Scott Abel

Scott Abel

By Scott Abel, The Content Wrangler

The web is littered with malarkey. Meaningless talk. Nonsense. And not the type offered up as entertainment by comedians like Mr. Doubletalk. More often than not, web-flavored malarkey is designed to attract attention. To get your juices flowing. To engage. To entertain.

There’s nothing wrong with creating juice-inducing, extremely engaging content—it’s every marketers goal. But, it helps if the content you create is informed by the world around you.

One of the biggest challenges facing content marketing as a discipline is a lack of understanding of things outside of what I like to call, the marketing comfort zone. Things like science and technology often fall in this zone. Marketers need to be a lot more aware of what’s happening in these disciplines. Advances in science and technology have a direct impact on the work we do, like it or not.

I’m not trying to insult anyone. I’m just pointing out that some of the biggest mouthpieces in the marketing space tend to wax poetic without the benefit of knowledge from folks outside their own discipline. And, that’s got to stop if you want people to take you seriously.

Content Shock? I Don’t Think So

Consider a recent blog post by Mark Schaefer that reasons—based on the economic principle of supply and demand—that we’ll have to pay people to read our content in the future. He says this will be necessary “when exponentially increasing volumes of content intersect our human capacity to consume it.” Simply put, his argument is that there’s so much content (much of it free) that if everyone starts creating it (and giving it away for free), that there will be too much content. He refers to the problem as content shock. Others have dubbed it attention crash, but you likely know this concept already by its now familiar moniker: information overload.

Schaefer is right about one thing. Information overload is a reality. But, it’s not a new one and his argument that we’ll have to pay people to consume it comes from outdate thinking and it assumes that innovations in content marketing won’t provide sufficient value to continue engaging those we hope to attract and retain. Paying customers to consume content is also contrary to the practice of content marketing, the definition of which I provide here as a reminder of what content marketing is actually about.

What is Content Marketing, again?

 According to the smart folks at Content Marketing Institute, content marketing is “a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action. Content marketing’s purpose is to attract and retain customers by consistently creating and curating relevant and valuable content with the intention of changing or enhancing consumer behavior. It is an ongoing process that is best integrated into your overall marketing strategy, and it focuses on owning media, not renting it.”

Where does it say this is a technique in which we pay consumers to read our content. It doesn’t. And, it’s not going to. Some may try that approach (good luck), but that’s not where the future will lead us. For those of us on the content engineering side of content marketing, we know better.

Now you will, too.

One Example – Infographics

Content engineers—folks who understand how content and technology work together—aim to help create innovative content solutions designed to assist their clients in differentiating themselves from the competition. Engineering-minded content strategists and choreographers look for ways to connect data with documents in innovative and meaningful ways.

Consider infographics. Today, infographics are most often provided by content marketers as a way to attract audience. They’re usually visual snapshots of random facts and figures about a specific topic. They can take the form of timelines, feature location-based data, or attempt to compare and contrast different facts, figures, or approaches. They can be interesting, but they’re not all that engaging. As everyone jumps on the infographic bandwagon, their novelty—and attractiveness—diminishes. That’s likely happening already. But, it doesn’t have to be that way.


Infographics suffer from being dead on arrival. They’re static documents. A picture of a moment in time. They’re more meaningful as a historic record, than they are useful business decision-making tools. And, they decrease in value over time, which means your content marketing machine will need to continue to crank out more and more infographics in order to attract audience.

But what if you could add the magic of programming to the mix? What if your infographics were living documents connected to real-time data feeds. What if they changed and morphed over time—automatically?

The folks at MIT Simile Project envisioned a solution to this—and other—information visualization problem years before anyone else did (circa 2006). No, they’re not marketers. They’re content engineers who envision ways of presenting information dynamically, most often in a web browser, although their approach does not need to be limited to the web. The examples they make available on the web are designed to spark your imagination. They’re works created to get you thinking about the possibilities.

Here are a few examples:

Billionaires in History

US Cities by Population

Recent United States Senate Bills

JFK Assassination Timeline

Breakfast Cereal Character Guide

Dozens of other organizations exist to help us solve this challenge. The folks at InfoActive are working to create a platform that will help us connect data to infographics.

And, one needn’t look only to academics for ideas. While they kick-started the movement, the ideas they offer up as samples have already been implemented in some pretty exciting ways by forward-thinking content marketers.

Here are a few examples:

In the Red Zone (American football fans love this one!)

Honest Tea, National Honesty Index (who is more honest, you or your friend?)

The Reality

We can (and should) borrow ideas, techniques, and tools from the content engineering folks to create exceptional content marketing experiences that keep us connected to our audience and prevent the onset of content shock, attention crash, and information overload. Those who believe that too much information can cripple content marketing are not thinking outside the box. They are trapped in the marketing comfort zone.

If we continue to create the same old, tired, static content as everyone else, we’ll bore the audience to death before we ever overload them. Our audience is not stupid. They have choices. They migrate their attention to content that provides the reward they’re looking for. It’s our job to innovate—to produce exceedingly awesome content designed to amaze and delight. To do so, we’ll need to stop thinking the way we have for decades. We’ll need to become familiar friends with code and with content.

And, we’ll have to make changes to the way we create, manage, and deliver content. We’ll have to think differently.

It’s an exciting time to be a content professional. Let’s see what we can make happen. I’m stoked! Are you?