But there was one slight problem to all this excitement and uptake: more content! We are reeling from an over abundance. That makes it hard for the consumer to decide where to focus – and for the marketer to get attention and results (I feel obliged to repeat the words of advice that I share with our tech PR clients: in most cases, reporters don’t really care about your news. Similarly, with all the media and content choices that are out there, it is safest to assume that people are just fine, thanks, don’t need more).
Where does that leave you? How can you achieve success with your campaigns in a noisy, distracted, content-rich world? In this post I look at the state of content marketing, and offer advice for overcoming this challenge and tapping opportunities in 2014.
Content Marketing by Any other Name
One sign that content marketing has become mainstream has been its coverage in major media such as the NY Times, which featured quite a few articles on the topic (but was all over the map regarding terminology). NY Times advertising writer Stuart Elliot noted the continuing confusion over labels in this piece:
“The new buzz phrase on Madison Avenue for the creation of sponsored content is content marketing, although it is also being called content advertising and native advertising. More familiar terms for the trend include branded content, branded entertainment and advertorials.”
The confusion contributes to the field’s identity crisis (and the above list didn’t cover all choices as he left off “brand journalism”). True, they are not all exactly the same things (I aimed to clear up the confusion in my post around the same time last year), yet are close enough to cause lots of head scratching. Clearly, the ambiguity does not help build a strong identity for content marketing.
Blurred Lines – not Just a Song, but an FTC Initiative
The growth of content marketing reminds me of the rise of social media, which was hyped and expected to take over the world. There were questions, then, about ROI and measurement; the role of agencies vs. client side teams, and which agencies were best equipped to help.
The rise of social media marketing led to concerns about deceptive practices and new FTC regulations. Similarly, There has been a growing chorus of alarm over the blurring of editorial and advertising content, as noted in these NY Times and WSJ articles that detail an FTC initiative to study the issue.
The prospect of regulation is something to keep an eye on, as it could have implications for how marketers leverage the practice in 2014.
Is there a Content Marketing Bubble?
Will the field’s gains in 2013 come crashing down in 2014? Does content marketing stand to be a victim of its own success? I warned that content marketing might be sliding into the Trough of Disillusionment, to use Gartner Group’s famous Hype Cycle terminology, in my wrap of last year. Are we there yet?
The field’s biggest challenge by far is the growth of content and media choices. The noise increases as more marketers adopt this tactic. It has become a buyer’s market for content (even though it almost always is for free). I noted this in my post Get More Readers with Content Marketing Curb Appeal, and suggested ways to overcome the challenge.
Media consultant Spencer Critchley wrote in the Huffington Post: “Content marketing is already showing signs of becoming the victim of its own success. In logic and economics, there’s a principle known as the fallacy of composition… Put another way, an advantage is no longer an advantage when it’s available to everyone.”
Blogger and marketing consultant Mark Schaefer wrote that content marketing is not a sustainable strategy, in an impressive post that used all kinds of charts, graphs and data to make the argument that we are entering an era of Content Shock. He said: “This post will demonstrate in simple economic terms why content marketing may not be a sustainable strategy for many businesses… this intersection of finite content consumption and rising content availability will create a tremor I call The Content Shock. In a situation where content supply is exponentially exploding while content demand is flat.”
The post drew close to 300 comments. Notable influencers such as Geoff Livingston, Brian Clark and CMI’s Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose chimed in. It was a fascinating thread, as people piled on and variously agreed or took issue with Baer’s assessment and/or his calculations.
The article put content marketing on the operating table, and the comments were like the hushed conversations people have around a sick patient.
Curation: Curse or Cure?
Some have said that curation contributes to the content explosion. For example, author and consultant Dr. Clinton Lanier wrote in Business 2 Community: “Though potentially successful in creating engagement, the result is a crowded Twitter feed where brands and users are spreading the same content over and over.”
While I think he confuses curation with rote sharing, it is a point worth considering. I think the best curation adds value via careful selection, insight and analysis, and is not just about routine or automated sharing.
I have always counseled to ensure a good balance of original and curated content, and continue to believe that it can be a powerful tool in the arsenal.
Year in Pictures / Honey I Shrunk the Content
Perhaps as a reaction to the content deluge, the march of small and visual content continued unabated in 2013. More than ever, people seemed to want their info in bite-size, image-rich chunks. Brands were doing more with Twitter Vine, Instagram video, and GIFs, and reporting marketing successes.
The trend dovetails nicely with the growing importance of mobile in content and social media marketing, as these devices are great for both viewing and generating small and visual content.
Google’s Influence / Decline of Middle Content and the Keyword
In last year’s wrap I predicted the growing importance of semantic technology. In brief (and as described in more detail in Wikipedia’s definition), this technology applies computer intelligence to interpret meaning and user intent from text without relying on hash tags, keywords, etc.
Rich Benci, COO of Algebraix, wrote in iMedia Connection that semantic search is killing the keyword. He covered the Google Hummingbird update (which beefed up semantic), and its impact on SEO and website design / optimization.
Clearly, the growth of semantic and Google’s algorithm updates have profound implications for how Web content is discovered and crafted. The changes follow earlier efforts for Google to penalize “light content” and content farms in the SEO rankings.
I think these trends, combined with changing content consumption habits, may mean that small, flashy content and longer pieces get favored, while mid-sized is squeezed out and heeded less by readers and search engines.
Newsflash: People don’t want More Content!
So what do these trends mean for your content and social media marketing plans for 2014?
I want to come back to single the most pressing challenge – the one under the “Bubble” section – and share insight that I think can lead the way to helpful answers. My thoughts hinge on Mark Schaefer’s post – which predicted Content Shock – and a single word in the title that got short shrift in the body.
His post was all about content supply and demand. And while it might be true that we have too much, let’s face it – the world has been a noisy and distracting place for some time now; this is not likely to change any time soon, with or without more content marketing. But it is a mistake to focus on content as an end in and of itself.
Do you wake up in the morning with a need for more content? Or have content cravings at various times during the day? I’d argue that people don’t want more, in fact quite the opposite.
But they DO want answers to their questions and problems (see this NY Times article for a great example). They want info – not just any, but the right info at the right time. This could be for fun, work or to get an edge in whatever they are doing.
The operative word from the title of Mark Schaefer’s post is “strategy.” Agreed, generating more content on a never-ending treadmill is not a sustainable strategy. But taking a strategic approach – one that takes is informed by your business goals, sales process and customer needs – is one way to succeed at content marketing in 2014 and beyond.
It likely will not get easier to generate great content that breaks through – but I believe there will always be a market for well-crafted content that addresses customer needs; and plenty of opportunities to get on the cutting edge of trends, technology and content creation excellence to make this happen.
What do you think – where are the challenges and opportunities for the field in 2014? Is there a content bubble, and if so, what are some possible solutions?