Is content the answer?

Wednesday, June 10, 2015 | 2pm

Well that depends very much on the question.

Researching a stat to express how much content is out there on the web, I found this:

5 exabytes of online content is created each day.

Sounds impressive, doesn’t it? It is. According to our friends at Wikipedia, the prefix ‘exa’ “indicates multiplication by the sixth power of 1000 (1018)”, which means one exabyte is a unit of information equal to a quintillion bytes… Now multiply that by five.

Still hard to get your head round? An ACI blog puts it this way: “five exabytes of content were created between the birth of the world and 2003. In 2013, 5 exabytes of content were created each day.”

Wow. No wonder Mitchell Kapor came up with the line “Getting information off the Internet is like taking a drink from a fire hydrant” – And if you can’t get your head round that one (since we Brits don’t have fire hydrants on every corner like our cousins across the Atlantic), here are 7 seconds that show just how much of a challenge that would be.

I think we’ve pretty much got the picture now. That there is so much content spewed out on the internet that we couldn’t take it all in, even if we wanted to.

So where does that leave us when it comes to that marketing monolith, content marketing? Is it really the answer? How can we be sure our customers can filter through the oceans of content to find ours?

Or maybe the question is how can we be sure they even want to? Advertising Age carried an article recently about the phenomenon of “content blindness” – when there is so much content vying for people’s attention that they just don’t see it anymore. And in my view, as I’ve written in an upcoming issue of the IDM Journal, there’s the added problem of too much focus, particularly in the B2B world, on the end stages of the buyer journey, where we’re providing gated content and proof points like case studies, product and data sheets, webinars and events.

But what about the start of the journey, when customers are searching for solutions to their problem or a product that fits their needs? The fact that people can now do vast amounts of research on the internet has made customer buying decisions more complex than ever. Google reported recently that, on average, 12 searches are made before a potential customer will start to interact with a brand with an intent to buy. That’s why you need to be on the radar right up front. That’s when you need content that gets you noticed, keeps your prospect’s attention and at least puts them on the path to solving their issues, because this is where preferences start to form.

And you’ve got to work at it. People aren’t just idling their time away, waiting for something to come along that tells them about your brand, which they’ll then greedily devour. If you want a piece of your content to be read, then you’ve got to make sure it’s something your audience wants or needs. And I mean really wants, or really needs.

The same Advertising Age article referenced above quotes figures that reveal how shockingly inward-facing many marketers are when it comes to the subject matter of their content. They report that, in a survey of 1,500 marketers, 93% believed content should be connected with products and services, and 75% said content should carry frequent product mentions.

However, and for me this is completely unsurprising, 60% of their audience claim to turn their back on content that sounds like a sales pitch. In fact three-quarters of respondents said they look to content for insights or ideas related to business.

Proof, if it is needed, that marketers need to get off the content bandwagon and back to marketing basics.

Get to know your customers.

Properly.

In today’s connected and data-rich world there is no excuse for not being able to get to know your customers’ likes, dislikes, pain points, needs and desires. Do the legwork and do the research. We’re in an era where we need to enrich the lives of our audience and hey, if your product isn’t good enough to tell that story on its own, then we better make sure our marketing is.

Think about the utility of your content. Offer something to your audience that’s useful, helpful or life-enhancing. Or all three.

And test what works. What gets their attention? What keeps them engaged? What makes them act?

Going through the motions and processes of churning out content, especially content that is little more than a sales pitch, just won’t cut it anymore. It’s essentially the same scatter-gun approach we used to see with display advertising. Be brave. Think differently. Before your competitors come in, nick the wheels, and you wake up one morning to find your content marketing bandwagon on bricks.

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