Will content shock spoil content marketers’ party?

One concept central to the recently released European Content Marketing Report 2016 compiled by Yorkshire based digital marketing firm Smart Insights and international inbound marketing software platform HubSpot is the numerous references to ‘content shock’. Best explained by acclaimed author and social media strategist Mark Schaefer as people’s “physiological, inviolable limit to the amount of content they can consume”, the reports warns that the current upward trend of content consumption is simply not sustainable.

The report, aimed at establishing the current state of content marketing in Europe to help marketers benchmark their efforts and identify areas for improvement, found that most companies still believe that the best way to market products and services is to increase content generation to trigger return on investment.

Statistics show a soaring popularity in content marketing with 71 per cent of marketers saying they were creating more content in 2015 than the previous year. Blogging remained the most popular content marketing technique, followed by e-newsletters, infographics and long-form content. 

But, says Jason A Miller, content marketing leader at LinkedIn, companies do not need more content, they need more relevant content. And those who believe in the principle of content shock agree. The report’s authors say the belief that more content will generate more business is the proverbial ‘elephant in the room’: “That elephant goes by the name of ‘content shock’, and refers to when more content is being produced by businesses than there is demand to consume it. This means that as you produce more content, so too does your competition and as a result, the perceived value of that content by your target audience is reduced.”

This makes a mockery of the original logic behind content marketing, so aptly described by James O’Brian of Contently who says the idea central to content marketing is that your brand must give something valuable to get something valuable in return.

The European Content Marketing Report suggests that the best way to counter ‘content shock’ would be for marketers to invest more time in creating higher quality content and on extending their promotion plan, rather than increasing more volume and frequency of content. There are little guidelines in the report on how this should be achieved. 

In the majority of cases brands continue to produce and distribute content that they consider value to the brand, but the big question remains if the content is in fact of value to the consumer. More than ever, says Hugh Martin, journalism lecturer at La Trobe University in Australia, the pressure will be on editors and producers to create content marketing packages that are unique and compelling. “Creative minds have to be sharper and faster these days.”

For media companies’ long term success,  Martin suggests a breakdown of the much coveted divide between editorial teams and sales teams. “Because of the volume of free material, the scarcity of money and the pressure to differentiate a product, the border for editors and producers between journalism and advertising is now a regularly negotiated and often contested space. Editorial values are crucial to getting this right, for the benefit of all… meaning letting go of the old assumptions about the divide between editorial and sales.”

Success will be built on the ability of editorial managers and journalists “to work closely and productively with their sales and marketing colleagues – building bridges rather than walls”, he says.

Brands also needs to re-access exactly why they are in the game of content creation in the first place, says director of editorial content and curation at the Content Marketing Institute, Jodi Harris. Many companies are guilty of not fully understanding why they are producing the content or even how to measure the effectiveness of their content marketing efforts. 

Companies must first understand the ultimate purpose of their efforts before they can execute their strategy. “You can’t determine whether your content is effective if you haven’t outlined what its ultimate purpose is – the business reason you are creating content…”

No matter the various arguments – reality is that content shock has the real potential to spoil the content marketing party. While content marketing strategists – those with a vested interest in the business of content marketing – are trying to convince clients to be assisted (at a fee) with “planned strategic approaches” to content marketing “that will help you focus resources in a repeatable, scalable way”, the argument for simply creating less content is gaining support.

But less can be more, says Jay Baer, president of Convince & Convert Media. He says quality content ideas that can fly across a multitude of media platforms are the secret to future success. The aim would be for content to reach near-ubiquity, spreading across all media platforms at the same time offering consumers the choice to consume it whenever and wherever they choose to do so. Only then will success swing back towards boosting the consumption of content.

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