Surviving “Content Shock” and the Impending Content Marketing Collapse

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I’ll admit it. I was tempted to call this one “Is Content Marketing Dead?”

But you’re too smart to fall for that and would have (justifiably) mocked me for it. Which would be embarrassing.

Within the content marketing echo chamber community, you might have seen some concern about the idea of “Content Shock” — the notion that as content marketing becomes more and more popular, we’ll eventually face a kind of “Content Cliff.” A period where content collapses in on itself as audiences max out on their ability to consume it.

(Here’s Mark Schaefer’s article that kicked things off, if you’d like to take a look.)

The article makes some fair points. You and I both know that there is a hell of a lot of content out there. And at some point, presumably mainstream employers will require their employees to spend at least an hour or two a day doing some form of work, sandwiched between their primary activities of Liking half-viewed BuzzFeed articles, leaving racist comments on YouTube, and launching fruitless searches for naked Miley Cyrus pictures. (Damn that firewall.)

I’m not worried about it. And here’s why.

I hate “content marketing”

No, not the activity. The activity is actually fun, interesting, and effective.

But I hate the term. Because it’s mushy, and it means too many things.

“Content” is what we read, listen to, and watch on the web. And TV. And cable. And radio. And Netflix. And our phones. And whatever Philip K. Dick-esque device Google will be implanting in our brains next year.

“Content marketing” is kind of like saying “ASCII marketing.” It’s so all-encompassing that it doesn’t mean anything.

Yes, there is too much of some types of content

We’re all familiar with the most overproduced form of content. It’s mass-produced, formulaic, and often cynical. It’s “content” the same way that Keeping Up with the Kardashians is “entertainment.”

Some call it page-view journalism. I like to call it Content Regurgitated as Product. Perhaps we can call it CRaP for short.

(If you want a look behind the scenes at how CRaP is made, take a look at Ryan Holiday’s depressing but instructive book Trust Me I’m Lying.)

Now I’m not saying that everything published on HuffPo, BuzzFeed, and the dozens of lesser content gulags is CRaP. They do have some writers who care about what they’re publishing, and who try hard to get the facts right.

But, well, they have some of the other as well.

Then there’s Convertising

Then there’s the whole question of content that’s really just great advertising.

I still love the Rainbow Oreo. It’s sort of content, because it was cool enough to share (widely). But when it comes down to it, it’s an ad that got shared because it was terrific.

That Ben & Jerry’s tweet? Absolutely excellent ad. Thumbs up. But it’s not the same kind of content we talk about here on Copyblogger.

Like other traditional advertising, these can be delightfully entertaining (at least when they’re done this well), but their business usefulness is questionable. They probably raise product awareness — but who didn’t already know about Oreos or Ben & Jerry’s?

I like these and I hope companies continue to make them. They’re fun little diversions. But when you and I talk about content, we’re talking about a different animal.

Rainmaker Content

When we talk about content on Copyblogger, we mean something you might call Rainmaker Content. In other words, content created to “make it rain” — to serve a business purpose in attracting a larger prospect base, bringing in leads, nurturing and educating those leads, and paving the way for a sale.

Rainmaker content:

  • Solves real audience problems,
  • Reflects the character, passion, and knowledge of an authoritative person,
  • Finds a fresh approach to the topic (especially if it’s a popular topic), and
  • Is interesting and easy to read.

Think about most of what you click on that’s shared on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+. Was it worth your time to read? Barely. Do you need any more of it? Not really.

Now contrast that with:

Rainmaker content is real-world content. It has to be interesting. It needs to creatively differentiate itself from what’s come before. It’s always a good idea to promote it intelligently.

And it has to solve a real audience problem. (Other than the problem of, “I’m bored at work.”)

There is no glut of quality content

Mark Schaefer’s “Content Shock” article includes a handsome chart showing that a lot of content is being created — quite possibly more content than there are human beings to consume it.

But we are a long way from the day when too much high-quality, Rainmaker-style content is being created.

To repeat myself, there is not a glut of content that is useful, passionate, individual, and interesting.

If we start to get close, I promise Copyblogger will publish some posts and we’ll try to figure our way out of it. (Hint: It will involve finding fresh angles to overcrowded topics, and getting better at promoting your best stuff.)

That day is not today.

Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose had an amusing take on the “Content Shock” alarmism in their podcast last week:

Robert: Are we in trouble with content marketing? Does [Schaefer] have a point at all with what he’s saying?

Joe: No.

(both laugh)

They go on to agree that Mark Schaefer is a bright guy — but that this article leapt to an alarmist unsupportable conclusion.

Robert Rose had a nice, succinct quote near the end of that segment that I think sums up the most important thing to remember:

Great content wins. End of story.

About the author

Sonia Simone


Sonia Simone is co-founder and Chief Content Officer of Copyblogger Media. Get more from Sonia on Twitter and .

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  1. Sonia-

    I’d like to believe you are correct. However, until Google includes a “CRaP-O-Meter” rating with its search results, too much low quality content using the same key words as quality content is a GIANT problem. How do we help the audience sort out the quality from the CRaP so our message doesn’t get lost in the noise?

    Dan

    • Dan, Google is already doing this with its Panda and Hummingbird updates … and it will only get better. Google has shown a true commitment to filtering out CRaP, and they have been successful. It’s not perfect, but we’re on a course of continued improvement in that area.

      • While much of the CRaP is gone, I’ve noticed that certain style single HTML pages rank high if they have a lot of keywords in them. Many of these pages look like they are from 1998. Narrow formatting, small fonts, and many don’t have an author listed or any info on a company or organization. Hopefully Google will include some styling guides in the future and bump up the author rankings.

        • Jerod and John, if you are reading an Internet where Google is doing a good job and “much of the CRaP is gone” I’d appreciate it if you would pass the location of that Internet along to me. I’m not seeing it, but I would like to.

          Sonia, thanks for the reminder about your link to the ebook on how to market content. At least in my profession, it is clear that simply publishing good content about the larger field surrounding our products and services is not sufficient. The cream will not automatically rise to the surface. There is simply too much noise. As you point out, we also have to market the content that is marketing the products and services!

          Hello second generation digital marketing.

        • Google only says that content is king. Unfortunately there are tones of pages in search results which have nothing to do with my query.

          But sooner or later author’s authority will play the main role in ranking.

          • Interesting discussion. What I’m finding (and it stands to reason when you thinking about it) is that Google is selective in the in kinds of websites it penalises.

            So in some verticals where there may be a relatively small local market, it seems to be easier to get away with crap content and not be penalised. In other verticals, where there market is larger Google pays much more attention.

    • I linked to an ebook I wrote about content promotion, that’s a good start. As Jerod says, Google can do more than you think to distinguish what’s useful. But you’ll also want to network with other content publishers and make yourself known as a quality publisher.

      As more and more content gets published, we get more and more tools to filter and sift to find good stuff.

    • Hi Dan,
      I just read that Google is doing away with tracking organic keywords in Google Analytics. I bet this is going to be interesting for all the SEO marketers who focus on keywords rather than quality content.

      • I’ll just add to what you said by saying keywords and quality content are not mutually exclusive. The words people use in search engines are the language of your audience. More pertinent along those lines was Google’s Hummingbird update. The tracking of keywords in Google analytics is just a data issue — nice to have, but in no way a game changer when it comes to creating audience-focused content.

  2. Content is certainly increasing, and it it much harder now to stand out from the crowd. That being said, writers who are able to collect, organize, and offer useful content that solves problems, will always attract an audience. The great news is, the audience for such content keeps getting bigger and bigger. The next BIG thing will be someone who figures out how to get this content to us more effectively. We’ve had Twitter, Facebook and now Pinterest. Someone in the future will do it better. Personally, I can’t wait to see what you guys are up to in 2014.

  3. Great article. I was just talking to some associates about this the other day. We are always fighting perception. First the value of content marketing, then the value of quality content. Often businesses will concede the value of the medium only to fail by producing Content garbage.

    Quality brand based content that delivers value will never fall off a cliff because the need for knowledge, entertainment and or savings will never go away. Brands are moving targets so the combination means it should be a perennial continuum.

  4. Wow Sonia

    Now you just shared a ton of useful links, packed neatly in a quirky blog post. You certainly got my attention. At the end of the day your last statement is kind of the clincher.

    “Great content wins. End of story.”

  5. Sonia, I thought his article was okay but it struck me as coming from a scarcity mentality. You can only cut the pie so many ways instead of thinking the pie will continue to get bigger. Mr. Schaefer’s article does not convince me. Thanks for your perspective.

  6. The beautiful thing about Google and other search engines is that it can provide Internet users with exactly what they want. And that can be considered useful or CRaP content, but what can’t be argued is that both types of content are in demand.

    A website or category of websites will know when they’ve reached their “content cliff” because they will lose traffic. It’s the same way all free economies work. Old technologies die, fads pass, tastes change, etc.

    People can write all they want and add useless information to the Internet, it doesn’t mean anyone has to read it. Definitely seems like it would be difficult to “fill up” the Internet.

    • Absolutely — Google will do its best to serve you what you’re looking for. If you want celebrity gossip or funny cat pictures, Google definitely includes those in the appropriate searches, and it always will. As it should.

      That business — the pageview journalism game — is probably harder to be in now, and it probably is somewhat subject to a Content Shock. But it’s a completely different game than business blogging is.

  7. The king is dead, long live the king.

    The assumption from Mr. Schaefer’s post that all content is equal, and too much CRaP is equivalent to too much content does not compute. In fact, it may be that more CRaP makes our content more valuable. Less content per pound or quart or GigaBit.

    But as a side note, we now have CRaP to go with GAS. Do I detect a trend here??

    Another great post Ms Simone. Keep them coming, and I’ll read this rather than watch Keeping up with the Kardashians.

    • Ha ha! Hopefully the CRaP / GAS trend will just stop right there.

      :)

    • Scott Spinola :

      The practical fact is that all content IS equal unless you are unbelievably good at figuring Google out. All content is in the same gigantic pile called the Internet. The cream does not magically float up and present itself to you because it’s “high quality” content. And with google constantly changing the rules (now not even giving you the keywords used to find you unless you buy them) and punishing you if you’re not active enough on their terrible social network, it is becoming harder and harder to get found. Try to be a little guy entering an established market. It is insanely difficult to get found without a cadre of SEO consultants and “content marketing experts” on staff. Great for you guys who just so happen to sell those services, not so great for the little guys who aren’t marketers but just want to run their business. Schaefer’s larger point–not that content marketing is dead, but that it is becoming the province of the deep pockets–is dead on. There is a very low barrier to creating CRAP and many people want to see it so it floods the market, resulting in a very high barrier to rise above it in terms of the money and time spent creating an ever increasing quality of content. It will only get worse.

  8. Sonia–Thanks for pointing out that “content marketing” is (in some ways) a completely useless term because the depth and breadth of what we mean by it (or even just “content”) is so much bigger than the term implies. Same goes for “social media.”

    Because there is an ever-increasing amount of noise in terms of consumable content, I do think it is getting more difficult to create the type of content that rises above that cacophony. On the other side of the coin, it’s getting more difficult for consumers to sift through all the “stuff” to find the “good stuff.”

    So if great content wins, what makes content great? I think it’s the willingness to take risks; to not be so “on-brand” that it hurts. Imagination, deeply understanding your audience, and the ability to not only grab your attention and keep it–that’s what makes content great. The problem is that most brands are too afraid to go there. So they create more stuff instead of creating great. More is not more. Great is more.

  9. Great content, defined as something that is actually useful or entertaining, will always win but we are fighting a low barrier to entry. It does not take much for someone to publish anything these days so companies can just sling it at will and hope that something sticks.

  10. The only constant being change, some kind of shock (culture, technology) is guaranteed sooner or later – to “content”, too. However, and I agree with your basic prediction, just “more of it” will NOT be the end of it.

    I base my prediction on other things where more doesn’t mean less.

    The printing press, the typewriter and the internet have resulted in lots more writing … AND lots more readers.

    Each act of love results in more love … and in more lovers.

    So I believe it will the reasons behind content that are exposed to an impending market collapse, but not content itself … as long as it’s good. Which reminds me, at the beginning of everything good, is joy.

    Yes, can you tell, I enjoyed reading your post :-]
    Beat

  11. The beauty of the Internet is that anyone can become a publisher…but that is also it’s downfall. We are too quick to hit “publish” because we want to get the content out there as fast as we can. Take a minute and look at what you are trying to achieve. Does one more junk piece of content really get you there?

  12. Paula Begoun! We are soulmates, Sonia.

    Also, the first sign of the Apocalypse is when Copyblogger starts raining CRaP.

    • If you start seeing posts about Kim Kardashian’s booty selfie you can safely know we have been hacked.

      Love Paula. Have been reading her for many (like, way many) years, and it’s very interesting to see her evolution.

  13. The points made are entirely valid from a purely business perspective. Marketers everywhere will continue to be challenged by an ever more crowded and competitive environment. Such has always been the case with every medium over time. Today it is how many books, magazines or newspapers you could read – today it is internet content.

    Long ago commercial publishers realized that comsumers wanted to read things which were specific to their interests – enter speciality magazines. Such publications fragmented the consumer market, acutally creating more demand for good content – premium content for which consumers were willing to pay a higher price.

    I think such is the case today with so called content marketing. understanding the specific wants and needs of readers is key to finding and holding readership. The market is driven by very tighly defined niches.

    I would venture to say that anyone who can crack the code of readership interests within a given niche market, will see a good ROI on the money invested in creating content for those readers.

    Trends and technical advances are elements which drive so called evergreen articles. What’s hot, and what’s new may vary from month to month and year to year, but the continued interest of niche readers for any topic will continue to be evergreen as a general principle.

    The secret is, as it always was; understanding the interests of a specific group of readers and staying on top of tends and developments within that group.

    It is true that maintining qualify content within a given niche market will cost more. Quality has always cost more, and the reason is simple. it takes a dedicated writer to research and write at a level which speaks directly to the interests of an informed readership.

    Experienced writers with experience writing about a given field can and do attract and hold readers. They understand that the skills they bring to bear on their work have value and so can command and get a higher price.

    Companies who push off content creation on overburdened staff risk getting a product which reflects a misunderstanding of what readers actually want.

    General interst information created for no other reason than maintaining customer contact simply won’t maintain readership. In a world which is filled with information that is increasingly banal, the stream of words and images one is expected to digest becomes just so much white noise.

    Readers are lulled into a kind of digital trance unless the content they read is fully engaging and of real personal interest. Content marketing will only work, and will only represent a good investment if these facts are most clearly understood.

    In my opinion, good content will always have a place. But producting good content will always have a realitvely high cost. Good marketing too will be an involved and possibly expensive undertaking, as it always had been.

    The question marketers much ask themselves is, how much time and effort are they willing to devote to those two elements?

    Would it be better, as an example to outsource to an agency rather than doing it all in house? There is no single answer and one size obviously will not fit all.

    Content marketing is, I think, generally misunderstood by managers as something which has to be done, because everyone is doing it. It is largely a waste of time and energy because its real value is exceptionally hard to measure. In other words it can’t be quantified in real terms on a blanace sheet.

    How do you extract real sales numbers for a general information article on 100 blogs? Can the accountant demonstrate a causal relationship between an article written by John, the assistant manager in product development, and a spike in sales three months later – likely not.

    in that regard, so called content marketing is the orphan cousin of real advertising and genuine content. It is not one or the other and so suffers from a real identity crisis.

    The coming content marketing crash may owe more to these other factors than simply an overcrowed market – which brings me back to my point.

    Real content is something of personal interest which engages the reader at an intimate level. As the amount of content increases daily, readers are increasingly becoming more selective about what they devote time to actually read. In my opinion, this is a sign that the marketplace for internet content is changing and becoming more mature.

    I agree that there is a coming crisis for content, but it isn’t just a matter of cost and volume. It is instead a signal that the novelty of reading content online has diminished. Like other media Internet content must reflect those changes or it will simply be redundant.

  14. I was arguing with myself the other day about how much content we need to produce for our “inbound marketing” . While I tend to agree that quality content wins at the end of the day, I still strongly believe that a time will come when we will have too much content. Everyone seems to be saying the same thing in different ways. Isn’t that an indication of too much content?

    • There could be infinite amounts of content, and it wouldn’t change. Most content is completely invisible because it’s not worth seeing.

      On the other hand, I am completely confident that I can enter any niche or industry, and no matter how crowded and noisy, develop and execute a strategy that will rise up to the level needed to attract an audience. That will never change.

      Let me ask you a question: What else would you use for your “inbound marketing?” What is it that people want that you can give them that would break through the noise, if not content? The noise is still there, regardless …

      • I wish “most content is completely invisible because it’s not worth seeing” had been published somewhere I could quote it when I wrote this.

        • I think online marketing will go through the same evolution as traditional marketing. Eventually the people that are creating real quality will be on top and the flood gates will begin to close. Google already looks at social queues, time spent looking at something, and back links to help determine the potential quality. In the end, sites will gain readership, content will be shared, and quality will win out. The professionals that adapt to the evolution will be fine. The mass content creators will be swept away, eventually.

  15. Sonia…
    I love this post. First and foremost thank you for the shout-out and the kind link back to the podcast.

    Secondly – love your idea of Rainmaker Content. It’s definitely at the heart of using content as a means to help our businesses (no matter what it’s called ). And that’s really the key for me. It’s really just using all the means we have at our disposal today to illustrate (in the real sense of that word) our unique approach to solving our customer’s needs and wants. Sometimes it’s useful information. Sometimes it’s entertainment. But it’s always remarkable. Great content *does* win. Always. Something you guys at Copyblogger get in spades.

    Cheers….

    ~rr

  16. “…there is not a glut of content that is useful, passionate, individual, and interesting.” BOOM.

    Here’s are my 2 problems with the notion that content abundance will essentially trigger the downfall of content marketing:

    1. How much of it is really quality — or, as I call it, useful AND inspired AND enjoyable? Not nearly enough. How much is honestly empathetic to the problems and point of view of your customer? Again, not nearly enough. (On my cynical days I’d say, “Very little.” But I’m in a good mood today.) What glut where?

    2. Let’s journey for a minute to a Futureland where every brand and company is consistently producing The Content really, really well. Won’t *that* trigger a Contentpocalypse? No. Because innovative, quality content will always attract and serve the needs of a very specific audience — it doesn’t need to appeal to the masses. Just the people you really want to reach. (See point 1.)

    Nice post, Sonia.

    PS Side note: I disagree on “convertising,” in part because that word makes my skin crawl. But also because I see (in Ben and Jerry’s case) the tweet as an extension of a larger content strategy.

    • Thanks Ann!

      I went back & forth on the Ben & Jerry’s thing. (And you know, I had to make the term as hideous as possible.) It’s part of a great content strategy for a large brand. But I think “make better ads” is part of a great content strategy for a large brand.

      I don’t think it’s a bad strategy for a smaller company, but it needs to be a seasoning to more educational, focused, and yet still entertaining content for most businesses.

    • I love your points here Ann, but as a result you and Sonia are wrestling with my soul here. You’re right, good content isn’t in abundance and, in my opinion, probably never will be. That works for all of us really committed to solving a problem for someone versus someone pimping a product. That said, I find that Sonia is also on mark here because while truly useful information is in short supply if the crap clogs distribution channels not only does that make it harder for the good to surface, it cheapens the profession to the point where in five years, I fear Content Director or Chief Content Officer will be viewed as a hook baiter rather than a truly vital part of a marketing team. Just look at how far the mighty “Social Media Strategist” has fallen in the last 2-3 years. The crap and snakeoilsmanship took over that space and we need to be mindful of that or we’ll fall in the same muck. Here’s my thoughts on this very thing from a few weeks back.

      Saving Content Marketing From Itself in One Step — http://bit.ly/18Usalk

      Cheers to you both and to more exchanges like this in 2014.

    • Ann…I wish I could just subscribe to the random comments you make on other people’s blogs. Is that possible?

      Great post here from Shel Holtz confirming your argument. http://holtz.com/blog/content/six-reasons-there-will-be-no-content-shock/4267

  17. Excellent points.

    It seems to all come down to relevancy.

    As long as you are posting content that is relevant and important to your ideal audience, you can always create more.

  18. Mark says a content shock wave approaches. I say get your bad self a Story Bunker.

    Let’s say I see two lemonade stands and both people sell the same product and both charge the same price. I don’t know one person selling the product, but I do know the other person because they interacted with me last week and I was captivated by their story. Who will I buy from? Even if the product was more expensive and inferior, I’d buy from that person I feel I know better. So, if a lemonade shock wave were to come with 1,000 people trying to sell me lemonade, I’d still buy from my trusted source — why wouldn’t I? The more noise, the quicker I’ll fall back to the familiar.

    The world may indeed have too much “topic-content” but it will never have too many interesting stories related to that content.

    Isn’t that right, Sonia “Shockwave-Slayer” Simone?

    • There’s a kind of painful side point to this, which is that the failing lemonade stand may think they’re producing really fantastic content, when in reality … not so much.

      One thing I liked about Schaefer’s post is that I think it’s a good strong shake to make sure we are stepping up to the challenge that faces us. (I just don’t think that challenge is new — we’ve been facing brutal clutter for years at this point.) Half-assed efforts won’t cut it.

  19. Wasn’t “Content Shock” the recipient of most Game of the Show Award at E3 2006?

  20. Any post that uses the phrase “Philip K. Dick-esque” is high quality content in my book!

    Predictions of sweeping change make for great conversation, but I think the move away from content mania will be gradual. As web activity becomes more and more mobile-based, demand for detailed text will decline. Real writers with something to say will continue to produce in-depth, text-heavy content for readers who want it. People who produce content simply to jump on the bandwagon will go jump in some other lake. I hope. I also agree that Google is making real strides in identifying high quality content. As it and other search engines get better at this, people will have less and less incentive to produce content simply for the sake of acquiring links.

  21. There’s no such thing as content shock – https://plus.google.com/+HashimWarren/posts/XdjT7fgF5vb

    Yes, the cost of producing and delivering content will get more expensive. But that just means content marketing is maturing as a strategy.

    • Super post, Hashim. I especially liked this:

      A prospect’s interest in content only disappears after they’ve found their answer, whether from your business or a competitor. This means content, someone’s content has worked!

      I’d also argue that high-quality, useful content for local business still has a lot of room.

  22. Ryan Hemphill :

    Content Marketing is the same as anything else out there.

    Digital Photography advances meant anyone could be a photographer, so the professional photographers had to be better at their job. Are there fewer pro photographers? No, in fact, there are more! But they have to be really good at it to be successful.

    This medium is no different. Just like bad/average photography will get the “Gimme a break! I could do a better job myself!”, bad content will be recognized as the sludge that it is – and always was.

    We are going to see people be very discriminating about content, just like they’ve become about photography – but it doesn’t mean there will be less. It just means the competition will have to make the content they should have been making all along.

    I could say the same about big budget marketing depts, but don’t get me started!

  23. the idea that content produced is more than a man can consume is surely interesting and deserve some thoughts but especially in b2b there is such a chronical lack of contents that the alarmistic conclusion do not apply. b2b Companies are struggling to find good success stories,best practices and real life examples to study. love the idea of the Crapometer!

  24. The CRaP content works for some, that’s why people create it. It’s just not for us. My teen daughter can tell me just about everything about the Kardashians (and We’re English and don’t even get the shows!). In a few years she’ll have grown out of it, and some other girls will have taken her place. If we’re really lucky someone will have replaced the Kardashians.
    When we see a lot of content in our own niche we tend to make the assumption that our audiences are out there constantly looking for solutions. I read Hashim’s update, and he’s right. People look for their solution, find it, then go and watch an episode of Dallas or do some other thing that’s important to them.
    And there are people that prefer Dallas to Mad Men… the content in whichever form it comes in has to fit the audience.
    It’s okay to almost sneer and say content is over, but that would indicate your audience has been wiped out in an avalanche or something, and that you were very, very, very, very niche.

    The short version… I think we’ve just fed a troll, even if he’s a well liked and respected one.

  25. Claims of “fill-in-the-blank is dead” are cheap shots aimed to shock & awe audiences, which they never do.

    You’re right: the great thing about so much CRaP content is it makes the high-quality writing stand out even more.

    Love the Paula Begoun example. Her site is crowded, breaks every rule of landing pages, and is “Google loves ugly” filled with text. But it doesn’t matter, because she’s the best and so is her team.

    • Jeff Campbell, too, the site design makes me wince a little but much like Paula B., he’s been giving very useful and entertaining information for years, and the company’s products (I think he may have sold to someone else at this point) are excellent. That combination is a one-two punch that is hard to beat.

  26. Sonia and fellow CRaPfighters,

    I was wrestling with this idea of content marketing (at least the term anyway) consuming itself based on the amount of hype it has gotten and the resulting deluge of PromoSpew that is taking over the craft. I went at it and provided some guidance and a few examples of how not to be part of the problem here — for the good of the order. Viva la not sucking!
    Cheers,
    Mark

    Saving Content Marketing From Itself in One Step http://bit.ly/18Usalk

  27. Love this debate. Sonia, I really think your points re: “rainmaking content” are the most important takeaways. In fact, I actually don’t think it really matters how much content is floating around out there — as long as a company’s content is powerfully aligned with its mission and values (which are built from a desire to understand and solve a proven customer problem) then it will rise above the deluge and connect.

    In other words, what do we care if there’s more crap out there? As Maria P. points out, if anything, it just makes good content from good companies look that much better.

    “More” just means we have to continue stepping up our game, and what decent content marketer doesn’t excited about doing that?

  28. Thanks for the thought-provoking post. I hope you don’t mind that I share a different perspective.

    I’m both an ad writer and digital content writer. That B & J tweet was more than a fun little diversion. It was brilliant marketing, advertising and social media – and it followed pretty much what you outline for Rainmaker Content, but in a different context.

    1) In 140 characters it solved an audience problem (I can smoke up – what to get for the munchies and dry mouth?). It’s not a serious problem of course, but it’s a problem strategically aligned to the product’s relevance.

    2) It took a leadership role (again, “authority” within the personality of a fun product because, let’s be honest, content marketing applies to countless categories from serious to recreational).

    3) It took a fantastically fresh approach to a commonplace product and popular topic.

    4) It cut through the clutter so much that it’s been featured on ad articles and content articles alike.

    More importantly, I bet it did more than just raise awareness – and by awareness, I’m talking by huge numbers from all the free press (talk about business usefulness most businesses pay thousands upon thousands of dollars!). My guess is that, down the road when their figures come in, we’ll find that it “paved the way toward” increased sales and more followers.

    The principles of good advertising (not to be confused with cheesy hard sell) are the foundation of true engagement in any context. In addition, those effortless-looking ads and tweets that are the most powerful – and engaging.

    • I have to agree with you … I thought the B&J photo tweet was brilliant. But as Sonia said, it’s one thing for Ben & Jerry’s to make that work as a well known brand selling something that just about everyone loves, much another for a small service business, for example, to think it can build the right kind of audience with only that type of content.

      • Hi Brian, you’re right, there’s no way small business can rely on a brilliant tweet. My point was that they can learn from the marketing principles behind them which, in essence, are the same as those listed for rainmaker content by Sonia. My concern is that if we diminish these initiatives by viewing them as fun little diversions then we miss the brilliant example of marketing that can be applied to any medium or context be it a tweet, a blog or a TV campaign.

  29. Darren DeMatas :

    I don’t think there will ever be an excess of relevant content. There is however, an excess of flat content – which ads to the noise level. So I think that Mark’s argument does have some legs there.

    Like any aspect of business, you have to understand where you are spending resources and if it makes sense to continue to do so. If you are spending 100 hours writing blog posts that no one reads, maybe it is time to change the approach.

    IMO copyblogger doesn’t teach content marketing, it teaches the art of developing and executing a value proposition. Something the world is greatly lacking.

  30. Sonia – I’m fairly new to the party and relieved to know that the ship has NOT sailed. You’ve given me a mantra I will repeat regularly to avoid the mental constipation associated with CRaP: May I produce “content that is useful, passionate, individual, and interesting”.

    I love your wisdom!

  31. It’s not alarmist to observe that the volume of “useful enough to consume” content–found via the best of search or pre-selected sources–adds up to more than 24 hours of reading/listening every 24 hours.

    To me, that’s the heart of what Mark Schaeffer noted and what so many of us face daily.

    Sure, it’s silly to respond by simply eliminating content marketing, but ignoring this is like putting out a tweet to 5K followers…and fooling yourself that 5K people saw it.

    Ken Rosen, @ken_rosen
    Performance Works

  32. Sonia,

    The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards says that when he writes a song he often feels like there was an enormous gap waiting to be filled. Like the song should have been written hundreds of years ago.

    IMO, that’s when you know you’re serving your audience.

    Great post as usual Sonia.
    Ian

  33. Hey Sonia. Excellent post. You brought out some very important points around content marketing.

    I have a question: While I agree that great content solves problems and there is definitely not an oversupply of good content … How do we as content marketers ensure that our great content is not lost in a ‘sea of CRaP’?

    One obvious answer is by building a reputation of consistently producing great content which works well for people who are already familiar with our work.

    But what about attracting new eyeballs? Do we need to rely on the existing readers to spread the word? Or is there an effective way to somehow flag (to potential readers) our great content as being different from the sea of CRaP for the?

    • I have a link in the post to an ebook (it’s free) on content promotion, that’s a good place to start.

      Just because it’s great doesn’t mean it will get found. But if it isn’t great, it’s much harder to get it on the radar of the people who can help you get the word out.

  34. I think that as long as there’s a question to which an answer hasn’t been published, there will be a need for consumer-driven content.

  35. Great job in here, Sonia.
    I’m afraid some CRaP creators will find your points a bit fascist and try to defend their ‘right’ to produce large piles of useless garbage into infosphere.
    To my mind, content is a commodity and you probably wouldn’t intentionally buy a lame product, would you. That’s the matter. We’re given choice and choice is good. On the other hand, yep, we’re drowning in content – either good or bad. The future is the kingdom of established and trusted aggregators, that will replace personal rss feeds and bookmarks. Content marketing is being replaced by content placement – just think about Upworthy, for example. Not to say, how it should be done, but how it will be done.

  36. Sonia, thanks for providing some thought provoking reading. As a blogger over the past two years I have learned a lot about blogging and content marketing and have only recently started to take action to generate some income from my site.

    The idea that there may be too much content out there is interesting – certainly in the travel space I regularly search for information about different topics and I can usually find the gems and filter them from the chaff reasonably quickly using a manual approach. Google seems to still be behind in terms of which sites they give the top rankings in search results. There are many sites and pages which have CRaP information which are holding the top positions which I believe should not be there.

    It would be great if eventually Google can build an algorithm as good as the one in my (and other people’s) brains but unfortunately I think they still have a long way to go to achieve that nirvana. But if every year they get a little bit closer then eventually the gold will filter towards the top…

  37. Nice article Sonia.

    I think what most people think is “good” content isn’t at all. They think because they wrote a long post that makes it good.

  38. The biggest battle we have is to have the guts to make it content in lieu of swill. Left to their own devices, bright people want to “sell harder”. What you really want to do is ‘give more,’ and that takes more skill. Anyone can spew features/benes, but what is difficult is to convey info/emotion etc.

    • Writing stuff that people want to read is hard. It just is. There are all kinds of ways that content goes sideways — it’s thin, or too salesy, or doesn’t deliver anything fresh, or the language is so clumsy that it loses readers.

  39. thanks for this post. i guess when you don’t tell yourself everday that you need to put out great content, then you end up writing what all the others write. when you don’t aim for greatness then there’s no reason to aim at all.

  40. Recently elance and odesk announced that they would be merging. These sites were places for new writers to get their feet wet in the content writing game. The effect of this is too soon to tell but it is definitely getting harder to start than a few years ago.
    There is still a variety of mediums available in the delivery of content: podcasts video blogs social media etc. Content marketing will be as important increasingly in the strategy and delivery as the content itself.

    • New writers should get their feet wet with content by publishing on their own sites. :) Write and write until you’re damned good, develop a network with other publishers, and stay out of bottom-feeder classified job sites.

      There’s no shortage of work for writers who can rise to the occasion. But you have to be willing to develop the skills.

  41. idea that there may be too much content out there is interesting – certainly in the travel space I regularly search for information about different topics and I can usually find the gems and filter them from the chaff reasonably quickly using a manual approach. Google seems to still be behind in terms of which sites they give the top rankings in search results

  42. ASCII Marketing – I love it.

    Perhaps the best way to describe what people have been referring to as content marketing is simply ‘inbound marketing’ then?

    Or just marketing?

    • Hi Alan…real quick…content marketing includes both inbound and outbound marketing, so it can’t just be inbound. But you may be right…someday, this may be just called marketing.

  43. Great read, Sonia. I particularly liked the term “convertising,” a “sort of content.” That’s the term I was missing trying to describe some types of content that weren’t really content, but were exceptional and great fun anyway :-)

  44. Great post.

    But IMO completely wrong, let me tell you why:

    Mark never said that what he calls “content shock” means there is too much good content for content marketing to work. He said: There is too much content.

    Too much content means it is getting harder for good content to reach the right eyes. It means that you do not just need good copywriting to work with content in marketing, you actually need to compete with masses of content out there.

    Mark is right. Depending on the niche you work in, there are situations where you can create “epic shit” and still not get anywhere. Yours and Robert’s conclusion “Great content wins. End of story.” is so fundamentally wrong I actually wonder your keyboard allowed you to write it. If it would be true, all that would be needed for content marketing would be a typewriter, not a marketer (and maybe some skill at creating content…). But that is not true: We all need Twitter accounts, social media skills, social influence to market our content. Our accounts are key assets to us.

    Which brings me to my main point: What Mark wrote about and called content shock has already happened. We are already in a past content shock world. We brought this on us when we all started to advertise “content marketing” as the new marketing. When we told everyone that blogging is not an option but a necessity. When we said: Go, produce more content.

    But that is not the end. It just means that what Mark has started is a discussion that is necessary. Content marketing will not go away. It just needs to change. And we have to stop denying these facts.

    BTW: I don not like the term “content marketing” either, but it is common, so I use it.

    I outline this point in more detail here: https://exploreb2b.com/articles/content-shock-aftermath

    • >>>Too much content means it is getting harder for good content to reach the right eyes.

      That was true in 2006 when I started CB as a complete unknown. And it was true last year when I moved to a new town and started a hyperlocal website that has now become a recognized media outlet in Boulder just one year later.

      It’s always true. And it can always be overcome by differentiation, strategy, and execution. But not if people like Mark tell those who don’t know any better that the sky is falling so he can sell his upcoming book.

      Let’s all be honest here. Mark is using a tried-and-true content marketing tactic (actually an ancient rhetorical tactic) to draw attention to himself, and ironically proving his theory wrong in the process. And worse, confusing people in the process. That’s why we who know better stand up in the face of this and say he’s wrong.

      • >>>And it can always be overcome by differentiation, strategy, and execution.

        So, the good content only wins if it is promoted? Actually, that was exactly what I was saying. And the more competitive the landscape gets, the harder this gets. Just as always in any area of business.

        So Mark is just promoting his book? Well, just as well as you are promoting copyblogger. Stop pretending you are not.

        Online marketing in general is getting harder – and anything to do with content is getting harder because of the sheer mass of content available. This is also true for completely different areas which have their own content problems btw. Look at the music industry, the movie industry, hell, even books.

        Content marketing was never about the best content winning. Joe Chernov put it this way: “Create content that “speaks to” your audience, and then hustle like hell to get it discovered.” The sheer amount of content getting published today is a problem for anything online. It is making it harder for Google to provide a search engine that returns relevant content. And of course it affects the discoverability of content.

        So stop pretending it does not.

      • “Let’s be honest here?”

        Brian, I welcome intelligent dialogue but I hate the fact that you demean my character and intent through personal attacks. You don’t know me. You have never met me. To the best of my knowledge the first comment you ever left on my blog was the one on the Content Shock post.

        I am sincerely disappointed that through your comments you encourage a professional discussion to devolve into statements like this.

        The hypocrisy presented here is that you rant about creating great content and when somebody did, you conclude that it must have been done as some ruse to get attention.

        And by the way, when people came on to my blog and left comments demeaning you I deleted the comments. We can attack issues without attacking people, right?

        I hope you can eventually see your way through to nurturing a respectful dialogue at some point because your readers would benefit from that too. I look forward to getting to know you down the road and I think if you get to know me too, you would refrain from unnecessary attacks on me personally.

  45. I am the author of the original post. There is a lot I could comment on but I guess I am shocked by your conclusion that great content wins. There are many examples where great content does not win, especially when it cannot be discovered through the increasing wall of noise. “Great content” comes at a cost — and if it can be discovered at all — an increasing cost as competitors up their game. We need to move beyond the simplistic mantra of “be amazing” and have a real dialogue about the economic pressures of our business. Thank you for continuing the dialogue Sonia.

    • Well, good content does indeed have a chance, still. But it helps if your article gets published on copyblogger instead of your newly created company blog.

      I find it very amusing, that whenever someone dares to open this topic up, hundreds of content marketers jump in to convince themselves that good content always wins and everybody should just continue as it is – with the added notion that it would help to act more like copyblogger.

      Mark, in light of what I have written before, I would like to let you know here, that I am actually very grateful to you for opening this discussion and for giving it a name (content shock). You were not the first to start this, but you were the first to achieve this kind of diversity in the discussion.

    • Mark,

      The conclusion here is not that “great content wins.” The Robert Rose quote is prefaced by the statement that it “sums up the most important thing to remember.” The most important thing to remember … not the only thing to remember. As Sonia outlines, great content still has to differentiate itself, be promoted effectively, and solve real-world problems to work.

      You do bring up interesting points in your piece, but I found it hard to understand what your true intent or overall meaning was. It was admittedly not to offer solutions, but I also don’t know that it clearly articulated what, exactly, “content shock” will mean.

      For example, your headline says “Why content marketing is not a sustainable strategy” and then the first sentence says that it “may not be a sustainable strategy for many businesses.” Those are two vastly different statements. (And you even mention in the comment section that “It is extremely difficult writing a headline that is catchy, tweetable and accurate.” Indeed it is. But is it good form to use a bold headline, to be catchy and tweetable, that your opening line immediately backs off of — so thus, isn’t accurate?) The first statement, the headline, is absolute and attacks the entire core of content marketing while the opening line hedges and suggests that some businesses may not be able to utilize content market in perpetuity.

      The latter is actually correct: for businesses that cannot differentiate or promote their content, content marketing may not be the panacea they dream it to be. But that’s not a blight on content marketing so much as it is an example of poor execution, which can occur for any number of reasons, including the reality that content marketing is not easy. It’s hard to do right. That’s never changed.

      The concept of “content marketing” is not new. It’s been done for ages, just under different names. It’s a sustainable strategy when done right. At some point it may not be the best strategy, but it still looks pretty good in the absence of an immediate, proven alternative.

      I agree that we all need to always be on the lookout for a better strategy. But that doesn’t mean we need to profess unwarranted, hyperbolic doom and gloom about the current one.

      Ultimately Mark, your article is valuable addition to the discussion because it opens up that very dialogue. I mean, look at that comment section! :-) I highly recommend everyone go there and read it. It’s an educational journey through some of the brightest minds our industry has to offer.

  46. I don’t get it. We’ve always had more information they we could consume (like the comments on this post). That’s what makes Mr. Schaefer’s argument so underwhelming.

  47. You make some great points, Sonia. I do, however, agree with comments in this thread regarding the Ben and Jerry’s tweet. We’ve noticed a simultaneous – and symbiotic – shift as consumers adopt social media. Why? In a word, engagement. Social media gives communities a way to be, well, communities. It enables discussion, debate, questions and all the other things that make human beings social animals. Of course it is all about getting the right message, to the right audience, though the right medium. Thanks for the thought provoking post.

  48. Ahh, reading the content shock post and then reading this post was like a roller-coaster ride. I’m clearly tied to my existing content process, and we do invest actual dollars (not just time) into our weekly video trainings.

    And I totally agree Sonia, it’s all about raising the bar and creating truly high quality content. There’s definitely a “cream rises to the top” effect in the works, there.

  49. Hear hear Sonia. I started something called the Slow Content Movement last year as part of our blogging on thought leadership and content and your views espoused here dovetail beautifully with what we’ve been saying over the past few months. I think you’ve just said it better.
    Thanks

  50. Content Marketing is king of Digital Marketing Google said that one in last year 2013.if Content is dead then Google play important role to given page ranks based on quality of website.Thank you posting this article.

  51. I know I’m late to the game here, but I think part of what makes content over saturation seem like an issue to those of us in the marketing industry is because within the marketing industry, there is a TON of content (good and bad).

    There are still a lot of industries, in a particular those dominated by smaller businesses or that are very specialized, that don’t have nearly the glut of content that exists in marketing. That will become less and less the case over time though.

    I also think you can’t overemphasize the importance of promotion! It’s a skill I know I need to get better at as a writer, both for my clients and my own business (thanks for the link). It’s just so time and energy-consuming to do it well, it’s hard to give it the priority it deserves.

  52. Google is improving its technics step by step. I quess the problem of filtering out the complete spamsites will never be completely realised. We`ll just have to await the improvements one by one.

  53. Hi Sonia,

    This is a helpful article for me, I really appreciate you efforts :)

  54. The original Content Shock post generated so much discussion around the web that I could not possibly respond to each post point-by-point. Instead, I consolidated my responses into one post which can be found here:

    http://www.businessesgrow.com/2014/01/27/best-content-rise-top/

    Specifically, I addressed the notion of creating “rainmaking” content as a sustainable strategy and the problem of content discovery which seems to be ignored in this post and by others in the “be amazing” camp. I don’t think any experienced marketer can seriously believe that “Great content always wins. End of story.” It is so much more complex than that.

    Thank you for continuing the conversation and the well-written post Sonia.

  55. With all the content that is out there I think I’d be usefull to get some of it out.. There’s no plase for mideoker or spam content.. Thank u for the post and great comment everyone.

  56. There will be no Content Shock, which is a new label for information overload.

  57. You approach a “content cliff” only when your audience is not in tune with your ever-evolving content. So the trick is in evolving the audience as well as your content. You cannot divorce one from the other. Be sensitive to audience needs and your content will never collapse. Go around building an audience that can understand your content. Work on your audiences mind as well as your content. A lot of energy will have to go into it. Like not throwing pearls of wisdom before a hog, but intelligent and aware people. You’ll suddenly find there is no noise to rise above or no cutting through the clutter. A lot of energy will be saved too, not just expended. Good luck to all of us to talking to a society that is always sustainable!