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How to Stand Out: a Content Marketer’s Guide – The Quandary

A few quick numbers for you:

  • Every nine months or so, the amount of written content on the web doubles.
  • Every minute, over 400 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube.
  • Every second that ticks by is worth 5,750 tweets.
  • And the real kicker: it takes us just 2 days to create as much content (i.e. written words, captured images, etc.) on the whole of the Web as the entire human race created between the invention of writing and

In a world as content-heavy as we have become, we’re hitting a pair of problems that are in the process of kicking content marketing squa’ in the nuts.

  • Absolute limits on the amount of time consumers have to consume content, and
  • Psychological limits on the executive function of the consumers that do read your content.

Let’s look at each of these in brief.

What Time Is It? Time for More Content!

Everyone is familiar with the oft-quoted statistic (appearing in the New York Times) that the typical urban American is exposed to a massive 5,000 brand messages every day. But what many people aren’t aware of is the massive discrepancy between the exposure to a brand message and engagement with a brand message; ads and other branding efforts are so massively ubiquitous in today’s world that simple exposure means almost nothing.

So how many ads are we engaging with (i.e. giving them our attention for more than a second or two)? According to a massive study by Media Dynamics Inc. (link here, but they’re asking some $825 to deliver you a copy of a 19-page paper, so you’re essentially going to have to trust me on this), the modern American engages with about 153 ads every day — just barely over 3% of the messages they’re exposed to.

And yet, here we are in an era where SEO has morphed into a constant cry for more content as the primary way of earning backlinks and thus SERP rankings. In a world where 4,947 branded messages are already getting ignored (and presumably hundreds of thousands more aren’t actually reaching their intended targets for one reason or another), is it really a solid assumption to make that adding your droplet to the ocean is a useful expenditure of your time?

Cognitive Load Bearing

The second assumption to consider is the assumption that people who do engage with our content (remember, we’re defining ‘engage’ as ‘devote at least a couple of second to’ here) will remember it or act on it. I can tell you that right now, I’m sitting at a computer that has seven different brand names visible — Lenovo, HP, Intel, Windows, ThinkCentre, Acer, and Kinyo — but despite the fact that I’ve had the same setup for at least the last four months, I couldn’t tell you what a single one of those labels said if I wasn’t able to look around and see them.

That’s because my brain is busy when I’m at this machine. I’m literally sitting here engaging with the machine for several hours a day, several days a week, but the branded part of the experience is simply nonexistent as far as my thought processes are concerned, because my cognitive load is set to ‘high’ the  instant I sit down — either because I’m working and my mind is on my work, or because I’m playing and all of my games (Hearthstone) are the kind that require applied cognition. Or, every once in a while, I’m reading Cracked, but I choose Cracked specifically because it’s mentally stimulating.

So there’s a second level of barrier to overcome — the barrier of “OK, so the customer is actually open to your content. Now, are they reading? And more importantly, will it change the way they act? If not, your engagement was wasted, and that drop in the ocean is still going to disappear with effect even though you managed to get a molecule of your water into one swimmer’s eye.

Does this mean Content Marketing is a waste of time? Oh, dear Lord no. But it does mean that if you want to succeed at content marketing, you have to change the way you’re thinking about it. We’ll get more into the meat and potatoes of how to accomplish that goal next week.


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