How to Create Content that Cuts Through Clutter and Crushes the Competition
Ten years ago, Bridget opened a yoga studio in her small, Midwestern hometown. Back then, yoga’s popularity was on the rise and she was among the first to introduce it to her community. Before long, she had a waiting list of students.
Flash forward to today …
There are dozens of yoga studios and other places to attend classes. Moms in yoga pants are everywhere you look, and Bridget is far from the only yogi in town. Lots of people saw the same opportunity, and even though the potential customer base for yoga has grown, her market is oversaturated. Bridget needs a way to differentiate her business from the competition.
I bet you think we’re about to suggest content marketing as the solution? Nope. In fact, digital content creators have the exact same problem as Bridget.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a coffee shop, commercial construction, or your content marketing plan, when you’re not the only player in the game, you need to find a way to stand out from the crowd.
Digital marketing strategies often fall flat because companies fail to analyze the competition’s efforts before jumping in. You must look for ways to add value and break through the noise. But how?
Content Overload: The Struggle is Real
In the early days, when content marketing was considered a hot new trend, you could bang out a 500-word SEO-optimized blog post on a topic and start seeing organic search traffic in a week. It was free, it was working, and it felt like a miracle. Those days are long gone.
Estimates suggest more than 1,400 blog posts are published every minute using the WordPress platform alone. That’s 2 million posts a day, and blogging is only one form of digital content creation. On a daily basis, hundreds-of-thousands of hours of video get uploaded to YouTube and hundreds-of-millions of photos are posted on Facebook.
In 2014, marketing expert and author, Mark Schaefer, wrote a post called Content Shock: Why content marketing is not a sustainable strategy. It made some major waves in online marketing circles. Schaefer predicted that content marketing’s return on investment (ROI) was quickly declining. In economic terms, it was like a “content bubble” that was about to burst. Schaefer wrote …
“Like any good discussion on economics, this is rooted in the very simple concept of supply and demand. When supply exceeds demand, prices fall. But in the world of content marketing, the prices cannot fall because the ‘price’ of the content is already zero — we give it away for free.
So, to get people to consume our content, we actually have to pay them to do it, and as the supply of content explodes, we will have to pay our customers increasing amounts to the point where it is not feasible anymore.”
It sounds gloomy and frustrating. However, Schaefer himself is a content marketer, and in 2015 he released the book The Content Code, which offers improved strategies for online marketing. Schaefer also followed up on his Content Shock article and provided some hope, suggesting that content marketing can be effective as long as the approach changes.
“Great content alone does not ‘rise to the top.’ Great content alone is no longer the finish line. It is the starting line. The answer is not in simply producing more content, or even better content.”
Quality vs Quantity
One of the biggest debates in content marketing concerns whether quality or quantity is more important.
From one perspective, the more content you have, the more opportunities there are to rank for important keyword phrases and get discovered on search engines. However, in recent years, Google has regularly updated its algorithm to emphasize quality content from trustworthy authorities.
Proponents of quality content suggest less is more. They believe focusing on adding value and producing just a few showcase pieces a year will bring the most success. Yet, it’s nearly impossible to build an engaged audience and stay top-of-mind if you publish that infrequently.
Sometimes, it seems like both sides are just looking for a shortcut.
The “quantity camp” doesn’t want to think too hard and wants to use the equivalent of monkeys with laptops to churn out mediocre work. They want to keep research to a minimum and care little about value.
The “quality crowd” wants to avoid the hard work of showing up on a regular basis and nurturing an audience. They’re happy to nitpick and tweak until they feel they’ve achieved perfection. In the meantime, they’re likely missing out on opportunities to connect.
Arguing over this topic is pointless.
Every company has a specific audience requiring a unique content marketing strategy. If you’re only thinking about word counts, keywords, publishing schedules, and frequency of social media posts … you’re doing it wrong. It’s not that those things are pointless. It’s that they don’t matter nearly as much as developing the right strategy for your audience.
So, take those best practices and rules of thumb with a big grain of salt.
5 Strategies for Standing Out
Here’s some actionable advice for creating content that attracts the right audience.
1. Look for What’s Missing
When you publish online content, you’re not only going up against direct competitors. Any company producing material that targets your audience is competing with you for attention, social media shares, and search engine rankings — even if they offer different products and services.
Research what’s already out there and determine how you can make the biggest impact. Sometimes an opportunity exists to produce content that covers the basics. Other times, there may already be too much of that type of content, and your efforts will be in vain.
For example, Element has a client in the water filtration industry and we believed there was a good chance for us to rank with basic content like How Do Water Softeners Work? We were right. Much of that client’s content beats big name brands on Google and draws in thousands of organic visitors every week.
With another client, we tried creating content around basic parenting safety advice, and it wasn’t working. There were just too many other parenting blogs, web forums, non-profits, government agencies, and online magazines covering the same topics.
Since we weren’t breaking through the noise, we stopped to reevaluate the strategy. A little trial and error is often necessary on the road to discovering the best strategy. Thankfully, in digital marketing we can use analytics to draw conclusions and pivot rather quickly.
2. Create Premium Content
For our client in water filtration, quantity helped provide quality. The blog became a comprehensive resource for people with common household water problems. With the parenting safety website, Element chose to start publishing fewer standard blog posts and create more premium content.
This kind of content provides additional value in comparison to typical content marketing tactics. Premium content includes but is not limited to:
- In-depth, long-form content from experts: White papers, eBooks, online courses.
- Interactive content: Mobile apps and games, online quizzes or surveys.
- Visual content: Infographics, animated GIFs, and photo galleries.
- Audio and video content: Podcasts, music videos, short films, FAQ video series.
We’ve outlined some specific ideas and premium content examples in our article about creating unconventional content.
Some marketing websites define premium content as media that the audience pays a fee to access. That usually only makes sense when your goal is selling info products. More often, businesses will use premium content as a lead generation tool. This can involve making it “gated content,” which means visitors need to fill out a form and provide information such as an email address to get the material.
However, providing non-gated access to premium content is fine as well. The more generous you are, the more likely people are to share your content with other and the easier it is to develop brand loyalty. It all depends on your marketing strategy.
3. Narrow Your Target
Casting a wide net when trying to reach an audience may seem like a good idea, but it usually only results in lackluster, run-of-the-mill content marketing. To paraphrase the legendary Seth Godin, when you try to create something for everyone, you end up creating something for no one.
The digital age and the sharing economy has also made the mass market less valuable. The internet allows us to reach very specific niches, small groups of people with unique interests. Homogenized content is bound to fail, but when you focus your efforts on specific people as well as their fears, motivations, desires, and problems, you have a much better chance of success.
That’s why the persona development process is a standard part of Element’s content marketing strategy.
Agency Director, Lance Peroutka, has more advice on reaching a target audience.
4. Focus on Amplification
Perhaps the toughest thing about maintaining content marketing efforts is finding the time to get it done. They say, “time is money” for a good reason. It’s an extremely valuable resource.
Marketers like Derek Halperin have suggested an 80/20 rule for content creation and promotion. That means you should be spending more time distributing your content through social channels, email marketing, public relations efforts, and paid promotion than you do creating it.
If that seems odd, it’s probably because most content marketers do the exact opposite. Yet, it makes a lot of sense. If you’re being drowned out by all the noise, which you can’t turn down, then you need amplification. The Field of Dreams strategy (“If you build it, they will come”) rarely works.
Amplifying your content should include paying for attention when the situation is right. Learn more in our blog post Social Media Exposure — Should You Pay for It?
5. Don’t be Afraid to Take Risks
Risk-takers always stand out from the crowd. If a content marketing idea makes you feel a little bit uncomfortable, you just might be heading in the right direction.
No one ever shared a blog post because it was safe and inoffensive. There’s never been a video that went viral because it was “on brand.” Of course, you need to protect your company’s image, but if harmless and friendly are just synonyms for commonplace and boring, you’re not going to get anywhere.
Detroit’s great philosopher, Eminem, once said …
“We need a little controversy,
’Cause it feels so empty without me.”
There are certainly fine lines between exciting and sensationalistic, funny and offensive, or debate and disrespect. While you shouldn’t cross that line, the further you get from it, the less attention your content is likely to receive.
There are ways to approach controversial topics with discretion. Too often, companies choose to ignore the elephant in the room because they don’t want to make waves or rub anyone the wrong way. But, elephants in rooms can’t be ignored. Skirting the issues makes you appear inauthentic. It can feel risky to be honest and transparent with your audience, but content marketing is most effective when you have the courage to be real with people.
How the Right Marketing Agency Can Help
Coming up with a strategy to cut through the clutter takes careful consideration, creativity, and content marketing expertise. However, it can be a challenge to find the people in your organization with the time and resources to develop that strategy and create the content to back it up.
When you work with Element, you’ll have an agency partner that understands how to look for digital marketing opportunities, how to define a target audience, and how to create premium content that sets your organization apart. Element’s content marketing teams can help you come up with a plan for amplifying your content, and we aren’t afraid to nudge our clients towards taking some calculated risks.
Rising above the noise and distractions of our digital world isn’t easy, but it’s possible, and the payoff can be big when done right. You’ll see a return on your investment in online content creation when you work with Element. Get in touch with our agency today and take the first steps towards crushing your competition.
Originally published at goelement.com on July 12, 2017.