I love the smell of hyperbole in the morning. We in the pundit class are prone to overstate just about anything. I know I’ve done it, because boring doesn’t sell a blog post. Case in point: the existential concern about the mythical content arms race. Agh! How will I ever keep up!
I hereby grant you permission to take a deep breath and pump the brakes on your crazy content ambitions. The global content juggernauts that dazzle you with their “shock and awe” campaigns of incredible quality, depth and volume aren’t drowning out your ability to engage consumers. They’re improving it. Here’s why.
1. Content marketing is not a zero sum game.
If I write five articles this week and you write one, who won?
Let me ask that another way:
Can I ever produce content that will win, at the expense of your content losing?
No, I can’t. Besides the fact that your content is probably better than mine, this very article was published to my own company blog. It’s extremely unlikely that any individual chose to read my article here instead of yours over there. Most internet users visit fewer than 10 websites on a daily basis. Any websites we visit outside of our normal routine, we do so with very low frequency. That makes it extremely unlike for any two websites to compete for the same exact traffic. Think of it like two farmer’s markets on opposite sides of town– they don’t compete for the same visitors.
Add to that fragmentation the fact that our social graphs are unlikely to overlap significantly, so we’re not seeing the same things shared or discussed through social media.
The lesson here is simple: You can own and grow your online footprint, no matter what anyone else is doing. No one can box you out, no matter how big they are. It’s just not possible. If your content is worth consuming, someone is out there waiting to do so.
2. There is no scarcity in online real estate.
You may have heard the phrase “real estate is the one thing you can never make more of.” That’s mostly true when it comes to land mass and television commercials, but it doesn’t apply at all to online real estate.
Super Bowl ads this year cost about $4 million per 30 seconds because there’s only one Super Bowl and only so many spots. Even still, the success or failure of such a prominent ad campaign isn’t won or lost because your brand hogged more eyeballs.
Ford, for example, didn’t purchase a game time ad and they still owned three of the top nine selling cars or trucks in February. Last year, Oreo owned the Super Bowl-related marketing news cycle without even buying a spot! I’m pretty sure the official net return on that well-timed tweet was 85 billion percent.
Even in the most competitive advertising markets, often, the biggest spender doesn’t win. Or, more precisely, more effective competitors can win big, regardless of spend. That’s the draw away from ads, toward content.
If you aren’t reaching the target consumers you need to reach, you can build a new, more focused niche website. You can partner with other complementary brands. You can earn guest posts, or buy sponsored posts on targeted niche sites. You can work on how you nurture the audience you already do have by building a killer email marketing program. (Yes, my friends, email is still one heck of a powerful tactic.)
Your publishing will never be constrained by access, only by your ability to fulfill the needs of your audience effectively.
3. Content marketing is conducted on millions of fronts at once.
Literally millions. There are over 200 million English language blogs online. A billion people on Facebook. Many millions more on Tumblr, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, LinkedIn. This is why content marketing is not a zero sum game, and why there is no shortage of online real estate. But there’s a more subtle point in here, too.
No one can tell a user where to look, or what’s interesting.
Regardless how large a “content-industrial complex” your competitors build to dominate the content marketing landscape, it’s not broadcast media. It’s not ads. They can’t push it on every potential viewer and expect it to work.
Look at Forbes.com’s BrandVoice channel. It’s full of largely high quality content, and it costs brands upwards of $75,000 per month to be there. By many accounts, it’s a native advertising success. But that’s one channel. On one website. Are you concerned that you don’t also command that kind of viewership on Forbes? Or are you out gaining it elsewhere for a fraction of that cost?
4. The Biggest Spenders are Paving the Way
Rather than dominating on the content battlefield, the biggest spenders are really just helping us all by running the expensive experiments to see what works, and warming up our audience in the process. Consumers are only just getting used to branded content, and it turns out they’re happy to consume it, so long as it delivers the goods.
Just take a look that Red Bull’s brand publishing work. It’s incredible. No one scoffs at their content because it’s brand-driven, as opposed to independent editorial. Why? Because it’s really really good at satisfying their audience’s need for a cultural/sports/entertainment fix.
Frankly, I’m glad they’re doing it, setting a new standard for what it means to engage an audience. With a marketing budget of approximately $2 billion, if they can’t figure it out, no one can. And yet, in spite of that spectacular spend, global brand awareness and pioneering role in the energy drink industry, Red Bull is losing market share.
Granted, Red Bull only spends a small fraction of their annual budget on content, and content-generating activities, but do you think they’d have more market share if they spent even more on content? I doubt it.
I would wager a guess that Red Bull has found, or surpassed their maximum effective marketing budget, and that much of their spend actually helps to grow the size of the entire industry pie, rather than just their own share of it.
That kind of awareness among consumers gives smaller players ample opportunity to speak to target audiences in direct, personal ways that Red Bull isn’t doing, just by serving the same audience while being Not Red Bull.
No matter your industry or the size of your company, content is a great equalizer, allowing smaller brands to explore new channels beyond conventional advertising and flourish in places where big brands have little or no presence at all. Unlike monolithic broadcast media, online marketing comprises millions of niche markets with very very low barriers to entry. While content marketing efforts accelerate, the only brands losing the content battle are the ones not participating in the first place.