The year is 2012 and B2B content marketing is in its infancy... Back then any B2B organisation that managed to produce high-quality content was able to differentiate itself in the market and drive tangible business outcomes.
At the time I was a video product specialist at Fairfax Digital. Ad networks had not gained a lot of traction at that stage, Google and Facebook weren’t as dominant as they are today.
Our clients were interested in what we had to say simply for the fact that there weren't a lot of expert sources providing them with advice and market intelligence.
Only three years later the landscape had completely changed. Not only did the number of competitors increase exponentially but also the volume of content they published to attract, educate and convert clients.
Welcome to the new world
I found this out the hard way. While we still maintained previously successful communication channels to engage clients, the impact was notably reduced. The revenue of my product portfolio grew but it was well behind the market growth rate.
My team did extensive analysis to understand what the issue was. Was it the audience? The products we offered? The sales team?
We were able to eliminate all of these factors after speaking to clients that we had long-term relationships with.
It crystallised that as the media landscape grew more complex, there was an over-supply of channels and products that achieved the same outcomes that we delivered.
What became the differentiator in the marketplace was expert knowledge communicated through content explaining trends, operational stumbling blocks, and ways to make the most out of the solutions we offered.
It’s safe to say that this realisation blew my mind. What a wasted opportunity! The people I worked with were some of the most knowledgeable people in the Australian media landscape. Yet we didn’t manage to capitalise on this expertise.
"68% of B2B buyers value specialised skill and experience the most when engaging vendors" - Inside the Buyer’s Brain (2019)
Pressure creates diamonds
Of course, changing the ways of the entire organisation at a flick of a button wasn’t realistic. We had to start small.
The only way forward was to change our approach and give the market what it wanted, preferably delivered at scale through content.
At this point in time, our senior executive leadership were still dominating most of the content that was created to address the marketplace. While I knew what we had to do to engage the market more effectively, it was a challenge to change the ways of a large organisation like Fairfax Media.
After a lot of conversations with our marketing team and ultimately the senior leadership team, we started making incremental improvements to the level of specialised knowledge (and value) we were able to engage the market with.
We went from engaging market stakeholders infrequently with high-level information to a laser-sharp focus on content value and scale.
We created more educational content that we shared through presentations to larger audiences, started speaking at niche conferences, actively sought out media interviews, and started producing educational on-demand video content.
The results of this focused approach to sharing highly specialised knowledge were astonishing...
Ten years ago content marketing was in its infancy in Australia with little to no knowledge about the philosophy behind this new approach to marketing communication.
Fast forward to 2019 and content marketing is not only huge; it’s widely considered to be the saviour of customer engagement in times of declining tolerance for display advertising and banner blindness. While many marketing trends come and go content marketing is now firmly entrenched on the modern marketer’s arsenal.
Content volumes have increased significantly. Thousands of ‘traditional’ publishers have been joined by tens of thousands of brand publishers with no end in sight. It’s never been easier to hire content producers as traditional news outlets abandon the idea of a full time newsroom.
A growing number of distribution channels offer reach, even within niche audiences. Within the last three years, content produced for platforms like Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter has skyrocketed and research by the Content Marketing Institute indicates that this is only the start of a trend.
For instance 58 per cent of Australian marketers state that they plan to increase or significantly increase content marketing spend in the next 12 months.
And this precisely defines the problem we’ll be facing according to digital marketing guru Mark W Schaefer. He coined the term Content Shock, a phenomenon described as “the emerging marketing epoch defined when exponentially increasing volumes of content intersect our limited human capacity to consume it”.
Graphic: The Content Shock theory visualised
Sure, there has always been more content out there than anybody could ever consume. But now even niche interest areas which have been nurtured by digital media are now affected by this phenomenon.
Today, we can access content when we want it, how we want it, and the hours of the day where we aren’t consuming content (on desktop PCs, laptops, smartphones, tablets, smartwatches, smart TVs, digital out-of-home screens, streaming music players, or eReaders) seem to be ebbing away, slowly but surely. (Triple-screening anybody?)
Let’s take a closer look at the Australian content shock symptoms:
1) Australian marketers spend a lot of money on advertising
Australia has consistently occupied one of the top spots in the estimated per capita advertising spend over the last few years. While data outlining international advertising spend per capita for the last year is still being updated, 2013 and 2014 data shows that Australia remains in either the top spot or the second spot.
2) Australian marketers love Content Marketing
Google Trends data shows that the interest of Australian marketers in content marketing related topics has seen a steady increase since 2012.
In fact, Sydney is typically one the top locations in the world for content marketing related searches of any city. This interest in the subject is reflected in the latest content marketing Institute research piece which reveals that Australian marketers allocate an average 30 per cent of their marketing budgets to content marketing and 58 per cent plan to increase their spend this year.
Graphic: Sydney/Australia typically appears very close to the top of “content marketing” related searches in the world (Source: Google Trends)
3) Brands invade the content long-tail
When it comes to content demand, we’re seeing that the long-tail, a space previously dominated by UGC (User Generated Content), is now increasingly penetrated by brand publishers. Brands with deep pockets invest in building their own channels or pay for the integration of their brand messages in content produced and published by influencers (previously known as bloggers). Facebook can be activated as a highly targeted amplification channel when required.
Struggling media outlets are left with commoditised mainstream broadcasting and unprofitable display advertising business models. Native advertising and attached content studios offer short term relieve but the costs of producing mainstream news still seems to be higher than the benefit of new monetisation models.
4) Australian content marketers don’t fully understand which content engages (but produce truckloads of it anyway!)
Despite any concerns about content shock, 87 per cent of Australian content marketers plan to produce more content while 69 per cent state that producing engaging content will be their number one challenge. Or in other words, most marketing departments have started investing money into content production without being able to define what success looks like and how to measure it. This “spray and pray” approach seems like a frantic attempt to fix declining display advertising effectiveness with a flood of irrelevant content as a side-effect.
The evolution of content marketing in Australia and the path towards content shock can be summarised by applying the key questions in the market to a timeline:
2013-2014 How do I produce content?
2014-2016 How do I promote the content I’ve produced effectively?
2016- How do I ensure relevance when all my competitors are investing heavily in content marketing?
There is no simple answer for Australian marketers on how to tackle content shock but there are a few starting points for the development of effective strategies.
Form strategic content partnerships
Marketers should explore non-competitive partnerships with other brands who offer products/services that are closely related to the customer needs. Imagine a BBQ manufacturer and sauce brand creating an article series featuring BBQ tips for occasions such as Australia day, Christmas, Easter. Imagine a Tourism board and a car brand co-producing a video series about the best road trip destinations in Australia. The benefit for each partner are:
Curation is a cost-effective way for brands to build relationships with customers by acting as a filter for crowded content topic areas. Channels for this approach can be social media or newsletters. Stay clear of posting links on your website as this has the potential to disrupt the website funnel you’ve painstakingly created. The traffic isn’t generated on owned channels but the benefit for the audience and, therefore, positive brand association remains.
Prioritise and master content distribution channels
Each content distribution channel comes with different attributes including content format, audience engagement, primary device access, consumption context ect. Brands with limited content resources are best off focussing on one key channel and perfect the content for this particular channel (e.g. Twitter) rather than stretching too thin by trying to service all channels the target audience uses.
Promote smarter, not harder
Budgets can easily balloon if content promotion isn’t optimised efficiently. It is crucial to run experiments in order to work out which creative/channel/audience delivers the right results. By treating each new campaign as an experiment, even small brands can out-smart major players in market.
Grow your subscriber base
Subscribers are the most valuable group within every audience as they have permitted the publisher (based on their detailed assessment around content quality) to connect with them on a regular basis. This can be happen in form of a “like”,”follow”, or newsletter subscription. Subscriber growth means a reduction of content promotion costs for marketers. Brands with the largest fan base will be able to save money and reinvest in the production of high quality.
Focus on content quality rather than quantity
Content quality is a synonym for content that best serves brand marketing objectives. There is an increasing number of tools out there that help determining content performance in the context of a (always-on) campaign. The challenge for most marketers is to effectively orchestrate these tools and make them work hard to support their objectives. Marketers who understand which tools help them to produce content that serves their objectives will be the winners of the content marketing game.
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