Everyone celebrates the magic of the internet because it removed the obstacles between any of us and all of us. 

For the first time, someone with zero resources could reach an audience of billions and change the world. 

But every sliver lining has its cloud and content marketers are experiencing the unintended consequences of a barrier-less world...

The internet changes everything by removing some major obstacles that governed the world of communication

You know these so I'll be quick:

1.  It removed the barriers to content creation and distribution

It used to cost a lot of money to reach a lot of people. You needed a printing press. Or a radio station. Or a TV network.

Only a very few people could afford these things, so only a very few people benefited from the power of mass communication.

The internet nuked this model. Now all you need to be Charles Foster Kane is a keyboard and some WiFi.

2. It did away with the 'gatekeepers' who control public discourse.

When time on a printing press or in a TV studio was a uniquely precious commodity, we needed people that could decide which voices merited access. These 'editors' discovered the best talent, helped the chosen few hone their voices and filtered out the rest.

The internet gave editors the boot. It said, "Get the hell out of our way; we all have a voice that deserves to be heard, for we are the PEOPLE." (cue that song from Les Mis and get yourself to the nearest barricade).

3. It showed us that you don't need a super-talent to get your message out and be heard

We once thought that only geniuses deserved to be heard, people like Shakespeare, Michelangelo and Art Garfunkel. These were special people who rose to the top and earned their time in the spotlight or their slice of the airwaves. The rest of us were 'average' and, frankly, didn't.

The internet proved that a baby with an infectious giggle or a cat with a copier could become as famous as Lady Gaga.

A Content Marketing beast is born

The astute Econsultancy blog readers among you (and I count you among them) will have noticed by now that these three 'game changers' are the very same things that released the awesome power that is Content Marketing

Yes, the juggernaut rendering all old-school marketing obsolete is made possible by the big three: free ways to create and distribute ideas; the absence of people paid to protect the rest of us from these ideas; and the liberating notion that we all possess, in our own special way, as valid a voice as Jerry Lewis.

Your inner Nutty Professor is hereby released (I'm hearing 'Gurn Free' to the tune of 'Born Free' right about now, but I'm tired of supplying a soundtrack here: make your own).

So here's the problem:

I miss the barriers.
I'm not so sure I like a world unburdened by these formidable obstacles.
I want them back.

What the Barriers did for us all

I recognise that, throughout history, the Big Three Barriers eliminated countless voices that, had they been heard, could have changed the world.

We have all been denied the genius of a thousand Thoreaus, a million Melvilles and a googolplex of Gandhis.

But the Barriers also served a purpose that could use a bit of serving today:

  • The high cost of communication channels made people think twice before dumping their thoughts on to the page. And thinking twice is a fantastic idea. Thinking three or more times is even better. 
  • The gatekeepers elevated the few and suppressed the many. Yes, because the many generally suck. And, while bad gatekeepers gave us people like Justin Bieber, good ones gave us The New Yorker. And Vladimir Nabokov. And Gillian Welch. Not bad gate-keeping, huh?
  • The idea that 'you need special talents to deserve a stage' kept people without these talents off stage. And off-stage is where they belong.

Because you do need special talents to actually reach people: talents like empathy, honesty, intelligence, expertise, style, wit and personality. You don't need all of them in massive quantities but you need at least a bit of a few.

You don't need any talent to publish a blog (you just need Wordpress). But you do need it to publish a blog worth reading.

You don't need to be especially articulate to write an eBook (you just need TextEdit Pro). But you do need to be able to say what you mean with precision and economy to write an eBook anyone will read and share.

You don't need to be visually literate to design an infographic (you just need one of those free online infographerators). But if you want your infographic to move people, you need design chops. And talent. And imagination. And -- god forbid – an idea.

It's time to build your own barriers

All those nasty obstacles are gone. They're not coming back, but if you're going to be the awe-inspiring content marketer you were put on Earth to be, you need to find a way to re-introduce these barriers and put them between your company and your audience.

Pretend every word you publish costs you a Euro.

Pretend the world's nastiest editor is sitting right outside your office and he's delayed his lunch break to read your work.

Pretend Simon Bloody Cowell and his 'judges' are deciding whether to put you into the live show. (For this to be effective you also need to pretend that Simon Cowell himself has talent and that his judges were chosen for their ability to spot it and, here's the hard one, that you give a shit).

Because, here's the thing: communication may not be expensive any more but attention is.

In fact, it's the most expensive commodity on the planet (just edging out those rare earth metals that the Chinese seems to have cornered the market on).

And because Harold Ross is no longer here to tell you that your latest piece needs some serious re-writing, you need to create your own, internal Mr Ross (not even James Thurber or E.B. White called him 'Harold').

And you may not need a super-talent anymore, but unless you can tap into whatever very real talents you do have, and work on them tirelessly, you will never be more than the million bloggers out there who grind out info-gruel and spray yadda-yadda juice into the void.

Now that anyone can speak, everyone is speaking. Your job is to be heard above this deafening din.

Now that there's no one judging your work, you need to judge it all the more harshly. (Shooting from the hip only worked for Jesse James because he practiced.)

Now that every mumbling moron with a Galaxy S is posting for posterity, you need to earn whatever slice of attention you deserve. And 'earning' implies – no, it demands – work.

The Barriers are gone.

Long live the barriers.

Doug Kessler

Published 3 April, 2013 by Doug Kessler

Doug Kessler is a founder and Creative Director of B2B marketing agency Velocity and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

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Comments (12)

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Frank Gibbs

This is so true. There are so few barriers now to creating content that it seems like a cheap and easy way to market a business. But actually, it's only when it is taken seriously and really great content is created that attention can be won.

over 5 years ago


Ryan Reynolds

Great information in this site.there are so few barriers now to creating content that it seems like a cheap and easy way to market a business

over 5 years ago


Joe Chernov

Good post. It reminded me of the quote from "Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas":

"Nobody can handle that other trip-the possibility that any freak with $1.98 can walk into the Circus-Circus and suddenly appear in the sky over downtown Las Vegas twelve times the size of God, howling anything that comes into his head."

over 5 years ago


Nick Stamoulis

"Pretend every word you publish costs you a Euro."

Like you said, thinking twice is good and thinking three times is even better. Just because you can publish something right now doesn't mean you should. Think about what you are saying and if it's something you really want going out into the world wide web. It will be there forever.

over 5 years ago


Matt Abraxas

I'm fairly new to online marketing and have marveled at the sheer amount of content available. One thing though, I've read a lot that to get your content in public view, it's important to write a lot, as in blogging daily 700+ word articles. I agree it's better to make every word count, as far as making a better point, but wouldn't it harm you in SEO and thus business?

Like I said, I'm new to this, and I really do want to know if anyone has an answer.

over 5 years ago


Luke Lounsbury

It really is so true! The internet has given way to a whole new breed of entrepreneur. People with no training and no experience are now all of a sudden given this platform, and look at some of the stories it's produced...Zuckerberg, Gates, Jobs, etc...So truly great minds, with questionable academic careers...The internet...the great equalizer!!

Thanks for the read!

Luke Lounsbury

over 5 years ago


Lindy Dragstra

Hurray! I too have had it with all self proclaimed experts and guru's. I'm suffocated by content pollution and I need some clean, crisp, valuable information, delivered in a format that suits me, that has been checked and is validated, content that I can rely on to base business decisions on.

I don't need content, I need information!

over 5 years ago


Carl Kemp, Marketing Communications Director at Freelance

Great post - thanks.

To paraphrase Mark Twain; If you have nothing to say, don't open your mouth and prove it.

over 5 years ago


Wyndham Lewis

Are we saying that in a world without barriers Jackie Collins and Jeffrey Archer should never have happened, because only talented authors were successful? In a world with barriers, how were we subjected to the Sunday Sport and headlines about B52 Bomber found on the moon?

With or without barriers the rules have always been the same - to create content that people engage with and creates value for the creator and/or distributor. The greatest challenge is the splintering of audiences and the need to develop and distribute content for smaller niches.

Beyond the few content starts, aggregators have re-emerged that once again dominate the landscape. Your post will have far more attention and views through the econsultancy portal than through your own website.

Moves by Google and search engines to create author rank should rebalance the equation away from aggregators and more than ever create a meritocracy where the best, most interesting and valuable content has algorithms raising it to the top.

The reality is that in our new world we are reading and consuming more and being more discerning about that content. The good news is that the Sunday Sport is no more.

over 5 years ago

Pete Williams

Pete Williams, Managing Director at Gibe Digital

I have to agree in the main however there might be a case for those less literate having a voice for the first time. Without a degree in English/journalism it has been hard to be recognised by the gate keepers of mass media. The internet offers everyone a voice and those with a strong message will finally be heard even if their grammar or position in society isn't sufficient to warrant recognition. Econsultancy itself is a good example of the difficulties of achieving a professional output when deadlines for new content are a daily requirement. Editors will always accept less than award winning work for a number of reasons and the ability for us to then comment is something newspapers have had to deal with but not had to share with the wider world.
Make sure your content is valuable to your target user and try not to worry what others think unless you covet their interest as well. Great content will also be shared and therefore increase your reach and gain you new readers.

over 5 years ago

Doug Kessler

Doug Kessler, Director at VelocitySmall Business Multi-user

Thanks for the comments!

@Joe Chernov --Love the Fear & Loathing quote.

@Matt Abraxas -- The 'quality or quantity' debate will rage on. My view: never sacrifice quality. If you can generate lots and lots without sacrificing quality, go for it. You'll be a star. But if the quality slips, all that quantity will simply show the world over and over again that you don't have much to say...

@Carl Kemp -- Twain said in 13 words what it took me 500 to say. D'oh!

@Pete Williams -- I do agree that getting more voices heard has been a great benefit of the Internet. I just think it's worth pointing out that not every voice deserves a platform -- or will earn one. And that -- now that the middle-people are gone -- we all need to raise the bar for ourselves.

over 5 years ago


Barry Feldman

Wonderful stuff Sir Kezza. Love the big idea and the idea that other content creators should actually have ideas. The shit storm is hard to take. Gillian Welch? Pretty obscure reference.

Love the Mark Twain quote in the comment stream.

Don't love the Jeffrey Archer dig.

Love the infographic example.

Don't love how this blog's comment stream (doesn't) work. It's quite lame.

over 5 years ago

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