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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