In a list of things most consumers have definitely never said, ‘I want to see more content marketing!’ would probably rank highly. Every brand has become a publisher. Some would dispute this on the grounds that it devalues the tradition of publishing but, in real terms, every brand has the ability to create and distribute content, through the same digital channels as the traditionalists.
This is all very well; some branded content is valuable enough to its audience, and the very best will either acknowledge its position as branded content or be so authentic as to hide it altogether (save perhaps for a link or a respectful reference to the brand in question). The problems come when brands assume that the greater the volume of content created, the more likely they are to see engagement, a scattergun approach that’s harmless if it comes out of one office, but exhausting if thousands of companies adopt it.
The Onion, typically, hit the nail on the head with its video ‘Sponsored Content Pretty F***ing Awesome.’ Though specifically referencing native sponsored content, the deep sarcasm is a warning to content marketers that audiences will pick up on and reject cynical content. And, given that 88% of B2B respondents to a Smart Insights survey said they use content marketing, there’s a lot of cynical content out there. At this point, with over-saturation a problem on just about every publishing platform, less can be more. Every minute, 1440 WordPress blogs are published, and 500 hours of content is uploaded to YouTube - there’s more than enough out there and, frankly, no one has time to read second-rate content.
So, onto this backdrop, a lot of digital marketers are adopting a refreshingly ‘less is more’ approach to their output. Less clutter is good, but the truth is that when you publish fewer pieces of content, they have to be better to make an impact. The emphasis has shifted from SEO-manipulative swathes of articles to quality, engaging, informed content that actually builds an audience. A less is more strategy means longer, well-sourced, genuinely informative or interesting pieces, with a strong focus on amplification or promotion of that content. Particularly successful pieces can be repurposed, updated, re-promoted, and shared on new channels to get the most out of them.
Suddenly producing quality content (at a sparing rate) is, obviously, far easier said than done - 60% of B2B content marketers cite creating engaging content as a top challenge. Companies acknowledge this; in 2016, 75% of businesses increased their content marketing budget, while 43% increased the staffing levels of their content marketing departments. Going more professional is something all brands should consider. No one wants to read cynical, shoddy content; actual engagement is better than clicks; and SEO algorithms are now too smart to bypass with keyword-laden copy.
This trend toward quality over quantity is reflected in the wider world of marketing. Earlier this month, Unilever announced a bold experiment: to cut half of the 3000 ad agencies it employs from it’s $8 billion annual ad budget, a move that will ultimately lead to the global giant having 30% fewer ads and marketing assets. ‘People need to care about what you’re talking about. There’s a real premium on getting people’s attention in a cluttered world,’ Keith Weed, chief marketing and communications officer at Unilever, said.
The company hopes that by showing fewer ads for longer, the brand will be able to more effectively get across a less fragmented message. Weed’s team reportedly created a ‘wear-out’ tool to show to the board, which assessed whether or not a marketing asset had been seen enough times by its target audience, or if it had reached a point of being ineffective. Finding that just over 1% of its marketing assets had been ‘worn out’, the team decided they could comfortably create fewer ads, while squeezing their existing ads for longer.
Content marketing strategists should apply similar logic. If their content isn’t wearing out, and it’s hitting the right audiences, then there is no need to up the output by any significant degree. The fruits of Unilever’s decision are yet to be realized, but it represents a shift in attitudes in what is a ludicrously and exhaustingly over-saturated space. Less is more in content marketing - stop throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks.