Content Marketing

The 3 Ways to Succeed at Content Marketing When Everybody in the World is Doing Content Marketing

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Jay Baer Blog PostIt’s getting crowded in here.

Marketers always kill the golden goose, and content marketing is next on the chopping block. The volume of content being created now is enormous, and we’re nowhere near the apex of the content creation trend. Companies are creating more and more and more and more content for three reasons:

  • The way they used to market doesn’t work as well as it used to work, and they are grasping at alternatives
  • Content marketing works for them, and they know it
  • Content marketing is relatively inexpensive compared to interruption marketing, so they figure they might as well give it a shot

Some content being produced today is smart, inspirational, effective and downright fantastic. More of it is the exact opposite, the worst kind of ready, fire, aim flotsam and jetsam that the digital realm produces in spades.

My friend Mark Schaefer, a superior blogger/author/podcaster is deeply concerned about the volume of content production upsetting the entire apple cart and making content unsustainable as a marketing stratagem even for the good guys with pure hearts and good intentions. In a series of posts at his {grow} blog, he theorizes that a reckoning is coming: a point where so much content fills the pipeline that creators cannot break through the wall of noise, making it no longer cost-effective to produce content at all. Market researcher extraordinaire Tom Webster (and Mark’s podcast co-host) has also sounded an alarm about content marketing being a short-term arbitrage opportunity that may begin to fail once all the inefficiencies currently present in the information marketplace are removed.

I agree that change will come. I disagree that this in any way unusual, or a rationale to not get involved in content marketing.

Certainly, more content being created will make it more difficult to succeed as a content marketer. That’s axiomatic, and is 100% about economics and 0% about content marketing per se. When competition increases for ANYTHING (customers, attention, pizza sales, bird seed, real estate) smart players adapt and survive, and less-astute players continue to embrace the status quo and slowly dig their own graves.

Eventually, the content boom will weed out the weak and the lazy and the misguided (tweet this), the same way the SEO boom, display ad boom, PPC boom, email boom, and social media boom culled those herds. Some day, people who aren’t disproportionately adept at content won’t succeed with content marketing as a major part of their communications and engagement program; nor should they.

Eventually, everything is impacted by change and competition. That’s not unique to content marketing in the least.

Change doesn’t matter. It’s what you do about change that matters. (tweet this)

HotDogGIFclip11CompressedThese are the three ways you can continue to succeed with content marketing when the content marketing industry starts to feel as overstuffed as Joey Chestnut on July 5.


When content gets tough, you may have to do things dissimilar to the other guys. That might mean (and I hope it does) making your content so useful, people would pay for it if you asked them to do so (a Youtility approach). Or, you might have to use new techniques to break through, such as this innovative video infographic from Vidyard. Maybe you explore and colonize a new topical sub-niche for your content?


When content success requires more than just showing up to the dance, perhaps you might have to make your content “better” and more polished. This is the “make your content matter” approach often advocated by Ann Handley from MarketingProfs and Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose from Content Marketing Institute. Whether it’s graphic design, comprehensiveness, emotional appeal or other factors, you may need to invest more in your content marketing “bricks” to stay ahead of the game. (for an overview of the Convince & Convert Bricks vs. Feathers approach to content strategy, see this post and graphic)


When the content marketing boom is in full effect (I give it 24 months), you may need to find a way to scale content creation in a time and cost-effective fashion. This is the premise of “low effort” content that is championed by my friends at Compendium (now part of Oracle). I’m a big believer in this approach, whereby you create mechanisms for your customers and employees to create large volumes of straightforward content via email inquiry, online form, product reviews, testimonials, etc. I call this concept Cooperative Content, and I believe it will eventually dominate polished content due to its significant economic advantages, and the ability to use technology to achieve scale. Software packages like Captora are already in the market, helping brands perform content marketing gap analyses, and then automatically creating hundreds of topic-focused landing pages in minutes. Tech-assisted content creation will be huge in 2015.  


That’s it. That’s the list. There are only 3 ways to succeed when faced with increasing competition: differentiation, excellence, or scale (tweet this). Some day, you’ll need to adopt one or more of these approaches to maintain content marketing effectiveness. Will you?


Facebook Comments


  1. says

    Thanks for this, Jay–it is of course all about economics (and I think a lot of the critiques of Mark’s post, and mine from last August, focused too much on the “content will stop working” bit and not enough on “may stop being economically viable for many actors.”) We don’t disagree at all–when content floods the market, the weak will perish and the strong will come out on top.

    I think your three ways to succeed are spot on (though I might argue that “differentiation” is really the heart of all of them). Ultimately, though, I think truly great content must be audience-focused, and not product-focused or even buyer-focused. Only by knowing an audience well–and the ways in which they *diverge,* not converge around your product–can you truly take calculated risks. There, the path to greatness lies.

    To me, the three choices open to any content marketer facing this kind of potential economic inflection point are the three “E’s”:

    1. Exit the activity (surely must be an option for those who cannot differentiate their content)
    2. Expertise (an inward-facing discipline to be the best in your field, not the best content marketer in your field)
    3. Excellence – to do what other actors will not (where you and I line up completely.) And that is an outward-facing discipline.


    Thanks for pushing the field forward, as you do.

    • says

      Thanks for the well-considered reply, my friend. I very much appreciate your point about content success being rooted in audience understanding. True today, and will be even more true when the going gets really tough. We are surrounded by data, yet often starved for insights. Those that succeed long term will be the marketers than can solve for that.

    • says

      There is one more “E” you missed. Emotion.

      Building a true emotional connection to your audience trumps everything. For example, over the years, you and I have progressed from Twitter friends to blog commenters to individuals who met at a conference to people who had dinner together to trusted friends who are now business partners and collaborators. The seed of this relationship was content — this is content marketing at its very best. The result, because we WORKED it, is trust. If the content apocalypse came tomorrow, I would still subscribe to your blog.

      This is one reason I believe small companies can have an advantage in this space over large companies with tag-team bloggers. The person or company who is most human will stand out.

      I suppose this might fit under Jay’s “differentiation” category but I’m not sure. Certainly anybody can choose a strategy of being genuine and human, but really doing it is quite a rare ability that must be supported by an extraordinary company culture. In fact, none of the “Big Three” will work without a company culture to support it.

      • Business Blog Writers says

        Amen to “the person or company who is most human will stand out”.

        At the end of the day, most people want something real – we are inundated with fake stuff all day long.

  2. says

    Jay – I’d like to propose a fourth way to succeed during the impending content shock:

    – Audience Parasitism (earned media)

    Let me explain. While I agree with most of what Mark and Chris Penn wrote about what’s coming, I disagree that this is a content problem (quality/quantity). Instead I believe it’s an audience problem.

    There’s only so many people on this planet who are interested in reading marketing articles. At some point those folks will commit to their media channels (websites) of choice in order to get the “marketing content” they’re interested in. We’re likely there already for marketing.

    One way for a new agency to get their content read is to identify where the marketing audiences hang out and put on a traditional public relations hat. Earned media has been around for a long time and will be key for brands getting their content read during content shock IMO.

    During your book promotion you crushed earned media as a channel. You got your content in front of a lot of other audiences on other websites. That same technique can help brands survive during content shock in their respective industry.


    • says

      Agreed Chad. The consolidation and coagulation of audience is advancing, and a push rather than pull approach is looking much better. Put in a tactical way, would you rather write on Medium, where a bunch of people already are, or create a blog on your own domain and hope you can build an audience? Realistically, the answer is probably “both” but I’ve been mulling that kind of tug-of-war a lot lately, for clients and for myself.

  3. Peter says

    Is there any material available on the topic of “tech-assisted content creation”? Any success stories in this area?

  4. says

    Thanks Barry. Tom is indeed an excellent presenter. And the tools-centric focus of many people will never change. It’s human nature. Since I wrote about Cooperative Content weeks ago, I guess I’m the last one in the door on the new marketing terms. 😉

  5. says

    I wonder if one thing that changes is that we have people who specialize in certain parts of content marketing so that they can scale. For instance, a company that specializes in writing special reports and e-books for a particular industry. Sell them for $99 or something like that, brand them for their company, and then use them on a landing page that they created from one of the new landing page companies that are popping up. Also, I wonder if there might emerge consultants who serve more like a project manager, helping companies find the right total solution consisting of different moving parts that serve the company’s specific needs.

  6. says

    Fantastic post Jay! Love it. I read Mark’s post last week and saw your comment on it. You had a really interesting perspective (which I wholeheartedly agreed with) so I was hoping to get a deeper take from you on Mark’s content shock idea. Thank you for expanding on your comment with this post.

    In addition to the areas you talk about, this topic reminds me somewhat of the late 90’s when everyone and their uncles were getting involved with the web. Web-focused businesses were springing up overnight and everyone was becoming a web designer, web programmer, etc. etc.

    The result?
    The web was getting flooded by many people and businesses who were jumping onto the web primarily, if not solely, for economic opportunity. Those who jumped into the fray primarily for economic reasons created a lot of junky sites and unsound ideas IMHO. The web was getting cluttered with junk. And a crash of some type was inevitable.

    I think the same holds true to a degree with content marketing today.

    I remember the crash very clearly. Most everyone around me was upset and scared. I remember being excited. Everyone thought I was nuts. They’d ask me why I was excited about such a downturn.

    To me it was simple, the wheat was going to get separated from the chaff. The herds were going to be culled. Those who were committed to doing quality work based on sound ideas were going to stand out. Those who weren’t, “the weak and the lazy and the misguided” we going to get Darwined 😉

    Did the web change with the crash? Absolutely. Did it go away? Obviously not.

    As you point out, I think the same holds true with content marketing today. Our industry might change due to some type of content shock effect, but I think the change will be for the better. TY for sharing your perspective.

  7. says

    This is a great post Jay and I think quite aligned with the original post I wrote. I ended that post with a challenge to think about what’s next and I think you helped flesh that out.

    I think the richest area for discussion and discovery is “differentiation.” There is a world of possibility available to businesses of all sizes. Content will certainly be at the heart but we need to re-think how it is viewed, where it is viewed, why it is viewed.

    If you can imagine, I grew up in a company where we used to have five year plans. Those days are long gone. Today strategy is nearly ephemeral, a function of time and space and speed, We have to consider that kind of thinking for our content strategy too.

    Thank you very much for this excellent contribution to the dialogue Jay.

  8. Business Blog Writers says

    Barry, amen to this: “you need to resist pushing the go button on your content marketing
    creation machine until you fully understand who it’s for and how it will

    I can’t tell you how many e-mails and calls we get and no one has a plan – they just have heard that content is the cheapest way to gain Internet traffic. I try to explain to them that it’s much more than that and involves more of a strategy – one that involves social media, etc. But it doesn’t always seep through.

    My moral dilemma is that I have a problem charging them for content from us when I know without a plan, it isn’t gonna matter what we write or how we write it.

  9. Evan Ware says

    Great post, Jay, thanks. I work with engajer and could not agree more with the need to
    differentiate content. We have found that with the endless sea of content marketing that just keeps growing, it truly takes something different to gain a customer’s attention. Those who will have continual success in this area will make their content “work” for the customer, mimicking the experience of a one-on-one conversation with a dedicated customer service representative. Without a personalized approach, content just becomes something to passively skim, and savvy consumers are looking for interaction, even with marketing content.

  10. says


    I feel the weak one of the three is “scale”. It seems at significant odds with the other two. I think “low effort” will necessarily result in “low quality” and god knows we’ve got enough low quality content flying around already. I may be guilty of not fully understanding the concept (or of oversimplifying it) but it sounds like scraping up all the stuff anyone creates around a brand and trying to repurpose it as something interesting. And if that’s it in a nutshell it’s rarely likely to produce “something interesting.”

    Happy to be corrected, of course.

  11. Coherent Media says

    The two key points you make are differentiation and quality. Increasingly, users are adopting strategies to tune out or turn off content they feel is wasteful of their time. Strategies like sending emails directly to trash, unfollowing, unsubscribing and Google’s warning about penalizing some guest blogging are examples of this. However, I continue to find with my clients that well-crafted content that is authentic, targeted, and useful delivers good ROI.

    An issue I’m helping organizations grapple with is how to to create structures that will enable them to generate effective content sustainably. It’s too easy to go the cheap and nasty route, which is what we’re seeing in much of content generation; but the impact is negative – their potential market being turned off by the brand, or worse, switching to active ignoring or blocking of content. Having a plan, a commitment from management, and the capacity in place to sustain generating effective, quality content is key in today’s noisy marketplace. This includes subject matter, elements of design, choice of media and distribution tools.

    Good content also has other effects that should not be ignored, such as impacts on strategic positioning, and shaping of perceptions by potential customers of quality.

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