Let’s Talk Attention Spans: Content Marketing’s Overload Problem


Content is, hands-down, the biggest opportunity in marketing today. The formula seems simple: write awesome, informative, and educational content, sync it up with your company’s other marketing channels (i.e. email), and watch your audience grow.

In theory, all of this sounds great, but in practice, brands are having a tough time executing. Why? The competition is fierce. Some even have bigger marketing budgets to promote that content through LinkedIn, AdWords, and Facebook campaigns.

As a result, content is everywhere. The phrase “let’s get this viral” is a joke. Companies are facing fierce competition for a finite set of eyeballs and attention spans. The resulting frustration is enough to stop companies from developing content programs altogether. The consensus? “It doesn’t work.”

But all is far from doom and gloom. The content marketing landscape is still in its infancy, and believe it or not, there is plenty of room to expand. Even though it seems like there are major players with dominant audience market share (ahem, HubSpot), new voices are springing up all the time. The key to their success? They offer something different, new, and valuable.

It may seem like there’s too much content out there, but the opposite is true. In many ways, there is simply not enough: human beings are voracious learners, and if you have something interesting to say, people will read your stuff. It may sound counter-intuitive, but you need to buckle down and do three things:

  • Focus on quality over quantity
  • Write for a very specific audience or set of audiences
  • Offer new insight rather than regurgitating what people are talking about

Here are some steps to help you get started.

Step 1 – Stop Treating Content Like Marketing

Approach it from a product development perspective, instead. Every piece of content that you create is a micro-product that has an aim to delight, engage, inspire, or educate. So give your work the attention that it deserves.

First and foremost, you need the right systems and processes in place. You’re not expressing yourself. You’re not doing creative work. You’re creating a product for your audience to enjoy.

Instead of ‘putting your ideas into the world,’ double-down on achieving product market fit: ensure that your content delivers value to your target audience by solving a pain point or introducing a new concept or idea. This approach will help you do two things:

  1. You’ll make sure that your content is designed for a specific, focused target audience
  2. You’ll make sure that you’re creating the content that your audience wants

By going niche, you’ll outsmart content marketing’s overload problem. Attention spans will be a non-issue because you’ll be reaching the people who you want to reach. Before putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), conduct a round of customer development:

  • Find people in your target audience
  • Ask them to sit down with you for 20-30 minutes — buy them lunch or coffee
  • Ask these people what they’ve enjoyed reading about recently — book club, style
  • Get feedback on your own content strategy — if you have something that’s ready to share

With deep knowledge of your target audience, you’ll keep their needs top of mind while brainstorming content ideas. This perspective will ensure that you always have an audience.

Step 2 – Forecast like a mastermind

In step 1, you figured out what your market wants. But how can you best prioritize your ideas?

At this stage, you’ll want to forecast the size of your audience. How many people are searching for the topic that you’re considering covering? Is that same audience likely to convert into a paying customer?

In other words, you have a whole lot of aligning to do:

  • Align your content ideas with your audience
  • Align your audience’s needs with your overall market
  • Align your target market with your highest value monetization opportunities

This process will help you figure out gaps in the content market, in addition to areas where your brand can have a strong voice. Know your market’s size, and figure out where pockets of opportunity are hidden.

These are the topics that you need to write.

If you’re looking for some tools to help you get started, check out Inboundwriter and AdWords Keyword Planner. Inboundwriter is a tool that’s used to approximate audience size, and Google AdWords Keyword planner can help you come up with keyword ideas based on monthly search volume. No one tool provides the ‘smoking gun,’ however, as there is no clear ‘step-by-step’ process for forecasting market size. Do some testing, incorporate your own data, and figure out the path forward that is best for your company.

Step 3 – Have a unique, authentic voice

Content will never become obsolete. Why? Human beings love stories. By creating content, your company becomes a storyteller with its own voice.

When it comes to writing–and other artistic mediums–human beings want to discover new, fresh voices. It’s why the publishing industry keeps releasing new books and why websites like Distractify and UpWorthy have made such an impact among digital audiences.

If you want to stand out, don’t write what everyone else is writing. Avoid letting ‘corporate speak’ take over the brilliance that you have to offer. Stop worrying about styleguides and grammar. Just express yourself. If you’re not a good writer, work with an editor or consultant who can coach you through the process of clarifying your ideas.

It’s important to take a step back, and remember: content marketing’s overload problem boils down to the fact that most stuff is generic, irrelevant, or written broadcast style. Offer something different by tailoring your content to the people you want to reach, forecasting your market size, and bringing something new to the table.

Photo Credit: ShutterStock/GaudiLab