By Shel Holtz, ABC, IABC Fellow
Reprinted with permission from Shel Holtz. This article was originally published on Holtz’s blog, A Shel of My Former Self. You can learn more about “content shock” and how to overcome it during Holtz’s session at the IABC Fellows’ Circles of Wisdom event.
Four months have passed since I argued that “content shock” is a bogus concern. In those 16 weeks, I have seen nothing to change my mind, but I’ve seen much that reinforces my belief that content remains a principal, viable and effective means of communicating and engaging with your audiences.
Marketing consultant Mark Schaefer resuscitated the issue that has been kicking around for hundreds of years, that there is too much content. Mark revived the idea with a new twist: Instead of expressing concern about the impact of an abundance of content on the consumer, he argued that the volume of content will render it essentially useless to the producer. Because consumers will have so much content available to them, it will become exponentially harder for our messages to break through, rendering content an uneconomical tactic for everyone except those with the deepest pockets. “Eventually,” Mark wrote, “a ‘cover the world with content’ marketing focus will not be a long-term sustainable strategy for many businesses.”
As I’ve watched the content space over the intervening four months, I’m more and more acutely aware that brands don’t need to cover the world with content in order for a content strategy to succeed. Here’s some of what I’ve noted that continues to support content as a key strategy:
If there’s too much content, why are publishers desperate for more?
“Consumers’ appetite for content on a 24-hour basis is at an all-time high, and many publishers are struggling to keep up,” writes Frank Besteiro in AdAge. In order to satisfy consumers’ appetite, many are turning to content exchanges, which “enable publishers to buy and sell content at scale, increasing traffic to their own articles, filling gaps in their coverage and opening up new revenue streams.” If these exchanges—from Cox, Gannett, Hearst, Tribune Co., and others—aren’t an opportunity, what is?
Niches are getting nichier
Your ability to target content of interest to your audience vastly increases the likelihood of the content reaching that audience—and tools that help are getting better and cheaper. In fact, Facebook has launched Audience Insights that lets you learn more about your target audience with geographical data, purchase history, top page likes, languages they speak, and more. Matt Southern, writing for Search Engine Journal, “With Audience Insights you can learn how many people on Facebook live near your stores, you can get to know their interests, along with their past purchase behavior and shopping habits (online vs. in-store).” That’s data you can use to increase the odds in your favor.
In The New York Times, Robert J. Moore shared a recent example of a video that succeeded even though it never went viral. “As it turned out,” Moore writes, “our video was tailored to such a specific viewer that anyone who got the joke was an ideal prospect for us and would share it with like-minded friends. Within a few weeks, one of those…leads…became our biggest customer to date, doubling our monthly revenue.” Moore calls this an “unscalable” tactic, something that works but doesn’t produce proportional results on a larger scale. A local restaurant leaving a takeout menu on your doorstep is another example of an unscalable tactic that succeeded long before there was an Internet.
Here’s another example of content’s effectiveness in a niche: In Redwood City, California, police posted images of stolen property to Pinterest, leading not one but three people to identify the rightful owner—and this was the fourth person to get stolen property back thanks to a Pinterest post. Try telling the Redwood City Police Department that their content has been lost in the flood! And Redwood City isn’t the only police department to achieve demonstrable results by sharing content on Pinterest!
You can even succeed with an audience of one
Some very smart marketers have figured out that they can produce content destined to reach just one person and still reap the benefits. UK bank NatWest has produced a series of Vine videos that answer the most commonly asked customer service questions. When someone queries the company about one of those issues, they respond with a link to the Vine video that provides the answer. Of course, it’s likely that many of those following that customer will also see it, which is cream on top of a very satisfied customer.
Customers of Warby Parker, meanwhile, have received YouTube replies to individual queries. In this example, a staffer named Taylor answers a question from @JessBassist, but even though it was a one-to-one response, it has been viewed more than 3,000 times.
Content is getting shorter
People can consume a lot of short content in a brief amount of time. In fact, according to a Washington post story, the digital world is increasingly hard-wiring us for short content.
An Instagram photo takes a few seconds to view. Vine videos last only six seconds. As Vine opens its new searchable website, many are speculating that more brands will tap Vine as a marketing tool. If you think about how many people skip 30-second pre-rolls on YouTube whenever they can, it’s easy to see the benefits that will accrue to brands through the creative use of Vine videos. By the time you’d click away from a 30-second pre-roll, you’re already done watching a Vine.
Experimentation and innovation win eyeballs
The content ecosystem evolves and changes moment by moment. Staying current with new avenues for content, as well as the successes of early adopters, can help you draw attention to your material. For example, social media agency Laundry Service has found that using an Instagram photo instead of stock photos or studio shots in ads produces more engagement. According to an AdAge piece, “Using regular photos, the company saw a 2.35% click-through rate. With Instagram-style shots, that increased to as high as 8%. When tying ad performance to sales, Laundry Service saw conversion rates increase by 25%.”
GE is among the companies that tapped into the photo-based question-and-answer app Jelly (from Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, experimenting with the tool just to see what results it might produce. This is an important tactic (as I recently suggested). If it turns out to be an effective tactic, then you’re among the first brands to get attention among the app’s early (and influential) adopters.
Most of your content competition is crap anyway
Google has been incredibly clear about the changes to its algorithms, particularly its Panda update: Original quality content wins. Fortunately for you, most of the content produced by most brand marketers is garbage. If you produce quality content, it doesn’t matter one little bit how much total content volume exists. Yours, cream that it is, will rise to the top.