Beyond Content Shock, with Mark Schaefer

The bestselling author of The Content Code and Known hits The Sophisticated Marketer’s Podcast

March 13, 2018

The next Content Shock, with Mark Schaefer

It’s arguably the most important idea in marketing today – and certainly the most important idea in B2B content marketing. That’s what makes the man behind the concept of Content Shock an ideal guest on our blockbuster Season Six of The Sophisticated Marketer’s Podcast.

Back in 2014, Mark Schaefer was contemplating the fact that the supply of free content being produced by brands was far outstripping the possible demand in the form of available human attention. In a normal market, too much supply and too little demand means falling prices. In this case, where content was already being given away for free, it would mean that brands and individuals would have to pay ever-larger amounts to get anybody to consume their content. Mark had introduced the world to the concept of Content Shock. It was a huge wake-up call for any marketer ready to listen – and it had a big influence on me.

I’ve never seen Content Shock as proof that content marketing doesn’t work. However, it’s absolute confirmation that complacent content marketing never will. The days of creating great content and waiting for the audience to come and find you, with no need to worry about a distribution strategy, are well and truly done. Content is not a magic-bullet solution to the challenge of building awareness and engagement – and it’s certainly not a free solution. I’d argue that it never was. It requires a considered strategic approach, focused investment – and the right approach to creativity and idea-generation.

It’s not easy. However, it is vital. Because the same forces that created Content Shock also require that businesses find new ways to command audiences’ attention and build brands. They require marketers to update their strategies and skillsets in a world where attention is being locked down and the traditional advertising model just isn’t enough. They demand new approaches to measurement. Content is a big part of the process of figuring out solutions to all of these issues. The task of overcoming Content Shock is indivisible from the task of evolving marketing.

That was the background to me welcoming Mark to the penultimate episode of this season of The Sophisticated Marketer’s Podcast. It was a chance to chat through some of the most urgent issues in marketing with one of the most generous and imaginative minds writing about them. Mark is the author, not just of The Content Code (his playbook for dealing with a content-shocked world) but also of Return on Influence (one of the first explorations of Influencer marketing) and Known, which is one of the best books on personal branding out there. In short, if you’re a marketer seeking to make your way in the world, this is a man worth listening to.

Click on the link below to hear Mark’s appearance on The Sophisticated Marketer’s Podcast in full – then scroll down for a quick summary of the most important challenges he sees for marketing today. If you ask me, they prove that Content Shock isn’t the end of real content marketing – it’s arguably the beginning:

Marketing’s skills shortage is becoming a big problem
According to Mark, the most frequent complaint that he hears from CMOs is that they can’t find the people they need – and yet more and more experienced and strategically minded marketers are out of work. It’s a telling comment on the state of the skills gap in marketing. My view is that people with the strategic smarts to work at the top level have been left behind the rise of the hybrid marketer – and the growing need for a more complete set of practical know-how. The upper-middle reaches of our profession have been hollowed out. Developing marketers need to keep a focus on balancing strategy with execution.

We need a double dashboard
We all know that marketing needs to speak the language of the business bottom-line if it’s to be taken seriously by the C-suite. The danger is that this dupes marketers into making promises that they can’t possibly keep. It’s great to talk about sales and revenues but not all marketing activity is going to lead directly to sales and revenues within a speedy timeframe. If you’re not careful you end up focusing solely on lead generation in order to keep the boardroom happy. Mark believes we need a double dashboard – one side monitoring the numbers that executives are interested in; another monitoring the metrics that show we’re on course to achieve those numbers. He’s right – and this is going to involve taking a far more mature look at KPIs once dismissed as vanity metrics.

Brand awareness is now more important than ever
That double dashboard matters so much because of the comeback in the significance of brand awareness for B2B marketing. In a content-bombarded world, audiences desperately need heuristics or rules-of-thumb to help them quickly decide what’s worth paying attention to. Being the brand that people recognise is the greatest possible competitive advantage in this context. As Mark puts it, brand awareness is the ‘on ramp’ that gets all other forms of marketing activity in the game. You can’t generate leads or create compelling customer experiences without it. And yet marketers must find ways to build awareness in an increasing advertising-free world. That’s why developing a sustainable content marketing strategy that can exchange value for attention in a content-shocked world is so important.

When it comes to influence, consistency and timeliness trumps genius
Building effective influencer brands is one of the solutions that Mark talks about – and he argues for the importance of consistency over genius when doing so. To influence someone on an on-going basis, you need to become a content habit. You can’t do this by writing one exceptional post every few months. You need quality, but you still need to find ways to deliver that quality at a frequency that works. This doesn’t mean a post a day – but it might mean one piece of genuinely original thinking each week. And the great thing about a consistent frequency like this is that it enables you to address timely issues, while bringing a unique perspective to them. Mark thinks this is increasingly important for establishing influence – and I think he’s right.

Authenticity is a false promise – it’s values that matter
Mark isn’t a great fan of the buzzy concept of authenticity in marketing. As far as he’s concerned, claiming to be the same thing to all people at all times is a false promise. You’ll always vary your approach as a marketer based on the context and the audience. What matters is that you have consistent values at the heart of it all – and one of the greatest tricks in developing content that cuts through the noise, is finding a way to signal what your most important values are.

Content Shock is the most important concept in marketing today
How does all of this relate back to the concept of Content Shock? As Mark puts it, everything that marketing currently worries about is a subset of the need to stand out: every new skill that you need is directed towards it, and every marketing objective that you have depends on it. Planning different routes towards earning the attention you need (and deciding which content you can sustainably exchange it for) is the essence of marketing going forward. That doesn’t make content the only marketing strategy – but it does mean that any marketing strategy has to wrestle with the dilemmas that Content Shock represents.

Special thanks to our friends at Image Think for this incredible graphic. Check out their website here.

Enjoyed this episode of The Sophisticated Marketer’s Podcast? Why not catch up on the whole of Season Six, including appearances from Seth Godin, Shannon Brayton and Bryan Eisenberg, here.

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