That content marketing has become one of the biggest trends in marketing in the last few decades is undeniable. The ease, low cost and speed with which brands and their agencies can create and deploy content has been revolutionised by the internet and the growth of social networks. But of course, as more and more companies use content to market their products or services, it becomes ever harder to differentiate and achieve cut-through.

In a recent report by TrackMaven, looking at the content output of 22,957 brands from all the majors industry sectors, the headline figures make for interesting reading. The amount of content increased by 35% during the year. The amount of engagement dropped by 17% during the same period.

What is important to understand here is that nothing about content marketing is new. In 1895, tractor manufacturer John Deere launched The Furrow magazine for farmers advising them how to increase profits. The Michelin Guide was created in 1900 by the tyre company to give travellers advice. Michelin distributed 35,000 copies of the first edition.

What has changed is the scale that brands are able to achieve. For the TrackMaven study, there were 50 million pieces of content analysed across all the major social networks – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn and blogs. This content attracted a total of 77.7 billion interactions.

Look at those numbers is mind-boggling. For the early creators of content marketing cost and technology were limiting factors to the number of people they could reach. Those barriers are much lower now. But is more necessarily better? Well the trend is undoubtedly that as marketers create more content the amount of engagement drops. Indeed when content output spikes, there is an obvious dip in the levels of engagement.

So what is holding the brands’ marketers back?

There appear to be two main challenges that face brands when it comes to content marketing: the monetisation of social networks and the increase in mobile content consumption.

The first challenge is simply that as social networks look for ways to make money, they are creating ever more sophisticated ways to reduce the organic reach of brands’ content. Gone are the days when brands could simply post more and more content to get ever increasing levels of engagement.

The other challenge is the rise of mobile. The TrackMaven report highlights the fact that since 2011 adults in the US have gone from spending less than an h9our per day on mobile devices to spending 5.6 hours a day on internet connected devices (particularly smartphones and tablets). This means that brands now need to create content that is designed specifically for mobile so that it can be efficiently accessed and consumed.

What can brands do to buck the trend?

As the amount of content being created by brands continues to grow, the decrease in engagement is inevitable. All the data points to an inverse relationship between content volume and engagement, certainly above a certain amount of content.

However in the face of this general trend, there are things that brands can do.

Create great content: In the gold-rush of content creation, quality has been sacrificed in return for speed and volume. However if a brand is producing bland or copy-cat content, their output will be ignored. All it will do is add to the general noise rather than resonating with customers. The answer is to create less content and make it great. We have seen this with a number of our clients, where we reduced their output and focussed instead on giving people what they want. The increased engagement figures spoke for themselves (contact us if you want to see some case-studies around this). In the TrackMaven report the same trend was observed, with Under Armour-owned myFitnessPal reducing the number of blog posts it produced from 95 in January to only 57 blogs in December – the average number of shares per blog post jumped from 1,101 in March to 5,341 in September; a 40% decrease in content that resulted in a 385% increase in shares across its social channels.

Find the right people to share it: whilst social networks are doing everything they can to choke off businesses access to consumers so that they are forced to pay for content to be served to their fans and followers, individuals’ content is under no such restrictions. If you can find the right people, with the right connections, and convince them to share your content – most likely by creating really fantastic content – then your brand messages will by-pass the paywalls that the social networks are creating. This is the essence of word-of-mouth, unchanged since language was invented.

Optimise content for the platform you are using: One key way that brands can ensure that their content cuts-through all the noise is making sure that it is optimised for the platform being used. This does not just mean creating content in the right format for the network – that is the most basic level of platform optimisation. What this really means is using the right type and style of content for the platform. This is where using your social channels as listening devices and analysing your posts becomes essential. If you start to find that on Twitter motivational posts perform the best, whilst on Instagram product shots get the most engagement, you should tailor your content to those findings.

There are no simple answers when it comes to how to make content work for your brand. But undoubtedly the volume of content being produced and the amount of engagement are inversely proportional. The good news is that trends can be bucked and for the brands that recognise the changes that need to be made to their content marketing plans, there are huge opportunities.

If you are interested in talking to the Freestak team about this or any other aspect of marketing and communications for running, cycling, triathlon and outdoors brands, please contact Simon Freeman, CEO or Rick Jenner, Client Services Director.


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