When Content Formats Reach Their Peak: The Risk of Late Adoption

Corey Wainwright
Corey Wainwright



content graveyard

Sit back for a second, sip your coffee, and try to think of the most insanely innovative thing you've seen in, say, 2013.

Got something? Cool. Now I'm gonna ask you to place an over-under bet with yourself. How long do you think it'll take for that innovation to be copied or adopted by hundreds, if not thousands, of other people?

Pretty good, eh? And chances are really good that, if you're talking about a marketing innovation from 2013, it's already been copied by approximately one gazillion people. Because if something works, what are we told to do, marketers? Reproduce it for our own companies and businesses so we can see similar results. And nowhere is it easier to copy new innovation in marketing than with content innovations, what with the whole promoting-free-content-to-generate-traffic-and-leads thing. Marketers no longer hold their content cards close to their chest ... it's out there and publicized as much as humanly possible.

But then something happens. When one marketer realizes a content format does insanely well, and other marketers start to realize it too, get good and ready to kiss that content format goodbye. Why? Because that content format is about to peak, my friends. Here's what I mean.

RIP: The Graveyard of Marketing Content Formats

When considering content effectiveness and impact, presentation makes all the difference. In other words, no matter how genius the research, thesis, and writing is in a piece of marketing content, if it's not presented in the right way, your message can fall flat. On the flip side, an extraordinarily pleasurable content consumption experience can make even the most mundane messages soar. For proof, just look at all the infographics that get created around, like, three pieces of data. The infographic isn't really saying anything mind blowing ... but look at all the pretty colors and icons!

Why do people do this? Because when they see certain content formats being adopted by everyone in their industry -- and heck, when they themselves first happen upon a new content format and absolutely love it -- they don't want to miss the ROI boat. Plus, if everyone is doing it, it's usually a good hint that, hey, psst, this stuff works! Totally understandable.

But then (there's always a but), the market gets saturated with a content format type. I think infographics are one of the best examples of this trend (more on this in the next section), but we've personally seen the same things happening with things like:

  • Memes
  • Slideshows
  • Cartoons
  • Round-ups
  • End of Year Resolutions/Predictions
  • Top 5/Top 10 Lists
  • Top Anything Lists

It's not that they don't provide any value anymore. They do. And sometimes, it's still more than your average, run of the mill blog post. But it's nothing like the mind-blowing results you see if you incorporate the content format into your marketing before there's wide-scale industry adoption.

This phenomenon happens with marketing assets, too. For instance, more businesses have blogs that they're using for marketing purposes, so it's harder to get ahead by just blogging once a week than it was four years ago, when it was much rarer to see your competitors blogging. Now, you have to increase your content quality, and probably, your content frequency, too. Unless you're just lucky enough to have competitors living in la-la land.

Some Data Around the Decreasing Effectiveness of Content Format Types

Let's take infographics as an example of the impact of the over-saturation of marketing content formats. This is drawn from our own personal blogging data. Back in 2010, our average post view was 719 views. You know what the average post view was for a blog post with an infographic, though? 11,535. Holy $%*#. Let's do infographic posts all the time, right?

But the impact of promoting a post around the fact that it included an infographic lessened over time. In 2011, our average post view was 3,059; but infographic posts generated, on average, only 1,852 views. Harumph. Not as hot, eh?

So what gives? Why such a stark decrease in the traffic-driving effects of infographics? As 2011 progressed, the "hotness" of consuming content in infographic form decreased. Because as more and more marketers jumped on the infographic bandwagon, the internet became saturated with infographic content, and the infographic was no longer novel, nor was it a guarantee of high-quality content. In fact, when I dig into the top performing infographics from 2011, of the 4 that drew the most views, two things are true: 1) it was either published in the beginning of 2011 (like, January, before the infographic mania had peaked), or 2) it was a curation of several infographics. In other words, we had to spend time collecting ten infographics in order to get the same traffic-driving value that one infographic used to yield a year ago.

What's a Marketer to Do?

First, a marketer should recognize that just because a content format appears to have reached its point of over-saturation by and large, it doesn't mean the content format will never work for them again. When I look back at some of the most successful posts we've published in 2012 -- well past the point of infographic insanity -- many of them were, indeed, infographics. It's just that we couldn't rely on an infographic post being a veritable blowout like we could a couple years back. The successful infographic posts, even during the aftermath of the mania, were the ones that were:

  • Insanely compelling topics
  • High-quality content that lived up to the topic
  • Best consumed in a visual content format

In other words, the content performed well not because it was an infographic, but in spite of it. 

But there are other things marketers can do. The hardest thing you can do is ... think of the new, hot content format. What's the next infographic? The next meme? That level of innovation is a pretty tall order, but if you come up with it, you're hot marketing stuff. The more realistic thing you can do, though still difficult, is find ways to make old formats work again. That's what Twitter's Vine has done, for instance. They've rethought the microblog, they've rethought the video content format, and they've combined them to come up with the six-second video snippet for social media content. It's also what we're seeing with Parallax scrolling -- if you're unfamiliar with it, check out this infographic that was reimagined with Parallax scrolling.

But what this all boils down to for me, and something I believe any marketer is capable of, is embracing agile content creation. If you want to be on the forefront -- not the tail end -- of a content format, you need to be willing to experiment with new things. New things like Vine! Like Parallax scrolling! Like whatever the heck people come up with next! The last marketers to adopt a content format are the ones who get mediocre results; the ones who adopt new content formats upfront get monumental ones. Be agile, respond quickly, and be open to experimentation to make sure you're not left in the dust.

What do you think will be the next hot content format? C'mon ... don't keep it a secret ;-)

Image credit: aussiegall

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