Beyond Content Shock: The defining trend of 2015 is Content Ignition

content ignition

I’d like to share an email I recently received …

Dear Mark:

I am the founder of a sporting goods company in the Pacific Northwest. We occupy (and dominate) a small but profitable extreme sport niche.

We are certainly a conversational company with passionate fans and we have worked hard to engage and build a social media audience to the point where we have 13,000 fans on Facebook. In late 2012 we hired a full-time community manager and content producer. This is an extraordinary step and a huge commitment to content marketing for a company with only 17 employees!

In the last 12 months our reach on Facebook has declined by 90 percent. Despite spending MORE on higher quality video, our views have stagnated. Engagement on our blog is down by 50 percent even though we are investing in more consistent posting and highlighting great customer stories and adventures.

The more we spend on content marketing, the worse the problem gets it seems. Can you help us?

William B.

border line

There could be many reasons behind this fellow’s problem. Competitive activity shifts. Customers turning to new social media channels. An ineffective community manager.

But more than likely, there is at least one systemic factor behind this decline — there is an increasing amount of competing content in his market niche. A strategy that worked last year is not good enough today. William’s decline in Facebook reach is extreme but not unusual. According to AgoraPulse, From July 2013 to July 2014, 71 percent of company Facebook pages had a loss in organic reach of at least 30 percent, a cataclysmic decline.


According to Facebook, there is simply too much stuff. The average Facebook user now has the opportunity to see nearly 2,000 Facebook posts a day. The company has no alternative but to ratchet the news stream back.

This is Content Shock happening right before our eyes.

“Overload” versus “density”

A year ago I coined this term “Content Shock” to describe our era of particularly difficult marketing. Content marketing works well … and as more and more people figure that out, market niches become flooded with higher-quality content alternatives for the same consumer attention.

It is important to know that this business challenge before us is NOT created by “information overload.” It’s defined by “information density.” There is a big difference.

More information (“overload”) is actually great news for consumers. The competition for attention will force better content and more choice. We now have the accumulated knowledge of the human race at our finger tips and that is a good thing, even if it might seem overwhelming.

But unless the amount of content saturation is low in your market, trying to cut through this information tsunami (“density” – the business side of the trend) is going to be a significant challenge for many businesses — like the sporting goods company in the letter above. Without changing something dramatically and NOW, the effectiveness of William’s content marketing efforts are declining week by week. He is basically throwing money away.

And it’s going to get worse.

The problem intensifies

Research from CMI/Marketing Profs and others shows that business content “production” is going into hyper drive in 2015 and beyond. In fact, between now and 2020, the amount of information on the Internet is expected to increase by 500% (and some experts believe that number is conservative). So let’s get our heads around that fact. If you can imagine the vastness of the Internet, in the next few years, we are going to have five of those.

If you think getting your message through is difficult now, well … fasten your seat belt.

Most marketers “get it.” The Content Shock topic has been featured in dozens of podcasts, webinars and conferences. There were a remarkable number of blog posts written about the subject — more than 700 so far.  And of that total, less than 10 posts had an outright dismissive response to the primary position of the article — information density will dramatically impact the nature of business competition. If you are actively working in marketing today, you know that Content Shock is not a theory. You’re already fighting through it every day.

While the idea of Content Shock might have seemed provocative or even controversial a year ago, it is mainstream thinking today. If you look at the major themes of the traditional “forecast posts” we see at this time of year, there are three themes stated nearly everywhere:

  1. Paying to get our content viewed
  2. A need to focus on new content distribution strategies
  3. A move away from crowded places like Facebook and into less noisy channels

All of these trends are predictable consequences of increasing information density and Content Shock.

And that brings us to today.

The business imperative of finding a way to claw our way through information density is not only real, it is the most profound and important trend in the marketing profession — today, and for years to come.

Information density is like a hammer pounding on the marketing industry anvil. It will forge entirely new platforms. new advertising models, new content types. As we strain against the winds of the content hurricane before us, it will influence the nature of our jobs, the skills we need to compete, our budgets, and most certainly our strategies.

This is neither good nor bad. It simply is.

You can see this as exciting or you can see this as depressing. Just don’t think it is OK to stay the same.

Is content marketing still about content?

A common notion in our field is “Great content will always rise to the top.”

This is a comforting thought and something that was certainly true in the early, less-crowded days of the web.

Perhaps it is still true today if you are fortunate and your business resides in an established and dominant position in an industry niche (in essence, creating Content Shock for your competitors!).

But for most of us toiling in the marketing trenches every day, we know this mantra rings hollow in 2015.

Great content does not necessarily rise to the top. Great content is merely the starting point.

It is the table stake to get us into the game.

Content Ignition

Content sitting idly on a website — even superb content — has as much value as the world’s greatest movie script locked in a cold, dark vault. It is doing nothing. It means nothing. It is certainly not rising to the top or creating measurable value for our organizations.

The conversation in 2015 and beyond must be, “what now?” What comes after “great content?” How do we IGNITE our excellent work to cut through this intimidating world of information density? How do we become more clever, more resourceful, more strategic in the distribution of that investment so that people actually SEE it, ENGAGE with it, and SHARE it in a way that creates business value?

If Content Shock defined the marketing conversation in 2014, “IGNITION” must be the keystone idea moving forward.

Content marketing for most businesses is not just about the content any more. It’s about the content ignition.

Don’t just write. Ignite.

Let’s move forward and explore this conversation together in 2015 shall we?

Further reading

SXSW 2016 3Mark 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. 

Illustration courtesy of Flickr CC and Loupiote

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  • I’d be very curious to know about William B’s revenues during the corresponding timeframe. Is he panicking because his organic reach is directly affecting his financial outlook, or is he panicking because he’s going to have to go back to marketing that is much more difficult to measure?

  • Jeffrey Slater

    Mark, in thinking about the letter you got from the sporting good store, there are so many reasons why their content marketing strategy may not be working beyond the several you mentioned. The store might have a terrible return policy that competes with online retailers, their staff may be surely or not as helpful as you would expect and on and on. Their messaging may not connect or be clear or resonate with their audience.The merchandise they sell may not meet the customer’s needs, etc.

    BI (Before Internet) businesses would throw money at advertising in places like Yellow Pages or local newspapers wishing and hoping for awareness that lead to traffic.

    It is so important to set reasonable expectations with a new marketing activity like creating online content. It isn’t an antidote for other business problems and challenges. As a former small business owner from the BI era, I found that it was necessary to test, take risks and fail a lot in order to find my way.

    In hindsight, patience and testing was the way I built success with new approaches to marketing. It was never just one thing.

  • Steve Woodruff

    Since content – even good content – will increasingly be a commodity, blending in with the background noise, it seems like we’re going to have to pay increasing attention to MESSAGE design. That will be the point of the arrow, or in the ignition analogy, the matchhead. Content = arrow shaft, but the message is the arrowhead. How do we sharpen that and aim it accurately to penetrate the filters and the fog, and reach the bullseye?

  • I don’t know what he plans to do. I had an initial call with him and gave him some direction but could not take on the additional business so recommended another agency. He certainly believes in the opportunities of content marketing but I think he needed to re-frame his world and expectations from where we were just a year or so ago.

  • Well said Jeff. In this specific case, he was measuring engagement as a leading indicator of building an audience and sales (reasonable). In addition to the other metrics, his engagement dropped way off too, obviously due to the decline in organic reach.

  • This is somehate true but I don’t think content will entirely be commoditized, just as music is not commoditized. We still have our loyalties (at least that is what i am betting on!) : )

    Thanks for commenting Steve!

  • Alison Kenney

    This ( can’t be what you mean by Content Ignition, right?

  • Mary Jane Kinkade

    Such a great post and a huge challenge. I’ll be soaking up every tip you have! Happy New Year!

  • A lovely read for the start of the year and to get us pondering. It is time for a hands on approach if we are going to differentiate from everyone else in our respective fields.

    I do like this idea of ignition and the connotations of dynamite. Perhaps a fuse represents the many facets from this word called ‘content’ where we can repurpose to remain relevant to our audience (take a bow podcasting, video and the written word).

    I think it’s time to leave the overcooked phrases ‘content is king’ and ‘great content will always rise to the top’ in a little box. Now is the time to really mean something to someone else and then…BOOOOOM

    Enjoyed reading the article Mark.

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  • Hey Mark,

    A thoughtful post, indeed. As I read it my emotions went from sheer panic (because I teach an online course for entrepreneurs called “Content Marketing Mastery”) to calm as I realized that most of my clients/students don’t need to reach everyone, they just need to reach (and engage) with their people.

    However, my hopes are that small businesses won’t be forced to give up on the Internet as it becomes more expensive to market there. BI (before Internet, as per Jeffrey Slater below) many channels were unavailable to small and new businesses due to cost (such as TV, radio, newspaper, etc.). I feel that the increase in successful home-based businesses in the past few years has been made possible, in part, by the somewhat level playing field of web marketing.

    But I still feel that great content disseminated thoughtfully throughout the web is a viable option for my students and clients (and I’m teaching them how to advertise on Facebook). At least for a while I’ll try not to panic!

    Question: Re your post of March 17, 2014, would you change any of your suggestions based upon the realities of today?


  • No. That is ugly stuff Alison! Not my style at all : )

  • Thanks MJ. A lot of good ideas coming down the road!

  • Well said Mark and I agree. Thanks for the very kind words sir.

  • I think the analogies you bring up here about TV advertising is relevant. After all, TV started out with what? Local business advertising, until it got too popular and expensive. Similar thing happening on the social web.

    As far as my other article you mention, I think that advice is still solid. The main theme is still sneaking that content through an information dense world : ) Thanks so much for taking the time to provide this thought-provoking comment Betsy … and good luck with your class!

  • Important topic indeed. A sound, sustainable and scalable content distribution strategy needs to be at the center of every marketer’s plan for 2015. How do we make sure that our content reaches the right audience and our ROI for the piece of content is maximized? Sure, Facebook ads with very niche targeting will get you going – but that is never going to be enough. Brands need to start building relationships, employing cutting edge tactics, working more with data – hopefully 2015 will be the year where the discussion isn’t around how to create good content and what qualifies as good content, but how do we get that content seen. Let’s hope that just as we got frustrated with the repeated “5 Ways to Make Great Facebook Posts”, we’ll also see “5 Ways to Spread Your Content Far and Wide” which contain more than the basics.

  • You’ll be seeing this from me : ) My new book is entirely on this topic. I’m about 80% done with the draft and it is my best book.

  • The simple truth is that ‘igniting content’ on Facebook requires one thing: paid ads. There is no more organic reach on FB – the free ride is over.

  • I feel your pain Amy but it be careful. Some brands and categories still have healthy reach. See the charts here:

    Hoever, in general I agree with you!

  • Carla_Johnson

    I’m happy to hear this Mark and am looking forward to your book!

  • Chris

    Thanks for writing this Mark. Certainly food for thought. I’m personally looking forward to the challenges that are ahead as they will force me to improve, develop and get better and what I do.

  • The right attitude! A difficult marketing world, but also filled with opportunity!

  • I am obsessed with this book. It is going to be amazing. What is above amazing? It’s that. : )

  • Rodger

    I reported in Relevance that content shock can be dated back to at least the ancient Romans. So, the idea is nothing new, just applied to a new content delivery system — the internet. The same issue resurfaced when the printing press was invited and the church and monks had their “holy shit’ moment. It’s no surprise the time has come for us in the digital revolution. Let’s all “holy shit” together and get it out of our system. My point I made in Relevance (albeit indirectly) is this — content shock is only shocking if we continue to hold on to two outdated notions: there’s a big difference between an audience and a tribe. As long as we continue to create content for an audience, we’ll continue to see the same problem William B. is having. Once we start making content for a tribe, this eliminates the shock and ignites a fire.

  • Thanks for adding your insights to the discussion Rodger.

  • Can’t wait! If you need a beta reader, you got one 🙂

  • Great article Mark. We are seeing this each and every day. Great content no longer separates you from the rest who’s putting out great content as well. I think we are going to see businesses get more creative in their messages and leave their comfort zones to have their content seen – and this could be both bad and good. All we can do is work on our own niche and strive to be the best however we can do it.

  • Mark, thanks again for your insight. You always set my mind to thinking.

    I truly see the effects of content shock each time I open my Feedly, or one of my Twitter lists, or on LinkedIn Pulse. It now takes a bit more effort to find great content about social media with advanced substance worthy of saving in my Evernote and for required readings for my marketing students.

    While it is my job as a social media marketing professor to do this for the benefit of my students, I doubt busy entrepreneurs and professionals will have the time to do this for their personal learning.

    It seems to me there is a great future for “personal content curation assistants” whose purpose is to sort through the overflow of content and find what is most personally relevant (not necessarily the most popular) for each individual client. The best tool I have found for this is the Zite app (and it’s technology is now being incorporated into Flipboard).

    As I have told you before, what I like about your blog posts is your substance and your emphasis on strategic and forward thinking.

    Thanks. I look forward to your next book on this subject.


  • Thanks for adding your wisdom today Mandy!

  • I am also a big fan of Zite although I find sometimes it is taking me down the wrong paths if I don’t “vote” on a subject enough : ) Thanks for the very kind words and support!

  • Might take you up on that!

  • Carla_Johnson

    What tops amazing? I’m going for “Schaeferlisious.” 🙂

  • Copyright 2015 : )

  • OK, no more awesome blog posts and fabulous podcast episodes (big sacrifice for me!) – write that book, Mark!!! 🙂 I will actually order a hard copy and read it with a highlighter in hand. Thanks for the additional resources.

  • Put in 18 hours on the book yesterday. It is on its way. I think this will really energize people and give them the help they need right now,

  • jmctigue

    I think we’re all looking for new ways to ignite. I would postulate that “paid shock” happened a long time ago, and we’re faced with getting much better at earned media now. It’s tough. You have to really work at thought leadership peppered with a lot of patience. Most of our clients have neither, so we have to convince them that more and faster are not better.

  • Wow, you are on fire (pun intended)! So looking forward to it and completely agree.

  • Josh St. Aubin

    We used to be able to get away with the, create it and they will come mentality, but with the overabundance of stuff being created every day, you could be creating the best content never consumed. Maybe the pendulum is ready to swing from online voyeurism to offline interaction? Invest and focus on people and the majority of the time you’ll come out ahead.

  • You are on the cusp of the next wave sir. Good job!

  • Very well said. I think that is exactly wher the focus needs to be! Thanks for commenting Josh!

  • I’m with Josh, it’s about moving from “getting found” to “becoming relevant”. Essentially from selling to new prospects (although that will be a big bonus) to upselling/reselling to old clients. Whatever the medium. Sorry if I’m repeating someone else’s idea, didn’t read through all comments.

  • You nailed it, Mark. Relationships are key. It’s quality over quantity. Business leaders must focus on connecting with their customers in a genuine way. Customer service is paramount. Local events, mixers, trade shows. I believe the more you can meet your customers in person the better too.

    Once they know, like and trust you. They will seek out your content, respond and share it with their peers.

  • This is a very key idea. In my new book I have a chapter devoted to building an “Alpha Audience” of your the people most likely to help you ignite your content. These are the people who will buy from you and hopefully buy more! Good to hear from you friend.

  • Agree 100% A key idea in my new book is converting the weak links of social media into strong transactional relationships. Thanks for the great comment Dave!

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  • Neha S. Tihara

    Hi Mark, I would like to know that what should a marketer do to identify that why readers should come and read the content on digital platform. Content we are also doing and competition is also doing.. But how do we bring a unique visitor daily to our site.. we have good content.. but i need to understand Why that reader should come and how to stick that reader.

  • You could probably benefit from reading my book The Content Code. It answers that question. Thanks for commenting.

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