Creative Thinking

Breaking Out of the Echo Chamber: How Your Content Marketing Program Can Find Something New to Say

By Liz Alton on October 30, 2018

When you manage a content marketing program for a long time, you can end up feeling like you're running out of ideas. Even with a host of contributors and a focus on being generative, the realities of powering an ongoing content strategy can be daunting.

There are two common problems I see with prospective clients trying to feed the content beast. One is that they're stuck in an echo chamber, saying the same things as everyone else in their field. It's impossible to differentiate their brand-and therefore messaging-from competitors. The second is that they've covered the low-hanging fruit content ideas, and now the pressure's on to come up with new topics. It feels like the well is running dry.

Yet coming up with fresh content-and not just rehashing the same stories that already flood the market and your own blog-is the key to a successful content marketing program. Here's a closer look at how top brands and strategists inspire creative thinking and break out of the echo chamber.

The Challenges of Coming Up with New Ideas

Two years ago, I was brought into a project to help a large company revamp their content marketing strategy. They had the resources you'd expect of a Fortune 500 brand. But with multiple blogs that simply spun out content to fill space in the editorial calendar, it wasn't clear how to take their content marketing program to the next level. They wanted to know how they could increase interest, drive conversations, and create a content destination that was as trusted as their products were in the industry.

creating content in the echo chamber

Image attribution: Sergio Souza

Stepping back, I immediately saw that there were vast, untapped possibilities for new content: interviews with famous users and innovative artists, project profiles, product tutorials, and trends in the many spaces where their clients played. In other words, next-level production meant going beyond the basic list of topics-and finding new angles, exploring interesting perspectives, and casting a wider lens on their industry.

Have a Purpose for Innovation in Your Content Strategy

First, let's talk about innovation. Nothing kills your ability to be innovative quite like aiming for innovation for its own sake. I get it-you want to be a trailblazer, a tastemaker, a thought leader. But the most effective content strategies put innovation within the context of delivering value to the audience.

In an interview with Marketing Tech News, Steven Lamensdorf, vice president of Icreon Tech, shared a great insight, "One of the main reasons companies fail at innovation is because they innovate for the sake of innovation."

Marketers wrestling with the challenge can help put a "why" to their innovation efforts by asking a few key questions:

  • Where is our point of view unique? What do we have to say that's different from our competitors?
  • How does innovative content help our audiences? What novel angles or deeper thought leadership are they craving and not getting?
  • How does an innovation platform in our content marketing program support our larger goals? Examples might be breaking into new markets, launching a consulting practice, or establishing executives as recognized names.

Develop the Foundation for Creativity

In nearly every discussion about the role of data and automation within marketing, the one area where human initiative thrives is creativity. Indeed, as more companies have access to data-driven insights, creativity becomes a key differentiator.

In fact, some marketers argue that an over-reliance on technology can lead to declining creativity.

HSBC's former head of marketing in EMEA, Philip Mehl, shared the following insights in an interview with Marketing Week:

"When I think of TV ad breaks 20 years ago, probably six out of seven spots were entertaining-now it's more likely to be one out of seven," he said. "Marketers have lost a lot of the skill of storytelling and the art of having an impact that actually creates a memory."

What can marketers do to ensure they're prioritizing creativity?

  • When developing ideas and vetting them, take a hard look at quality.
  • Find ways to dial up the impact of proposed content pieces. Could adding visuals, interviews, or statistics add to the value your audience is seeking?

Lean Into the Data

Earlier, we explored whether there's a conflict between data and creativity in the marketing space. I would argue that for purposes of content marketing in particular, data can fuel creativity by offering inspiration and focus.

Lamensdorf, in the same interview mentioned above, notes, "We need to collect data, paint the picture, and understand the customer journey so that we as marketers can have our brand at the right place, at the right time."

examine the full picture of data

Image attribution: Chuttersnap

Data can help you come up with new ideas in a range of ways. What content is performing well? What opportunities are being missed? What top content could be reformatted and packaged for other audiences? Social listening tools can help you follow the conversations happening in your space in real time and mine them for content opportunities.

Use your technology stack-specifically, your data and analytics capabilities-as a competitive differentiator when it comes to both finding your voice and ideating new topics.

Tap Into a Wide Range of Sources

One common fallacy is that if brands have the right content strategist, with all the industry context and big vision for the brand's future, they'll be able to generate an unending stream of great ideas. That can be true to a certain extent, but it's an oversimplification of how this really works.

The best strategy is to tap into a wide range of sources when you are collecting ideas. The ideation infrastructure of your content marketing initiative should be sourcing ideas from diverse corners, and then funneling them down to your content strategy leads for shaping, evaluation, and follow up. Content strategists should be generative, but they should also be involved in the selection process and guiding contributions. These can include:

  • Partnering with customers to co-create content. Entrepreneur notes, "If you want to make your marketing campaign personal and customized, you have to allow your targets to do the marketing for you [. . .] they have little interest in listening to brands talk down to them. They don't want to be told what to do."
  • Engage a wide range of potential contributors from within your organization. Look for ideas from your receptionist and your customer service team, as well as sales, strategy, and the C-suite.
  • Prioritize engagement with your SMEs. Find strategies to engage their curiosity and incentivize their participation.
  • Work with freelancers who understand your space and bring unique perspectives to the table as a result of their more varied experience.

Stay Inspired to Track the Echo Chamber

Some of the best idea generators I know have one advantage: they're plugged into the discussions. What steps are you taking to make sure your team is reading the latest books and blogs, attending conferences, and following the real-time streams unfolding on social media and the news?

cave of content marketing inspiration

Image attribution: Joshua Sortino

Who has time for all that? The most effective strategists and writers make time. Earlier in my career, I worked very closely with one of the smartest minds in economics. Every day, he dedicated at least one hour to uninterrupted reading. By constantly taking in new ideas, he was able to spot trends, make connections between different disciplines, and find strong, unique positioning for his latest ideas. As he became more established and more in demand, he deprioritized this work and his rate of innovation suffered.

  • Skim headlines, and take strategic deep dives on selected topics. Look for common points, trends, and big ideas that are resonating.
  • Brainstorm unique takes on the conversations you're seeing.
  • What points of view are totally missing? What articles or ideas do you wish you were reading?
  • Can your unique experience, case studies, and data lend something to the conversation?

The Importance of a Good Infrastructure

It may sound counterintuitive, but your brand's greatest weapon in its quest for innovative, fresh, and original content is a solid infrastructure and robust content marketing platform. When your content marketing process is well-designed with these values embedded in its DNA, a structure takes form to make it happen.

For example, effectively creating ideas from all the stakeholders we mentioned requires a mechanism for doing so.

When you come up with groundbreaking ideas, you need the resources to bring them to life, polish them, and oversee distribution. As notes, one of the pillars of creativity is boosting "creative velocity by smoothing your workflow. Prioritize a seamless creative process with the aid of collaboration tools." Documenting your brand standards, having a strong team in place, and developing a smooth digital workflow are the differences between being innovative in theory-and getting those inspired pieces into the market.

Ultimately, coming up with new ideas for your content marketing is an essential part of making it a success. For many marketing leaders, it's easy to get trapped in a set of assumptions about what innovation looks like, but by breaking down these stereotypes, you'll be well on your way to sustainably creating a variety of fresh ideas.

For content-centric brands that need to manage production at scale, Skyword360 offers enterprise-wide visibility that fuels marketing across channels, divisions, regions, and countries and supports a workflow that allows you to continuously tell creative, consistent brand stories. Request a demo.

Featured image attribution: Timothy Paul Smith


Liz Alton

Liz Alton is a technology and marketing writer, and content strategist, for Fortune 500 brands and creative agencies. Her specialties include marketing, technology, B2B, big data/analytics, cloud, and mobility. She's worked with clients including Adobe, IBM, Hewlett Packard, Twitter, ADP, and Google. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and an MBA. She is currently pursuing a master’s in journalism from Harvard University.