Content marketing isn’t a panacea. For one thing, you need to re-measure its effectiveness frequently, if you don’t already automate the process of measurement.
More important, however, is that content marketing can hit diminishing returns very quickly, in a phenomenon first described by marketing expert Mark W. Schaefer. Earlier this year, Mark Schaefer proposed the idea of what he calls content shock. Put simply, everyone is creating content. Lots and lots of content. Here’s a fun infographic from the folks over at Domo about how much is happening in an Internet minute. In one minute, the equivalent of all 4 seasons of Game of Thrones is uploaded to YouTube. In one minute, 216,000 new photos are added to Instagram. In one internet minute, people share 2.4 million pieces of content on Facebook.
We are creating and sharing more and more content, but we aren’t gaining more hours in the day to absorb said content. There’s still 24 of them. We’re, by default, reaching a point where we must filter out most content. Facebook does this mechanistically, as those of you who operate Facebook Pages on behalf of your brand well know. Organic reach, the unpaid reach of your brand’s content on Facebook is probably close to zero. But we’re doing this naturally as human beings. With our limited 24 hours a day, we have to rely on friends, on influencers, and on media to only show us the good stuff and leave the rest behind.
As we create more and more content, those filters become more strict. The net effect is that our content is going to go unseen unless it’s truly top shelf, unless it’s truly worth talking about and sharing. Our ROI on content marketing will go down. Recently we had the opportunity to do some advanced analysis of Facebook’s impact on retail sales for a client, and the chart looked like a hockey stick in the wrong direction – just fell off a cliff.
This is what happens when the ROI of content marketing goes negative, when we spend more on content marketing than we make on it.
The way to combat content shock is, unsurprisingly, to create content that our audiences can’t ignore, and to make sure that we’re in front of the right audience. One of the best frameworks for combating content shock can be found all the way back in 1967, when direct marketing expert Bob Stone identified the things that make or break direct marketing campaigns.
Bob Stone’s framework is elegantly simple: list, offer, creative. Are you sending your postal mail to the right list? If the list is wrong, it doesn’t matter how good your direct marketing is. If we translate this to the realm of content marketing, this is our audience. Are we talking to the right audience? Understanding who your audience is should be the very first step in your content marketing plan – and even though we’re talking about B2B, we’re NOT talking about personas here. Personas are a sales tool and we are talking about audience strategy, not sales strategy.
The second step in a direct marketing program is the offer. Is the offer the right one, a compelling offer to get someone to take action? If we translate this to the content marketing realm, this is the content itself. Is the content high enough quality that it gets people to take the actions we want them to take, whether it’s sharing content socially, communicating and engaging with us, or converting as a lead. Are people doing what we want them to do with our content?
The third and final step in a direct marketing program is the creative. An unappealing creative in a direct mail program means that your postal mail goes straight into the trash bin in 1967. (Today, of course, we’d hope it would go into the recycling bin or the compost bin because we’re a little more progressive.) In the world of content marketing, this is the presentation of the content. Are we delivering our content in the right format, in a format that our audience wants to receive it in? Do they want video? Audio? Text? Very often we do what’s most convenient for us and not what’s most convenient or most desirable for our audience. Is the presentation good enough? For example, the subject line in your email marketing is effectively the envelope of a postal mail campaign. Do we open uninteresting postal mail? Of course not. Nor do we open uninteresting (nor unwanted) email, we flag it as spam.
This is how we can overcome content shock. Our content has to be aimed at the right audience, made compelling and valuable, and presented in a way that the audience wants to receive it. Are you creating content that others want to spend the little time that they have to consume?
Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology