Want Your Content to Succeed? Make it Resonate with the Right Audience (no, not that one).

You know the stats. 75% of content gets no links. 91% of content earns no Google traffic. 85%+ of content earns fewer than ten social shares. And we’re not even talking about all web content — just those pieces creators produced specifically to earn shares, links, rankings, and traffic. Tragically, much like the US economy, content marketing is a winner-take-all world.

IMO, when high-quality, well-produced content fails, three big forces are to blame:

1) There’s more competition than ever before: literally hundreds of millions of publishers, brands, and individuals are creating and amplifying content in attempts to earn attention. Simultaneously, the content bar has been massively raised: what stood out from the crowd in 2010 would be lucky to get 1/10th the attention 10 years later.

2) A tiny handful of monopolies control most web traffic (Facebook, Google, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Reddit, Instagram, etc) and they are working hard to keep visitors on their platforms rather than sending them out. Less than half of Google searches result in a click. The median Facebook page post reaches <0.1% of followers. On Instagram it’s <1.6%, on Twitter <0.05%.

3) Most content creators target the wrong audience.

There isn’t much marketers and creators can do about #1 or #2, but we can do something about that third force: shift our efforts to reach the people and publications able to amplify our work and send real traffic.

At the core of the problem is how so many companies establish the wrong incentives for content creators:

Exec: “We need more customers, but we’ve exhausted our advertising opportunities, so I want you to invest in content marketing.”

Marketer: “Got it. Content’s a slow, flywheel-based investment, but over time we can create a great channel if we earn awareness, trust, and amplification from a broad community.”

Exec: “Let me be more specific. I want you to write blog posts that will convert visitors into customers. You’ll be measured by the expense of your team’s time vs. the conversions we can directly attribute to your posts. If it’s better than the dollars we put into Google & Facebook ads, you can keep the program going.”

Marketer: “Wait… but that’s not… you can’t compare content against the built-in, designed-for-attribution-so-you’ll-buy-more measurability of ads when they intentionally obfuscate organic…”

Exec: “Good talk! Look forward to seeing your progress.”

Ugh. We’ve all been there.

But let’s assume you have some buy-in. Perhaps the nightmarish economic picture presented by a global pandemic has opened your organization’s eyes to the value of building future demand and reducing dependency on expensive advertising? If so, you’ve still got a strategic beast to slay.

Most content, right from conception, still adheres to a vastly over-simplified notion: reach potential customers with content so we can convert them into paying customers. In a zoomed-out view of marketing, this is technically accurate (the worst kind of accurate). But, the zoomed-in view looks way different.

Content can nudge some people who see it to check out your products or services. It might even nudge some of those people to buy. Usually, it does those things as part of a long, complex journey that starts with discovery around a space, moves to awareness of your brand, then into realization-of-a-problem and, finally, evolves into seeking out your solution. Try to rush that process, and you’ll turn most of the audience off. Create content exclusively for those who already know they need your solution, and you’re cutting off your best chance to make content a valuable channel.

Here’s that RescueTime post aggregating remote work data, and here’s Steven Universe creator, Rebecca Sugar’s, Twitter profile

In the graphic above, the “Discovery” and “Awareness” groups will always be 10-1,000X larger than the “Problem-Experiencing” or “Solution-Seeking” groups. So, if your content continually targets bottom-of-the-funnel audiences, you’ll quickly run out of newcomers, and often be perceived as a brand outlet that’s merely pounding a limited attention-span begging for sales.

But, it’s not just the funnel; it’s the individuals in that funnel.

Content Audience: The Four Groups -- current customers, potential customers, potential amplifiers, and the broader community.

Your content audience is and should be fundamentally different from your product or sales audience. You’re not (and shouldn’t be) trying to sell everyone who consumes your content. You should, however, be trying to earn amplification and engagement from everyone who consumes your content.

That doesn’t always mean links or social shares. It could mean a private reference, an email, a “hey what was that great cartoon show you told me about last time we hung out?

But, if you want to earn amplification, the kind you’ll need to build a true content flywheel, you need to appeal to an audience that has both the ability to amplify and channels on which to spread the word. Years ago, these people were called “influencers,” but that term now mostly refers to a specific kind of Instagram or YouTube creator that’s far too narrow and often irrelevant to what most brands outside fashion, fitness gear, travel, and a few other (mostly) consumer product companies care about. So, instead, let’s call them “potential amplifiers.”

These potential amplifiers are one of several audiences you should be targeting content toward in the creation and conception phase. They’re the group with the greatest ability to help build your content flywheel, and thus, I often recommend making them the biggest target for your content efforts. If you’re writing or making videos or podcasts for your existing audience or fans, the rate of new-fan attraction will naturally be lower than if you’re also making those things for potential amplifiers.

Maybe you’ll get lucky. Maybe some of the things you create for your existing audience or even for potential customers will end up being things that also appeal to potential amplifiers. But why risk it? The far wiser move is to recognize this reality, and intentionally create content meant to get industry publications, potential niche evangelists, customer evangelists you already have, and mainstream press interested.

The most successful content — the stuff that earns amplification, builds your brand in content, gets you subscribers and followers, and eventually leads to future conversions — that stuff sits at the intersection of appealing to both potential amplifiers and potential customers.

But, honestly, if I could only choose one… I’d take the amplifiers. Because once people know, like, and trust you, the path to conversion is wide open.