channels get better, and you keep getting better. Same as it ever was.

    I honestly think the party is just getting started. We shall see.

    Sorry for the novel. Love the conversation you started and hope you have a great weekend!

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  • Justin Fuchs

    I know I’m late to the discussion, but I really enjoy your blog. I didn’t see your opinion on the parable anywhere, so I apologize if I’m being redundant; if you were in Harold’s shoes and the gift of hindsight, what would you have done differently knowing competition would eventually rear its ugly head?

  • Justin Fuchs

    I know I’m late to this discussion but I really enjoyed your “parable.” I am curious if anyone has thoughts on the ways Harold could’ve attempted to hold on better. I think his campaign was clever, but I wonder what else could’ve been done…?

  • Finding an un-saturated niche, or creating one is the key to surviving content shock … or for serving chicken : ) Great comment.

  • I have addressed that exactly in The Content Code book, which is focused on content, but it could have worked for chicken too I suppose!

    Some of the chapters explore topics like the “heroic brand” — can a brand transcend content? Can you find another niche — in content or chicken — that the others don’t have. Can you reward your best readers/customers in a new way?

    In the end, these are all still quite difficult to achieve in the face of competition with big budgets. In the same example (same small town) most of the family owned businesses went under once Wal Mart came to town. Again, good for consumers … a disaster for businesses.

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