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Have we reached Peak Content?

Kim Brebach - Friday, February 27, 2015

Have we reached Peak Content?

‘Prediction is very difficult, especially if it is about the future.’

Niels Bohr, Nobel Prize-winning physicist

Content Fatigue?

Last Year, Rand Fishkin at MOZ wrote a post headed Content Marketers Could Become Their Own Worst Enemy, in which he warns that too much content will lead to content fatigue. About the same time, we put together a short Slideshare called Content Marketing Creating Junk at the Speed of Light, which argued that we’d already reached that point with Henry Ford style content production lines.

What we saw was companies embracing content marketing as a cheap means of advertising or building their profile, and hiring hordes of marketing graduates to churn out bulk content. It’s not surprising that Google’s trend analysis shows that interest in the term content marketing is waning.

Joe Pulizzi from the Content Marketing Institute admits that ‘the buzz is gone, and now what's left is all the work to do on the initiative.’ Then he adds that the majority of companies are still at the beginning stages of making their content marketing work. That’s a real worry, and here’s why:


In 2014, we saw an increasing amount of recycled content, and it became pretty hard to find any original ideas or thoughts. Everybody said Content was King, and everybody produced more of it. Last year, we saw many of the the biggest content producers warming up their old content and serving it again - many without even updating it.

The consequences were predictable: the buzz went out of content marketing, as Joe Pulizzi conceded. It also became harder for the cream to float to the top, as the pot was huge and there was already so much content in it. A couple of years ago, online marketing was seen as a cheap way to reach a bigger audience. Now it’s getting much harder and much more expensive to push through the noise barrier.

Marketing Automation – Henry Ford lives

Doug Kessler at Velocity Partners wrote a post headed MARKETER AUTOMATION: MEET YOUR ROBOT OVERLORDS, where he talks about the extensive digital plumbing employed by organisations these days: ‘marketing automation, lead nurturing, CRM, interaction engines, personalization tools, testing & optimization platforms…’

Then he asks: ‘Yeah, but can the bastards write puns?’ And answers: ‘Why not? If BuzzFeed robots can test a hundred headlines and run with the winner, surely another robot can generate those headlines. They may not be Bill Bernbach but they’ll be a lot better than a lot of the emails I get.’

If you think Doug is exaggerating, he suggests you watch the video Humans need not apply. The real point he’s making is that the marketing robots will only add more material to the mountain of recycled content, and do so faster.

Image source: www.hostgator.com

The Royal Myth: Content Is King

That’s the heading of a short piece in which Barry Feldman made a strong case that marketers had it all back to front. ‘The customer is the king,’ Barry wrote. ‘The customer has needs. You serve them with content.’

Simple, isn’t it? As I’m writing this, almost 3 million other busy beavers are writing blog posts. Just today. 3 million. That number is dwarfed by the 500 million tweets generated every day, and would you believe 16 years of video are uploaded every day to YouTube? More HERE.

It makes you wonder why one of the biggest problems marketers report is not being able to create enough content. It’s no wonder, on the other hand, that Google comes up with 264 million search results when you key in ‘how to find material for blog post ideas’.

The customer has needs. You serve them with content

Here’s an example of looking at the content creation story from the wrong end: the point of view of the creator. These questions are an excerpt from a piece that asks: Is this content valuable? It’s a checklist of sorts:

  • Does this content have a clear business goal? Are we clear why we are creating it?
  • Do our ideal customers crave this content? Does it answer a real question/solve a real challenge for the type of customers we want?
  • Does this content fit with the story we want to tell? Is it in line with our message?
  • Is it unique? Different enough from other content we have created? Not repetitive?
  • Is the content surprisingly useful, human or entertaining? Does it go the extra mile to make the reader think, laugh or teach them something new?
  • Is the content in the right format - for the audience and for the subject matter?              
  • Is it actionable? Does it have a clear next step and call to action?              
  • Is it shareable? Visible social share buttons?

There’s really just one question that is directly concerned with customer needs, and that’s the problem with most of the content out there: it’s self-serving, not customer-serving.

The Fundamental Things Apply

It doesn’t matter how much the online world changes, ‘the fundamental things apply as time goes by’ as the song from 'Casablanca' told us. So let’s get back to the fundamentals: Your content isn’t worth anything, unless it speaks to the people you’re trying to reach and addresses the problems that keep them awake at night, in their language. Forget about the rest, it’s that simple.

  • It’s not about building your profile, it’s about building trust with your readers
  • It’s not about reaching more people, it’s about engaging the ones that matter to you
  • It’s not about making your content look smarter, it’s about making it more relevant
  • It’s not about how many stories you tell, it’s about how you tell the ones that matter
  • It’s not about how different it is from content you’ve already created, it’s about helping your readers solve their problems.

Less is More

We receive a lot of emails from marketers claiming to keep us up with the latest global trends. We only white list those we know and trust, and who've proven their content is of value. It's no coincidence that these are the ones who email once a week or so (some even only once a month), while those who churn out 3-5 emails a day have nothing useful or new to say. You and your prospects might feel the same way.  

So, if your marketing directive is quantity over quality, think again: you could get much higher cut through if you reduce the quantity and ramp up the quality. And if you give your prospects some breathing space, you'll respect their time and they'll like that. And remember the golden rule: don’t speak unless you have something fresh or relevant to add to the conversation. The fundamental things apply.


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Kim Brebach
Content Chief

I've always loved people and words. As long as I can remember, I've been a story-teller and the team here says I'm pretty good at it. That's probably why I head up the Content Team: I create the arc of the story and others add their magic. 

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