We’ve Reached Peak Content – So What’s Next?

Photographed by Dominic Loneragan. Please Credit Dominic Loneragan.

There are not enough human attention minutes to warrant all the content produced. But what are marketers to do about it, asks Storyation’s Head of Content Lauren Quaintance?

Lauren Quaintance
Posted by Lauren Quaintance

Before there was content there was journalism. For much of the two decades that I worked for media companies we had the luxury of a captive audience who had very little choice about how – and where – they got their information.

One of my old bosses at Fairfax Media, the incomparable Jack Matthews, used to talk about this pre-digital period as an age of scarcity. A few large publishers owned the multi-million dollar printing presses which gave them a monopoly on distribution.

The amount of content and the advertising inventory was finite and that (helpfully) kept prices high. And then technology changed everything.

If the analog age was one of scarcity then the digital age is one of abundance. The barrier to entry is so low that literally anyone with a computer can be a publisher. Media companies are trapped in a frantic race for attention churning out hundreds of pieces of content a day with fewer and fewer staff.

BuzzFeed produces more than 200 stories per day and rising while the Huffington Post floods the internet with 1200 pieces of content every day.

If publishers are trapped in a volume game, then it seems like brands have blindly followed suit. Recent TrackMaven analysis of 50 million pieces of marketing content from 22,567 brands found that in 2015 content output per brand increased 35 per cent. Crucially, though, over the same period engagement dropped by 17 per cent. An earlier study from BuzzSumo showed that 50 per cent of content gets 8 shares or less and 75 per cent gets zero links.

All of which supports the idea that we have reached “peak content” – the point at which the volume of content outstrips consumer demand. There are literally not enough human attention minutes to warrant the billions of pieces of content produced every day.

Peak content isn’t a new idea, but fewer people are talking about what marketers can do to address it. It’s obvious enough that the focus needs to shift from quantity to quality but what exactly does that mean?

At its heart content marketing is a value exchange. How do marketers produce content that is so good, so original and so useful that the audience will spend time with it instead of taking a bath or going for a run (or any of the other things human beings like to do?)

Carve out an ownable position

Too few brands spend enough time defining what subjects they can own. Just because you sell travel insurance doesn’t mean that you should start dishing out advice on where to go on holiday. You may not be a credible source and you’ll face stiff competition from other publishers across the web.

Figure out what it is that you can legitimately talk about that lines up with your brand purpose and make sure it’s a position you can own.

Find a unique angle on an old topic

There are no new topics in the world, just new angles. Sadly, sometimes content marketers don’t know the difference which means their content can be generic. Without an angle you won’t have title that will inspire anyone to spend those limited attention minutes.

Topic: A guide to getting a mortgage. (“I think I’ll take a bath instead of reading this.”) Angle: Six Mistakes Home Buyers Make Again and Again. (“I might just have a quick look at this.”)

Don’t interview your typewriter

The kind of content that will quickly sink is the kind that is thinly researched. Use journalists, not copywriters, and make sure that your articles reference sources and studies and include interviews and case studies.

Too often brands are, to use an old journalism expression, “interviewing their typewriter” and writing posts that are little more than common sense.

Consider going long and wide and deep

Long form content won’t be right for every kind of piece but it’s a great way to create something with real utility around a complex topic. This might be an eBook around a B2B topic such as Social Selling for Small Business or it could be the Ultimate Guide to Home Renovation for consumers.

And longer content gets better search results with stories over 2,000 words featuring more often in the top 10 results of search queries.

Finally, it goes without saying that you need to invest in an amplification strategy. In the age of abundance there is no room for hoping your content will be found. Even the best performing content has often had a kick start with a highly targeted paid campaign.

So while “peak content” might sound cataclysmic for content marketers it’s really just a timely reminder to focus on the value exchange between you and your audience. If the audience is sacrificing their precious attention time – what are you offering in return?

Lauren Quaintance is co-founder and head of content for Storyation