The word "content" might just be the most ambiguous term to enter twenty-first century marketing vernacular. What exactly is content? Is it an article? A video? An infographic? A game? A quiz? A web page?
The answer is all of the above. The word "content" has transcended its traditional definition, where it describes "the things that are held or included in something" to its most recent incarnation, meaning any "information made available by a website or electronic medium."
This is hardly surprising, since these days so-called "content" is everywhere you turn. The email and social media accounts of consumers are flooded with how-to guides, top tips, and listicles on a minute-by-minute basis. Why? Because the very marketers who are sending them have been conditioned to believe -- through this exact same type of content -- that timeliness and volume are key to a successful content strategy. But for many brands, this might just be their downfall.
A focus on quantity over quality
The fundamental idea of content marketing works. It has staying power because its foundations are built on growing trust -- consumers don't purchase your products until you've earned their trust, and content is an effective way of building confidence in your brand.
The overarching goal of content marketing is for brands to understand their customers' problems and pain points and produce content accordingly. But in the race to produce this content, the underlying purpose seems to have been overshadowed. That is, providing genuine value.
Oftentimes, it's clear that brands are simply using content as a means of promoting their product or boosting their SEO. The result of which is in an influx of content that's ill-thought-out, unengaging, and rife with self-promotion. In fact, the phrase "feeding the beast" has even been used in association with content marketing.
In this article by the Content Marketing Institute, it states that those familiar with the "content beast" will know that it is "always hungry for content -- blog posts, podcasts, tweets, eBooks, press releases, videos; it will eat anything you give it and, even worse, as soon as you feed it, it becomes hungry again. It has a high metabolism."
This kind of mindset is only fueling the flames of the quantity-over-quality fire.
In the rush to become publishers, businesses are neglecting their roles as editors. Many of them are lacking a quality filter and, as a result, publishing content that's more about the brand than its audience.
Distribution: the missing piece of the puzzle
There are many practitioners of content marketing that advocate the "80/20 rule" -- a popular logic that recommends brands spend 20 percent of their time creating content, and the rest of their time promoting it. These days, however, it's not unheard of for marketers to use this rule in reverse -- that is, they may be spending 80 percent of their time on content creation and just 20 percent distributing it. Then, when they don't see the results they were hoping for, they simply ramp up production to pick up the slack, failing to address the root cause of the problem: content amplification (or lack thereof).
In days gone by, content distribution was simple. Social media offered massive organic reach and SEO was uncomplicated. Fast forward to today, and things aren't so easy. SEO takes six months to produce noticeable results (12 months to generate impactful results), and Facebook no longer shows users your content unless you pay. As a result, paid distribution channels are exploding.
Effective content strategies recognize that there are two components of content marketing: there's the content itself, and then the marketing of it. Paid amplification channels help marketers ensure their content gets read and doesn't fall on deaf ears. That's because most paid distribution channels allow advertisers to cherry pick only the audiences that fit their target demographic. After all, it's not only about reaching more people, it's also about reaching the right people.
But of course, the problem of content quality remains. You might have the most effective amplification channel, but there's no point in paying to disseminate a message when no one wants to read it.
When it comes down to it, people like to consume content that feeds their self-interest. Informative, educational pieces are undoubtedly useful, but the types of content that tend to perform best are those that are incredibly user-oriented. That's because we as consumers care just as much about being fulfilled as we do being informed.
Today's audiences invest their precious time on content that uplifts them, reinforces their beliefs, makes them feel in control, better equipped to do their jobs, and inspires them. They want content from thought-leaders that provides actionable advice, tools and resources to help them in both their professional and personal lives.
So, as the volume of content being produced online continues to grow, perhaps brands should be focusing not only on educating potential customers on their product or industry, but also on creating content that makes their customers feel content. And in this instance, we're using the same word but in a whole new context -- we're using it to mean "a state of satisfaction."
If you can make your customers feel prepared, in the know, and confident in their abilities, you'll be arousing a sense of contentment. And if consumers associate genuine contentment with your brand, it's worth a whole lot more than relentlessly churning out massive volumes of meaningless content which, at its core, is really only about self-promotion.
This means that, in order to provide true value and break through the noise, marketers need to make the shift from "content marketing" to "contentment marketing."