Marketers who are far smarter than I am have talked a lot about “content shock.” The idea is that content creators keep churning out more and more content, but readers have the same limited time and attention to consume it. It’s simple supply and demand: Supply increases, demand stays the same, and content gets devalued.
It’s definitely true that there is more content out there than ever before. And over 75% of B2B and B2C marketers plan to create more this year than they did last year. So the amount of content will only increase over time.
The question, though, is whether the rules of supply and demand apply to all content equally.
To answer that question, let’s look at a similar problem facing a different industry: mobile gaming. There are thousands of free-to-play mobile games on the market. There are dozens more being added every day. There are already far more than anyone could play in a single lifetime. As with marketing content, each game is competing for the same limited amount of audience attention.
In an environment that crowded, it seems like no one in their right mind would sink massive amounts of resources into a new game. What could such a game really be worth to a business in 2016?
If you’re Nintendo, the answer is $7.5 billion. That’s the value added to the company’s stock after one week of Pokémon Go. Hundreds of thousands of people are playing it. News organizations can’t stop talking about it. It’s a genuine runaway hit. Nintendo came into the crowded market and made its own space.
It turns out that the law of supply and demand doesn’t apply universally for mobile games. And the same is true for content.
Because, here’s the deal: there has never been a demand for “content.”
Content Is Not a Commodity
There is no demand for content, because that would imply content is a commodity. You can say there is a rise or fall in demand for something like, say, soybeans. One bean is pretty much identical to another. You either want them or you don’t.
When we say supply far outstrips demand for content, that statement only applies to content created and treated like a commodity. Soybean content. Featureless. Interchangeable. Bland. Of questionable purpose.
Think of it this way: If we are truly at peak content, why are people still using search engines? There’s more content out there than people can read in a lifetime. There’s no room for new content. So why are people still looking?
The problem isn’t that we’re somehow supplying too much of what our audience demands. They’re not satiated. They’re not gorged on so much useful content that they couldn’t eat another bite.
The problem is that we fail to supply what our audience demands. And when they ignore what they never asked for, we say, “There’s just too much content out there. They must be full.”
What Audiences Demand Instead of Content
We’re not allowed to shrug our shoulders and give up on creating content. We need to find out what our audience actually needs and address it. We need to create content that has its own built-in demand.
So what are people actually saying when we hear, “I want content?” Here are a few possibilities:
“Help me understand this.”
Create content that fills a knowledge gap and demonstrates your brand’s thought leadership. Rand Fishkin (my favorite marketer with a Star Wars name) and the crew on the Moz blog are champions at this kind of content. They regularly explain highly technical stuff in a way even I can understand it, like in this recent Whiteboard Friday video:
“Help me do this.”
Create content that walks through a complicated process step-by-step, or gives tips to improve the reader’s life in a specific way. Neil Patel is a stone-cold master at this type of content. His how-to guides go deep into every aspect of the topic he’s tackling, with visual aids and examples galore. His topics range from nuts-and-bolts technical stuff to more intangible topics like, “How to Ethically Use Your Customer’s Pain as a Powerful Marketing Tactic.”
“Help me be a better version of myself.”
Create content that inspires and affects your audience’s life beyond just their interaction with your product. Content that takes a stand, that seeks to make the world a better place. My go-to example for inspirational content is the Always: Like a Girl campaign. Its message is individual and societal, relevant to the products they sell, but completely devoid of sales-y content. It always makes me tear up a little.
“Help me make a purchase decision.”
Yes, there is demand for bottom-of-funnel content, just not as much for the other categories. So it’s important to create content for it; just don’t make it your only focus.
Find Out What Your Specific Audience Needs
To avoid adding to the vast warehouses of soybean content out there, find out what ways your audience is asking for help.
Social media, and the internet at large, give you a closer connection to your audience than ever before. So before you talk, listen:
- Check Google Keywords and search autocomplete
- Use com to get questions your brand can answer
- Sample the conversation in LinkedIn and Facebook groups for your target audience
- Read high-performing content from competitors. See how you can do it better, and look for topics that don’t have enough coverage
Content Can Be King or Commodity – It’s About Strategy
It’s true there is a glut of content out there. So it’s important to listen to what your audience demands, create accordingly, and promote strategically.
That’s the only way to get beat the economics of content supply and demand—produce the kind of content that can’t be measured in bulk.