Resistance to Change and Surviving Content Shock

resistance to change

By Mark Schaefer

I’m going to write about breakfast cereal for a moment but I promise it leads to a critical and interesting lesson about content, social media, and marketing. Hang with me?

Last week Kellogg’s earnings report revealed that sales of breakfast cereals have fallen off a cliff. The Wall Street Journal reported that the stock price has plummeted as sales of cereal dropped 5 percent in a single quarter. That is a true business nightmare.

The article went on to report that Kellogg responded to this crisis by firing the head of the cereal division (the second firing in a year) and by hiring 150 new sales people to work on better grocery store aisle displays.

Wake up and smell the Egg McMuffin

Are people eating fewer breakfasts? Are they really that confused by the display of boxes in the grocery aisle?

No. People are eating breakfast more often than ever, research shows, but they are eating more Greek Yogurt and fast-food breakfast sandwiches.

So, in reality, firing people and improving the grocery aisle displays are not going to fix this developing issue, right? Kellogg is simply re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

The sad thing is that this trend did not suddenly pop from the toaster one morning. The shift in breakfast eating habits has been building for years. But Kellogg leaders seemingly ignored the data about their core market while investing in snack businesses instead of making aggressive moves to re-establish their ownership of the morning meal.

I can imagine that for the last few years some bright Kellogg market researcher has been desperately pleading with executives to look at the sobering numbers. But the response was probably something like “Don’t rock the boat. We have sold breakfast cereal for more than 100 years. Let’s stick to the plan.”

What does this mean for content marketing?

This year I wrote a series of posts about a concept called Content Shock. I also turned it into a fun and fast-paced speech which I have been delivering to enthusiastic reviews around the world. (PR News and HubSpot cited it as one of the top talks of SXSW).

To my amazement, I was recently turned down to present my ideas at a major marketing industry conference because the organizers were afraid it would “rock the boat.” Another industry insider referred to my post as “a loose cannon.”

To review, the series of posts simply stated that with the amount of information on the web expected to increase 600% by 2020 (while our human attention span remains the same), competing with content will be less economical for companies in a saturated content niche. Thus, content marketing will become less effective, or even ineffective, as a strategy for some companies over time.

More than 500 blog posts have been written about that single idea. Less than 10 of those were primarily negative in their sentiment. So most people “get it.”

A typical response is from U.K. marketing executive Martin W. Smith: “(Schaefer) is right and any sentient being knows it. When content explodes and our ability to digest, value and use information remains relatively constant, content as a form of marketing is a nonstarter.”

To be crystal clear, I am NOT saying content marketing is dying or dead as some people have written to sensationalize the issue. Content has always been at the heart of good marketing and always will be. I am only saying that we have to keep our eyes open and be aware that the landscape is shifting dramatically and most of us will need to adapt.

Resistance to change

An example. Organic Facebook reach has dropped from 26% to 6% (or less) in two years. Why? According to Facebook, “Too much content.” The average Facebook user now has the possibility of more than 1,500 stories in their daily stream … and increasing. The company has no choice but to rachet back the reach faster than we can improve the quality.

Competing on Facebook will require more expenditures on quality content, paid Facebook advertising, or both. In any event, many marketing approaches will require some CHANGE to remain relevant. Some will choose to spend their marketing budgets elsewhere.

This is just one tangible example that Content Shock isn’t a theory. It is happening before our eyes with our blogs, videos, and other content streams.

Judging by the positive response to the Content Shock post, most marketers out there already realize that we cannot lead our businesses based on what we wish for. We lead our businesses based on what IS.

But the anxiety expressed by the event organizer who was afraid of the subject and the Kellogg decline in the face of obvious trends reminded me that in most organizations there is a tremendous resistance to change, even in the face of overwhelming evidence.

Don’t get lulled into a false sense of security in your company because people have loved your breakfast cereal for so long that they can’t see the yogurt on the wall. (Does that sentence even make sense?). We can’t dwell on past successes. Celebrate them and then move, move, move.

Look at the signs in your industry. Adapt, adopt, and shift as the best marketing organizations have always done. Never, ever accept complacency as a strategy.

Even if you have to rock the boat to be heard.

Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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  • Content shock, for sure. Cereal companies must also be feeling the effects of the low carb, gluten free movement.

  • It’s almost like we have to think of content as “food.”

    There is a LOT of food.

    Corn Flakes are “food.”

    So are Egg McMuffins and Greek Yogurt, and gluten free this and that.

    But they are the kind of food people are consuming now. They’ve adapted and recognized the opportunity.

    Corn Flakes didn’t adapt.

    We have to constantly figure out what kinds/amount/textures of content people are consuming, and adapt to that.

    Don’t resist real change (not all change is real).

  • Frederic Gonzalo

    Resistance to change, you said it. That’s really the core issue here, not the ‘content shock’ per se. I also wrote a piece about content shock in the travel vertical, and did a webinair on the topic. Most people seem to be in agreement, and I think your arguments are bang on. But the most difficult part is that not all folks are at the same level. I mean, there are still some people who are not convinced about content marketing to begin with, still stuck in their old ways, buying advertisement on traditional mass media, and hesitant to have a transactional website, let alone a mobile-optimized one. I kid you not.

    So when we speak of ‘content shock’ to these folks, it’s like science fiction. I believe your Kellogg folks are in that category, stuck in their old ways, not smelling the coffee, nor seeing the yogourt on the wall 🙂

  • Mary Jane Kinkade

    Awesome article! Far too many business leaders are so focused on making the numbers today, that they become short sighted. They forget to look up and plan for the future. Thank you.

  • Claudia Licher

    Great article Mark.
    “Let’s do more of the same… let’s put in a bit of variety: breakfast cereals with chocolate!” To be honest, that one doesn’t work for me, and neither does a variety of content which allows me to consume content from before breakfast. So you’re completely right: even though a measure of variety is appreciated and might lead to an increased intake of food or content, there are limits to what we can consume. Any more and we’ll end up feeling literally fed up (I heard the term infobese some years ago?), consciously limiting the number of sources (unsubscribing from newsletters), and opting for (temporary) abstinence – like turning your smartphone off during your holidays…

  • … among other things : ) It was frustrating for me to read about what is happening to that company. I know business is complex but they are driving the brand into the ground! Thanks for commenting Dave.

  • Absolutely. Very well said. One of the developers on IBM’s Watson project actually referred to content as their “fuel.” I like that.

  • First, I really appreciate the very thought-provoking way you have taken the content shock ideas to the next level Frederic. That is the type of dialogue I was hoping for. It is mind-blowing that people would bury their head in the sand about the trend. Let’s deal with it and keep moving!

    I also see the same thing as you. So many folks aren’t moving ahead but here is what will light a fire — their competitors move first! Sad but sometimes that is the way it has to be.

  • There is guru quote going around that drives me nuts: “Stop worrying about the future and pay attention to now.” Really? Are you kidding me? The one function in the company that must be ALWAYS looking ahead with a healthy dose of urgency and paranoia is marketing. Our internal and external customers depend on us for this. If you can’t live with a foot in the future you are in the wrong profession.

  • Thanks for adding your wisdom today Claudia. I always look forward to your comments!

  • Guest

    Anyone carrying out content marketing or any form of digital marketing will agree to your viewpoint. The signs are already there. How much content can you shove across your readers throat who want to read about a lot of other stuff as well?
    Loved the way you have explained it here. If someone from Kellogg can confirm the fact that their marketing team did share the data about shift in the trend and nobody cared, then that would be icing on the cake for me!


  • Aseem Jibran

    Anyone carrying out content marketing or any form of digital marketing will agree to your viewpoint. The signs are already there. How much content can you shove across your readers throat who want to read about a lot of other stuff as well?
    Loved the way you have explained it here. If someone from Kellogg can confirm the fact that their marketing team did share the data about shift in the trend and nobody cared, then that would be icing on the cake for me!

  • Other than having the song “Rock the Boat” stuck in my head now, I agree with you 100%. Companies that are resistant to change and keep doing what they do because that’s the way it’s always been done will be in for a shock like Kellogg’s. If social media and content marketing has taught us anything in the past 8 years, it’s that we continually have to adapt to keep up and up next is content marketing. It’s like Darwinism for social media – adapt or go out of business.

  • disqus_W4KjfaOksA

    Great post, Mark. You’re right about content shock and it’s already happening. Content marketing will always be around, just like it’s been around since years before the term ‘content marketing’ was thought up. As you say, we just need to adapt.

  • jonmikelbailey

    Keep rocking that boat Mark!

  • Expected. I’ll admit that the Content Shock piece was the first article on this blog I read word for word – and I added {grow} to my Feedly immediately and sent you a tweet Mark.

    Since then of course, I’ve made sure that I at least go through every piece of content on here (if I only just skim it for the important details). But when I saw the piece on Content Shock, it was the first time that someone from the marketing industry was honest and said, look – what we’re doing here might not last.

    Not everyone has the guts to say that. Ever since Facebook’s organic reach drop, every single agency in the world rapid-posted articles on why Facebook is still important. It’s a reflex reaction on being threatened. Someone who runs Facebook pages suddenly hears that people are worried about the dip in organic reach and they fire away e-mails to clients trying to pacify them.

    Instead – ACCEPT that there is change. And then address it. It separates the men from the boys. 😉

  • I’ve been a worshiper at the Content Marketing altar for the past couple of years, and this is the first I’ve read about Content Shock (just read through a series of your posts discussing the topic). Thanks for rocking my world, but I do agree with your sentiments. Marketing Communications is such an ever-changing field, and it’s easy to get left behind. Many times I feel like I’m just starting to get the hang of the latest trend when something new comes along to knock it off its perch. Instead of lamenting about what it lost, we just have to embrace the new and keep moving.

    Thanks for sharing your perspectives (I especially enjoyed your “10 Strategies to Battle Content Shock” post – you don’t just state there is a problem but also bring solutions to the table), and I’ll be watching your blog more closely now.

  • Thanks for sharing your view Aseem.

  • Oh no. Now that song is in my head too. This is going to be a long day!

  • It’s even worse than that. One agency wrote a post based on Facebook reach data that said that reach was actually going up. I questioned the post and asked to look at the data — reach was DOWN for 80 percent of the businesses reporting! They wrote an article selectively on the other 20 percent and denied the trend. I asked them why and they said “they didn’t want to be negative about Facebook.”

    That is business managing their business on what theyu would LIKE the woulrd to be, not what IS. And they will eventually fade away.

  • Thanks Monica and welcome to the blog!

  • Josh St. Aubin

    I totally agree with you Mark, you can’t accept complacency. There’s a surplus of content but the same number of hours in the day to consume it all. Today’s great stuff is being missed because we’re still trying to catch up from yesterday’s stuff. You have to be flexible with your content and figure out how to connect, engage and create something that people find value in – then start shifting there. Value will never go out of style.

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  • Alyson Button Stone

    We live in interesting times — glad to have you around as the voice of reason. Where can I see video of your fun, fast-paced speech?

  • catherine philibert

    Awesome! Thank you so much for this post! So many times have we heard “we’ve been doing it this way for 20 years, you are not the one who is going to make it change, the problem is somewhere else…” (believe me it sounds worse in French).

  • Thanks for adding your perspective Catherine.

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