Man wearing an expensive black suit being shocked or suprised in a crowd of church choir children

It is a tale/Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury/Signifying nothing

My intention in starting with this particular Macbeth reference is certainly not to lambaste my fellow writers. It’s not easy to work in journalism, marketing or PR, and when trying to tell our own tales, we all have moments of idiocy from time to time — those times when the stories we tell aren’t quite as compelling as we’d hoped when we’d drawn up an initial outline. Those times when a deadline or creative lapse cannot be overcome. Then there’s the added pressure of quantity. Content marketing has created an expectation among audiences that anyone who can tell them something of value, and has a platform to do so, should churn out content at an assembly line rate.

But just how much is too much for our audiences? Are they to the point of being so inundated by content that they tune it out. Mark Schaefer thinks we’re already close to that point. He made the case in January using a basic supply-and-demand argument. He claims that “Content Shock” sets in when “exponentially increasing volumes of content intersect our limited human capacity to consume it.” There’s just too much noise for readers to feel like it’s worth their effort to uncover real insights buried beneath all that sound and fury.

In a touch of macro irony, the article unleashed its own Content Shock-inducing number of responses, many of which defended content marketing. MOZ someone even coined the term “Content Fatigue,” a condition that shares many symptoms with Content Shock. M&C Saatchi Performance, an international performance marketing agency, is even talking about “ad fatigue”.

A Treatment for Content Shock

Anyone who writes regularly has an obligation to make sure their readers don’t suffer from Content Shock. Brands will eventually suffer diminishing returns.

In his landmark book “The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less,” psychologist Barry Schwartz famously argued that when companies reduce the number of choices presented to their target audience, consumers endure less anxiety and are more likely to make a purchase. Too many choices and they may do nothing. Consumers unconsciously go through a roughly five-step process every time they make a decision, whether they know it or not:

  1. Choose a goal
  2. Evaluate the importance and effects of the goal
  3. Consider the full range of options to meet the goal
  4. Evaluate how likely each of the options is to meet the goal
  5. Commit to a decision

Looking at content marketing through the lens of the Paradox of Choice really just brings us back to a lesson that should sound familiar: produce quality content that has a clear value to readers, and they will continue coming back to you for more information.

Your writing will resonate even more if you show readers, not tell them, that what you have to say is important. Buzzfeed-ish headlines like “This Is the Most Amazing Content Marketing Advice You Will Read All Day” might get a few more clicks than “5 Content Marketing Tips,” but you’re setting yourself up to fail if you don’t actually deliver the “most amazing” advice to readers. You won’t be taken seriously and you could lose a Twitter follower in the process.

If you’re writing one to three quality blog posts every week, supplementing it with longer-form content every once in a while, and being selective with what you share on social media (five to 10 shares per week on each platform, with the exception of Twitter), you’ll get all the attention you need.


It will be a story/Told by a virtuoso, full of verve and substance/Signifying everything

The New Approach

One way March is working to break through Content Shock is to create genuine content that is both hyper-local and reported first-hand. This is also what the SEO specialists strongly recommend. We’ve done that through research campaigns and video campaigns for clients.

Most recently, we launched Boston Tech Industry News as a way to connect with our Boston-area clients, contacts and prospects. It’s a site that overcomes Content Shock by being oriented toward a very specific niche and building a community of contributors through articles, interviews and event coverage.


This post was first published by James Young on March Communications’ blog PR Nonsense.