Content Strategy Mousetraps

I can just about see the irony – the reason I saw this post was because it came up on my LinkedIn news feed (via @votekatet). It was a content-led strategy that got me to read the article in the first place. A strategy which the article claims is unsustainable and doomed to failure. It is also followed up by an excellent interview style piece at here – well worth 30 minutes of your time.

The idea seems simple – all that content used to be really cheap for you to create. Someone else decided to replicate your strategy, but with a little more effort (or time, or money) theirs became better than yours. Their content won. Then someone else came along … and you get the idea. It’s a very real problem. Start-ups writing blog posts face this issue every day. The issue is that nobody yet has the solution to the problem, and in the meantime we will all just continue to create and consume content, as we have always done.

The problem is perhaps one of perspective. To put up a web page, all you needed was a computer connected to the internet. You didn’t need to buy an expensive domain name, hire web designers (depending on how far back you go, that job title may not have even existed), or hire writers to create interesting content. Unlike a traditional bricks-and-mortar business, the barriers to entry were incredibly low. Now the internet has come of age, and the sensible response to preserving the value of your investment (effectively in intellectual property) is to increase the barriers to entry. You can’t do this with traditional protections such as copyright or patents, so the logical step is to make the cost of entering the market as high as possible.

The only good news is that this is not a new problem. Companies have been dealing with innovative competitors for centuries, according to the (mis)quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson:

Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door

Every idea gets copied, and no company would survive if it rested on its laurels and never improved its product or services. Cyberspace contains many imitators, and the cost of establishing a basic web presence is very low. Possible defensive strategies to protect against imitation are to reduce the marginal cost of creating content (for example automate it like book writing) or to influence the demand side of the equation. Part of the problem (at least for now) is that the algorithms behind search engines are an integral part of the demand equation. Write original content and you will be rewarded with a higher ranking. This in turn leads to more connectivity between your content and the rest of the web, which in turn reaffirms the ranking.

To quote the interview above:

There is a first mover advantage to those who can figure out what is next

Something will change the current equilibrium. That is what disruptive innovation is all about. I don’t have the answers, but some people who don’t believe content marketing, at least in its current form, will eventually have the courage to conduct a few experiments. The huge advantage of the internet is that the dissenting “fringe” is not one or two people, but thousands. Out of those thousands, at least a couple will eventually succeed.

My prediction is that whatever breakthrough occurs will initially be consistent with the search engine algorithms of the day, otherwise the experiment might be lost in the depths of the internet. A bit like mousetraps really, where the definition of ‘better’ is open to interpretation but the product’s value is still defined by its ability to satisfy a need.

In the meantime, I will be reading interesting articles and adding to the conversation where I can.