The Content Marketing Debate: More (Better) Is Definitely More
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.
My 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
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?
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:
“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:”
(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.
This 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.
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
Some have argued whether this is causation or correlation. This is a great question. So let’s explore it.
My 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.”
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:
- Has always been a key tenet of advertising
- Is the best way to build engaged subscribers
- Is the “pathway” to better quality
- Provides an opportunity for more effective testing and optimization
- 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.
“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.
Today’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.
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!“)
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