The world is very noisy right now.
Sure, a lot’s going on politically, epidemiologically, and societally. But that’s not exactly (or not only) what I mean.
In 2022, organizations put even more importance on creating digital content and content-driven experiences. Consider the recent conversation I had with a new media company in the gaming space. They want to figure out how to ramp up their article production (using an artificial intelligence solution) from 25 to more than 500 per week, or 30,000 posts every year.
You read those numbers correctly: 30,000 posts per year.
No wonder creating a content marketing strategy feels like shouting into a hurricane these days.
But here’s the thing. It’s always been this way.
Just after the invention of the printing press, the Dutch humanist Erasmus complained, “To what corner of the world do they not fly, these swarm of new books? … [T]he very multitude of them is hurting scholarship, because it creates a glut, and even in good things satiety is most harmful.”
Can you imagine what Erasmus would say about all the talking heads in media today?
Still, that doesn’t make figuring out your content marketing strategy any easier – especially if you face expectations like those another client shared with me. His boss rationalizes their content production frequency with this logic:
“We’ll never compete if we dive a mile deep into topics. Our competitors are publishing every day. They’re the ones getting the attention.”
My gaming contact and my client’s boss share the same philosophy: More content equates to more audiences, which equates to more value.
As Luke Skywalker once said, “Impressive. Every word in that sentence was wrong.”
Why more content doesn’t always mean more value
See, despite the advancements of AI, content creation hasn’t been democratized (yet). It’s as hard to create high-quality, differentiated content today as in Erasmus’s era.
Instead, the printing press and newer digital technology democratized only the publishing and distribution of content. In 2022, with the help of technology, people produce and distribute more content faster than at any other time in history.
Artificial intelligence will continue to ease the challenge of content production and distribution. It may even intrude into the content creation stage. Imagine a day when AI can produce an article like this one – and tens of thousands of alternative versions designed to increase its performance across diverse audiences at different times.
But all this content is both signal and noise. My noise drowns out someone else’s signal, and your signal quiets someone else’s noise.
It’s not surprising that content marketers rarely create truly unique content. Your thought leadership probably echoes broader trends that originated elsewhere. Your research likely uncovers evolving trends that others have already identified.
Content marketers probably won’t create the next great piece of literature or Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism (at least not as part of their day jobs).
This is by design. As a marketer, you’re in the business of popularity. You try to show up among the most common signals without becoming noise. You want to provide signals familiar enough to tap into audience affinities to associate your brand with the views popular among your desired audience.
Put simply: Most marketers can’t afford to be the lone voice for a particular topic or stance because they’re mostly measured by how many people engage with the message.
Your mission as content creators isn’t to avoid creating noise or focus only on creating signals. No. Your mission is to make the most “right people” (i.e., those in your desired audience) care. This is the art of creating signals among noise.
Aim for different, not better
So, how can you separate signal and noise, differentiate your content, and make the right people care? Entertainment media companies provide a helpful model.
Look to these three media company-tested ideas:
1. Create ‘conscious’ content experiences
A “conscious” content experience involves creators who knowingly and purposely evolve the narrative as the needs of its audience change while sticking with the core story or values.
Media companies excel at this – telling the same story over and over again within changing pop-culture contexts or through the lens of different audiences. Look at all the ways they’ve told the story of Spiderman through different eras. The simple comic books of the 1960s and the multiverse movie adaptations featuring the teenage wallcrawler tell the same core story of an awkward teenager learning the great responsibility that comes with great power. Each retelling updates the story to resonate with current audiences.
You can take a similar approach with your blog, resource center, or other publication. You don’t have to lock yourself into a fixed editorial box that focuses only on thought leadership research or how-to articles. Great publications can change their editorial focus as their audience needs or context changes over time.
Software company SAP did this during the pandemic. During the early part of 2020, the content team shifted the editorial strategy for their Future of Customer Engagement and Experience site to feature helpful information regarding the Covid outbreak. This shift in focus helped them grow their traffic and, most importantly, build a more loyal audience.
2. Focus on different, not better
Media companies understand where they want to create differentiation with content and where they won’t. They also understand they don’t have to be the best in a category – they simply have to offer an alternative. Consider the hit television show The Office. In recreating the show for the US, the producers neither tried to copy nor improve upon the UK hit show. They made something different.
Many content marketers focus on producing better research, more provocative versions of thought leadership, or bigger influencers to tell the same story as their competitors. But one of my clients, a consulting firm in the financial services space, tried something different instead.
Rather than focusing on developing deeper thought leadership or more timely advice to its financial advisor audiences, they developed a book club. The company created a community and online content resource to help financial advisors discover the best new books to read. It wasn’t better than their competition. It was different.
3. Remember that quality wins in the long run
Some argue that if you produce enough content, some of it is bound to rank high, go viral, or succeed in another way. Mathematically, this argument is probably correct.
But I find that most content teams that focus on spending more time on fewer pieces do better than those that focus on pumping out as much content as possible.
Some media companies simply spew out content as a commodity, hoping it might be a surprise hit. Others recognize that hits are exceedingly rare. Putting care and feeding into each production lets them play the same game in a different way.
Financial Services company Capital Group offers a great example. As a global organization focused on just about every topical economic issue imaginable, the content team could compete with news organizations and report on every new interest rate hike, international banking change, or a new trend in the stock market. But they don’t. Instead, they focus on producing deep, thoughtful pieces weeks or months after a particular news item has broken. Why? They imbue every piece of content with deep research and analysis so that their audience learns to pay attention to and appreciate every piece of content they produce. This philosophy built a vast and loyal following among financial advisors.
Be the right signal to the right audience
The lesson for my client and the gaming company is the same. It may make mathematical sense to use technology to pump as much commodity content as possible. But that won’t solve the signal-versus-noise challenge.
Hiding their best signals in so much of their own noise makes it harder – not easier – to attract the audience that will care about their content. A glut of even good content distracts people from extraordinary content.
Create content because you have something to offer your desired audience. To those who care, you’re the signal. To those who don’t, you’re the noise.
It’s your story. Tell it well.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute