Hit more content marketing home runs with these 4 lessons from 300+ campaigns
Columnist Kerry Jones looks at three years of data to uncover characteristics of winning content and discusses what marketers can learn.
Content marketing results are similar to baseball stats. Over a career, a player will hit a combination of base hits and home runs, and even the best players will occasionally strike out. Similarly, some of your content will be a smash hit, sometimes even going viral, while other times your content will go unnoticed.
Just as a baseball player can improve his stats, content marketers also can increase their batting averages by evaluating past performance. Learning from what has worked and what hasn’t is one of the best ways to improve your results.
To better understand why some content succeeds and other content doesn’t, we recently teamed up with Moz to analyze data from 345 Fractl content marketing campaigns launched between 2013 and 2016. (Disclosure: Fractl is my employer, and the examples discussed below involve our own campaigns.)
Content success was gauged based on how many placements, or featured stories, each of our campaigns received. (A “placement” refers to any time a publisher wrote about the campaign.) We evaluated what differentiated the high-performing content when it came to factors like visual assets, content format and the content’s topic.
What we found is useful to anyone looking to improve their content marketing batting average.
Top-performing content was three times more likely to be emotional
As expected, highly emotional content performed significantly better.
Our “Perceptions of Perfection” campaign dealt with the emotional topics of unrealistic beauty standards and women’s body image.
For this concept, we had a woman’s body Photoshopped by designers in 18 countries to showcase how drastic beauty standards are across cultures. The resulting images elicited a complex emotional response in viewers that ranged from sadness to anger and anxiety.
The strong emotional reaction helped catapult the campaign into a viral sensation, earning several million impressions and close to a million social shares within the first week of its publication.
Amazon Prime also has been toying with our emotions lately. First, they launched the cast-wearing puppy ad, where a small terrier couldn’t play with his friends.
This was followed by the tiny pony that was ignored by the stronger horses and a crying baby paired with a dog dressed as a lion. I’m pretty sure the word “heartstrings” was used by every publisher that featured these ads, and the internet’s collective cooing made the ads a success.
Strong contrast, such as rankings and comparisons, drives more engagement
Content featuring a ranking or comparison made up more than half of our top-performing campaigns. Contrasting multiple things can drive discussion and debate around the comparison.
Our Airport Rankings comparison ranked more than 300 airports based on performance stats such as cancellations and average delay time.
The rankings data appealed to both national and regional news outlets, resulting in around 330 featured publisher stories about the campaign. Local media focused on how their regional airports fared in the rankings, while most national media looked at how major airports scored.
Beyond creating one piece of content featuring contrast, this element has proven to work for large content initiatives, like entire websites. Arguably, Rotten Tomatoes’ success was built on the power of rankings. The comparison between the Tomatometer and the Audience Score creates a healthy debate around movies, while making the site a go-to for movie reviews.
Pop culture themes engage dedicated fan bases
Batman and Superman aren’t the only ones who will fight to the death. If you pick apart “Star Wars” plots or criticize Taylor Swift’s music, you’re opening a Pandora’s box of fan loyalty.
We found that this directly correlates to engagement — our campaigns with more than 100 placements were twice as likely to include a pop culture theme as those with less than 20 placements.
An infographic on fictional power sources looked at iconic weapons, cars and characters to see how they could power society. By incorporating icons familiar to any sci-fi or superhero fan, as well as a broader audience, we knew this campaign would have wide appeal. The pop culture theme helped draw the attention of more than 200 publishers.
In another example of slam-dunk content that incorporated pop culture, Etsy user MongoLife combined Google Maps and Westeros (the fictional land in “Game of Thrones”) to see what the journey from King’s Landing to Castle Black would look like on your smartphone. This map instantly took off after Fast.Co Design shared it.
The virality drove thousands of visitors to the seller’s Etsy shop, resulting in hundreds of orders. Today this item has a 5-star Etsy rating and 240 reviews from happy buyers.
While the current cultural zeitgeist can make for content marketing gold, you don’t have to center your content around today’s pop culture phenomena.
Playing up iconic pop culture from past decades can create feelings of strong nostalgia in viewers. This can be extremely effective for driving social sharing and discussion around the content.
Think of what your target audience grew up with (are they Baby Boomers, children of the ’80s?) and consider how you can weave popular culture from that time period into your content ideas.
Topics with broad appeal attract high-authority publishers
Rather than creating hyper-niche content that will only go viral in your industry, consider branching out to something with universal appeal. Broad topics appeal to a greater range of publishers, thus increasing the number of relevant high-authority sites that your content can be placed on.
Our Most Instagrammed Locations campaign combined two popular topics: travel and Instagram. This map generated coverage on national publishers, along with local news organizations looking for a story with regional interest.
Content featuring life hacks using household items are extremely popular — and even led to a TV show — thanks to the topic’s broad appeal. These hacks appeal to such a wide audience because everyone has household items lying around, and everyone likes saving money or being more efficient.
As an example of how widely shared and viewed this type of content is, this video of “10 Simple Life Hacks Everyone Should Know” has nearly 10 million views, and this window-cleaning hack has close to 100,000 social shares.
As you may have noticed, many of the examples above combine several winning ingredients — such as pairing a highly emotional topic with a strong visual contrast. Adding all or several of these elements into your content can greatly increase its chances for success.