How smart brands are making themselves useful to combat content overload

Brands have been in the firing line of late in articles that exclaim how difficult it is for them to make themselves heard amid all the 'content' now published online.

Spelling out the challenge before them, Buzzsumo recently published the 2018 Content Trends Report which found that based on a sample of 100 million posts published in 2017, social sharing of content has been cut in half since 2015 and average sharing of content on social networks fell due to “increased competition, a rise in private sharing and Facebook algorithm changes”.

Author Mark Schaefer coined the phrase “content shock” in 2014. He argued that “lowering the barrier of content creation to near-zero has contributed to an exponential rise in content production, making it more difficult than ever to gain attention and engagement”.

And with this growing mountain of content, brands can struggle to get theirs “found” and connect with their target audiences.

But at the same time, there appears to be more of a need than ever for trusted, authoritative and relevant information – and this could herald the opportunity for brands to position themselves as reliable sources of specialist knowledge.

The role for brands as content filters

In his book Too Big to Know, author David Weinberger referenced a comment by writer Clay Shirky who said we’re not facing “information overload, it’s filter failure”. The solution, according to Weinberger, is to find new means of filtering information like the ones we used to rely upon. “Old knowledge institutions like newspapers, encyclopaedias and textbooks got much of their authority from the fact they filtered information for the rest of us,” he wrote.

The connected economy has seen many of our roles transform to make us “knowledge workers” handling and using information. This has meant new skills are being sought by employers such as the ability to handle, retrieve and make the right decisions through information gathering.

What is being sought by organisations is the intelligence of its employees to sift and identify the right information that is relevant for the challenge they are looking to solve and this is where brands can collaborate with knowledge workers in providing the type of information tailored to their requirements and needs.

As Tim Sparke, founder of Congration.io recently blogged: “In just a decade, the idea of digital knowledge has changed from a niche skillset to something that’s becoming mandatory for everyone. …(but) acquiring the relevant information is not easy though, there is no clear agreement on what we need to know and therefore what skills we need to cultivate”.

And brands have an opportunity here – building trust, authority and relevancy by “opening up their walls” and providing the right insights and information needed to their audience as well as new audiences.

The role of brands as knowledge centres

By taking the time to assess the role they play, the information, content and assets that are valuable to their audience and the needs of the knowledge worker, brands have an opportunity and to become a knowledge centre. In other words, a go-to destination for information and content.

Building these valuable insights in listening to customers and better understanding their needs is essential; it’s effectively introducing your customer to your organisation and is known as Market Orientation – the stage before you embark on your marketing strategy, setting objectives and deciding on the tactics to utilise.

Here are three of examples of brands getting it right:

Kaplan Financial Services is a financial services provider specialisation in examination preparation and professional development. Where it found an opportunity to build its credibility was through its existing pool of students.

American Express launched Open Forum, a platform to bring together small business owners where they can connect and discuss with the challenges they have in running a company. Open Forum is a platform that helps a specific audience gather and retrieve trusted information to answer a specific question from a trusted source.

Reuters has revamped its app to turn it into a highly personalised newswire service for its users. This is a brand with a rich history of providing trusted, authoritative content and over time has become a destination for its users who are looking at a means of filtering out and finding the right content. By offering this personalised approach, Reuters is focusing on adding value to its subscribed audiences rather than measuring success by generic reach.

By starting with their business objective and the role the brand plays in the market, Kaplan, American Express and Reuters have seen an opportunity to help their audiences by targeting them with relevant content. In the process they are turning their brands into platforms that bring together communities to find and share information through trusted sources.

Now more than ever is there a role for brands to position themselves as knowledge centres, even in content-rich marketplaces, by acting as a navigator for expertise through resources, insights and learning.

But to do this successfully requires starting with the needs of the audience and the market.

Change Hackers, a fascinating podcast that interviews people changing the world, recently discussed the growth in knowledge working. The average knowledge worker of today only has access to 2%-5% of the knowledge they need to do their job, mainly due to the speed in the volume of content being created.

The challenge for us all is having the ability to filter out what’s regarded as valuable or not and this is where brands can play a role – to help us filter through the noise by better understanding the role they can play themselves.

Simon Swan is head of digital marketing at the Met Office and is writing in a personal capacity. Follow him on Twitter @swanny_s

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