8 Strategies to stand out when you’re late to the content marketing game

strategies to stand out

By Mark Schaefer

You’ve all seen the data and it’s not pretty — the amount of information on the web is certainly overwhelming. Content budgets are soaring, content output is exploding. There are more than 1,000 blog posts and 400 hours of YouTube video uploaded every minute in a never-ending war for attention.

If you’re the first one to dominate a niche with  your content, you’re one of the lucky ones. You’re probably keeping a stranglehold on your leading position by publishing relevant, helpful, and interesting content on a consistent basis. In essence, you are creating Content Shock for your competitors — dominating a content niche so that Google juice flows in your direction.

But what if you’re on the losing end of the stick? What if you’re in a situation where your competitors have already loaded the web with content that dominates the search results?

Personally, I am facing this problem all the time now when I consult with companies. If they’re late to the content marketing game, they may feel paralyzed because the competition has such as head start. So I need to find new ways for them to compete.

I’ve thought this through, and I’ve come up with eight strategies to stand out for an organization that is late to the content game. And this is where I need your help. I’m sure there are some ideas I’m missing here. After you read through this list, could you please add your ideas in the comment section? I’m trying to create a complete list for my talks and classes and I could use your help.

Here are my ideas on how you can squeeze your way into the game when a competitor has a big head start.

1. Move to an unsatured social platform

strategies to stand outThere are more than 6,000 licensed real estate agents in my county. That is one crowded space! The biggest real estate firms are creating lots of online content, newsletters and Facebook posts. How would a newcomer stand out?

My friend Suzy Trotta has done just that by creating an awesome, personal, and hilarious Instagram account. Unlike other realtors in her area, she isn’t posting photos of homes and “for sale” signs.

She posts incredibly entertaining pictures from her life in the real estate business. This is human, accessible content in an unsaturated channel that is going to break through and appeal to a lot of people, especially the younger Instagram audience.

Suzy is one of the rising stars on the local real estate scene … and that photo? That’s Suzy in front of her new agency!

2. Vary the content type

In 2013, YouTube came out with a very useful whitepaper describing the three kinds of content created by every successful brand. These are:

Hygiene — Answering every day customer questions. The “they ask, you answer” kind of format.

Hub — Evergreen content that might feature more in-depth stories about your customers, employees, history and values.

Hero — The epic content that goes viral.

An example of a company dominating a niche with this technique is Nike. Adidas sponsored the last two World Cups but Nike took over the social media conversation by creating hero content — epic mini movies — that received millions of views.

3. Try a new content form

One of the things I predicted was that the heightened competition from Content Shock would usher in an era of innovation in new content formats. For example, if Content Shock makes it too difficult and expensive to reach people with a simply YouTube video, the world will probably come up with alternatives.

And that is happening. I just read about a new service that serializes news content into daily test messages. Different, right? One of my favorite examples is Tom Fishburne who carved a very successful niche for himself in the crowded marketing space through his outrageous Marketoonist cartoons.

strategies to stand out

4. Content quality

How many people are posting music videos? Every 13-year-old girl who wants to be the next Taylor Swift is recording herself strumming in her bedroom and creating a YouTube channel. To stand out in an enormously crowded segment like that, you better be exceptional — and that is how Zander Zon has created a great career for himself through his YouTube content.

Zander records original music and popular song covers played entirely on his bass guitar. Each song is meticulously rehearsed and produced. The depth and range of this unusual music is incredible, as evidenced by his cover of the entire Star Wars Medley:


Click here if you can’t view the video above: Zander Zon.

If you’re simply much better than anybody else in your niche, you have a chance to stand out based on merit alone. Well, maybe …

5. Promotion and volume

It’s a sad thing, but it’s possible to bury even the best content out there if you do a good enough job with promotion, SEO, and sheer volume. Steve Rayson of BuzzSumo recently wrote up a very comprehensive thought piece on this “pump up the volume” content strategy. He showed that sites with very average content — even content written by computers — can get more social sharing through volume compared to companies focusing on fewer, quality posts.

I know that sounds disappointing and strange, and I don’t think that is the right strategy for everybody (including me!), but that’s the way the dynamics of the web works for now. And we have to run our businesses based on what is, not what we wish for.

6. Content frequency

strategies to stand outMy friend John Lee Dumas was able to stand out in the very crowded podcasting space, in part, due to the frequency of his episodes.

Years ago, John was in the real estate business in Southern California and he spent a lot of time in his car. He longed for a business podcast that he could listen to every day, but he found there was nothing like that.

He started the daily Entrepreneur On Fire podcast and it has become a million-dollar-business based on the enormous popularity of the show and his spin-off properties.

On the other extreme, Tom Webster and I only produce one Marketing Companion podcast every other week. Many listeners have said part of the appeal of this lower-frequency format is that they are always left wanting more and eagerly anticipate each new show.

7. Approach and tone

strategies to stand outHow many food bloggers are there out there?  20 bajillion. That is a real number. I looked it up.

So to stand out in that kind of an arena, you are going to have to come up with a new angle. And that’s what happened for Fanny Slater. Fanny told me that she never takes herself seriously  and dabbled in improv comedy. When an acting career didn’t work out she combined her love of comedy with another passion — food — and created both written and video content that was food at its funniest.

In a foodie world that maybe takes itself a bit too seriously sometimes, Fanny offered a silly and refreshing new perspective.

Even though Fanny has never been formally trained as a chef, her content caught the attention of TV cooking host Rachel Ray and she eventually won a contest that allowed her first cookbook, Orange, Lavender & Figs to be published.

8. Demographic Target

If your niche seems saturated with competitor content, look carefully for opportunities they may have overlooked — like a demographic group.

I was brought in to help one global brand who was at least three years behind in their content marketing. Everywhere we turned, their competitors had filled the web with Hollywood-quality videos, breathtaking photography, star-studded blog posts.  There seemed to be no room to maneuver.

But we did a careful analysis and found that the average age of the competitor’s customer had aged and they were completely overlooking youth-oriented content opportunities on Snapchat and Instagram. It’s too early in their process to see if our work translates to sales but their audience in those channels has exploded.

So there you have it folks. What do you think? What do you like, what did I miss? The comment section is yours.

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.

Top illustration courtesy Flickr CC and michi.p

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  • Jayme Soulati

    Good Morning! Gosh, did I snare the numero uno comment again! I better type fast so I can post before anyone else, heh.
    What I read as a thread among these 8 strategies, Mark, is to ‘stand out.’ Those who get creative among a school of goldfish seize the attention. The use of humor, not taking oneself too seriously, finding the oddity in the mundane, putting up daily bloopers on YouTube, and in particular for the real estate broker — posting a ‘what NOT to do to sell your house.’ Eh?

  • Maria King

    I love the ‘being different’ angle. So many people seem to miss that one and instead just copy the crowd. Adding humour is a great one. Just wondering though if the realtor is actually making money in the new market. It’s one thing to get a new reach out there but do they have the income to spend? Always be authentic then see what the competition are not doing seems to be a good strategy. Seek out ways to be different seems to be the message. We are entering visual overload online. People need a break from all the ‘online noise’. My suggestion for content is to keep it simple – less is more. That will make you stand out.

  • Frederic Gonzalo

    Great post, Mark.

    The one thing I might add is to make sure late-comers have a long-term strategy, even though I realize long-term no longer means what it used to. Let’s say a 2-3 years focus. In other words, a brand may be late in the content game, but they need to plan not just for the next 3-6 months, since success doesn’t come overnight, as we all know. Trial and error will be important, but more importantly there needs to be a true commitment to play the content game for the long run, and not expect “viral” success at all cost…

    I see this often, with brands that will try stuff on Facebook, or a blog, or sending out newsletters… and stop after a couple months, saying “it didn’t work” or yield the expected results. Well, sure, you didn’t give it enough time to flourish… (anyway, I am sure you my point)

  • Has to be influencer marketing and collaboration.. Borrow somebody else’s audience

  • Good morning Mark! Love this article and would like to chime in here.

    One of the things that I work with clients on and tell peeps using social media networks is to make sure that they have a distinct look + feel to the images and etc that they publish out there in the online world. There are just too many people vying for attention so making sure that your branding is consistent and recognizable helps.

    Cheers and Happy Mondayyyyyy!

  • Wow, what a great article Mark! Thanks for the mention, it’s an honor 🙂

  • Thanks for kicking it off Jayme! Yes the thinking in this post is part of a larger project I’m working on to help people be known. You certainly have to find some angle that resonates with an audience that is big enough to make a difference.

  • Yes, the realtor is dominating her market! : )

    Sometimes less is more, but if everybody is publishing less, maybe sometimes more is more! That might be a way to be different : ) Thanks so much for commenting Maria!

  • ABSOLUTELY! This is not a long-term play, and in fact I would say a lack of patience is a big stumbling block for those companies driven by the quarterly sales goals! Superb comment Frederic.

  • Very interesting point. Certainly a legitimate way to get visibility but I wonder if that is a sustainable way to be known in the marketplace? You have me thinking. Thanks for the great comment Colm!

  • I really like that. It’s something I’ve been thinking about. Appearance does matter. I often tell clients that if they spend one dime on marketing it should be on a great-looking site. You don’t want to look like a home-made business : )

  • Thou rocketh.

  • Of course you saved the best for last Mark. 🙂 I’m a huge fan (proponent) of creating content with individuals first, mass appeal second. Know your market and talk to them. They’ll hear you.

  • Agreed 🙂

  • Sue-Ann Bubacz

    Mark,
    I’m so happy to see you look at and give examples to offer hope to surviving, even excelling, despite repercussions of content shock!
    Sometimes as content creators, it’s daunting to show up every day, so highlighting new methods and approaches is a great way to get new ideas flowing and keep the content battle going.
    I try to concentrate on 3 things, presently, in the content game: quality, mixing it up, and leveling up with newly learned skills and abilities. I don’t know, Mark, it’s hard. But fun, too, so I just keep trying and keep doing more and more!
    Now entering audio/video content realm—as if writing alone wasn’t a handful! Lol
    Of course, these formats ARE writing, too, so like I say, leveling up! I hope!! Ha
    Love reading your insights. Take care and thank you, Sue-Ann

  • Beautifully said Randy.

  • Thanks Sue-Ann! Keep up the good fight.

  • Katarina Andersson

    A great article with a lot of food for thought. As I am a wine blogger, I liked the paragragh about the food blogger. Also in wine writing most people write tasting notes and give ratings about wine, so I instead try to focus on the experience, history of and person behind the wineries I visit. Their wines are important, but anyway so many others are writing tasting notes, so I just thought it would be boring to do the same. Then I write in English in Italy, which have been good as a way of letting people outside Italy feel as if they were there with me at the winery or the wine tasting etc. 🙂

  • The basis for a chat in T.O. later this fall. 🙂 Thanks Mark

  • The moment I saw the title it immediately got my attention. About the “Try a new content form” and “Content quality”, that they can be combine into one. Like trying a new form of content and making sure it has quality. Multitasking at its finest, eh? 😀 These article is very interesting to read and I got a lot of ideas how to stand out, and that thanks to you, Mark! Have a great day ahead!

  • Great article Mark. Thanks for getting me thinking. 🙂 Personally, I like applying the “Blue Ocean Strategy” to content (and to the overall marketing/sales strategy). If competitors are busily swamping certain demographics or niches, we look for new uncontested markets in which to compete. We often create a strategy canvas for clients to analyze the competitive environment and help figure out where those uncontested opportunities lie. Then we research the heck out of that target market to find our content angles and places to publish/promote.

  • It’s interesting that you mentioned Tom and Marketoonist, because just the other day I told him how I think that his cartoon powered marketing is a quite fresh innovation in the world of markering!

  • For some reason my friend Anna Kochetkova could not leave a comment so I offered to paste this in for her:
    1. Everyone tells everyone to be different. It has become as common as ‘content marketing’ itself. Do you think with this in the air, we might have Be-Different-Shock (your new book?) or being different in itself means so unique we cannot be fed up with it or over do it? Could you share your view here?

    2. I have a client who wants it all for nothing (bummer of a person I know) and I told them that that is not possible hence only agreed to help out with a few specific tasks including social media content. I often come back to them offering new solutions; however they refuse to stand out or innovate later asking to do something different to gain more traction online. Would you just advise to fire my client or could you recommend any specific approach when persuading?

    In answer to number one, the idea of standing out really is nothing new. Even if you operated a corner store in your town in the 1930s you needed to keep up with the changes to meet or beat the competition. That is the heart of business. So innovating will always be part of business and it will never end. The difference today is that the playing field has changed and the entry barriers to being known are probably much lower than in the past. Twenty years ago, you needed a contract with a publisher to create a book. Now anybody can self-publish, for example.

    Regarding your client, you need to stay firm about expectations and perhaps this is not the right client for you if they are expecting the impossible. This work takes time to see payoff. Months, probably years. They cannot compare it to advertising. A better analogy is the time it takes to build relationships at monthly networking meetings!

  • He is really quite a talent!

  • oh yes! very talented man!

  • This has certainly been my view as well. Thanks Candyce!

  • Good recommendation Ameer. Thank you for your contribution.

  • Very interesting. I am writing a new book that suggests strategies just like this one. Finding a new angle in a very crowded market. Good job!

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  • Sorry for the late response Mark. My disqus notifications had been delivering to an unused email address. You also wouldn’t believe the amount of times I have changed this response (I need to go to bed & write a blog post about this).

    I may have approached the question by providing my solution to trying to “squeeze your way into the game when a competitor has a big head start.” with a view to building an engaged audience like the competitor has already been able to do as opposed to actually making the content “stand out” from a quality aspect.

    I doubt there is a single approach that will guarantee success with content marketing when competitors have saturated the search results & dominating the social channels. But is standing out compared to our competitors crucial to the initial stages of a content marketing?

    I don’t think so.

    In my view, we are not competing with particular brands initially. Rather, we are competing with every content creator for the attention of our target market. It’s only later, when the relationship develops, that we are positioned against our competitors. But at this point, the “raving fans” or “tribes” of our competitors are unlikely to be swayed by our content, I feel.

    Take this hypothetical string of online interactions.

    First interaction: Hmmm, that new sports brand looks cool.
    Second interaction: Oh yeah that’s that cool sports brand I saw the other day.
    Third interaction: I like these guys. I’ll take a closer look.
    Fourth interaction (typical target audience): Wow. I wonder what these guys are selling. That’s kind of like what Nike sell. I wonder which is better?

    or

    Fourth interaction (with one of Nike’s tribe): Cool. Kinda like my Nike’s.

    Of course, some brands have developed an intimate relationship with many followers, and have saturated the search results, but by no means are all of their followers “raving fans” that won’t engage with other brands who provide relevant, interesting, quality content. So, you don’t need to be different than your competitors initially, you just have to become relevant to these “non-raving” fans, then you have to nurture them into your own tribe.

    I recall your lecture in Dublin with Ian Cleary where you used the Mirabeau Wine example to illustrate how it was the nurtured tribe of followers that distinguished their viral video from other videos of similar quality with the same content. His content didn’t stand out relative to competitors (i.e. other people created the exact same content) but he had an engaged tribe. You also described other examples (Copyblogger) of how long this tribe can take to develop and that, I think, is the biggest stumbling block for someone new to content marketing to stand out. They don’t have the tribe amassed to ignite the content or lead to sales and now, in the saturated state we are in, it is an even longer road to amass the tribe, if you approach acquisition in the same way.

    Perhaps modern day content marketing is being undertaken, for the most part, with an outdated strategy. We strive to make our content stand out, in the nature of the content itself, in the hope that this will make people to gravitate towards our content. I have been recently debating that we now need to stand out in front of our target audience, project our content at as many of them as possible and then allow the audience to judge if our content stands out. It shouldn’t mean the quality of the content diminishes, rather that the distribution strategy changes.

    The best approach to doing this for me, is influencer marketing. Unlike paid advertising, influencer marketing gives authority, relevance and a degree of trust. Whoever the trusted influencer is, has deemed this person or brand, to be relevant to their audience and by doing so has imparted their relevance onto you.

    For example, I’m interested in marketing, business & entrepreneurship, and follow influencers and brands of this nature. Undoubtedly, a crowded, noisy industry from a content marketing perspective. For me, initially, it’s relevance, authority & credibility that catches my attention rather than the actual content. Before I give my time to engage with the content, I will deem whether this person is worth the effort (i.e. in a saturated market, with a lot of noise, it’s difficult to know who to believe). If, a brand I do not know appears in my news feed from a trusted, relevant authoritative source (eg. Social Media Examiner, EOFire, Success, Inc) I am much more likely to pay attention than if it appeared from a friend’s like, or a paid advertisment.

    They have won the first battle, they have got my attention. Over the next few encounters, will they stand out from the noise or as they view it, their competitors? Ultimately, it’s the quality, practicality and orignality of the content that determines this.

    So, you have to appear relevant.
    Then your content has to be relevant.

    Thus, for me, it’s the distribution that needs to change. The nature of the content you produced previously could still be as effective as before once it’s relevant, quality content. Shifting your creation approach to stand out won’t work to catch up on competitors, in this saturated state, in my opinion.

    Where we once had an eager hunter mentality to finding new content (regardless of the nature of it), now in these saturated conditions, we want relevant content, handed to us on a platter either within our trusted news feed resources or by using advanced searches.

    When markets become saturated, and everything is free, quality and convenience are most important for the user.

    Ps. I do ramble on quite a bit once I get going.

    Great post btw, Mark.

  • This is a tremendous comment and you are 90% of the way to a great blog post (guest post for grow?) You should be proud to know that this post was actually a trial balloon for a chapter in my new book. After thinking about your input, I’ve added influence marketing to the section, so your commentary had a big impact! I think you are absolutely correct in your assessment here.

  • Hi Mark, hope you enjoyed the holidays! Wow, I feel very humbled. I’d love to guest post for grow, it would be a pleasure and an honour. My email is [email protected] if you want to talk about more about it, and any specifics. Hope all is well.

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