How much longer will Content be King?

by Michael Jacobi on 18 February 2016

As someone relatively new to marketing, when I first heard the phrases 'Content is King' and 'Content Marketing' a few years ago, I had to ask what it was all about. Unfortunately, my department's new 'Head of Content' could only give a vague answer that didn't really enlighten me. Since then, I've come to realise why she found it difficult to clarify what she was managing:

Content can be virtually anything, and it's everywhere.

But let's rewind a moment. Why did content suddenly come to dominate digital marketing?

I think it's safe to say that content could roughly be translated to the concept of having something relevant to say.

Novelty, or how nothing ever lasts

The year was 1994, and the FUTURE had arrived:


Fig 1. The world's first ever banner advert

The world's first banner ad was posted up on HotWired, and it was marvelous, getting a CTR of 78%. Out of every 100 people who saw the ad, 78 decided to click on it. Many imitators continued to see high engagement, with rates as high as 80-90%.

With more and more companies following the trend, demand for ads and ad space shot up alongside the rapid increase in the number of internet users increased rapidly. Unfortunately, the success of display ads didn't last – today, the expected CTR for an ad would be around 0.05%, depending on the industry in question.

Display ads weren't the only medium to decline over time. Email marketing, originally starting off as quirky but generally ignored spam, entered the mainstream, initially getting traction before suffering declining open rates over time.


Fig 2. Email open rates over a 4 year period

Those of you who work in marketing would see 2004 rates today as a raging success.

So what happened? I think it's reasonable to assume a few issues arose for these originally innovative marketing techniques:

  • The novelty wore off – once people realised that the ads/emails weren't always that relevant to them, they stopped bothering to click them
  • Saturation – the relative number of other ads/emails that online users were exposed to increased, and the rapid market saturation led to a dilution of each ad's individual message.
  • People's mental habits adapted – Heat map studies have shown that most people have learned to browse the web and subconsciously avoid even looking at display ads.
  • People don't like to be sold to – last but not least, it's worth noting that just like in real life, people didn't like the 'push' sale, where goods and services were being pushed on them without any rhyme or reason.

From push to pull

With dwindling effectiveness and an unreceptive audience, marketers looked to see what was drawing all the traffic online, and found their solution: content. Individual bloggers were drawing large amounts of traffic by sharing ideas, and social media was beginning to take off rapidly. But what did content really entail?

Ask anyone and the definition will differ. But I think it's safe to say that content could roughly be translated to the concept of having something relevant to say. That can of course end up being any number of things – having a deal that the viewer could benefit from, general advice, something entertaining, an update on trends, etc.

By giving something useful to audiences, organisations could build deeper relationships over time, rather than becoming an annoyance. (This wasn't new of course. 'Content' had been the lifeblood for newspapers and publications for centuries).

In this sense, content marketing has been a very positive trend. It renewed emphasis on building a relationship with users, and it meant that organisations had to up their game in terms of staying relevant and explaining what it was they had to offer. To top it all off, it provides a reason for repeat visits, and can even be shared so readers can act as evangelists.

Unfortunately, the issue of diminishing returns once again reared its ugly head. Anyone on social media today can vouch for this: we are all drowning in content. Anyone with a Facebook feed can immediately see that there is an unending stream of articles, videos, and pictures being produced by innumerable organisations, all vying for attention and traffic.

To add some insult to injury to those of you who work so hard on producing in depth research and insight, so much of what's bombarding audiences is painfully thin, designed to distract by grabbing your attention but not holding it for long.

article examples.png

Fig 3. – Meet the competition

With every organisation vying for attention and traffic, it's flattened the playing field so that the line between a video of someone's dog and a company's latest blog article has become blurred. The vast umbrella term of 'content' starts to make sense when so many different topics and formats are grouped together online.

With content being everything, it can also start to feel like nothing.

So what's next?

Just as IKEA's CEO implied that we may have hit a point of 'peak home furnishings', it's starting to look like we're hitting a stage of 'peak content'. Content may be King, but only collectively – getting your content to become King for audiences remains an ever increasing challenge.

Now that quantity is starting to peak, it's worth looking at quality, specifically for your audience. The focus will start to come more to delivering your content to the right person, in the right way, at the right time.

In other words, contextual relevance and delivery will become the key differentiators.

So what should you keep in mind? I would suggest the following:

  • Focus your content on a particular audience – as context becomes more important, it can actually make it easier for you to prioritise what you publish and put out. By focusing on a particular audience, you can make sure that you're spending limited resources to make the best possible content
  • Make your content more 'needs based' – further to the above, it's worth focusing your content efforts to address particular audience needs, helping them to find information to fulfill their own goals.
  • Find the right channels to speak with your audience – unfortunately, 'if you build it they will come' no longer applies under 'peak content' conditions. Try and focus your efforts onto channels of promotion that are most effective for you in gaining an audience interested in what you have to say.
  • Design is key to secure your first impression – there's nothing worse than a poorly designed website. Just like in real life, appearances play a significant role so make sure your content is presented in the best way possible.
  • Prioritise UX when designing your content – Finally, remember to consider the overall experience your users go through. By prioritising UX, you can make sure that they'll be receptive to your content, and more likely to convert

Keen to find out more about writing content for your business and marketing? Check out our online content strategy course!


Robert says 03:02am 03 Mar 2016

Good article.

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