The Content Marketing Debate: More (Better) Is Definitely More

 In Content Marketing

I have always believed that content marketing means companies leaving behind their tired old promotional ads, brochures, and requests for a demo. That’s why marketers are acting like real publishers focused on helping their audience become educated, informed, even entertained.

Because if you are good enough to build an audience, then great things happen to your business. More people engage with your brand. And that engagement leads to trust, which leads to more sales, greater awareness of your expertise, and more loyal customers.

If you’ve figured out how to produce high quality content, that delivers new customers, then you should seek to help your audience as much and as often as you can, as long as the content you produce is actually helpful, and it makes financial sense.

Many have debated this view, arguing that “less is more.” That we should ease off on the quantifiable volume of content, minimize production costs, and focus on subjective quality at the expense of quantity.

I believe this is a false choice. Journalists are handed a beat and deadlines. They don’t sacrifice quality for the sake of meeting their quantity-driven deadlines.

Publishers don’t wake up in the morning and look around to decide that there just isn’t anything interesting happening that day. Then go off and have a cocktail. Publishers focus on consistently more, high-quality content.

Why should content marketing be any different?

More is More.

Once we figure out the formula for producing effective content that helps our customers and drives real business results, we should look for ways to scale the production of helpful content in an effort to position ourselves as an authority and experts in our field.

There are many ways to do this by tapping into the experts inside your organization, by telling compelling customer stories by real people talking about the journeys they took to solve real business challenges.

Or, by finding existing research in our fields and sharing our perspective on the implications, trends and insights it provides.

Or by allowing your partners, employees and customers to share their passions, pains, and provocations on whatever is interesting to them.

Help your customers and you help your business. Help your customers more and you drive even higher return on your investment.

Less is More.

But we live in a world swimming in crap content. And so the “less is more” argument is tempting.

throwing-up-contentMy friend, Author, Speaker and true expert Andrew Davis argued for less content during his keynote speech at Content Marketing World 2016, during which he asked the question “do we really need all of this ‘stuff’?”

Andrew’s view is that we should stop “throwing up” content all over the place in an endless pursuit of traffic spikes. And instead try to “raise the height of our valleys” through better content, and smarter distribution.

Hard to disagree with that!

Digital strategist, Kristen Matthews agrees. She argued that brands should stop being the only voice on their blogs and social channels and create less content by focusing more on influencer marketing and user-generated content.

I can’t really argue with that one either.

In their weekly podcast, my good friends Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose question the business model of more content. They accept that increased traffic can result from more volume but question whether that drives real business impact.

I tend to never disagree with anything these smart folks have to say! For more smart people arguing to create less check out these resources:

Convince and Convert: Why Your Brand Should Create Less Content

TrackMaven: Analysis Points to Major Shift in Digital Marketing Efficacy

So, is it time to give up on creating more content to serve your audience every single day, or even more?

How Publishers View The Quantity vs. Quality Debate

First of all, let’s look at the big producers, the content heavyweights, the trusted publishers whose high-quality content we all hope to emulate.

The Washington Post, for example, produces 1200 posts in a single day! A number which dwarfs anything most of us could ever even consider.

Steve Rayson discussed this in a blog post for Buzzsumo. He explained that he too used to believe that less was indeed more, and that organizations should only be publishing a minimal quantity of extremely high-value pieces, but then he changed his mind.

He noted that the number of people visiting The Washington Post’s website increased by 28% in the 12 months leading up to September 2016, and that – for a time – the Post sat ahead of rival, The New York Times, in the web traffic stakes.

This is an example of an organization producing content on an enormous scale – just one of many across the world – and succeeding by doing so.

Some might argue that sites like The Washington Post and the New York Times, The Guardian in the UK, or China Daily, cannot be compared to a brand’s content marketing because these traditional publisher’s entire business relies on a history of quality journalism, a cultural integrity of editorial standards, and ultimately, monetizing their traffic.

I think there’s a lesson to be learned from so-called new-age publishers who grew up in the reality of declining ad sales.

Business Insider boasts of having the same traffic as Bloomberg with only 10% of the people. I’ve toured the Business Insider newsroom, swarming with dozens of twenty-somethings who are trying to become new age journalists.

You can argue whether their content is subjectively quality journalism, but the truth is that they are delivering quantifiable business results at a fraction of the cost of their traditional rivals.

So why couldn’t a committed brand do the same? if your business can compete with actual mainstream publishers, with lower costs, AND deliver quantifiable business results, why wouldn’t you?

If media companies publish multiple times per day on each and every topic, without sacrificing quality, shouldn’t brands follow suit?

Peak Content?

One of the red flags waved by those proclaiming that less is more is that of “peak content.”

Peak content is the idea that we have reached a point of critical mass in the world of online content. That there is now more content than we can deal with, and that further production can only lead to audience “shock” in all that content surplus.

This is another myth that Steve dispelled in his article on Buzzsumo. The crux of the ‘peak content’ argument is that everything worth being said has already been said, and that there is very little left to add to the debate. Or that because so much content surplus exists, the value of each additional piece of content is diminished.

Steve countered this, by smartly pointing out that there are well over 28,000 scholarly journals actively publishing content online, between them uploading 2.5 million peer-reviewed academic papers every 12-months, a rate which increases year upon year.

Surely, this cannot be dismissed as worthless content. Of course, this is a relatively extreme example and the vast majority of content produced for public consumption each day is not at this standard. But there is still a substantial proportion which provides genuine worth to users.

Content production is certainly increasing – in July of 2016, for example, new posts published via WordPress were exceeding the two million mark every day. According to Steve:

“The volume of content published each year that competes for our attention is growing. The data is unequivocal. As the internet population grows, as tools to publish and repurpose content get easier and as automated content algorithms improve, we will see an acceleration in content production. The future is more content.”

But look around at all the content your business creates that either never gets used at all, or droves no engagement. I can’t accept that marketers should just give up because, hey man, we’re in “peak content.”

As a society we’ve adapted and are coping quite well with all the content options available to us. We skim, filter and skip the stuff we don’t love, that isn’t helpful, or that is plain boring. I’m not suggesting we create more crap.

No! The answer is to create more, better content.

Less is Less

Many of you have heard the “less is more” battle cry. You are producing less.

But are you seeing better results? No!

In their 3rd annual survey of more than 1,000 bloggers, Andy Crestodina’s agency Orbit Media found that bloggers are producing less content:

changes-in-blogging-frequencyAnd yet, the same survey showed that bloggers who produce more are also seeing better results. According to Andy:

“But does less frequent mean better results? No.

The survey finds the opposite to be true. Bloggers who report publishing more often are more likely to report “strong results” straight down the line. I was surprised by this. Take a look at the data:”

strong-results-frequencyThe biggest increase appears when you move from weekly to 2-6 posts per week. A realistic goal for any business!

(NOTE: the data presented in this post is mostly referring to written content such as blog posts and articles. I think similar concepts could be applied to podcasts, video, images, etc. But the cadences might certainly be different.)

The Value of One Piece of Content

The business case for content marketing can be summarized as reach, engage, convert, and retain customers you would have never reached if all you did was traditional marketing campaigns, blatant self-promotion and advertising “interruptions” of the content your audience actually wants to read and share.

In order to be effective, content marketing requires a brand-owned digital destination – a content marketing hub – where you commit to consistently publishing content that is helpful to your audience.

The business value of one piece of content is zero because buyers engage with multiple pieces of content from various sources over the course of their customer journey. Shouldn’t your business seek to be the provider of as much of that content as possible?

And what about ROI? The fact is that content marketing programs are financial assets with real value, that grows over time. It’s not so much the “level” of investment that matters as much as the consistency.

For some visual proof of this idea, check out Tom Tunguz’s concept of ‘compounding returns’ in content. The idea is that you can increase audience engagement over time by consistently publishing “evergreen” content with topical content over extended periods of time.

evergreenThis idea of the compounding return of content marketing is that the value accelerates over time while the investment stays the same. So the higher the investment (assuming quality content at scale) the higher the level of return. But it accelerates either way.

Imagine this much like we do our 401K or retirement accounts. We commit to investing a small but consistent amount of money from each paycheck. And the total value of our account achieves this same compounding (accelerating) rate of return.

Content Marketing Compounding Return

So, More is More! Right?

To achieve high levels of reach and momentum – and to accomplish our goals on a long term basis – we need to keep on producing MORE QUALITY content.

The Content Machine

Hubspot research concludes year-after-year that increasing publishing cadence drives a direct increase in traffic and LEADS. (This is one of my favorite marketing charts . . . because math).

Some have argued whether this is causation or correlation. This is a great question. So let’s explore it.

Blog Frequency delivers more leadsMy view is that it is probably a matter of causation. And that the real correlation comes from the likelihood that the companies who commit to publishing higher volumes, are also committed to publishing BETTER content. AND that they learn from a higher volume of content “experiments.

But the correlation can’t be dismissed.

Does this mean that focusing on quantity over quality will deliver the same results? No.

Andy Crestodina agrees, citing the results of his study:

“Bloggers with higher-frequency content programs are probably doing other things well, including distribution, promotion and measurement.”

So More Content is Better?

In Praise of Frequency In Content Marketing

Sean Callahan of LinkedIn Marketing Solution believes that frequency is the key to results in content marketing. And as a former journalist, I think Sean knows a thing or two about the importance of quality and quantity.

According to Sean, frequency:

  1. Has always been a key tenet of advertising
  2. Is the best way to build engaged subscribers
  3. Is the “pathway” to better quality
  4. Provides an opportunity for more effective testing and optimization
  5. Enables true always-on marketing

This is not “frequency for frequency sake.”

And this is well beyond the old advertising goals of just reach and frequency.

It’s about engaging your audience more often, with better content.

Lean Content

“But content production is expensive,” I hear you cry, “and the ‘less is more’ folks say that this cash could be better spent elsewhere.” Or it just isn’t worth the investment.

But what if I told you that you can build a content machine that delivers quality content consistently. Without increasing costs.

In fact, I have demonstrated how anyone can increase quality content production without increasing budget by a single cent. And I’ve applied this concept across more than a dozen brands and businesses.

Once you invest in an effective content machine, why wouldn’t you keep pouring in the fuel required to keep it running?

Back in 2013, Digiday explained how content marketing success comes from “producing the most content at as low a cost as possible.” And this gives them an advantage in the market.

Lean ContentToday’s content production teams are lean, they are streamlined and they are optimized for success. Great content – at the necessary volume – requires a strategy; it requires a strong mechanism driving your production methods onwards.

Scoop.It Co-founder and CEO, Guillaume Decugis, outlined lean content as the key to delivering content marketing ROI: conversions from more and better content, produced at scale, continuously improving, all while reducing costs over time.

His content production wheel is a lean framework via which authors and producers can go on achieving their aims, creating stunning content, amplifying results, and reducing costs.

By developing this kind of solid foundation for our strategies and efforts, we can safeguard our content marketing ROI.

Lean Content marketing wheel
Image via Scoop.It

More (Better) Content

In today’s noisy world, your business has really only 2 options: continue advertising and trying to buy your way into the hearts and minds of your customers with interruptions to the content they actually want, with ads and promotional messages they don’t want.

Or you can invest in, and truly commit, to consistently producing high-quality content that attracts new customers.

If you can build this publishing machine, and implement a lean content marketing process, you will find yourself producing more and better content, at a lower cost, with a higher rate of return (ROI) than any other approach your business can take.

If you’ve stayed with me through all 2352+ of these words, for that I am truly grateful. Now tell me what you think?

(Check back here at Marketing Insider Group for my planned follow-up to this post: “More is Better. Until It Isn’t!“)

If you liked what you’re seeing here, Subscribe here  for regular updates.

Are you interested in reaching, engaging and converting new customers for your business? Contact me here and let’s talk about how we can help you develop your own scalable content marketing strategy. 

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Michael Brenner
Michael Brenner is a globally-recognized keynote speaker, author of The Content Formula and the CEO of Marketing Insider Group. He has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael shares his passion on leadership and marketing strategies that deliver customer value and business impact. He is recognized by the Huffington Post as a Top Business Keynote Speaker and a top CMO influencer by Forbes. Please follow me LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook and Subscribe here for regular updates.
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Showing 15 comments
  • Guillaume Decugis

    Great post Michael! Very thorough recap of all the arguments. Thanks for including me.

    I think a frequent reason people go for the less is more argument is that as Steve pointed out, some posts are outliers and do get a lot more traffic than others. Those are the ones that get traffic over time through SEO and continuous sharing. It’s natural to think that if only you produced those you’d be making more traffic without doing more work – and that would make a lot of sense economically.

    The problem is that it’s clearly not predictable and I think all content creators often have good and bad surprises on how their content effectively performs vs how they thought it would perform before they hit publish. So a very interesting question to me – and that drives our work at Scoop.it – is how can technology help us be more predictable. And allow us to create just the top performing content.

    But until we find that out, we need to invest in ways to create more quality content faster – using lean content techniques such as content curation, repurposing or amplification that helped media sites like Business Insider or the Huffington Post leapfrog established media.

    • Michael Brenner

      Thanks so much Guillaume. I use a somewhat over-used sports analogy for this. You can’t just hit home runs every time you swing at a pitch.

      I think you’re absolutely right. I would love to create less content and get more results. But the posts I publish that produce the best results are too often “happy surprises” that result from consistently publishing (and testing) ideas, formats and approaches, even tone.

  • Robert Rose

    Great post…. Love the alternative point of view. I suspect if we shared a few beverages, that we don’t actually disagree much on this particular topic. Having said that I will offer a few thoughts that may or may not provide additional context, an alternative take, or just general fodder for you….

    For those of you in a hurry… TL;dr: More is Better until it isn’t. Your Mileage may vary. And objects in the rear view may be closer than they appear.

    Not that you’ve misrepresented this AT ALL in your post – but just to clarify for the sake of this discussion, our take at CMI has never been less for the sake of less. In fact, we just ranted a bit on this week’s show about how AirBNB just launched a new content marketing print magazine and are going to publish at the staggering cadence of one issue every six months… My take was – yeah, if you’re AirBNB I suspect you can be great more than two times a year.

    The thing is:

    * “More” is relative.
    * “More isn’t infinitely scalable in any case”

    In other words – More IS better… until it isn’t…

    Here are some other thoughts – in no particular order… and definitely not trying to build a counter argument here – but just thoughts on the points you’re making:

    1. The whole post is blog-centric. The maths change considerably when you start talking about Print, or Video, or other things that have a more considered cost to production and/or shipping etc…

    2. There is a difference between media companies and brand-as-media-operation. The media companies cited in the “more is better” argument are paid based on eyeballs (aka advertising impression). So, there’s an inherent bias toward publishing as much “real estate” as possible in order to maximize the chance that real estate is actually consumed. That said, I would disagree that publishers wake up thinking about how to publish “more”. Successful media companies find that balance between the number of “ad pages” or other cost considerations – and then publish to the absolute maximum of that balance. So, as Joe pointed out – CMI scaled to that balance and we haven’t really tried to expand beyond that aside from launching NEW publications. Brands, on the other hand, aren’t (for the most part) valuing their media properties for the number of views. They are, as you point out from the Hubspot example, looking for actions (leads, qualified opps via differentiation in the pipeline, decreased customer service costs etc..). This in fact, is the ADVANTAGE that brands have over traditional media companies. They don’t need virality (spell check hates that word FWIW) – they need value from a very niche, discrete audience. Thus, they can be much more focused, or niche, in the editorial value they deliver.

    3. The increase in scholarly journals that are published is a real thing as you point out – but this isn’t necessarily a good thing and there’s actually a case that this hinders your argument a bit. UCLA recently conducted a study of the continuous pressure to “publish or perish” in the university setting and found that this pressure to publish more actually hindered innovation. When they looked back at more than 6 million papers over the last 50 years they found only a small percentage actually contained any new or innovative ideas. The study’s author said ““Published papers that make a novel connection are rare but more highly rewarded,” – Writeup on the study here: http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/pressure-to-publish-or-perish-may-discourage-innovative-research-ucla-study-suggests

    4. The Washington Post revelation is an interesting study to be sure – but I’ll reiterate what I said on our podcast when we covered this. There’s definitely a correlation challenge there – because it also happens to coincide with their Facebook and other multi-distribution/syndication deals… We actually have the head of digital for the Washington Post coming and speaking at our event in Vegas (ICC) – it will be fun to dig into this issue with him there.

    Anyway – all that is just ramblings on what could be great wine discussion at some point…… My conclusion that I would make is that: yes, there’s a great argument to be made that More IS better… Until it isn’t… Like everything – it’s about finding a balance between what you’re doing (with high regard to the context of the channel and costs therein) and how often you should do it. As long as we don’t apply the broad paintbrush to this I think we’re good…

    • Michael Brenner

      Thanks so much Robert. I am sure we don’t disagree. And I think everyone agrees quality is the only way to achieve success. The question is at what quantity does the diminishing return start to rear its ugly head. As you said More is more until it isn’t.

      I think achieving that perfect balance is something we should all reach for, even if we never attain it.

      Maybe one way to think of this is: brand publishers (unlike media publishers) should seek to answer every customer question and share all their expertise. I think few brands have come close to achieving this ideal state. The brands that commit to it are winning the battle for customer attention and showing demonstrable results, especially relative to promotional product content. So how do we wrap this up for content marketers.

      My attempt:
      1. Commit to quality first and never compromise
      2. Commit to a cadence, a frequency, that pushes your organization to find new ways to share their expertise
      3. Test everything: topics, tone, formats, frequency, offers
      4. Measure business results, especially ROI, to seek that balance of quality and the highest return for the investment in time and cost

      Thanks so much for your inspired comments my friend. Looking forward to continuing the discussion.

  • Jay Acunzo

    I mean, the IDEAL is that every single thing you create — long or short, article or video — is this friggin good 🙂

    But I agree that quality and quantity are a false choice, and a marketer who picks “quantity” in a vacuum is opting out of accountability for delivering something others actually like. But the quality should LEAD, IMO, because so few pieces actually gain traction that moves the needle at all.

    Another thing I worry about: Marketing has so much listified advice spoon fed to us that we’re hesitant to venture into gray areas, but that’s what reality IS! It’s not “Definitely X” it’s always “It depends.”

    So…

    Table stakes for being an average marketer:
    1) Master the craft of making a thing others actually like (Maybe the blog isn’t working because the writing sucks, eh? Nothing to do with tech or distribution tactics…)

    ​​2) Publish consistently.

    Once you can do those two things, ramp volume. How MUCH? “It depends.” Because it does. Always. Case-by-case.

    This article is by far the smartest take on this debate. But the industry obsession with it feels like it’s in the same ballpark as asking, “How long should a blog post be?” It depends. And that’s not the point of doing marketing anyway.

    I dunno. Am I crazy? (Well, yes, but I digest…)

    We keep trying to put absolutes onto things that we can’t really hold up in our hands in front of the world, point to, and say, “HERE! Here is the answer.”

    Maybe we should just tell more people to suck it up and accept that it’s a gray area.

    • Michael Brenner

      Love it Jay. Smart take on a complicated issue as always. I completely agree that quality should lead, followed by some committment to cadence, and only THEN ramp to some point (of diminishing return?)

      I personally think the 2 issues (quality / quantity) are related. The more I create, the more insight I get into what works / resonates / feels good, and the better I get at creating. I know my 606th blog posts was better than my 1st because I committed to creating stuff. That’s what has worked for me.

      Thanks again for adding to the insights here.

  • Sean Callahan

    Thanks, Michael, for this comprehensive, thoughtful post. Very cool. I believe committing to a frequency, and doing so publicly, is part of being all-in for content marketing, which is the only way to get the most out of it. I also think creating content and doing it on a consistent basis is the only way to get better at it.

    • Michael Brenner

      That’s it Sean. I just made that exact point in response to Jay. The more I create, the better I (hopefully) get at creating. Thanks again for your article on inspiration. Keep it up!

  • Andy Crestodina

    This is a great piece, Michael. You’ve re-ignited the great debate in a detailed (and data-driven) way.

    I’m glad that you mentioned Sean Callahan’s post defending frequency. He made a key point there. More content means more data and more opportunity to optimize. Lower frequency means less data and therefore fewer opportunities to get smarter.

    The frequency message is a frustrating one to busy marketers, but there is just no way around it. As long as the quality is there, frequency correlates with relevance.

    This is evident in search. As far as I know, the only sites with domain authority of 80+ are daily blogs. If anyone knows of any high DA blogs that don’t publish frequently, please let me know!

    • Michael Brenner

      Hey Andy, I think your research made this perspective really clear. And yet some of the reaction to it seemed to me like people were celebrating the decreasing post volume and missing the data point on higher post volume corresponding with better results.

      And I LOVE your comment about domain authority and search. I had never thought about it that way. And I’m just guessing here but I would assume that publishing frequency IS more causation than correlation for domain authority. Hmmm. More to ponder.

  • Yonatan

    As an early stage startup, we don’t have the resources and budget to write as often as I wished and one of the reasons is that I am not willing to compromise on the quality. On a personal level I read tons of content and as you mentioned, there is tons of carp out there and it’s getting harder to filter out the growing number of posts which simply waste my time. So I am glad I run by your post Michael, both because I enjoyed reading it and because I constantly search for high-quality content to share with our audience and this piece is worth sharing as it promotes exactly what we are trying to educate our customers. Which brings me to the question on a topic that Guillaume also mentioned – what’s your take / strategy when it comes to content curation? There are many researches and articles about it and I would be happy to hear your opinion.

    Thanks,
    Yonatan.

    • Michael Brenner

      Thanks Yonatan, As a former exec at 3 startups, I always made my direct staff commit to writing. Best way to increase quality content is to ask your team to commit to some cadence (once a week?). Just have them share customer insights, market perspectives, answer prospect questions, solve your audience’s biggest challenges. This is more important than the product in my experience.

      As for curation, I am a huge fan for a couple of reasons and then one caveat.
      1st) Curating the best content out there is a great way to learn and share thoughts and leadership from others
      2nd) Curating helps you to understand what is working and why
      3rd) Curation can help directly inform your content creation efforts by simply adding your own point of view

      The caveat is I never recommend sharing short snippets of other people’s content on your own website. It’s a terrible user experience, and it adds no value to your site. Instead, I recommend using curation to inform your own thoughts. As I did in this article. I curated from at least 7 different sources. Both sides of the argument. Research and images. So curation can be extremely helpful. But its not a shortcut.

      • Yonatan

        Thanks for the detailed reply. Great ideas regarding employee amplification.

  • Andrew Davis

    Hey Michael,
    Great post!!

    I can’t argue with the research (and you’ve done a wonderful job of compiling all the most salient stuff into a cohesive argument.) Obviously, as you’ve laid out MORE content seems to generate MORE traffic which generates MORE leads.

    I actually think the difference between thinking of yourself as a Newsroom versus a Content Producer is a subtle but VERY important distinction. News organizations thrive on MORE content. Content Producers thrive on regularly scheduled appointments delivering highly formatted content to an ever growing audience.

    So, let’s assume you publish once a week as a newsroom – well, that’s not going to be enough. However, if you create one piece of content (like a television show) one day a week and deliver it to an ever-growing audience do you really need more content? I don’t think so.

    At the end of the day the difference for me is simple: have you made a commitment to deliver a piece of valuable content on a CONSISTENT basis. (Consistency not frequency, might be the key.)

    I’m just spitballing here, but I love this post and I’m willing to agree that if you’re a newsroom – MORE is definitely better. If you’re building a content brand for a valuable audience, MORE CONSISTENTLY is better.

    How’s that?

    (DID any of that make sense?)

    Thanks again, Michael!

    • Michael Brenner

      hey Andrew, I think it’s a series of really great points. Maybe I should append the title to:
      MORE BETTER MORE CONSISTENTLY is MORE

      Thanks so much for adding to the discussion. I think this is an important point and really appreciate you chiming in.