Arment Dietrich

Content Marketing: Too Much of a Good Thing?

By: Arment Dietrich | January 8, 2014 | 

Mass Confusion in Content MarketingBy Clay Morgan

At the end of November and into early December, my wife and I took our great nieces on a much needed vacation.

We started at New York City and worked our way up New England, finally spending some time in Boston and Cape Cod.

I’d never been to the Big Apple and was overwhelmed when I walked up on Times Square for the first time. It was amazing. There were store signs, billboards, electronic billboards, street hawkers, and other advertising everywhere.

It was visually stunning and incredibly impressive, but I actually remember only two advertisements.

One was a trailer for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and the other was a sign for M&M World.

In this incredible display of eye-popping visuals, virtually all of it failed to make a memorable impression on me, beyond the public spectacle of it all. Not one sign resulted in a sale from us, though I did see The Hobbit.

We know there’s a lot of bad content out there, but there is a lot of good content, too. The maxim of creating good content cannot stand on its own. The ads on Times Square are all extremely well done, but like too much great content, they were lost in the overload.

Except for One…

It is around noon and we’re walking along thinking about where we wanted to eat lunch. Then I heard a voice.

“You looking for lunch? We have a great kid’s menu, reasonable prices, and no wait.”

When there are five of you, including three growing children, that is the perfect trifecta.

Clearly, the guy saw us checking out restaurants, saw the kids, and connected all the important dots: What will the kids eat, will we have to wait, and is it going to break the bank?

We ate at his restaurant, the Playwright Tavern.

That message may very well have been slapped up on a billboard, sign, or digital screen, but we missed it. Why did this guy stand out in the maelstrom of marketing messages?

The reason is simple. He was not talking to everyone. He was talking with us.

Why Spin Sucks Doesn’t

There are a lot of really good marketing blogs in the world. They all have great content, and an effective means of delivering said content. So, why does Spin Sucks consistently rank as one of the best?

Gini Dietrich gives it a personal touch. She shares a ton of what would usually be private information – both personal and professional. She responds to your comments. She engages in conversations and listens when you disagree. She has some fun with it, and shows a bit of spunk and personality.

In fact, she communicates through the blog in such a way that many people, who have never spoken to Gini in real life, feel they are close friends.

The blog is like that restaurant’s hawker. Just as he took an experienced look at the landscape (three young kids, two tired adults!), and spoke directly to us, delivering exactly what we needed, “Hey, we have a great kids’ menu. No waiting.”

Gini does the same for her community. She finds out what people are up to, what they’re working on, what they want to learn about, and speaks ‘directly’ to us all.

Her digital connections, both on the blog and her social channels, reaches people the same way the guy from The Playwright Tavern does.

A Personal Touch in Content Marketing

I have a strong belief: As the amount of good content increases, other factors are going to have greater influence on whether or not your content is read.

One of those is distribution. The other is what you do after the content is distributed.

We talk a lot in marketing about “engagement” and “conversations.”

I hate both words. I don’t want to engage you and I don’t want a conversation. I want to sit down, have a beer, and chat about how A&E handled the Phil Robertson controversy, or why teens are shying away from Facebook.

I don’t remember my first Spin Sucks comment. But I do remember vividly thinking, while the blog made some good points, something was missing. So I typed a few words, hit “post comment”, and went back to work.

A little while later, I received an email that there was a response to my comment and lo and behold it was Gini. However, it wasn’t a stuffy “Thank you for responding.” It was a real reply, just as I’d get if we were in a restaurant discussing some matter.

It made an impression.

I became an active reader and commenter. I liked the blog so much, I went to work for the company.

Sorting Out All that Content

How do we make sure our content gets seen through all the clutter?

The bad news first: Your content can’t be good because good is no longer good enough. It must be exceptional, and then some.

  • Take a unique or niche approach. In the past couple of weeks, there have been about 400 billion blog posts about how to achieve all you want in 2014. About three are worth reading because that’s how many have something different to say.
  • Narrow down your topics.
  • Find a real problem not being adequately addressed elsewhere, and solve it. This requires being observant and really listening to your audience and potential audience.
  • Ask. I say this all the time and yet so few people do it. What content would you like to see? Would you like more video? Do you prefer to receive it in your RSS feed or via Twitter? The simple act of asking does wonders for your marketing research.

That’s what the street hawker outside that restaurant did. Surrounded and awash in a sea of marketing, one guy got through the clutter simply because he talked to us about no waiting, reasonable prices, and a kid’s menu — exactly what we were looking for at that moment.

  • KJoqitoe
  • CynthiaDAlba

    There is a lot of “noise” out there. Everybody yelling to get attention. In my world, it’s BUY MY BOOK! But when you’ve thought thousands (even hundreds of thousands) of authors clambering for sales, it’s hard to be heard. But I’m hearing what you’re saying. You were at the end of “target marketing” in New York. The man was talking TO  YOU about a subject YOU were interested in at that time (dinner with the kids.) Now to figure out how to use that advice in my world. 

    Nice blog, Clay

  • What makes your experience so interesting is that, in general, restaurant hawkers and sidewalk marketers are shouting at everyone who passes by, in hopes of a nibble. 

    In the Facebook thread on this post, Laura Stocker mentioned that she’s witnessed the same restaurant hawker in action — and his personal messaging fills the restaurant day after day.

  • I love the simplicity of this piece and what strikes me the most, especially about your Times Square analogy is that if WE, as marketers, feel overwhelmed, imagine how our target audiences feel?   We must always consider what we can we do to simplify the connection?

  • Great post ClayMorganand you are very astute. What people forget is when everyone does the same thing no one wins. You have to be crafty and unique. I used to blog about standing out from the clutter and used Time Square photos I took as an example. The problem is standing out can easily get you off brand. Like TV commercials. When VW did that cute kid using the force for the Superbowl everyone LOVED it. Including me. It was the number 1 viewed ad on YouTube that year. 40 mil views (which in perspective wasn’t very many considering I bet 10 mil were uniques and they have to reach maybe 1 bil people per week (50 mil in the US/week). But all it showed was that you can remote start the car from your home. And 2 weeks later Buick released an ad showing you can start a car from another city.

    Every brand is drowning and to be honest it hurts my business when I tell prospects Location, your store sign (or landing page), customer service and product will trump all marketing you ever do. Doesn’t matter if I come up number 1 in search if my product and customer service sucks. And most content….sucks. Just click around Mashable, Forbes etc.

  • So. Much. NOISE! I loved this story so much – the fact that in the midst of this ridiculous onslaught of technology, a simple “guy on the street’ got your attention – and your money. People forget that **personal** is still so bloody important! Making sure your content is personal is difficult – what with large audiences and the anonymity of the Interwebs – but it’s not impossible. Know your audience, and *listen* to what they are saying – even better – listen to what they AREN’T saying. Then deliver.

  • Liz

    I love this post. It’s difficult to be heard when the white noise is so loud but more often than not, taking the personal approach works. I think that one thing that folks easily forget is that virtual requires personal to sustain and maintain a relationship. Without the personal, it’s just another face in the digital crowd. As an aside, NYC was my playground growing up. The Times Sq of that era is distinctly different than the Times Sq of today. So when I read this analogy, in my mind’s eye I see the Marlboro Man smoking on a billboard. I believe that imagery works as an analogy when the playing ground is equalized; in this case, I can’t grasp the connection without effort.

  • ClayMorgan

  • susancellura

    One of the attractions/beauty of Times Square is all those advertisements. Of course, you are correct in that it’s too much if the brands actually want to make a sale. Sometimes it’s like there’s a “me, too” mindset in areas like that, but hey, I’m not going to judge.
    I don’t like all the “trendy” words, but it is amazing that if people or clients don’t hear them, they think you don’t know what you are talking about. That’s why, as you point out, you need to know your audience, identify their needs (by asking them or being an expert in that realm), and speak plainly. When you have their attention – or even better – know they are going to buy – deliver and make the most of the customer experience.

  • CynthiaDAlba Auntie! Glad to see you here.

    I think you do this well, actually. You have a base of people who have purchased your previous books, enjoyed them and want more. You keep them engaged – they feel like they get to know you whether you are appearing at a conference or talking with them via social media. Your approach to marketing, like my boss’, feels personal.

  • susancellura

    Oh – and one other thought. Today on the radio I heard that if a person graduated in 2004, this would be the year for the 10-year high school reunion. Yet there was a bunch of chatter about not going because you’ve kept up with everyone on Facebook. BUT, you can’t have real conversations about what you’ve been doing over the past 10 years with old friends. Sad. They are missing out if they don’t go. Have a drink, sit down, laugh, reconnect…it’s much more fun to laugh WITH someone in person versus laughing AT a comment or picture on FB.

  • jasonkonopinski Laura Stocker Jason, there were plenty of street hawkers on the Square and most of them had an approach that ranged from annoying to threatening. 

    There’s a backside too. The hawker delivered. The food was good. The bill came in a little better than I expected. They had a good kid’s menu. The waitresses doted on the girls.

  • Lisa Mozloom Good point about simplification. It’s a way of putting it I had not thought about.

  • Howie Goldfarb I love the Darth Vader kid commercial too, but have never stepped foot on the lot of a VW dealership. 

    “Location, your store sign (or landing page), customer service and product will trump all marketing you ever do.”  So very important!

  • belllindsay Personal is. Relevance. I mean, if it isn’t relevant to me, I’m not going to pull my wallet out and at the end of the day, the bottom line is the bottom line.

  • susancellura I will agree. Seeing all that at Time Square was cool. Of course, after I got over the cool factor, my mind started asking “does all this work?”

    I have a vague memory of car ads, but I’m not in the market for a car. If I were, one of those may have stuck in my mind. Relevance, I believe is more important than ever, and because of that, marketing has to get more and more personal.

  • I think content overload will  be a (or the) big theme of 2014.  It’s been building for a while… Mark Schaefer wrote about it this week, though is hardly the first.  He also spoke, as did David Armano at Edelman when I interviewed him last fall, of how it’s all becoming a paid game again.  Well, yes, the field is crowded, it was never really “free,” and the more personal the messaging and attention, the better.  The smartest content players – the ones still playing in 2015 and beyond – will be those who figure out the most creative ways to provide not just content but actual, personalized help (always one of Gini’s strengths, from the blog to FB questions to personal interactions).

  • Great points here, Clay! We are definitely overloaded with content and data, as everyone wants a piece of our brainspace (and bank account). The truth remains that “old school connectivity” is even more important now because it differs from the norm. My dry cleaner knows my name. And while there are likely less expensive options (like, learn how to iron a damn shirt), that personal touch keeps me going back there. The one-on-one communications model works for small businesses; the challenge moving forward for large companies is to adopt as much of that philosophy as possible.

  • MikeSchaffer I like the old school connectivity.  You can’t do it for everything, but as I told someone recently, a honest-to-goodness letter, mailed, via USPS, with a stamp, can make quite an impact in a world of email and Tweets.

  • Great post Clay. Loved the story. In the end it´s about being human and treating your clients/customers/audience like humans, not robots. It´s about making them feel special, not one of many. I think you just have to care for your audience or customers. Because if you care, you put the extra effort in delivering something special just for them.

  • There is a giant echo chamber out there where people write about the same 5 topics over and over again with little distinction.

    The moment where you reach out and let your reader know that they are more than just pixels on a page is where you begin to really convince them that you see them as more than just a potential pile of money.

    It is powerful.

    I hate the echo chamber, boring, dry and life force sucking.

  • Ah, I remember my first visit to Times Square. The three-card monte and shell games and the places offering live sex shows. That was the late 70s, I believe and it was quite eye-opening for a kid!
    With that in mind, I thought your story was going to take an ugly turn. Very often those hawkers steer you to someplace terrible, so I’m glad it worked out!

  • RobBiesenbach (side note) I lived in NYC 89-92 and my second job was next to the Port Authority (LOL but it was legit — I typed up summaries of the news!). I had to get from Grand Central to my  job across 42nd Street. I can verify that it was still “eye opening.” When I go back now I’m incredulous at how much different it is. I’ll bet Clay got drug to the super Hello Kitty Store on 42nd with all those girls along if it’s still there. 🙂 🙂

  • ClayMorgan MikeSchaffer so completely agree on the letter!!!! I wish I could have been a fly on the wall when the recipients of my Snail Mail My Email project creations got their letters (and I hope they forgive my rudimentary “art”). But Clay this was a great piece for all the reasons you mentioned. With our program (health insurance for uninsured children) time and again we’ve learned that we can put up all the billboards, bus cards, tray liners at fast food etc etc etc but nothing is as effective as a neighbor who says “it’s a good thing” (and nothing as destructive as a neighbor who says “I had a bad experience). I know that’s a slight tangent  but …..

  • Howie Goldfarb ClayMorgan I could stare at this image all day long and be happy …. <3 NYC

  • RobBiesenbach It turned into a very satisfying lunch for us!  And I LOVED the Square, even with all the marketing and the more aggressive hawkers. The kids got a kick out of it too!

  • Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes That repetition, the save 5 topics as you mention, is I think, more than anything, what gives content marketing a bad name.

  • Not really relevant, but my wife took a lot of photos in Time Square and I still think this is by far my favorite. Just sayin’.

  • Really enjoyed this post, ClayMorgan and it does seem to be on many minds currently. Content overload certainly isn’t new, but I think it’s becoming more pronounced as more people recognize the benefits and jump in.  Personally, I’ve pared down my regular reading to just a couple of blogs that I know & love (like Spin Sucks).  I originally came here because I met Gini IRL and, like you, I found this community to be personal, fun and full of supportive folks who I enjoy. As you point out, the problem for both the established and the new content developers, is reaching and retaining the right audiences and making the experience personal. I really believe IRL opportunities to connect are an important component…and yes, I’m advocating for a Spin Sucks Meetup!

    PS – So glad you & the family had a fun time in NYC!  It’s my Nirvana and I lived there in the late 90’s.  Oddly, I think I may be the only person on the planet whose blood pressure actually drops every time I return! 🙂

  • ClayMorgan belllindsay Relevance and value are really difficult to wrap your head around from an audience perspective, because marketers often suffer from myopia when it comes to understanding what works and what doesn’t because of personal experience or bias. 

    I hate popup ads with the fury of a thousand suns, but, dangit, they work really well in some applications. I don’t use Pinterest (except when ginidietrich sends me bacon-related pins), but I will continue to recommend it to clients if their product/service aligns.

  • ClayMorgan I should have used this image in the post. Daggumit.

  • lizreusswig ClayMorgan ginidietrich I was just starting to write a similar comment to Liz’s so will say DITTO on overload, pared down reading, meeting Gini, this community and a MEETUP!! Loved how you worked in the NYC encounter, perfect, Clay.

  • Word Ninja ClayMorgan ginidietrich Great Minds…! 🙂

  • I’m glad you brought up these two examples, Clay! 
    I was also immediately won over by the good interaction on this blog, not just from Gini, but from everyone on it. I was also taken aback when I learned I was the centerpiece for a #FollowFriday session a few weeks ago. 
    (I have to say, Gini knows how to make a newcomer feel quite welcome) 
    The personal touch to that made me felt like I belonged somewhere (which is one of the essential human needs, if any of you study advertising). 
    The guy who spoke to your family directly in New York also exercised the same fundamentals. You were (1) hungry, (2) tired and (3) clueless, so he solved all of those problems for you in one sentence. 
    He resolved (1) your desire for food, (2) comfort from fatigue and (3) he properly informed you on what to do and where to go. Three fundamentals of basic human psychology.

  • ClayMorganVery nice shot!

  • ClayMorgan You make me want to go back and visit NYC, right now! 

    I’m looking forward to more posts like this from you in 2014. Maybe this is taking to simplistic a view but at the end of the day, a personalized, targeted touch is important. You don’t need to be someone’s best friend but you do need to figure out how to help them and let them know you have a solution. Relationships matter.

    I also have a soft spot for you. I’m a niece who was raised by my aunt and uncle for a few years during my teens.

  • Oh, and next visit there, I’m sure we’ll all be on the lookout for The Playwright Tavern. Thanks for the tip.

  • ctgirlonthego

    JeffSheehan clay_morgan SpinSucks this is a very good article #simple 4 the not so #simpleminded

  • BillSmith3

    ClayMorgan  Thank you for a great post, I think over time content will be more personalized and targeted. I also think quality over quantity has to be stressed because crap content could be just as much a disservice as no content at all. 

    Now you have me wanting to visit NYC too, I  stay away from Times Square when I do visit, too much of a tourist trap for my taste.

  • ClayMorgan I agree. Some of it happens because the low hanging fruit is easy. If you write about blogging you will always have some traffic because so many people are desperate to do better.
    But it comes with one hell of a bounce rate, unless you provide something more than the standard fare of “write great stuff and be useful.”

  • JRHalloran You nailed it!  He noticed, offered a solution, and just as importantly, his solution delivered.

  • EdenSpodek Awww… I’m glad to hear it.

    Our nieces have been with us since April, and it doesn’t look to change anytime soon. As I told a few people, they can stay the next 16 or 18 years if they need to, but much longer and they might wear out their welcome.

  • BillSmith3 Thanks Bill. I believe more targeting and personalized content will help the good stuff differentiate from other good stuff.

    I loved my short trip to NYC. And I’m not knocking Time Square – it was ultimately cool.

  • lizreusswig We had a BLAST in NYC!

  • corinamanea Thanks Corina! And that is important – if you care about your customers they’ll care about your business.

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  • clay_morgan

    ctgirlonthego JeffSheehan SpinSucks Thanks for reading the post today. I’m grateful!

  • clay_morgan

    JeffSheehan SpinSucks Thank you for tweeting out my blog post this morning. #marketing #content

  • clay_morgan

    corinamanea SpinSucks Thanks for the tweet out!

  • clay_morgan

    susancellura SpinSucks Thanks for tweeting my post out this morning Sue! I’m grateful to you.

  • ctgirlonthego

    clay_morgan JeffSheehan SpinSucks I thought it spoke 2 gettin #back2basics thx u

  • clay_morgan

    GwenMcIntyre I appreciate you tweeting out my blog post this morning!

  • GwenMcIntyre

    No problem clay_morgan, I enjoyed reading it 🙂

  • Great topic, ClayMorgan! This community exemplifies people who care deeply about each other. Whether it be a customer, friend, or an online forum acquaintance — everyone is in it together.

    I get the feeling in this community that these are the type of folks would do something nice for someone and not expect anything in return. And, that is easy to say but hard to really feel. Pretty freaking cool.

  • susancellura

    clay_morgan SpinSucks My pleasure! It was a very thought provoking post.

  • corinamanea

    clay_morgan SpinSucks Thank you for the good read.

  • ClayMorgan It’s my favorite, too!

  • susancellura No way! I avoided my reunion like the plague. I prefer to keep those people on FB only.

  • First of all, I was having a very trying day when I read this blog post (because I get to read them before they’re published) and you made me feel really happy. Thank you for that! Very nice compliment.

    Secondly, I know there has been debate on Facebook about this blog post and how content marketers exist because they don’t know how to do real marketing. Clearly that person missed the message here. Maybe the guy on the street does talk to lots of families walking through Times Square, but he doesn’t talk to EVERYONE.

    Content has to be targeted. It has to be exceptional. It has to be heard above the noise.

  • ginidietrich You are very welcome! It was sincere. And as always, you are right.

  • ClayMorgan “And as always, you are right.” I AM FRAMING THAT!!

  • Superb post, Clay. markwschaefer  wrote and excellent post earlier this week that touches on this also. There is SO much content out there now, that it’s getting much harder to be heard above the noise. 

    I think your point about honing in on a narrow niche is dead on. Instead of focusing on a huge audience, the right (but perhaps, smaller) audience will be better. 

    And, I love your point about research. Why don’t people do research?! It absolutely baffles me. Want to know what people like? ASK THEM!

  • BillSmith3

    ClayMorgan BillSmith3 My brother worked in NYC for two years on a transfer with Deloitte and I had the opportunity to experience the city more like a local, just walked everywhere and took the subway. My favourite neighbourhoods were TriBeCa, SoHo and the East Village. 

    Ok getting back sorta on track. Having custom content tailored to each individual audience member is a long way. This is where all the analytics comes in, help us figure out who the audience/customer is and what makes them tick.

  • ginidietrich ClayMorgan oh great, look who wins the suck up of the year award! Thanks a lot Clive, now I’m going to have to commission the Blue Angels to do a sky writing in her likeness or something to compete!  Way to go…..

  • Matt_Cerms ClayMorgan Such a great point Matt, and isn’t that an amazing and rare gift! I feel lucky everyday to know we have such an amazing group of peers here to learn from, support and get support in return. 

    There is certain human needs that can’t be denied and a community is one of them. That feeling of belonging and being part of something vs. just an outside viewer is part of why this blog stand out. As Clay mentions, the content we provide here is great, but it serves only as a starting point. In my opinion the real magic is after…here in the blog community, on social, in group and individual conversation that reach far beyond our little place on the web.

  • LauraPetrolino I couldn’t agree with you more, Laura! It’s the snowball effect! I think this community also spurs the best kind of networking. And we all know that starts with generosity and humility.

  • LauraPetrolino ginidietrich ClayMorgan Everything is always a competition. 😉

  • LauraPetrolino To be fair, you did ask a conference organizer to play “Eye of the Tiger” when I come out on stage ClayMorgan

  • ginidietrich LauraPetrolino ClayMorgan Hahahaha! Good point! Watch out Clay….. ( and ironically this would be an excellent time to cue ‘Eye of the Tiger”)

  • kanya632

    So many great points, ClayMorgan! We are in the age of content
    overload, and it flat out stinks. Heck, sometimes I just want to shut down with
    all the information out there. If I feel overwhelmed myself, how can our
    audiences cope with it?

    I agree that adding a personal touch can make all the difference.
    When I first started reading PR/marketing blogs, Spin Sucks stuck with me the
    most. The key?  It had personality. It
    was conversational. I felt like Gini wrote the way she talked to her friends
    and family. I felt…. included.  Something
    no other blog had accomplished.

    Finally, I LOVE your last point – simply asking our audiences
    what they want. We should stop preaching and start listening. This actually
    gave me an idea to write about on my blog, “What are YOU looking for?” Thanks
    for that. =-)

    Oh, and I’ll be visiting Times Square for the first time in a
    couple of months, and your family photo got me all kinds of excited!

  • Booyah! Excellent…

  • ClayMorganginidietrichWHAT????

  • rdopping

    Boy, all that stuff about ginidietrich LIES, pure lies. I met her. She’s nothing like that. AT ALL!

  • rdopping And here I thought we were friends. I’ll be in the corner crying.

  • rdopping

    ginidietrich rdopping awwwww…….

  • Brewbom

    JeffSheehan Thanks for the wise words

  • Oh, how true! I just read a post by someone, whose-name-shall-remain-nameless. who said content shock is here and content marketing is dead. Au contraire, I said, and now, you and ginidietrich. I believe content marketing works when you write personalized ‘quality’  stories to a target audience. Thanks for adding your four wise points ClayMorgan

  • Oh, how true! I just read a post by someone, whose-name-shall-remain-nameless. who said content shock is here and content marketing is dead. Au contraire, I said, and now, you and ginidietrich. I believe content marketing works when you write personalized ‘quality’  stories to a target audience. Thanks for adding your four wise points ClayMorgan

  • My favorite two snippets:

    – like
    – He was not talking to everyone. He was talking with us.

    As all of that great content continues to surge, it will be the true INTERACTIONS that become memorable and drive additional action by the content consumers.

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