Michael Brenner
January 2, 2015

Is ‘Information Overload’ a Myth?

The History Of The Theory of Information Overload

First, let’s talk about the historical precedence of the information overload theory.

I imagine the 2nd day after we emerged from caves, one caveman grunting to the other that there was just too much stuff to process to survive for him to go on. Luckily for us, he did go on.

This theory can be found well into the beginning of documented history. Roman historian Seneca thought there was too much bad information in his world for people to handle. So he responded by creating more, in the form of some of the greatest documentation of the history of mankind.

18th century French philosopher Diderot proclaimed that there was “an overwhelming mass of dreadful books.” So he responded by becoming the editor of an encyclopedia, and a dictionary, and whole bunch of other stuff.

In 1970, Alvin Toffler wrote the book “Future Shock” in which he coined the term “information overload” as the “social paralysis” that results from having more information available to us than we can process.

Earlier this year, Mark Schaefer posed his own theory or “content shock” that was widely debated in the content marketing consulting circles. His main points:

  • The entire volume of the internet is doubling every few years.
  • The organic reach of each piece of content is declining.
  • Our attention spans are shorter.
  • The time we have available to consume content is now at a limit.
  • Early movers and big budgets have the advantage

The Myth of Information Overload

Information overload is widely believed, and in some cases proven to be a myth.

It is overly simplistic but it is powerful because it appeals to our natural human instinct to feel overwhelmed by change and to wa15762b6nt to exert complete control over our environments.

The main conclusion of the various research into this subject is that when we need something, or when we have a problem to solve, we focus on the best available answer. We find solutions in a sea of imperfect answers.

The Content Echo Chamber

Sonia Simone made one the best points about this in her article when she points out that the majority of this conversation on “content shock” is happening among consultants and writers and strategists. But it is NOT happening inside marketing organizations. Why?

Because brands know their content sucks. They know their marketing is largely ineffective. They know their messages are largely ignored. And they know that they can do better.

Banners are ignored by 99.9x% of us. 86% of TV ads are skipped. Direct mail? Thrown in the trash.

1% of the content on the average website drives more than 90% of the traffic. Some studies suggest that 60 to 70% of marketing content created by brands goes completely unused.

We are almost literally just burning money with the budgets we get to create content. So while some people are worried about the myth of information overload, most brands are just hoping to see the content they created get used at all.

Hey, change is hard. Marketing is a tough racket. And so most marketers do what their bosses ask them to do. Sell. More. Shit. Make. More. Content.

Is Content Marketing Even A “Thing?”

3-4 years ago, we were asking if content marketing was even a “thing.”

We thought it was a thing, we knew social media was a thing. We knew the internet was a thing. We knew the mobile internet was a thing.

But those are all just pipes. Content is the oil! It’s the fuel that flows over each new set of pipes and that ignites connections between people and even brands. Always has. Always will.

So ok, content marketing is a thing. And thanks to Joe Pulizzi and his amazing team at Content Marketing Institute, it is an orange thing. And it is quickly becoming the biggest thing in marketing since the marketing automation boom of the last decade.

“Content Marketing Is All The Marketing That’s Left”

(One of my favorite quotes from Seth Godin.)

We evolved from asking if content marketing is indeed a thing, to how do we get started, how do we create effective brand stories that engage audiences, and now, to how do we measure results.

Brian Clark from Copyblogger commented that if content marketing was not sustainable, then “advertising should have been dead years ago!”

Why Businesses Need Content Marketing?

The simple answer is that the brands who win are the ones who shift their budgets from creating crap that no one wants to creating stories that help us become better or feel better.

Successful business will always be the ones that help their audience the most and in the best and most relevant way.

We like Buzzfeed lists and grumpy cats and animated gifs because they help us feel better. But that when we are ready to buy, we will look for the best, most relevant information on that product.

Create The Best Answer On The Internet

That’s a line from Andy Crestodina. Content marketing is not a volume game, it is a quality one. I call it the “Gerry McGuire manifesto” solution: fewer clients, better relationships.

Quality simply does not mean you have to spend incremental dollars to see a return every time. ROI is possible even for smaller companies.

Kevin Spacey taught us that people want stories. And the brands who win are the ones who will give it to them. That is why the information overload is a myth. And content marketing is all the marketing that’s left.

About Michael Brenner

MichaelBrennerHeadShotMichael Brenner is the Head of Strategy for the leading content marketing platform, NewsCred. He is also the author of B2B Marketing Insider, a contributor to Forbes and a frequent speaker at industry events covering topics such as marketing strategy, social business, content marketing, digital marketing, social media and personal branding.  Follow Michael on Twitter (@BrennerMichael)LinkedInFacebook and Google+ and Subscribe to B2B Marketing Insider by Email

Originally titled “Is Content Marketing A Sustainable Marketing Strategy?” and published on . A re-purposed and re-titled version was published on Linkedin.

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Michael Brenner is the Head of Strategy for the leading content marketing platform, NewsCred. He is also the author of B2B Marketing Insider, a contributor to Forbes and a frequent speaker at industry events covering topics such as marketing strategy, social business, content marketing, digital marketing, social media and personal branding.
  • This article mangles the concept behind the original Content Shock article and in fact, misses the point. First, it is silly to compare information overload today when we carry the accumulated knowledge of mankind around with us in our pockets to a time when a 99% of the population could not read. Second, as I state in my article, the issue is NOT about information overload. It is about businesses trying to fight through overwhelming information density for limited attention. There is a difference.

    Content Shock is not a theory. It is a statement of fact of what is happening in our world today and it is rather mystifying to me why any professional marketer would ignore fundamental changes in our business. Look at the number one trend in most 2015 “trend posts” — paying for content distribution. Why is that a trend now and it wasn’t a year ago? The answer is clear. We are in the middle of Content Shock.Great content does not rise to the top like it did a few years ago, It needs a boost to cut through the clutter.

  • Hi Mark. I really appreciate your response here and it goes without saying you’ve made many valid points. You always do!

    I feel that the points you make in your second paragraph are far more valid than those in your first. In a sociological and historical context, going back to when 1% of the population could read, or indeed when nobody could, is very valid. That would have been the first of many times that the status quo was shaken up. How far advanced from that, yet behind where we are now, was the Industrial Revolution? How about the introduction of television sets into living rooms? Things that changed the way we live and how much time we had on our hands.

    The Internet, first at dial up speeds at home, then at great speed wherever we go, are the latest, but will certainly not be the last things to bring more information to us. Each is relevant, as each was thought of at the time as having a negative impact on family units and our time.

    Content Shock as theory is something I would be happy to yield to Michael on. I can say though, that the aspect of the echo chamber he talks about is very real. People who are on the outside of this small world we inhabit, actually have time to conduct lives beyond their businesses. We have created a subsection of society where time ran out, sleep has been impacted and there are no true vacations. Is Content Shock is at least largely self-contained amongst those of us who create and consume the content that is the root of the shock? I say that strictly for respectful discussion and am curious as to your thoughts.

    As for people having to pay for content distribution, yes, that is an unfortunate trend. Too many people with something to say, has created something beyond a buyers’ or sellers’ market. The echo chamber has become a social platform provider’s market. Again, is this something that most people are oblivious to? I see what my non-business friends talk about, and they certainly aren’t worried about having to pay to air their views or read the content out there. They just search for what they are looking for, when they want to look for something, and otherwise go about their lives.

    Content Shock is very much a marketing issue and very real in that world

  • This sentence from article:

    Some studies suggest that 60 to 70% of marketing content created by brands goes completely unused.

    Is exactly the proof that the Content Overload is truth. Most content online isn’t bad, it’s normal, it’s just not seen by many because of overload. It’s the same thing that happens on every medium, video or audio – Youtube at first, was delivering many views to each new video that was uploaded because there were more viewers than video makers. Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing created Self-Publishing boom and authors who were first to succeed did so because there were way way more readers than content provided. These days, neither of the examples work as much as it used to. Content overload happened. Simple Supply and Demand law. Anyone who denies in terms of Content Marketing is too naive or too concentrated on selling Content Marketing. The only people arguing against Content Overload are those who are most biased for it.

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