A Content Marketing Innovation Cheat Sheet

Image of Vintage Electronic Control Board

It’s no secret that creativity and innovation are two key ingredients to a highly effective content marketing strategy.

And yet, consistently coming up with imaginative new content ideas for your business or brand can seem utterly vexing at times.

We all want to have better ideas, but it isn’t always as simple as just putting on your “better idea” cap.

That’s why successful content marketers often have deceptively simple cheats for churning out effective online publishing on a regular basis.

Let’s take a look …

Reinventing the wheel

Whether you’re a lone wolf cranking out informative posts for your hungry fans, or a B2B trying to forge new business connections, consistently coming up with great ways to increase your authority and get your audience talking about and sharing your content is a legitimate challenge.

Unfortunately, studies have shown that creativity can’t be bought.

That’s bad news for some, especially with the decline of traditional advertising.

And producing abundant and engaging content actually requires a great deal of focused intention, a fair amount of passion, a lot of elbow grease and a rock solid plan.

A little innovation can go a long way

In the book The Art of Innovation author Tom Kelley lays out the creative process of the global design and innovation firm IDEO (taken from the word ideology).

As general manager, he’s watched the company grow from a small group of fun-loving designers into a consultancy of over 500 professionals.

His brother and founder David Kelley helped his friend Steve Jobs develop the Lisa computer and worked on Apple’s famous mouse design.

IDEO is consistently ranked in the top 25 most innovative companies by Business Week and Fast Company and has won more Industrial Design Excellence Awards than any other firm.

Reinventing the wheel … every day

IDEO have redesigned everything from children’s toys to high-tech medical equipment.

In a vintage spot on ABC’s Nightline in 1999 called Deep Dive; One Company’s Secret Weapon for Innovation they became famous (practically overnight) when they applied a modern redesign to the classic shopping cart in just five days.

Their process was nothing less than inspiring and the video touches on their mantra:

Enlightened trial and error succeeds over the planning of a lone genius.

Kelley points out that one great example of this is Thomas Edison’s legendary innovation.

Edison ambitiously filed over 1000 patents, but more importantly developed some very influential technology including the phonograph, motion picture camera and the lightbulb (the Steve Jobs of his era, to say the least).

We think of him as just one man — The Genius — but the reality is that he employed really a big creative team (over 14 people according to his assistant), that stood on the shoulders of some very important creatives that came before them.

Much like Edison, the team at IDEO are a group of innovative people working in a kind of “focused chaos” but Kelley outlines their deceptively simple methodology.

And here’s IDEO’s innovation cheat sheet …

… in five simple steps:

  1. Understand the market, the client, the technology, any constraints that are perceived for the problem at hand. Content marketers need to do market research into who their audience and prospects will be in order to make an educated guess at a starting point.
  2. Observe real people, in real life situations, using real language to find out what makes them tick. Once you start putting content out there and growing a small, loyal audience, you can tune in to their fears, hopes and desires to help steer your course.
  3. Visualize ground-breaking concepts and the customers who’ll use them. A brainstorm-intensive process that imagines the customer experience. By really discovering what makes your prospects tick, you can speak to their needs.
  4. Evaluate and refine to create quick, iterative prototypes that build on each other incrementally with the understanding that “no idea is so good it can’t be improved.” You must learn from your mistakes and optimize the cornerstone content that will work to forward your efforts.
  5. Implement the new concept for commercialization and business. The longest and most technically challenging phase. For content marketing this is what Seth Godin refers to as being prepared to “get rich slow.” Successful online marketers take the time to earn attention, build trust and turn it into a profit.

This methodology is not unlike the many benefits of agile content marketing that Brian Clark has been talking about in his new ebook series.

A simpler cheat sheet for innovative content marketers

  • Start with an educated guess for your content strategy
  • Create and release content knowing it’s likely to be a bit flawed
  • Optimize it constantly based on audience feedback

It takes exacting execution and “constant innovation” simultaneously, but repeated ad infinitum, this process provides the basis of any successful content strategy.

And it does require some creative teamwork, forging alliances, building a network of your own valued relationships that can help share your content and grow your audience.

We all have a creative side, no matter what we’ve been taught, and tapping into is about embracing risk and not being afraid of the occasional setback.

One more important innovation mantra

Fail often to succeed sooner.

Unfortunately, there really is no “cheating” in content marketing. No one (in their right mind) said it would be easy.

But having a solid starting place is a huge step ahead of the competition. Some would even call it an unfair marketing advantage.

Got any innovation hacks of your own? Drop them into the comments.

I leave you now with the immortal words of David Ogilvy:

If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative.

About the author

Kelton Reid

Kelton Reid is Director of Multimedia Production for Rainmaker Digital, writer, podcaster, and mediaphile. Find out how great writers keep the cursor moving on his podcast The Writer Files, and find Kelton on Twitter.

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  1. The last phrase is so true.

  2. I sent out my guest post on the same topic “innovation” on a well known blog but I was declined…The only reason to that was I wasn’t innovative enough. Really, creativity can’t be bought…

  3. “using real language to find out what makes them tick.”

    It’s so important to not get caught up in the jargon. You have to talk to people they way they actually talk, not how you want them to. Keep it simple and conversational.

  4. The iterative process (always be testing) is like a Swiss Army Knife–it’s applications are endless. And now we have a new minimum viable: MVCMS….

    Minimum Viable Content Marketing Strategy.

    Doesn’t roll off the tongue like MVP or MVA. 😀

    Great post.

  5. Courage. Having courage is a necessary ingredient, first and foundational on any to-do list, especially these three points for content marketing. We just have to get out there and do it, no matter what happens. And we learn and we improve. That’s it.

  6. This ABC video on IDEO looks awesome. I can’t wait to watch it.

    Thanks, Kelton.

  7. Hello Kelton Reid!

    This article is really MAGICAL! It reminds me the power of the quality articles and the viral nature of internet! If you think it a bit you will understand that even 1 EXTRAORDINARY article can build trust, can go viral, can skyrocket your profits. You know guys its all about the reliability and the quality you provide to your readers (customers)..

    Thank you,

  8. My best tip for finding new ideas is to take the real life conversations you have about your business and turn them into online content. The people you talk to in the actual world are some of the same ones who are in your target audience online.

  9. Re: “Create and release content knowing it’s likely to be a bit flawed.”

    This used to be a big hurdle for me. I’d wait until it was absolutely perfect. Only to realize, perfection doesn’t exist. And chasing it, is a waste of time.

    What I was really fighting, was the inner critic. Telling me it wasn’t good enough. I’ve learned to shut him up for the most part. Every now and then he peaks his head in, but I try to shut him out so I can focus on creating and adapting to fit my audiences’ needs.

    • I think we go through what most ‘creatives’ go through. It’s like looking at the very early works of famous artists.
      You can see the progression of genius in the iterations and subtle changes to the work over time.

      • I too have had that same problem Ricardo and agree with Kelton that it’s a creative mentality to want things to be perfect.

        It is difficult to overcome but you only have to look at major companies to see how they constantly put out flawed products into the market then refine them as they go along. Not advocating what major companies do entirely but if you trace things back to their beginnings then that can give you a bit more assurance.

  10. Geez, just…geez. I love this hardcore. As I get more and more into more traditional forms of marketing this is the type of stuff I need to be working on. Its awesome.

  11. The biggest issue that I have come across is “writer’s block”. When you just hit that blank spot of creativity, and nothing flows at all out of you. I guess we all need to find that method of constant inspiration over time to keep us going. But I’ve found constant reading of my favourite blogs in the morning very helpful in inspiring new relevant content.

    I really enjoyed this article and the comments. Great insight

  12. The best content idea here is ‘Observe real people’. Or, to restate it slightly, figure out who your ideal customers are, and observe them. If you do it with a purpose, identifying their gut feelings through personal interviews, then you’ll have an endless source of innovative content because they’ll never grow tired of learning how to alleviate their fears, and live their dreams.

  13. I think not being creative enough is why I’m not as success at my job as I can be, I am always relying on what other blogs are writing about to come up with ideas. :)

  14. Great post, exactly what I was looking, but I should have known this was the answer.

    The post follows the lean philosophy of finding out exactly what your market or audience is looking for, and then delivering content that they want, in the format they want.

    I believe a lot of us(ME) spend a lot of time implementing something without even talking to anyone to see if they are actually interested in it. I believe people have fear of someone “stealing” their idea, or trying to beat them to the finish line, it ends up being a self-fulfilling prophecy because the idea isn’t something people truly want.

    The Content Marketing Strategy is like the product development process of a business, but typically the content is free, but you are still trying to “sell” it by getting people interested in it(ie. getting followers, subscribers, regular readers, fans, etc).

  15. Constantly creating interesting, engaging content is a challenge many businesses face, and these steps are a must read for anyone looking to improve their content marketing. However, while creativity is an obvious (and sometimes enviable) benefit, we’ve found that planning for great content is equally as important as writing it. One example of that is optimizing your ‘push out’ plan – if brilliant content isn’t getting read, it goes to waste. We’ve found that sending out test runs (let’s say three posts across Facebook at noon, another three in the early evening) provides a great opportunity to analyze visibility and capitalize on when you audience is absorbing content. Truly brilliant content is created and acted upon!

  16. Important point – you have to talk to people using their own language and phrases. You gain empathy and better undersand of them if you do this

  17. Often one enjoyed success after hearing what the market wants. Few months back I launched a new workshop, Procrastination Buster Workshop because of market feedback. Then launched a Public Presentation Mastery because if market feedback as well. I’m launching a manual about planning ad execution because of market feedback again.

    Those programs that I launched without researching from the market flop. It’s really important to listen to the market.