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So Your Content Marketing Kind of Sucks…

Now how are you going to better your content marketing strategy?

In January, a man named Mark Shaefer wrote a particularly inflammatory post called “Content Shock: Why content marketing is not a sustainable strategy.” The post’s essential argument is that although the amount of online content – from webinars to social media posts to videos to blog posts – is expanding nearly exponentially, our ability to consumecontent marketing overwhelming? all of that content is not. Too much content in front of a consumer’s eyes will result in “Content Shock,” and nothing will resonate. Eventually, we will reach a point when the supply of content today will outpace demand, resulting in an environment in which no marketer’s content will necessarily do any better than another marketer’s content. It’s not a sunny picture.

Shaefer’s post received nearly 400 comments both for and against his arguments, and I’m sure it’s not hard to guess why. 2014 was supposed to be the year content marketing came into its own. “2014 is the year when the content marketing category finally matures and newer players in the space — brands, agencies, startups — help us achieve real scale,” wrote Mashable in December of 2013, a year during which the marketing world celebrated the content strategy genius of Red Bull.

Shaefer mentions Red Bull in his blog post, but as a word of warning. “In 2009, Red Bull was a beverage company, not a media company,” he writes, and “Chipotle was making burritos,” referencing the food company’s clay-mation videos. Nowadays, that celebrated Red Bull genius is fast becoming the norm.

What does this mean for me?

If content marketing is sinking into a world of little payoff, should marketers stop putting so much effort into creating content? Absolutely not! I wouldn’t be writing this blog post if I thought it would be pointless. Mashable had it right when they said the content marketing world would “mature” in 2014; the new landscape is nothing more than that prediction coming true. The bottom line is that mediocre content will no longer get you decent results. But you’re not destined to mediocre payoff, unless you’re putting in mediocre work.

You just need to think of ways to keep your content top-notch. Shaefer’s “Content Shock” theory implies that you’ll no longer be able to outshine your competitors. Instead, I propose that you shine in places that your competitors don’t exist. Forget trying to create “better” content than your competitors; it’s all going to blur together eventually in consumers’ eyes. Instead, find the “new” – new timing, new places, new audiences – things that you’re competitors aren’t reaching at all. Then the territory will be yours for the taking.

New delivery methods:

Although the average person on the street may not know much about Microsoft other than the name of its founder, top technology policy-makers are well-aware of the software giant’s stance on a variety of issues, from STEM education to immigration reform. That’s thanks to a plethora of events at the Microsoft Innovation & Policy Center in Washington D.C., which cover topics ranging from technology in the classroom to international cyber-law. The company hosts expert panels that are intended to draw a crowd of policy analysts in D.C., thus exposing these analysts to Microsoft’s policy positions. Of course the media attention to these events also helps innovationspread the company’s ideas. It’s not quite marketing in the traditional sense – you can call it “content lobbying” – but you can apply the same idea. Immigration panels and software may not go hand-in-hand, but that’s the point: Microsoft is using an innovative delivery method to get its message to policy-makers.

The takeaway: Are there new venues by which you can deliver your content? If everyone around you is creating videos, can you create a podcast? If Twitter is saturated with your competitors, can you get the same message out through LinkedIn instead? If you find a delivery method not used by your competitors, you’ll have fewer voices drowning out your message.

New timing:

At Shelten Media, one of my clients is a real estate agent. After a while, the client and I agreed that while we were doing well on social media, something was lacking. The posts weren’t generating the reach that we believed they should, even after we took into account the changing Facebook algorithms. We experimented with new content, which worked to some degree, but arguably the best change we made was also the easiest: we changed the time of day we posted. The usual advice for Facebook is to post between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. or between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. I decided to start posting things at 9 p.m., guessing that some people looking for a house would only do so after the rest of their day was over. Luckily, my gamble paid off, and our posts were generating more reach across the board.

The takeaway:  Obviously, you’ll want to proceed with caution here. This is not a guaranteed fix, but in the case of my client, it sometimes can be just enough of a change to break through the noise.

New audience:

Part of what makes Red Bull’s content marketing so effective is that it appeals to more than just people who drink Red Bull (I mean who wouldn’t appreciate a video of a man falling from record-breaking heights). By transitioning into what Shaefer calls a “media company,” the beverage chain is exposing itself to an audience to which its competitors don’t have access.

Similarly, I’ve noticed that motivational quotes and images (which appeal to a broad array of people) often perform best on my clients’ social media pages.

The takeaway: It’s wise to keep the “please everyone/please no one” advice in mind, but perhaps you can broaden the appeal of your content to incorporate a bigger audience. Can you reduce the amount of industry-related terms? Can you tie mainstream media stories back to your own messages? Can you court influential social media users and work with them to get your message to their audiences (I’m talking guest blogging here)?

Conclusion:

Marketing wouldn’t be a challenge if it remained the same overtime. The tactics change with the surrounding environment, and we have to adapt our strategies or fall behind. I hope this blog post provided you with some useful ideas on taking your content marketing to the next level. Now it’s time for you to flex some serious creativity muscles (but hey, that’s the fun part of marketing anyway…).

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