Four ways to jumpstart your content marketing by creating insights instead of information

creating insights

Last week I had a call with a remarkable woman from Paris. She wanted to bounce some ideas off of me about her next steps with her personal brand.

She’s entering a crowded market. There are many, many marketing professionals out there who have been making a name for themselves for years. Does she have any hope of standing out?

I know she will.

In fact, I can practically guarantee it.

Why can I make this bold claim?

Because in a world of overwhelming noise, she’s delivering the signal — her original and helpful insights. The critical role of creating insights with your content instead of simply relaying information is an important lesson for anybody interested in social media and marketing today, so let’s dive in.

The nature of insight

creating insights


I once had the opportunity to meet and interview the great writer and historian Walter Isaacson. He has written books on his favorite geniuses — Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci — and I asked him about his definition of genius.

He said that genius requires two things: An endless curiosity and an ability to see patterns.

In other words, creating insights come from being curious and connecting the dots in a new way. You call on your experience, education, and heritage to look at something from a different angle.

It seems to me that anybody has the ability to do this if they apply themselves. When you’re creating insights, content magic happens.

You can be intentional about orienting your content toward insight instead of information. Here are a few ways anybody can become more insight-driven:

1. Connect the dots

One of my favorite ways of creating insights is to apply an experience from the past to a situation in the present.

Here is a universal truth. If you’re reading this post, you have a past and you have a present … so you should be able to do this!

An example of how to do this comes from my Marketing Rebellion book. I wanted to make a point in the book that cultural change in a company has to come from the top of the organization — there’s no such thing as a grassroots cultural change.

I thought back to points in my career and remembered a very dramatic cultural change that occurred through the visionary CEO of our company. I explained how he made a change in the safety culture through his entire company presence and by leading through example in dramatic ways.

Instead of merely stating “culture change comes from the top,” I illustrated this point through a personal example, connecting the dots to my past. This story was one of the most popular in the book.

Statements are boring. Stories deliver insights.

2. Connect the people

I firmly believe you can’t “think out of the box.” By the time we’re 15 years old, we’re wired with a mental framework that essentially persists throughout our life.

Creating insights comes through combining boxes — mashing together mental frameworks. Simply put, go talk to people and build on ideas together.

A person who can create insight consistently this way is Andy Crestodina. If you don’t follow Andy, you should. He is a thought leader because he’s constantly looking at things in a new way.

Every time I see Andy, he’ll start a conversation like this: “Mark, have you ever thought about how content marketing is like a pyramid …” and then we’ll riff on whatever crazy idea he has that day until we have plenty of new ideas (that eventually show up in his blog posts!).

My go-to person for insight-building is Keith Reynold Jennings, who of course is a regular contributor to this blog. Last week, he called me up and said, “I have a wild idea for you …” An hour later my head was stuffed with possibilities and new dots that had been connected.

Creativity and insight comes through connection, not thinking by yourself in an office.

3. Connect the experience

This is the weirdest idea I have in this post and maybe the most powerful. I consistently gain insight by SEEING something instead of reading about it or hearing about it.

I spend a lot of time mentoring inner-city kids. One time, I was struggling to get them to do their homework on time. It was a never-ending battle. But when I visited them in their home, I had an insight. I realized they had no WIFI in the house! Of course it was hard to do their homework. I never would have had that realization unless I had been standing in the middle of the situation. They had been too shy to tell me about the problem.

In the same way, I get incredible insights through first-hand observations of my customers and their facilities.

My friend Liz Fessenden reminded me of the Japanese kaizen principle of “going to gemba.”

Gemba (also less commonly as genba) is a Japanese term meaning “the real place.” In business, gemba refers to the place where value is created. The most common use of the term is in manufacturing, where the gemba is the factory floor, but gemba can really be anywhere you can achieve customer insight.

Do you experience this way of learning, too?

4. Connect the content

Do you listen to my Marketing Companion podcast? If you do, you’ll see this idea in action with each episode.

Before every show, my co-host Brooke Sellas and I pay attention to news items that inspire us and then we debate the issues, creating new insights.

In a recent example, The Wall Street Journal published an article explaining why Facebook knew it was creating divisiveness and hate but ignored it because hate speech drives ad revenues. Adding our own thoughts to this news story resulted in a ton of interesting insights and a great show.

Again, this is pretty simple for anyone to do.

Unfortunately, and perhaps inexplicably, it’s not happening too often …

The biggest problem in social media content today

Let’s get back to my friend in Paris and my guarantee that she will make it. How can I be so sure?

Because the world is CRAVING insights but most of the social web is delivering only information and that just doesn’t cut it. She will stand out because she has the courage to be creating insights and publishing her original views.

I am a huge fan of social media marketing bloggers and content creators.

I’m always on the lookout for the next emerging thought leader and I have a pretty good eye for talent!

But here’s what I’m seeing right now — there isn’t anybody on the horizon who is ready to come forward and lead the pack.

Too many creators today are playing it safe. They offer simple tricks and tips like thousands of others who came before them. You’ll never take the web by storm by creating posts on “10 Pinterest tricks” or “Five Facebook ad tips.” Your content might be good, but it’s not an original insight that will help you stand out.

By the way, I’m happy to be proved wrong. If you see an outstanding, insight-filled marketing blog or vlog out there, let me know!

One last thing.

Creating insight-oriented content requires some peace of mind that allows you to think and process.

In a crisis-filled world, insights might be harder to come by when we’re pre-occupied with the prospect of job loss or isolation. Insights need some brain room to flourish.

And honestly, it takes a little courage to trust your insights and not play it safe all the time. But here is what I’ve learned: When you get to the point when you’re creating insights, the rewards will start to flow.

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions. He is the author of several best-selling digital marketing books and is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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