Sometimes we can learn as much from what the experts do, and how they do it, as we can from what they say.
Mark Schaefer wrote an article about “content shock” that caused quite a buzz in the content marketing community.
What can we learn from what Mark Schaefer did?
On top of learning from what Mark Scheafer says (which is little as it relates to content shock), I think we can learn how to execute content marketing from Mark Schaefer’s approach, if your goal is to get shared and go viral, not to create content worth reading.
The title of Mark’s article on “content shock” is, “Content Shock: Why content marketing is not a sustainable strategy”.
Think, for just a moment, about how those words would affect the community of content marketers at large. It is controversial, to some degree shocking, and probably sent a few thousand content marketers running to the nearest bottle of Scotch to calm their nerves.
Just check out the Who’s Who of experts who drafted a response to Marks Article. Can you imagine what this does for his link authority? Can you imagine for a moment if any of these same people,or the inlfuencers in your industry, wrote an article about you?
What’s ironic is that this type of shock and awe is precisely the reason that the world is inundated with lousy content.
What can we learn from what Mark Schaefer said in his article?
I got introduced to Mark, indirectly, when I was having a private exchange with Marcus Sheridan. Marcus used the public debate about “content shock” as an example of content he thought was intellectually enriching.
I thought, “what the heck is content shock?” I am just starting to walk and chew gum in the content marketing arena, and now it’s headed for a shock? Now I need the Scotch!
So, I checked out the article, and the buzz surrounding it, because I was too curious not to.
With that, I read Mark’s article three times, plus comments. I read Marcus Sheridan’s response, three times, plus comments. Then I read Mark’s response article, “Six Arguments Against Content Shock” twice, but didn’t have time for the comments. I then went on to read Shel Holtz’s article on the same subject, “Six Reasons There Will Be No Conent Shock” .
I took a bunch of notes, but more than anything else, I wrote down a bunch of questions.
First, I think the entire concept of Content Shock is crap. No such thing. Not going to happen. Ever.
That said, my goal in all of this is to learn, and get better at helping my clients. As such, it is important to take a critical look at the concept itself, to make sure we better understand both sides of the assertion.
I asked a bunch of questions and aggregated them into the following few. I then tried to answer them as best I could. The questions are not in any specific order. Sorry about that.
- Is economic supply and demand really the right model for this discussion?
- Do people really demand content, or do they demand products and services?
- Couldn’t content and content marketers be compared to authors and books, artists and artwork, musicians and music?
- Is content marketing a strategy or is it a tactic?
- Does content marketing really need to have it’s own label?
- What is the true purpose of content?
- Doesn’t the suggestion that deep pockets win imply that content is a commodity?
- If and when the cost of creating content exceeds the value it delivers, than isn’t that a sign that content is no longer the way to get it done?
It occurred to me as I was reading the articles, that there might be a problem with using the economic supply and demand model for content, particularly if you treat content like an actual good, and define it using one category.
Within ecomomic analysis, there are a number of market systems including Perfect Competition, Monopolistic Competition, Oligopolies, a Monopsony and pure Monopolies. Each is used to analyze different markets for different categoreies of goods and services, in different economic models.
So, to me, content really is not a category itself. It is a heading under which multiple categories exist. Each of those categories could have a different economic model applied.
To illustrate this, we can use the case of people like Marcus and Mark. Because of the nature of their business model, you might chose to define and analyze their “market” as an Oligopoly, where there are a few suppliers creating content for the masses. Barrier to entry is really high. The little guy is probably not served trying to compete, on the terms set by the assumed market.
Or, in the case of the types of clients I serve dentists and other professionals, you might chose the Perfect Competition market in that there are a bunch of small suppliers basically providing the same type of content to the masses, where even though there is room for better content, there is also room for a lot of content suppliers, and so the barriers to entry are not so high.
This is not to say that content is ever perfectly competitive. It is to draw attention to the system itself, and the fact that different systems are used for different categories.
Since I don’t really think of content marketing as a market, as much as a tactic, I dont think any economic model applies.
So to say content in general will reach a saturation point, implies that all content is treated equally, like say a coffee bean. Because you can’t really reach a general saturation point if you conclude that content itself can be broken down into multiple sub categories, each with a different purpose, each with a different target audience, and each could possibly have its own saturation point.
However, all of this this applies ONLY if you consider content itself the object of demand. Like I said, I do not.
My understanding thus far in my journey to comprehend this stuff, is that content itself is not what people demand. People demand products and services, and use content to make decisions as to what to buy.
To Marcus Sheridan’s point, content is a vehicle used to create leads and acquire customers. It is not an ends really, but a means to an end. This means that while it’s true that content is a SEO tool, it is also a sales too. If we stop proclaiming that content is used for the sole purpose of getting found, than saturation becomes a non issue, because the content can be used for a bunch of different things.
Content is also not perishable, like an apple or fish. So it can exist, until the time it is needed, or when actual demand for the product or service exists. In that sense, ONE company or a group of big companies CANNOT control supply and demand because they don’t sell every product or service. Plus, demand is as needed, so supply needs to be there, at all times, to satisfy the need.
So, I don’t view content, from every angle, as the primary source of demand.
However, if we do consider content to be the product itself, than I think we have to consider it in the same category as that produced by an artist, an author or a musician.
Couldn’t content and content marketers be compared to authors and books, artists and artwork, musicians and music?
If we assume that content is indeed what is in demand, than instead of comparing content to something like a food product or a coffee shop, where people have a particular taste and brand preference, we could compare it to art, books and songs.
If we are to believe that there is a saturation point heading our way, than I think we also would conclude that there will come a time when we cannot read anymore books, appreciate any more art or listen to any new songs. That is kinda silly in general categories, but maybe not so silly in specific categories.
To illustrate, we can look to a particular artist, say Stevie Ray Vaughn. SRV has a unique style. It is actually very plausible that the market could reach a saturation point for the SRV sound, but certainly NOT for additional artists in the blues genre, as long as , the artist has the ability to atrract an audience. The point is, and I actually think Mark is making the same point, that saturation occurs when people need something new. But my contention is that this phenomenon is not new to us. It is very common and should therfore not sacre you.
But since I am not convinced that marketing content is the actual source of demand, we have to wonder whether the concern for content shock is warranted, based on my view that content is more of a tactic that a strategy itself.
To me, effective sales and marketing is whatever you need to do to get the job done, as long as you have the resources to do it. No one tactic should be considered above all others, until you have exahausted the possibilites of every tactic to enhance your performance.
What this means is that there is a right place and time for any and all tactics, provided the tactics help you achieve your objectives, and you can be profitable using them. With this way of thinking, the notion that content marketing could diminished in it’s ability to produce results is not a scary notion. Why?
Well, like anything else in the course of the history of commerce, things work, than they don’t so you move on to what does.
An example of this is the use of door to door salesman. To my knowledge, there is only one Fuller Brush salesman alive in the world today, and he is not very successful at what he does, but he still does it to keep himself busy. At one time however, door to door was THE way to sell Fuller Brush products.
Wouldn’t it be silly today to insist on using the door to door method because you call yourself a “door to door salesman”? Yes, that would be silly. It would be ludicrous. Because it is a tactic that doesn’t work any more.
Door to door didn’t dissolve because of saturation. It went away because it became a unsuccessful way to sell stuff. Why did this happen? Because buyers shifted their preferences in the way that they shop and buy, due in large part because of innovations in the way companies maet and sell.
If content marketing, in one form or another, ceases to be effective at selling stuff, then it has to go away. Not because it is a strategy that failed, but because it is a tactic that no longer can be used to help us reach our goals.
This is shocking to us? I don’t think so.
That said, I don’t think content is going away, because content has ALWAYS been here in one form or another. Buyers need content, not matter the form, to make informed decisions. So does it really matter that we can’t consume it all?
I don’t believe we are limited in our ability to digest content, only in the amount of time we have to do so.
Here is a really good article written by Shel Holtz re the myth of information overload. The summary conclusion, people like new stuff, so they will continue to consume it, based on their tastes and preferences.
But I don’t any of it matters, because I don’t believe content is the actual object in demand. I think we demand stuff, and we look for content to help us make decisions. That content, much like a library, is there for us when we need it.
It is not a perishable so we do not have to consume now. Plus, we need different content for different decisions.
The only model that I could understand becoming saturated would be in a competitive situation where content creators are fighting it out for the attention of one audience. So, if your goal is to be Seth Godin, then yes, there could be a saturation problem, because Seth beat you to the punch. This is exactly the same argument that a business consultant might use if a client had a soft drink formula that they thought could compete with coke.
In a pure product model, it makes sense to proceed with caution.
But again, since I don’t see content as the object of demand, I still am not convinced that the model applies, and therefore, content shock to me, becomes a nonissue.
To me, it seems counterproductive to label things like Inbound Marketing, Content Marketing, Mobile Marketing etc etc. Marketing is marketing. Labeling serves two functions. One, the label defines the tactic itself. Two, the label helps define a role or a niche, which is important ONLY if you work in a large company with defined roles, or you have branded yourself as a “Content Marketer”.
Both are fine, but neither has an impact on the truth. It’s just another tactic.
We can’t let the label distract us from the main objective, getting the attention of people, getting them to like us, getting them to trust us, so they chose us. Whatever it takes to do this, is whatever you need to do to get it done. If Content Marketing as a tactic ceases to get it done, profitably, then it has to go away.
Basic economics, profit and loss math, mandates it so, not me.
So, why have this debate in the first place? For that, you need to consider the purpose of content all together.
There is really no one true purpose of content. The purpose, to me, is defined by the situation of the creator and that of the audience. You create what people want or need to consume. From this perspective, it is actually no different than a consumer goods product. But that is as far as I go with the similarity.
Mark Schaefer clearly is a thought leader. He is concerned about his audience, because his audience is an essential component of his formula for success. Although, looking at Mark’s services, it does appear that he makes money doing something other than creating content.
So I would question, much like Marcus Sheridan did, that there even needs to be a fear of losing an audience.
For me, content is a way to help the people I serve, get found to some degree, validate my credentials when I am referred by others and provide me a way to express my thoughts and opinions. I am not in a content competition with Mark Schaefer, or Marcus Sheridan. I am in competition with those that do what I do. To that end, I completely agree with Mark Schaefer about stepping up your game. But as it applies to EVERYTHING I do, not just content marketing.
So, if content happened to become an unprofitable way for me to acquire and serve my clients, than I would stop doing it. Because I am not married to the label “Content Marketer” I am married to the label, “Do Whatever it Takes to Help My Clients Grow”.
Does any of this mean that the big companies are going to take over your place in the content space?
In Mark’s follow up to his original article, “Six Arguments Against Content Shock” , he provides us more value than he did in his original article. Why? Because he tells us what he meant, and gives us more supporting examples for his assertion.
But I still have questions.
For example, the deep pockets win concerns me a bit. Mark uses TV as an example. But I am not certain it is the right example.
Because I don’t view content as the primary source of demand, but instead as resource used by people wanting to make informed choices, until one company or a few companies can provide all the goods and services demanded by buyers, there is no risk of content shock.
The only concern is, as I said previously, if your content IS your product.
Well, sadly, no matter your industry, changes occur, adjustments have to be made, and you have to compete. So if you find yourself in a content marketplace that CAN be dominated by deep pockets, then sure, you might run into a shock point.
However, if you use content to support buying decisions, than there is nothing shocking at all about the useful life of a competitive tactic. Your content will “work” as long as it works.
In fact, to Mark’s point regarding Marcus Sheridan and the pool installation business, you may not be able to “compete” with Marcus in the area he has covered, if, you are a pool guy and believe content is your competitive strategy.
I would contend that it is the wrong strategy. That a better strategy would be to find strength of yours and a weakness of Marcus’s and exploit both. And in fact, you will need content to support the exploitation.
But to consider content saturation a strategy in and of itself is making the assumption that everyone who wants a pool likes Marcus, and his content.
Now, Marcus might always dominate with market share, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t share left for the rest.
But business decisions are not made based on tactics alone. They are made based on profit and loss goals and objectives, and the ability to continue as a going concern.
If and when the cost of creating content exceeds the value it delivers, than isn’t that a sign that content is no longer the way to get it done?
I am probably repeating myself here, but this is common sense profit vs loss stuff here. If using content to make money becomes an unprofitable tactic, than stop using content to make money, because you are not making money using content.
DUH. Sorry, but that is seriously how I feel about it. No offense intended.
I think this speaks more to a perspective on content marketing than the reality that content shock is coming. If you view content as a consumable product supply, and as the primary surce of demand, then sure, content shock is a possibility.
However, even in this case, where you believe content is what is in demand, than you are no different than a songwriter who writes songs for a living. I have never heard that we have a surplus of songs to listen to. The world can always use another song.
But, just like the music industry, there is competition. So, the market will indeed determine if you can make your living creating content, just they determine if a song writer can earn money in the music business.
If, however, you view content as a means to an end, and not the end itself, than content shock is simply not a possibility, and therefore nothing to be anxious about.
- Determine what your goals are, then determine if content marketing can help you achieve them.
- Don’t get married to tactics, get married to results. You will make better decisions if you do.
- Find out what your target audience wants and needs, and give it to them. Whatever form it takes.
- Use guys like Mark Schaefer as a model to execute your own content marketing plan, if all you want to do is grow your following, vs, becoming someone WORTH following.
I am glad I was introduced to Mark Schaefer. It gave me a benchmark to compare good blogs against those that essentially work to create shock and awe. My advice would be to stay away from the shock blogs.
Content marketing is no different than any other business tactic used over the years. When it reaches a point of ineffectiveness, it will change or go away. This is absolutely NO different than any other tactic in the history of commerce and marketing.
For those I serve, you can certainly learn from these types of articles, but don’t let them “shock” you. At the end of the day, all you need to concern yourself with is that which will help you get the job done. Plain and simple. Yes, you need to pay attention to trend setters like Mark, but repond with caution to what you read. If it doesn’t impact you, ignore it.
“Six Reasons There Will Be No Conent Shock” – Shel Holtz
“Content Marketing Controversy: Is Content Shock Real?” – Andrew Shulkind
“Content – Go BIG or Go Home” – Ana Hoffman