Combating the Content Overload

5387024837_6fe4f8981b_zI recently came across a piece on the future of content marketing in The Huffington Post that caught my eye. In it, Spencer Critchley argued:

“Although content marketing is still on the rise, it is already showing signs of becoming the victim of is own success…an advantage is no longer an advantage when it’s available to everyone.”

The argument being that the explosion of publishing activity on behalf of brands and the growth of content marketing is leading to an inevitable devaluation of content, the current rock star of digital.

While we’re certainly witnessing an increase in the sheer volume of content brands produce as they complete their transformation into publishers, that doesn’t mean the wholesale desensitization of audiences to branded content anytime soon. It just means the industry needs to get smarter in how it delivers the content.

Let’s use the example of dining out in New York City.  At any given time there are upwards of 20,000 restaurants throughout the city, with new ones added every week. Does that mean people are going to get tired of dining out? Making sense of the infinite amount of choices we have isn’t about halting new restaurants from opening or, in the case of content marketing, original content from being created – it’s about providing better filters to help consumers identify what they want, and to help them do it quickly.

When it comes to finding a restaurant, Yelp and Zagat serve up ratings so diners can make a confident selection. Pandora curates music we might like, Netflix recommends movies to watch, and a number of other content discovery platforms perform this essential service of curation  for consumers in readily digestible formats.

The problem, then, is not the volume of content produced and the seemingly endless inventory the Internet provides, but the quality of opportunities to readily find what we’re looking for.  This is where marketers can step up their games and build strategies that deliver on this promise for consumers, from exclusively creating or leasing content that is authentic, valuable, and actually pleasing to engage with, to ratcheting up their intelligence on how consumers interact on media platforms — essentially, which needs those media sites satisfy for users –  and plugging in content that complements or enhances that experience.

Advertorials rarely fit that description, and there’s been an influx “black hat” content that can make it difficult for consumers to tell the difference between a link to an engaging editorial experience and a link to a digital infomercial.  Confusion of this nature is arguably the bigger threat to content marketing, not over-saturation.

On the Search front, Google has made telling strides to identify and combat this confusion with changes to their algorithm and evolving their position on paid content.  As discovery tools and other content curators get smarter, the future of the industry should involve consumers clicking with utter confidence in the efficacy of the choices they’re presented.

To say that the future of content marketing is “no content” is like saying storytelling has an expiration date. I would agree with Mr. Critchley that less is in some respects more when it comes to content, but that doesn’t mean putting the brakes on content creation altogether.  Everybody wins when the storytellers — brands and publishers alike — place a premium on strategy and quality over quantity.