We are bombarded with stimulation. The average person is exposed to thousands of billboards, advertisements, pieces of content, and other digital and physical distractions every day. Quite quickly, you grow to ignore so much of this stimulation, which means that you take in barely anything, if anything at all, from each single instance.
Content is everywhere and substance is nowhere
With content being absolutely everywhere, and your smartphone acting as your connection to much of that world, you’ll tend to only pay attention to any one individual piece for a few seconds at most. Then, in your mind, it disappears forever.
And (good) content is not easy to make. If it’s an ad, you can have a whole team work for months to create a campaign that could theoretically be relevant to you. Then you see one ad from that campaign once for a few seconds, and that’s the extent of your interaction. And that will also be the extent of nearly everyone’s interaction with any individual ad or piece of content.
The fight for attention
Since there are so many players vying for a piece of the awareness pie, and real estate in someone’s brain, the fight for attention is fierce. This does have the effect of a “survival of the fittest” in many cases, where bad content just falls away and only the cream of the crop end up being liked, shared, and otherwise engaged with and remembered.
However, this still has the effect of it being quite difficult to bring a piece of content to light. Therefore, even good content just gets ignored, passing by a few hundred eyeballs for a second or two before vanishing into the ether.
Taking smaller and smaller pieces of something until it is meaningless
And when everyone is only paying attention to a piece of content for a moment at most, it is harder and harder to really convey meaning in such a short amount of time. Everything is deconstructed into smaller formats in order to try to appeal to ever-shortening attention spans, and they end up becoming almost meaningless in the process. After all, how much can you really cram into a soundless video that’ll be looked at for a few seconds?
Everyone has creative output
Given the prevalence of smartphones and the increasing desire of the average person to create and share content, this is causing an incredible increase in saturation and for the kind of content that tries to get a share of your attention span. It was bad enough when you had 500 channels on TV that were all in competition, but now when you have a billion users on Instagram creating things for others to look at, the saturation becomes almost ridiculous.
This is nonetheless great in the sense of dramatically lowering the barrier to entry for an individual to have his or her work or output seen by a large audience, but rising levels of competition simply make it harder to succeed or to break through.
Being different is difficult but necessary
Then how do you get your content to stand out? Well — nothing groundbreaking here, but you’ll need to find a way to be different. A great way is to create a cohesive visual style and brand that is easily recognized and allows you to build awareness amongst your audience, especially as you release new work. Since it’ll be recognized faster, it’s easier to draw attention.
Whether we’re talking about a company’s brand or an individual’s brand, it needs to have a unique identity. This does not immediately happen and is something that is grown and refined over time. Particularly in the case of the individual, it’s an ongoing process of growing and refining. For a business, it’s usually more important to have these things thought out in a more formal and structured manner from earlier on, but this sort of brand still is subject to the same iterative forces.
Be consistent in your output
Consistency is key, not to sound cliche. Your chances of being seen are simply higher the most consistent and prolific you are, and anyone who does follow or recognize your content will have more opportunities to interact with it. It’s important to determine the degree to which you can acceptably put out quality content on a regular basis. If you have video pieces, chances are that they’ll take longer to produce than written or certain kinds of photographic pieces might.
Some famous content creators, such as Casey Neistat, are known for their nearly superhuman levels of daily video posting (an exceptionally hard task from both storytelling and technical standpoints). However, his success is indicative of the fact that you simply have to find the right cadence for yourself and keep putting things out there.
The saturation is increasing day by day. Eventually, there will be some sort of critical mass that will simply make it so that anyone except the best, brightest, and luckiest will be hopelessly lost in the masses. The trick is putting yourself in that position as soon as you can.
I’m a digital strategist and occasional photographer living in New York City. Follow me at @andreikorchagin on Instagram, or visit me at andreikorchagin.com.