What is the current state of content distribution? The answer is “who”

What is the current state of content distribution? The answer is “who”

content distribution

I was recently in a lively discussion about the state of content distribution and it reminded me that this is a topic I haven’t covered in a long time. This was a dominant theme for me when I was working on the 2015 book The Content Code and it’s time to take a fresh look at things. So let’s dig in.

Content shock is alive and well

We are approaching the fifth anniversary of the most popular blog post I’ve written — Content Shock. It went viral because it pricked at the pomposity of the content marketing gurus and proclaimed that the popular notion of inbound marketing just doesn’t work like it used to.

And … it doesn’t.

There’s no denying that my prediction came true. As niches swelled with meaningful, helpful content, it became more difficult and expensive to compete. Social sharing and page views declined and our collective ability to stand out was muted by this hurricane of content competitors.

This suggested that content alone could no longer be the answer to the marketer’s dilemma. Creating more content just added to the problem. We needed our content to move. It had to be seen, it had to be shared. It had to be ignited.

Content ignition — that is the true source of content marketing value! There is no economic value to publishing content unless that content is seen and shared.

So how do we ignite our content? Let’s look at the state of the nation.

First — A caveat. There is no cookie-cutter solution or idea in the marketing world. Every industry, business, and product is complex. So, there are lots of exceptions. Today I am presenting high-level ideas, not specific solutions.

Search engine optimization

For nearly three decades, SEO has been the go-to strategy for content distribution. There is no more intoxicating marketing idea than having high potential customers auto-magically find our content organically through that little search box.

That is the heart of the idea behind inbound marketing, a concept that is much less relevant today than it was five years ago.

SEO is important, and it always will be, but my view it is far less important to most businesses than they think, for a simple reason. To win at SEO, you have to own one of the top search results. So in this never-ending battle for SEO supremacy, there can only be one or two winners in an entire product category.

In essence, SEO is like two big, mean junkyard dogs fighting over the same bone, week after week, year after year. Unless you’re one of those top dogs, SEO can be an expensive way to achieve endless frustration. Another option for content ignition — and probably a better option for most businesses — is to develop content that builds authority.

Authority-based content is produced for the customer, not a search engine, and wins the distribution war if it is good enough to earn customer subscriptions and organic advocacy.

If you want to dive into this idea more deeply, here are resources that can help. In another blog post, I explain the junkyard dog idea and in a second post I break down the two most likely content marketing strategies, including authority.

Promotions and advertising

If we can’t organically earn our way into the attention span of our customers, can we buy our way in through ads that boost our content? That is also getting more difficult.

Here’s a sign of the advertising apocalypse before us. One of the themes at the last Cannes Lions Festival was the desperate push from agencies to get Netflix to show ads. This sad and ridiculous strategy is coming about because of a couple of megatrends.

First, at an increasing rate, content being consumed today does not feature ads. Netflix. Amazon Prime. Spotify. Audiobooks. None of them show ads. Why? Consumers hate ads and consumers always win. Traditional advertising as we know it is dying.

Second, the only place where advertising is growing — digital — is filling up. As the ad inventory declines, the prices rise, making digital ads less accessible for some businesses, or products with slim margins.

Advertising is still a relevant content distribution strategy in some places of course, but it is also a victim of Content Shock — as the competition to standout increases, the cost to compete and distribute that content rises until some businesses will simply have to drop out.

The importance of WHO

So in this weird and noisy world, how do we get our message through? I think the future of content marketing and distribution is found in the word WHO.

Content distribution is a real mess compared to a few years ago. It’s harder to get our content seen and shared and even when we boost it with an ad, people probably still don’t see it or believe it. In fact, trust in businesses, brands, and ads have declined 10 years in a row, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer.

Who do people trust? Each other! We trust people like …

  • Friends and neighbors
  • Business leaders
  • Technical experts
  • Entrepreneurs
  • Influencers and celebrities

I believe completely that this simple fact will dictate the future of content marketing and content distribution.

The key idea is that yes, the WHAT of our story is important, but perhaps even more important is the WHO — WHO IS TELLING THE STORY?

If your company is telling the story through your content, it’s less likely that it will be seen, believed, and shared. But if people I trust are telling me this story, the content becomes internalized and actionable. The content ignites in the very best way — from people we trust.

Content ignition through trusted audiences is the true state of the art in content distribution. If you want to dive into this a little more, in another post I describe how this is an ongoing process of being invited on to the customer “islands.”

The future of content distribution

Marketing success in this new environment means adopting an entirely new mindset. We do not control the message, the pipeline, or the customer journey. The customer is the marketer. How do we help them do the job?

This is a scary and unfamiliar concept. It’s going to be hard to explain to a boss who is still entrenched in 2013. Content marketing success is going to be harder to measure. It’s going to take some bold leadership to accomplish.

But in this world of rapid change and uncertainty, this is one thing I know: We don’t have a choice but to keep moving ahead. We have to pivot and accept these new marketing realities.

The future of content distribution will rely on us creating stories and experiences that are so unmissable and conversational that the customers become the marketing department.

The key to our future success isn’t necessarily the story. It’s who is telling it.

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

Illustration courtesy Unsplash.com

The post What is the current state of content distribution? The answer is “who” appeared first on Schaefer Marketing Solutions: We Help Businesses {grow}.