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The “Death of Content Marketing” Controversy

The “Death of Content Marketing” Controversy

The brouhaha surrounding the recent blog post by Mark Schaefer about “Content Shock” pushed me to finally write this post. I’ve been holding off some time, mostly because I didn’t want to be accused of being a “Negative Nancy.”

People in sales (and, to a lesser extent, marketing) tend to immerse themselves in a cult of positivity, most likely because it’s so damn hard for many salespeople to keep plugging away every day, facing frustration and rejection. When you spend much of your day hearing “No!” it’s probably not a bad idea to surround yourself with people who constantly say “Yes, you can!”

I’ve run into much of the same positivity in the inbound marketing community, particularly the community around HubSpot. Sometimes, I have this perverse image in my mind of HubSpot’s employees waking up grinning ear to ear in absolute freaking joy at the prospect of another day at HubSpot. But it’s very hard to have a conversation with them about a subject they perceive as negative.

Me, I’m more of a pragmatist. I’m old enough to have experienced several cycles of business success and failure, and I know that positive thinking and good, old, stick-to-it attitude won’t always carry the day. Sometimes, shit happens, regardless of how positive you are.

Content marketing—an essential part of inbound marketing—is changing, and not necessarily for the better. Is this a negative opinion? Maybe, but negative events happen and you must recognize and deal with them.

I believe it’s important to have these conversations for the sake of our own efforts and for those of our clients. Refusing to address so-called “negative” issues is naïve and even dangerous.

Changes in online marketing are inevitable. How you react to them isn’t.

Introducing “Content Shock”

Mark Schaefer published a blog post last week (January 6, 2014) titled Content Shock where he described a tipping point whereby content marketing would no longer be an economically sustainable strategy for many businesses.

His post set off hundreds of comments, blog post rebuttals by Shel Holz and Copyblogger, a podcast rebuttal by Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose and at least five more-or-less supportive blog posts by Mark himself, Jay Baer, Christopher Penn and Geoff Livingston.

Mark’s premise is that content production is increasing faster than the rate of content consumption. He defines Content Shock as

“The emerging marketing epoch defined when exponentially increasing volumes of content intersect our limited human capacity to consume it.”

Mark uses the chart below (taken from his blog post) to demonstrate this concept.

Economics of Content

Chart from Mark Schaefer’s blog post

The result, according to Mark, means that small content creators (solopreneurs and very small businesses, for example) must devote more time and/or money to create quality content to keep up. But trying to compete against larger businesses with deeper pockets who are generating increasing amounts of quality content is not economically feasible for these very small businesses.

At some point, the cost of creating increasing levels of new content will exceed the monetary benefit of new business attracted by this content. Mark likens creating content to attract new business as “paying people to read your content.”

For businesses just starting with content marketing, the cost of building an audience might present too high a barrier for many to overcome. It’s much harder today to attract readers to a new blog.

He concludes by saying that he doesn’t believe content marketing is over. How content shock affects businesses will vary. Not all will feel the pain immediately, depending on factors like their business niche.

The 277 comments (as of 9PM last night) make for even more interesting reading. Commenters seem to run the gamut from “Mark has a valid point” to “Mark is way off base and being unnecessarily alarmist.”

Go read them for yourself. You’ll find plenty of thought-provoking material.

How Does Content Shock Affect You?

My own take is that Mark has a valid point—if you look at content marketing purely as a lead-generation tool. I, too, believe that it’s getting harder for very small businesses to succeed in niches where competitors are better funded or where simply too many people are producing quality content.

However, I don’t believe Content Shock is reason to stop producing content and I don’t think Mark does, either. If anything, the rise of content marketing has upped the game for anyone maintaining an online presence.

Back in the latter half of the 1990s, just having a website gave you a leg up on the competition. Now, everyone has a website. And having a “brochureware” website is NOT a competitive advantage.

Prospects and customers (your audience) expect to find your website useful—and that means good content. Content in this case means anything prospects might need to help them research a product or service they need to solve a problem, to determining who to buy it from (hopefully, you). an intelligent buying solution. In the case of customers, they want answers about how to use your products, how to fix a problem with your product, or to connect with a larger community of fellow users.

This is nothing new to those of you already experienced in content marketing.

But for those who question the value of launching a new content marketing program or who think it’s all totally hopeless, so why bother, here are my initial thoughts on the subject.

If nothing else, quality content creates a better impression with prospects and customers who visit your website. It makes your business appear more substantial and credible.

But what if you generate most of your business from referrals?

Business by referral makes quality content even more critical. A referral is a powerful inducement, but no one with half a brain would do business with someone without at least checking the website. Case studies, white papers, ebooks, plus thoughtful and useful blog posts, all create a strong aura of credibility about you and your business.

This content also helps with lead nurturing, one of the key stages of a inbound marketing program. Even if you don’t rely on content alone to drive traffic to your website, content is crucial as part of lead nurturing.

I’m going to dig more into this subject in my next blog post and offer some constructive suggestions.

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