Content, content, content – but what’s it all for?

“Content is king” is one of the most popular phrases in marketing – and has been for many years. The recent boom in digital content has been vast. But has it been a good thing? We look at what the research says, and why sometimes less is more.

Bill’s vision

It’s 1996, and the Mack is back. A certain successful entrepreneur publishes an essay on this thing called the internet, and how it can make you money. His name? Bill Gates. The essay? “Content is King.”

At the time, Gates predicted that interactive online content would one day dominate the business world. That companies large and small would be able to access the internet and create content. It would become the universal marketplace. And thus, a huge source of revenue.

When Gates published his essay, the internet was only just becoming viable for large-scale use (for reference: Mark Zuckerberg was 12 at the time). And Gates was proven right: the technology developed rapidly, new end devices proliferated, and social media and all its algorithms were born. Today – 26 years later – his essay title has become a favorite maxim in marketing circles, and content has indeed become the number-one way for businesses around the world to target their customers.

But what’s the mechanism behind it?

No content, no marketing

In 2019, a FocusVision study found that the average B2B buyer “consumes” at least five pieces of content before getting in contact with a company. This includes everything from videos and podcasts to white papers, blog articles, social media posts, reviews, testimonials and, more recently, virtual reality content and NFTs. Over the course of the whole sales process, the average number of pieces of content consumed reaches 13.

The conclusion is clear: before they buy something, customers want content – and lots of it. In-depth content that they consciously and actively seek out – typical for the pull medium that is the internet. Search engine algorithms play a role here, too: unique web content that offers real added value ranks higher than texts that are written just to get Google’s attention.

As a result, companies started to require strategies for making this type of content available to their target audience. This is how content marketing was born. The fact that unique, organic content boosts brand recognition and customer trust – while only 36% of customers trust paid content – is almost incidental. At its core, content is primarily there to make the target audience aware of the company, and to create a connection with that target audience that (hopefully) results in conversion.

The logical consequence has been an explosion in the amount of content. COVID-19 gave digital business an additional push, which led to – you guessed it – yet more content. Trying to estimate exact data volumes is almost impossible at this point. However, what we do know is that the average internet user spends almost seven hours a day engaging with online content. Content is an integral part of the buying experience worldwide – which means a content plan is key to any good marketing strategy. But the way content works has changed a lot since the early days.

Good content = relevant content

“The more content you provide, the more people will consume and the more likely they are to find your brand.” This used to be a common approach. With an average of 13 pieces of content consumed per topic per user, it’s no wonder people assumed it was quantity that counted. But modern marketing is more than just a conveyor belt. It analyzes which content is really relevant, and displays it at strategic points in the customer journey.

But how do you go about creating “relevant” content?

What people want to read depends primarily on where they are in the marketing funnel. Customers at the top of the funnel – or the beginning of the purchase process – need content that raises awareness of a problem, while customers who are further down will be looking for concrete solutions. Different content formats are needed to meet these particular requirements. The graphic below summarizes the stages of the marketing funnel:

Why “more is more” no longer applies in 2022

The basic idea is for potential customers to gradually draw themselves deeper into the funnel, without feeling like they have been pushed. It’s all about the user experience, and providing the most relevant content and formats for a customer’s immediate needs while eliminating everything else.

In other words, good content isn’t a matter of quantity. It’s about having the right content in the right place at the right time. Until the middle of the marketing funnel, offering customers plenty of explanatory content on the topic in question is usually useful – but by the time they’re further down the funnel, it’s probably more of a nuisance. Companies that optimize their strategy to this effect often find they need fewer touchpoints to carry out successful marketing.

The most relevant content is of a high quality, tailored to your audience, easily accessible, and readily available when customers need it.

Content is still king in 2022. But context is queen.

The question remains of how to go about generating high-quality content. We have a few ideas.

Cover image via Pexels

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