Content marketing success and the crappy quality myth

content marketing success

By Mark Schaefer

Here is the ultimate sign that some people are drinking too much of the content marketing Kool-Aid. A Facebook post like this:

“The problem with content marketing isn’t that there’s too much content, it’s that there is too much crappy content.”

I see this sentiment expressed ALL THE TIME and frankly it just aggravates me off when people assume that when companies aren’t successful with their marketing, it’s because they’re producing “crappy content.” Says who?

Quality content is simply the stakes to get a seat at the table today. It does NOT assure triumph. Digital marketing success requires a complex cocktail of skill, strategy, and persistence. Here are a few examples that prove that “great quality” assures nothing

Case study one: Authority and audience

I had a friend who has been struggling with her blog. She is super-smart and an excellent writer but has been treading water in the very saturated SEO content niche.

On one blog post, she received almost no social shares or comments. But when she submitted the exact same article to TechCrunch, it went viral. The post was shared nearly 3,000 times and received dozens of comments.

This would be a sign that it was an EXCELLENT article. Yet it languished on her blog. Her success ultimately resulted from the fact that TechCrunch has a much higher readership and higher domain authority than her blog. It may take many years for my friend to accomplish that on her own. in this case, here great content is getting submerged in an over-loaded niche.

Case study two: When quality doesn’t matter

In 2014, the fans of Social Media Examiner voted Buffer’s blog as their favorite social media blog in the world (the blog you are reading was voted number two). This stellar award would be an indicator of consistent, excellent content, right? And yet less than a year later, the company revealed that it was struggling with its blog.

Buffer, a company that specializes in social sharing, reported that despite efforts at producing consistent, unique and useful content, their social referral traffic dropped by 50 percent in just 12 months.

Following this stunning revelation, BuzzSumo reported an even more somber view of the situation. It revealed that for even the most respected content sites on the planet — including Social Media Examiner, Copyblogger, and MOZ — social shares of content had also plummeted very rapidly in the same timeframe.

The content on these sites is best-in-class. What in the world is going on here?

Content Shock, baby

In 2014 I wrote a post predicting this outfall called Content Shock: Why content marketing may not be a sustainable strategy (for some businesses).

I applied basic economic principles to content and surmised that something was going to have to give. As the level of content rises and the attention of readers is “fixed” (there are only 24 hours in a day) the cost of producing successful content would have to go up. Either you would have to invest in better quality or pay for promotion, or both. And even that may not be enough. This cycle would continue until some people could simply no longer compete.

This is exactly what is happening.

Here is a very powerful chart shared by Michael Stelzner in his keynote talk at Social Media Marketing World 2017:

content marketing success 2

We see that despite a 47 percent increase in fans, the company experienced a 63% decline in Facebook page views. Of course Content Shock does not impact every industry at the same time, or in the same way, but it is certainly a force that we can observe happening right before our eyes.

I recently passed along a story noting that it was getting increasingly difficult to get my posts accepted by The Harvard Business Review. My editor noted that the level of content creation she is dealing with has gone haywire, increasing the competition for what will get published. She said that a post I wrote last year may not make the cut this year, for example.

The reason I am not getting published is not crappy content. It’s intensified competition. Will I be able to overcome that? At what cost? Maybe it’s time for me to drop out of the competition and pursue another channel.

Similarly, “crappy content” was not the reason my blogger friend failed or why Buffer’s audience was slipping, or why the traffic is so off at Social Media Examiner. In fact. the content in all these examples is very, very good.

The idea that marketers are failing because of “crappy content” is a lie. These companies — and perhaps most companies — are struggling to succeed even with superb content.

What does it take to succeed?

The value of content marketing does not come from “great content.” It comes from the transmission of content. The economic value of content that is not seen and shared is zero. In my book The Content Code I spell out the options for breaking through, assuming you’re putting out a quality product in the first place:

  • You can work on your brand to improve awareness and social sharing.
  • You can focus on audience development, particularly the audience that shares your content the most.
  • You can work with influencers to ignite your content.
  • You can develop new distribution channels (like publishing in a trade journal or on LinkedIn)
  • You can improve your domain authority so your content gets discovered more easily through search (but this may take years to accomplish)
  • You can work on tactics that help your content get shared more often like creating better headlines, writing about current trends and research, or creating an emotional appeal (there are 25 such tips in my book)
  • You can leverage symbols of social proof like testimonies and awards.

You don’t have to do all of these things, but they are all ingredients of this success recipe.

So it just aggravates me to no end when some guru assumes that somebody’s lack of success is “crappy content.” This is just disrespectful and untrue. Most of the people I know in this field are working their butts off to win this war for attention and they’re still struggling to cut through the rising tide of noise.

OK, rant over. I feel much better now. Please add your thoughts in the comment section, won’t you?

SXSW 2016 3Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

Illustration courtesy Flickr CC and Pedro Ribeiro Simões

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