Oftentimes when content marketers are looking for successful new strategies, their initial instinct is to turn to established success stories within their own fields. The approach makes sense. If you want to become the best, shouldn't you take tips from the current best? However, after a few cycles or campaigns, brands may feel like they've hit a wall when creating content that's tried-and-true in their particular niche. The strategy of just "do what the other guys are doing" can quickly lead to getting caught in an echo-chamber of ideas.
Sometimes it's best to step back from what you know and explore a wider selection of practices across analogous fields. For example, what can a team of software engineers learn about coding and design from an architecture firm? When incorporating strategies used within different niches to drive their content marketing objectives, strategists need to go beyond replicating success stories in a different space. Marketing innovation happens when strategists move across industry lines and creatively apply insights gleaned from different industries to drive innovation in their own marketing.
Here's how marketers can go beyond the status by extrapolating from different domains.
Experiment With Different Domains in New Contexts
Image attribution: Jan Triad
As Content Standard author Liz Alton writes, "Marketing innovation and creative thinking often come from the most unexpected places…The answers to these challenges were not, as I initially suspected, buried in tomes about these specific disciplines. Instead, marketing breakthroughs occurred when we looked at how change happened in other domains and experimented with those ideas in a new context."
As a content creator for businesses in many different industries, when I have initial talks with a potential new client, I like to begin by asking them which brands inspire them? Which content efforts resonate most with them, and what they like the most about a content brand? And I encourage them to look beyond their own expertise, and come up with examples that inspire them in their everyday non-business life. Do they have a favorite retail outlet, travel site, or finance brand? What is it about these companies that makes them stand out?
From there, we can come up with new approaches to content.
If you're struggling with figuring out where to start, think about what marketing content compels you in your everyday life. The other side of creation is consumption, so as a consumer try to figure out why something is working. Then extrapolate what you can to incorporate into your content strategy and marketing efforts.
Refer to Case Studies
Since you don't have the first-hand experience of working within a specific sector, you must seek out analysis and case studies to learn what worked for brands in different domains. Researching what incited growth from these content efforts can spark great ideas.
For instance, in 2017 the Content Marketing Institute gave kudos to Monster's blog Career Advice for its uniquely personal approach to tech and AI resources. As CMI author Stephanie Stahl notes, "But what truly stands out about Career Advice isn't just its employment news, industry analysis, resume templates, and other proprietary content tools that give its audience a leg up in the highly competitive job market-it's the company's overall content mission of bringing humanity to a process increasingly driven by technologies like resume scanning software, search bots, and automated referral services."
Don't let assumptions about certain sectors ( i.e. technology is logical or finance is formal) limit your brand voice and the way that you design content for your brand. If you're working for a tech brand, or for a brand that is similarly, overwhelmingly driven by automation and technology, how can you bring a human approach to best serve your audience? For instance, let's say you're writing for a tech startup that specializes in a type of insurance. As insurance often deals with complex and high-stakes material, how can you make your content more accessible by emphasizing human stories and emotions into your pieces?
Look Toward the Adjacent Possible
Sometimes new possibilities aren't right in front of you-they're adjacent. As Eddie Smith writes for Practically Efficient, "The adjacent possible is a kind of shadow future, hovering on the edges of the present state of things, a map of all the ways in which the present can reinvent itself. Theoretical physicist Steven Weinberg observed that the adjacent possible "captures both the limits and the creative potential of change and innovation."
Non-profit institutions and corporate foundations work toward improving individual lives and improving social outcomes by solving real-world problems. It's no wonder that when raising funds or delivering on projects around the world, these institutions succeed by galvanizing a community of donors and doers around a vision of the future. In order to tackle the youth employment challenge in Africa, the Mastercard Foundation first focused on pulling together insights on young people they wanted to empower. Via direct interviews with over 400 people, the foundation found existing models of community organizing and economic growth that could be recreated elsewhere. Beyond looking at the macro trends affecting the younger generations, Mastercard Foundation sought to understand people and create a vision of the future that included their own solutions to problems. The supporting video content reflects this outcome. In it we see the young people (who may benefit from the foundation's efforts) as the heroes in their own stories-this aesthetic is one that brand marketers can strive for.
While you can extrapolate and integrate any domain and industry try looking at subjects where your products or services have relevance, despite not directly being a part of that specific market. For instance, if you're creating blog posts for a brand in the fintech space that ultimately helps your customers with financial wellness, look at what has been working for brands in the wellness space. Then connect seemingly disconnected dots to create powerful, high-value content that stands out in your space.
Image attribution: Evan Dennis
Employ Catalytic Questioning
One of the biggest benefits for marketers in observing unfamiliar industries for inspiration is the freedom to admit that there are answers that we simply don't know. As noted by the Harvard Business Review, "People versed in analogous fields can draw on different pools of knowledge, and they're not mentally constrained by existing, "known" solutions to the problem in the target field."
When you're surrounded by people with similar backgrounds, it's easy to turn to feel constrained to addressing only the known issues and top trends in your space and ignore other possible routes to creative insights. Seeking knowledge from a diverse team of collaborators will allow new minds to identify areas of weakness and question some of your regular practices. Questioning the stasis should not be regarded as criticism, but instead as a unique opportunity to disrupt your strategy to do more.
Posited by Hal Gregersen, Clayton Christensen, and Jeff Dyer in their book The Innovator's DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators, the concept of catalytic questioning identified five "discovery skills" used by game-changing leaders to set them apart:
1. Questioning. Asking questions that challenge common wisdom;
2. Observing. Analyzing the behavior of customers, suppliers, and competitors to figure out new ways of doing things;
3. Networking. Meeting people from different walks of life that offer new ideas and perspectives;
4. Experimenting. Putting together interactive experiences and inciting out-of-the-box responses to see what insights emerge;
5. Associating. Connecting the dots between questions, problems, or ideas from seemingly unrelated fields.
These core discovery skills came about after interviewing roughly 200 founders and CEOs of innovative companies to uncover the origins of disruptive business ideas.
Using a step-by-step approach, figure out how you can best challenge the status quo of your own content strategy by asking the right questions, analyzing the behavior of your target audience and user personas, and expanding your professional network. You can use these insights to experiment and see what works and what doesn't.
Sure, you may need to get the buy-in from different departments-sales, the PR and social media teams-and stakeholders, but by starting out small to test out new ideas, you can forge new approaches to create an effective, unique content strategy.
Marketing innovation doesn't exist in an island within your particular industry. The more you observe and learn from different domains, and employ a cross-industry collaboration approach, the more you can propel your content strategy so it not only achieves your editorial and business goals, but led toward the change you want to happen-whether it's an increase in conversion, brand awareness, or a shift in your brand's identity or customer reach.
For more stories like this, subscribe to the Content Standard newsletter.
Featured image attribution: Jake Melara