Content marketing overload is real. In fact, you’re probably suffering from it right now. People are weary of the plethora of content they are exposed to and have started to tune it out. Marketers are tired of investing time and energy into content creation, yet seeing little to no return on it.
Mark Schaefer calls the phenomenon “content shock,” a period “when exponentially increasing volumes of content intersect our limited human capacity to consume it […] [This] creates an ‘economic’ pressure on the system that will require adaptation and shifts from current marketing strategies.”
What are marketers to do? How can they attract customers when their customers are asked to read more content pieces than humanly possible during any given moment?
According to Schaefer’s law of content economics, the answer isn’t found in creating more content; the strategy of inundation was never a long-term or financially gainful one. The strategy of being the first to produce content in a niche industry isn’t a strategic one, either. It’s become increasingly difficult to be “first” and, once in first, to maintain that position.
The answer to attracting customers and keeping them is found in “hooks,” methods that lure your audience into consuming and sharing your content. Hooks captivate, but they need a solid foundation beneath them; hooks without a foundation are easily exposed and just as easily criticized. Hooks simply present information in an attractive, relevant and/or entertaining way. They cut through all the content cluttering the online space and “fascinate,” as national media consultant Sally Hogshead would say.
Stand out with visual media.
Visual media is the rising star of the online world – images pinned to Pinterest, photos shared on Instagram, stop motion videos uploaded on Vine and shared on Twitter, and online video found at YouTube and Vimeo.
Pew Research reports that more than half of Internet users post or share photos or videos online. Fifty-four percent of adult Internet users post their own creations, an increase from 46 percent in 2012. Forty-seven percent repost other people’s and brands’ photos and videos.
Brian Solis of Altimeter Group states:
“Visual communication is bigger than we think. It’s more than a content or marketing strategy. Visual communication starts with understanding how connected consumers discover and share. More so, it takes understanding what’s important to them, how to capture attention, and how to do something important with their attention once you have it.”
Visuals reach people in a way that other content can’t. Laura Ries, marketing consultant and author of “Visual Hammer,” says, “In a world of words, a visual hammer is the best, most effective way to get inside a consumer’s mind […] It subconsciously communicates the emotional power of your brand while also driving a verbal idea into the mind.”
Using less copy and more visuals, particularly ones with emotional resonance, can not only capture attention, but also, and perhaps more importantly, delight, inform and turn viewers into customers. Leslie Bradshaw, COO of Guide, says, “Arguably the best way to tell a story is visually. Eighty-five percent of people are more likely to buy [a] product after watching a video. Publishers who use infographics see 12 percent more traffic.”
Stand out with the Internet of Things (IoT).
Advances in technology have brought the IoT concept closer to reality. The term was first used and defined by Kevin Ashton in 1997. His goal at the time was to help with inventory management and automation through the use of RFID tags, but he saw the broader implications of his work:
“If we had computers that knew everything there was to know about things – using data they gathered without any help from us – we would be able to track and count everything, and greatly reduce waste, loss and cost. The Internet of Things has the potential to change the world, just as the Internet did.”
While IoT is in its early stages, a number of brands are already exploring the role it can play in their marketing. Macy’s, for example, uses iBeacons (Apple’s name for the micro-location technology that allows linked devices to transmit signals to each other) to offer deals and showcase items via the Shopkick app. When customers who have the app installed on their phones enter a storefront, they receive push notifications from Macy’s about items they’ve highlighted or that might be of interest to them based on their purchase histories.
iBeacons is a relatively simple example of IoT. More sophisticated examples are wearables such as the Nike+ FuelBand, Google’s contact lenses for diabetics, and Ford’s embedded sensors. While those aren’t marketing applications of IoT, a report from Morgan Stanley offers reassurance:
“Companies need to analyze and interpret the data, which we believe will drive spend on real-time and predictive analytics […] [Any] optimization suggested by the analysis has to be presented to end users for them to take action – or automatically to initiate a new process.”
Stand out with user-generated content (UGC).
Visual media is the rising star of the online world – images pinned to Pinterest, photos shared on Instagram, stopmotion videos uploaded on Vine and shared on Twitter, and online video found at YouTube and Vimeo.
UGC brings brands and consumers together, as well as consumers and their peers. The content is popular because it creates a sense of community and ownership about the brand or the larger issues it addresses. UGC is more credible because the content comes from customers, not the brand itself. Those same customers are also more inclined to share their content (rather than a brand’s) with friends.
It can also provide direction for future content and messaging. Antoine Boulin, President of Media at TechMediaNetwork, notes:
“Smart publishers have found ways to produce professional content, while also tapping their communities to enhance that content with their own. Also, more publishers now have a reputation platform in place, allowing them to surface the best UGC and gather a wealth of data on the best experts in their communities. By doing so, publishers get brand-safe material to leverage – and opportunities for new revenue in the bargain.”
Nordstrom has capitalized on UGC by bringing Pinterest full circle. The brand uses “Popular on Pinterest” tags and an iPad app inside storefronts and showcases a “Top Pinned” category on the e-commerce site. Bryan Galipeau, Nordstrom’s social media manager, says, “Our goal is to inspire customers – in the way they shop, share and pin. One of the things we love most about Pinterest is that customers can get inspired and take action on their own terms.
Instagram is another social network ideally suited to UGC, and many brands, including Starbucks and Chobani, take advantage of that fact. Other brands, like BuzzFeed and Gawker, leverage UGC content on their own sites. Visual media platforms aren’t the only ones benefitting from UGC; LinkedIn has reported an eight-fold increase in traffic to all its new products since launching “Influencers.”
Use different media sources.
Let others speak with word-of-mouth marketing.
Some of the best media is word-of-mouth marketing, or “influencer marketing.” It tends to have a strong trust factor, especially with millenials. According to a recent study by Ipsos MediaCT, Crowdtap, and the Social Media Advertising Consortium, “younger users trust content more openly when it is created by a group of their peers.”
The same study finds that millenials trust professional reviews, also known as “earned media,” which are mentions and reviews by third-party experts. According to the study, 64 percent of millenials trust professional reviews, while 68 percent trust peer reviews.
While earned media differs slightly from word-of-mouth marketing, one tends to spawn, or at least affect, the other. InPowered, a company that helps brands promote press about themselves, recently released its own findings about third-party content and user reviews. The company reports:
“Participants in the study saw third-party content as more informed and impartial than other sources of information (especially in the case of high-priced items). Branded content did perform better with products like cameras and other electronics […] User reviews, for their part, did better for products like video games and car seats where other people are seen as experts (moms trust other moms when it comes to shopping for baby).”
Engage seamlessly with sponsored content.
Native advertising, i.e., “paid” advertising, is defined by Copyblogger’s recent 2014 State of Native Advertising Report as sponsored or branded content, advertorials, in-feed ads, content widgets, product placements, and promoted posts and listings. Paul Keers offers a more in-depth definition of native advertising:
“Native advertising is the term being given to branded content placed within third-party editorial sites. It “goes native” in the sense that it’s created for its editorial surroundings; instead of a simple, sameeverywhere ad, it’s targeted content, sitting alongside the publisher’s content, but produced by brands themselves.”
An example is Captain Morgan. The brand’s sponsored content on BuzzFeed is targeted to the site’s readers; it’s pithy and accompanied by visual media. The sponsorship is also clearly delineated by the content’s byline: “Captain Morgan, Brand Publisher.”
Speak for yourself with branded content.
Branded, or “owned,” media still has a role to play. As InPowered reports, branded content can influence purchasing decisions. Nordstrom’s pins may receive a lot of attention and usergenerated commentary, but the content is Nordstrom’s. The clothing and accessories can be found within the physical or online store.
NASA, too, has had success with its NASA 360 program, a half-hour, branded vodcast developed by NASA in partnership with the National Institute of Aerospace. The experience, which primarily comprises TV and social media, illustrates how branded media can establish both authority and camaraderie.
The NASA 360 program shows how strides in the space program can result in applications elsewhere. It also features a young, relatable voice. The NASA 360 Twitter bio states that it is an “artfully charming, awardwinning, hipster-friendly NASA authority. Prone to fits of awesomeness. Friends of organisms everywhere.”
Share an experience.
Many television shows have seen their ratings soar and followers grow because its fans took to Twitter or other social sites, resulting in what has been coined “social TV.” Social TV is defined as “technology that supports 3 1 communication and social interaction in either the context of watching television, or related to TV content.”
Social TV is the next big wave, if recent acquisitions are to be believed. Both Facebook and Twitter have acquired companies that are key to encouraging not only community and social interactions around television shows, but also measurement.
TechCrunch states, “The partnership [of Twitter and Kantar] is also extending beyond TV content and to a new service that Twitter is calling “Data of Now” that will focus on real-time metadata around advertising, consumer insight, brand equity, and media measurement.”
Leslie Bradshaw puts the reality succinctly: “At some point, all media will be social.” People will communicate across devices and watch one device while sharing on another. Brands wanting to attract and connect with customers need to foster that sharing.
Interact with the community.
“Going live” can also mean online video, which is of growing interest to both marketers and audiences. Adobe’s Digital Index finds that online video streaming on smartphones is up 86 percent year over year. According to Adobe, smartphones have become the device of choice for mobile video viewing due, in part, “to the trend of watching sporting highlights in snippets on small screens.”
The trend will eventually filter to other subject matters, meaning that marketers need to optimize their video content for all mobile devices, including tablets. Adobe reports that watching online videos on tablets is up 23 percent year over year. The percentage will only rise as shows like “Dora the Explorer” encourage social interactions via tablets.
Live video on sites like YouTube and Ustream are popular, too, because of their immediacy and implied authenticity. Brands are experimenting with Google+ Hangouts On Air, a feature that allows them to communicate directly with their fans, as well as advertise. ASOS, a clothing retailer, uses “Shop-Along” hangouts to feature advice from stylists, bloggers and celebrities, and inserts links into the hangouts so that viewers can purchase the products being discussed.
Face to face still matters.
Live conferences, tradeshows and networking events are still important in today’s content-laden world.
Rob Asghar states:
“We’ve only been using words for a tiny fraction of our existence – and so words have a very limited impact on our ability to move people or connect with them. What has the maximum impact, in our careers and all our networks of relationships, is face-time – that intimate encounter in which we’re subconsciously mirroring and measuring one another.”
The Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) says much the same and has the data to prove the point. Dr. Jeff Tanner, who writes for CEIR’s blog, summarizes, “Today’s attendee, especially the millenial attendee, wants to talk to a real person, one on one, and preferably not a salesperson. They […] want to speak to a product designer, an engineer, or senior management – someone who will listen and has the power to change things, not just sell them something.”
Base content on context.
Go big data or go home.
More and more data is now available to brands. They can use that data to create relevant content, or they can continue with content strategy models that are quickly becoming outdated and impossible to sustain.
Relevancy is the wiser course. It results in the ability to strike the right tone and share the right message at the right time and place. Bradshaw calls such a pose “a balance of beauty and utility.” Data and content can exist without each other, but it’s their integration that produces beautiful and meaningful work.
Bradshaw reflects, “By combining hard data with beautiful visuals, you have a fighting chance to stand out. As my good friend Joe Chernov likes to say: ‘The secret to breaking through a noisy landscape isn’t more noise. It is sounding different.’”
Set physical boundaries for digital efforts.
IoT plays a role in the setting up of physical boundaries; it’s how people with the Shopkick app receive messages within Macy’s storefronts. Digital advertising, too, plays a part. AdWords and Facebook Ads both allow for geo-location, so that ads are only served to people within the vicinity of a physical location.
GUESS, the fashion retailer, takes IoT and geo-location technologies to a new level. The retailer has an app that serves not only customers, but also employees and 1 2 merchandisers. Michael Relich, the COO, says the company needs to operate in such a manner. With over 1,500 stores in 60 countries, the company faces stiff competition, and the only way to beat it is with data and technology.
Manage the data.
The amount of data available is overwhelming, causing many marketers to avoid it. They can’t, As Laurie Frick, a data artist, says, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.”
Marketers have to manage their marketing if they want to impact their audience and bottom line. They can use marketing automation, a tool that helps decipher what content and messages work best, and maintain an up-todate contact list.
It also helps them find patterns, which Frick says are more important than strict cause-and-effect relationships. She says finding those sorts of relationships are next to impossible because humans are messy data objects. What is possible to find are trends and patterns that eventually turn into data portraits or, in marketing terms, “customer profiles.”
Provide a seamless experience.
Tell a broader and deeper story with transmedia.
Content is not a differentiator – the experience is. By providing a transmedia experience, brands allow customers to experience singular pieces of the story and decide if they wish to experience it in its entirety. Simon Heyes of 8 Million Stories notes, “Digital storytelling is the ideal framework to allow brands to connect with multipledevice- using consumers, consistently across different platforms.”
Transmedia experiences use a different structure than traditional marketing. Each piece of content adds one experience to the larger narrative, resulting in compartmentalized experiences that rarely result in a full understanding of the broader story. Transmedia builds a story by using different experiences at the same time:
“Transmedia storytelling can pull the fragmented media universe together. Because while it’s no longer above and below-the-line – it’s definitely screens. Media convergence means radio, TV and newspapers now connect with the majority of their audiences online […] The way to pull it together is to also pull it apart – segmenting the story to best suit each medium’s strengths, whether digital or traditional.”
Take the online experience offline.
Attracting customers isn’t just about presenting a pretty picture or even a transmedia experience. It’s about providing consistent brand experiences online and off. Both GUESS and Nordstrom offer insights into reality. Their mobile applications don’t serve just their customers. They also help their employees provide better customer service.
Many customers avoid customer service because they dread the lines or speaking with someone who doesn’t seem to be listening to them. Brands can and should combat the perception. Adii Pienaar, author of “Branding,” says, “Your brand is what your customers say about you. It’s not your logo, your website, your copywriting or even your messaging.”
Some brands, such as Zappos, position themselves entirely on what their customers say. That is, they position themselves on their customer service. It’s their hook, and it’s one that never disappoints. While technologies and people can and will change, customer service never changes no matter where, when or how it happens.
Overcome the content marketing overload.
Content marketing overload is happening, but marketers shouldn’t despair. They can still reach their customers, but they will need to be a little more strategic and creative. They can’t continue to add content on top of content in hopes that their audience will see, consume, like and share it.
They instead need to think about the role of visual media. They need to consider going social with video, and encouraging social chatter about events and products. They need to use the data they have to create relevant content. They need to provide customer service that “delivers happiness,” as Zappos says. When they do all that, they’ll overcome the content shock and hook customers.