By Lisa Petrilli published June 4, 2010

5 Content Marketing Secrets We Can Learn From Thomas Edison

You probably think of Thomas Edison as a great innovator, but did you know he was also a brilliant marketer? He foresaw the creation and evolution of markets, and he worked passionately to bring his beliefs to life.

While Edison didn’t use content marketing as we know it today to spread his ideas, there is a lot that we can learn from his formula for success as outlined in the book Innovate Like Edison: The Success System of America’s Greatest Inventor by Sarah Miller Caldicott.

One of his beliefs, the “Solution Centered Mindset,” describes his attitude that success is inevitable. There are five elements that he uses to describe this that I believe parallel great content marketing lessons:

Align Your Goals with Your Passions

Edison exuded passion. Absolutely exuded it. What is your company passionate about? I’m not asking about your products or your services – I’m asking what you are passionate about that exudes from the company on a daily basis. If you can’t answer this, then figuring it out is job number one before you even get to your content.

Customers, partners, clients and fans want to know what you stand for that they can emotionally connect to. Companies like Brains on Fire are brilliant at this. Your content should exude your passion, attract like-minded souls and give them a reason to believe in you. Since purchasing decisions are made with the gut and justified in the brain, this emotional connection is key to laying the groundwork with future customers, partners and clients.

Cultivate Charismatic Optimism

Edison was positive he could improve peoples’ lives, and that’s what he dedicated his life to achieving. Studies show that people buy for three reasons: out of fear, out of pain or because of an opportunity for gain. Does your content give your customers an optimistic sense that you can help them? If not, rethink it and make sure you address all three reasons. You never know which is driving the customer that comes to your site at any given time.

Seek Knowledge Relentlessly

Caldicott says Edison had an insatiable thirst to understand the world. Have an insatiable thirst to understand your customers. Make it easy for your customers to give you feedback on how you can better help them, by doing things such as these:

  • Write a blog and encourage comments.
  • Go to communities where your customers live and ask how you can help them.
  • Create a wiki that customers can update with their insights and advice for each other.

Use this vast insight to create content that makes it hard for your customers to do without you!

Experiment Persistently

Edison said, “The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” If your content doesn’t connect with your customers give yourself permission to try something new. Try different approaches across brands and for very targeted customer groups. Perhaps customers looking at how your product can provide them an opportunity for gain might be open to a micro-site that doesn’t work for those buying out of fear. Just experiment.

Pursue Rigorous Objectivity

Edison is said to have trained himself to view the outcomes of his experiments as “neutral” rather than positive or negative. I don’t know about you but this is extremely hard for me! When I have an idea for content that I think will really resonate with customers I tend to “fall in love” with it. It is very difficult for me to look objectively at something that I am passionate about.

This is where Edison’s lessons come in handy – think of your overriding mission and don’t marry your content. Measure whether it’s meeting your customers needs and if not, change it up.

Do any of these elements resonate strongly with you? How will you apply them? Please let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear your ideas!

Author: Lisa Petrilli

Lisa Petrilli is Chief Executive Officer of C-Level Strategies, Inc., Chief Operating and Marketing Officer for the global To Be a Woman platform, and Chief Relationship Officer for CEO Connection. She is passionate about cultivating visionary leadership. Lisa is also the author of, “The Introvert’s Guide to Success in Business and Leadership,” an Amazon Best-Selling eBook and “Hot New Release” on its launch day. The eBook is featured at Huffington Post, is available at, and inspired her Harvard Business Review article, “An Introvert’s Guide to Networking.” She blogs about leadership at her own Visionary Leadership Blog, for the Lead Change Group, and her blog posts are syndicated at Lead Digital, Business to Consumer, and Alltop. Lisa is also Co-Founder and Co-Leader of Leadership Chat,, a Twitter chat held every Tuesday evening that is attended by leaders from around the globe and is on pace to drive 500 million online impressions annually. She is a consultant, blogger and advisor at Content Marketing Institute, can be found on Twitter as @LisaPetrilli, and may be reached at

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  • Joe Pulizzi

    Great list Lisa. What I get out of this post is this – Purpose. The greatest brands/companies in the world have a singular purpose (like Southwest – making flying available to everyone). With clear purpose, the right things get done. Who couldn't be a fan of Thomas Edison?

  • Lisa Petrilli

    Thanks, Joe – and I appreciate your insight about purpose. Southwest is a great example – it's not about being “the best airline” it's about making flying available to everyone, as you said. It really adds color to the vision and as you said, creates clarity of purpose.

    What's fascinating about Edison is his purpose wasn't “to invent.” Rather, it was to make life better for people – much more aspirational I'd say! Thanks for the comment, Joe!

  • Lisa Thorell

    Great post connecting Edison's passion and methods to creating great content. Yes- he's known for experimenting persistently, as you express so well. (BTW- I have a large photo of his Ft. Meyers laboratory up in my office..;-)) I wonder about his measurements of his progress. I imagine he kept a detailed log as a scientist. Any details on that?

  • Lisa Petrilli


    He absolutely did – and Sarah spent years going through it all in order to be able to write the book. I highly recommend that you pick up a copy of the book (it's invaluable in so many ways) or go to Sarah's website and sign up for her newsletter. She talks a lot about Edison's methods every month in these communications. You can find her at

    I'm going to let her know about the photo you have in your office – very cool! I expect she'll be thrilled to hear it. 🙂

    Thank you so much for taking the time to comment,
    All the best,

  • lisa thorell

    Wow- that's fascinating that Sarah has “systematized” his principles! I'll definitely check it out as an admirer myself. And since we're on an Edison-fest, here's the
    photo of Thomas Edison's Ft Meyers laboratory by Bill Sargent. Very industrious looking dawn-to-dusk idea-generating space, eh?

    Thanks again for re-inspiring me!

  • Mike

    Nikola Tesla, whom Edison screwed out of $50,000, was certainly not a fan of Edison:

    “He had no hobby, cared for no sort of amusement of any kind and lived in utter disregard of the most elementary rules of hygiene” and, “His method was inefficient in the extreme, for an immense ground had to be covered to get anything at all unless blind chance intervened and, at first, I was almost a sorry witness of his doings, knowing that just a little theory and calculation would have saved him 90% of the labour. But he had a veritable contempt for book learning and mathematical knowledge, trusting himself entirely to his inventor's instinct and practical American sense.”

  • Joe Pulizzi

    Hi Mike…there is no doubt that Tesla was one of the most innovative and amazing scientists of his day (maybe ever). The confrontation between Edison and Tesla went on for years, and you are right, does not paint a kind picture of Edison. Honestly, this post could be about Edison or Tesla.

    I grew up just a few miles from Edison's birthplace and honestly know much more about Thomas Edison. It's amazing what Edison accomplished being that he was practically deaf at the age of 12. I think that lends to a few of the social issues you bring up.

    It's pretty amazing that a poor, deaf kid grew up to make, perhaps, the greatest impact on our society. If we, as marketers, follow Lisa's points taken from Edison, I think we'd all be pretty successful.