by Michael Brenner,  Head of Strategy, NewsCred

Posted on B2B Marketing Insider September 2014

Last week at content marketing world, I was asked to moderate a panel with two very distinguished experts in the content marketing space.

The panelists were Mark Schaefer and Marcus Sheridan. And our session was  titled “Is The Death Of Content Marketing Imminent?”

So first, the context. On January 6th, Mark Schaefer wrote a post on his popular {Grow} site called “Content Shock: Why Content Marketing Is Not A Sustainable Strategy.” He used his theory to support the statement that content marketing isn’t sustainable. And predictably, that got a few people worked up.

So let’s give Mark some credit. The post was shared thousands of times, generated hundreds of comments, and follow-up posts (you can now add this one). And was widely discussed in certain content marketing circles (see more on that below) from that point forward.

One of the articles in response, was Marcus Sheridan’s “The Big Flaw With Content Shock” published a couple of weeks later.

And that set up the showdown we had on the stage last week. To be fair, Mark and Marcus are good friends and the exchange was entirely respectful.

joe in orangeIs Content Marketing Even A “Thing?”

I opened with the pretext that just 3-4 years ago, we were asking if content marketing was even a “thing.”

We thought it was a thing, we knew social media was a thing. We knew the internet was a thing. We knew the mobile internet was a thing.

But those are all just pipes. Content is the oil! It’s the fuel that flows over each new set of pipes and that ignites connections between people and even brands. Always has. Always will.

So ok, content marketing is a thing. And thanks to Joe Pulizzi and his amazing team at Content Marketing Institute, it is an orange thing.

Content Marketing Is All The Marketing That’s Left

(One of my favorite quotes from Seth Godin.)

Since the first Content Marketing World conference, we evolved from asking if it is indeed a thing, to how do we get startedhow do we create effective content marketing strategies, and this year, to how do we measure results.

Brian Clark from Copyblogger commented that if content marketing was not sustainable, then “advertising should have been dead years ago!” Come on! That is an awesome quote too.

I believe so strongly in content marketing that I bet my career on it. I believe content marketing is saving marketing.

So while Mark is a super smart guy, and good friends can disagree and debate the merits of content shock, my issue was the statement he used in his title suggesting that content marketing was not a sustainable strategy. I think I know what Mark really meant. And we’ll get to that below.

The Myth Of Information Overload

But first, let’s talk about the historical precedence of the crock of shyte that is the information overload theory. I imagine the 2nd day after we emerged from caves, one caveman grunting to the other that there was just too much new stimulii for him to go on. Luckily for us, he did go on.

This theory really is nothing new. In my research, I found that Roman historian Seneca thought there was too much crappy information in his world for people to handle. So he responded by creating more, in the form of some of the greatest documentation of the history of mankind.

18th century French philosopher Diderot proclaimed that there was an overwhelming mass of dreadful books. So he responded by becoming the editor of an encyclopedia, and a dictionary, and whole bunch of other stuff.

In 1970, Alvin Toffler wrote the book “Future Shock” in which he coined the term “information overload” as the “social paralysis” that results from having more information available to us than we can process.

Information overload is widely believed, and in some cases proven to be a myth. It is overly simplistic but it appeals to our natural human instinct to feel overwhelmed by change and to want to exert complete control over our environments.

The Echo Chamber

Sonia Simone made one the best points about content shock in her article when she points out that the majority of this conversation on content shock is happening among consultants and writers and strategists. But it is NOT happening inside marketing organizations. Why?

Because brands know their content sucks. They know their marketing is largely ineffective. They know their messages are largely ignored. And they know that they can do better.

0.5% of the content on the average website drives more than 50% of the traffic. Some studies suggest that more than 50% and as high as 70% of marketing content created by brands goes completely unused. We are almost literally just burning money with the budgets we get to create content. So while some people are worried about the myth of information overload and so called “content shock,” most brands are just hoping to see the content they created get used at all.

Hey, change is hard. Marketing is a tough racket. And so most marketers do what their bosses ask them to do. Sell. More. Shit. But they aren’t concerned with content shock.

So What Is Content Shock?

In the panel, Mark described this notion that more and more information is being created at increasing rates:

  • The entire volume of the internet is doubling every few years.
  • The organic reach of each piece of content is declining.
  • Our attention spans are shorter.
  • The time we have available to consume content is now at a limit.

And guess what? All of this is true. I pressed Mark on the historical claims of information overload and asked “why now?” He blew off the historical claims but said that the main reason now was the moment of content shock for certain industries and niches was mainly because the early adopters have already moved in. And our available time is finite. We have reached our limit.

What Is The Flaw With Content Shock?

Marcus talked about how he just has a different definition of content marketing than “creating content.” He believes that a successful business will always be the ones that help their audience the most and in the best and most relevant way (he used the word “teach” which is pretty awesome.)

He also talked about how human beings are spending much of their time reading Buzzfeed lists and laughing at silly animated gifs. But that when we are ready to buy, we will look for the best, most relevant information on that product.

Mark replied that it is exactly this challenge that confirms we are in content shock because this realization is causing an arms race where only the biggest, most well-funded companies will win.

However, you could say that about any era, and any innovation and yet somehow, every year we see new companies emerge, new innovations and new growth-hacking improvements to the way we reach our new customers.

What We Should Have Been Talking About

I think the quote below from Rhonda sums it up best.

Now that I can agree with. There is always an early-mover advantage. Content Marketing is no different. Marcus Sheridan has made it really tough for anyone to compete with him. Schaefer has made it nearly impossible for anyone to own the term content shock. And good for him.

But are we in content shock? Nope.

Is content marketing a sustainable business strategy? It is the only sustainable marketing strategy to drive new business.

What’s the real problem we were talking about? Volume. And poor quality.

What’s the solution? I call it the “Gerry McGuire manifesto” solution: fewer clients, better relationships.

Quality simply does not mean you have to spend incremental dollars to see a return every time. ROI is possible even for smaller companies.

Mark’s argument is mainly flawed because it assumes all content is a widget. That all content created by anybody is created for everybody. And that good ideas are ubiquitous. The world will always find room for great stories, told really well.

Kevin Spacey taught us that in his closing keynote. And that is why content marketing will continue to grow. There are also a ton of articles out there including these 24 expert views on content marketing. Feel free to explore all the opposing views. And let me know what you think in the comments below.

And please follow along on TwitterLinkedInFacebook and Google+ or Subscribe to the B2B Marketing Insider Blog for regular updates.

Photo thanks to Tom Treanor.

Michael Brenner is the Head of Strategy for the leading content marketing platform, NewsCred. He is also the author of B2B Marketing Insider, a contributor to Forbes and a frequent speaker at industry events covering topics such as marketing strategy, social business, content marketing, digital marketing, social media and personal branding.  Follow Michael on Twitter(@BrennerMichael)LinkedInFacebook and Google+ and Subscribe to B2B Marketing Insider by Email