By Joe Pulizzi published June 29, 2013

8 Remarkable (and Stolen) Content Marketing Ideas

Your idea isn’t new. Pick an idea; at least 50 other people have thought of it. Get over your stunning brilliance and realize that execution matters more.” —Mark Fletcher, Founder of

One of the benefits of my work is that I get to travel around the world to meet with fascinating people who have amazing ideas. Much of my speeches and my writings on content marketing are filled with the thoughts of others. Here are eight of my favorite content ideas that I’ve stolen. I’m sharing them with you in the hopes that they will help you as much as they’ve helped me.

1. Social media 4-1-1

Stolen from Andrew Davis, author of “Brandscaping“:

Social Media 4-1-1 is a sharing system that enables a company to get greater visibility with social influencers. Here’s how it works:

For every six pieces of content shared via social media (think Twitter for example):

  • Four should be pieces of content from your influencer target that are also relevant to your audience. This means that 67 percent of the time you are sharing content that is not yours, and calling attention to content from your influencer group.
  • One piece should be original, educational content that you have created.
  • One piece should be sales-related — like a coupon, product notice, press release, or some other piece of content that no one will likely pay attention to.

While the numbers don’t have to be exact, it’s the philosophy that makes this work. When you share thought leadership content, they notice. And you share this content without asking for anything in return (so that when you do need something someday, those influencers are more likely to say yes).

Click to tweet: Content Idea #1: 4-1-1 for social sharing to improve visibility w influencers via @TPLDrew @CMIContent 

2. Reimagining content

Stolen from Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer at MarketingProfs:

Years ago when everyone jumped on the content repackaging bandwagon, there was Ann Handley talking (rightfully) about reimagining content. This means that every story you tell needs to be shaped to a specific persona for that particular channel. At a time when everyone was spraying social media updates through services like, Ann was telling us to be more thoughtful with our content. She was right. Don’t just repackage… reimagine.

Click to tweet: Content Idea #2: Don’t just repackage, reimagine your content! Via @marketingprofs @JoePulizzi 

3. Storytelling 20-1

Stolen from Todd Wheatland, VP of Thought Leadership at Kelly Services:

Not all of our content strategies will be conducive to blogging multiple times per day. That was the case for Kelly Services, the billion-dollar human resources outsourcing firm. Kelly, in monitoring over a hundred keyword variations, opted to take each of its story ideas and produce at least 20 pieces of content from it.

In the past, Kelly created a nice white paper as a PDF, put a form in front of it, sent out a nice email, and called it a day. Today, Kelly produces story outputs that include eBooks, SlideShare presentations, white papers for individual personas, infographics for Pinterest, research reports, and more… all simultaneously, and all derived from the same story concept.

So many companies are already creating content and then repurposing successful efforts into multiple new pieces. The key to Kelly’s success is that it developed a detailed channel plan up front, and can now deploy these resources inline, on an ongoing basis.

Click to tweet: Content Idea #3: Take every story idea and produce 20+ pieces of content via @toddwheatland @JoePulizzi 

4. Monday morning content meetings

Stolen from the content marketing team at SAS:

In the majority of enterprises, content marketing happens in silos. There are content creators in email marketing, in social media, in marketing, in corporate communications, in public relations, in human resources, etc., all working in a vacuum. This generally means that there will be mass duplication of content efforts across the enterprise, and much of the content that gets created doesn’t align with the business’s brand story or content marketing mission statement.

SAS, the largest private-owned technology company, solved this problem by meeting every Monday with the content owners for each of its “silos.” These content ambassadors now work together, sharing resources and removing barriers to epic content creation.

And you read that right: They meet every week. It works. Try it.

Click to tweet: Content Idea #4: Mon a.m. content meetings remove barriers to epic content creation via @SASSoftware @CMIContent 

5. Content is fire, social media is gasoline

Stolen from Jay Baer, Author of “Youtility“:

According to Jay, “If you’re creating content that’s interesting, useful, and helpful, your customers and prospects will do more of your marketing for you, helping your company work less arduously and expensively on interruption marketing in its various guises.”

Most organizations start with social media, only later to find that social media, in the content sharing sense, will only work if we develop amazing stories that solve our customers’ pain points.

Click to tweet: Stolen Content #5: Content is fire, social media is gasoline via @jaybaer #youtility

6. On making mistakes

Stolen from Coleman Hawkins, jazz musician:

If you don’t make mistakes, you aren’t really trying.”

This is true in jazz, as well as content marketing. I also love this quote from Mario Andretti: “If you don’t feel a little uncomfortable, you’re just not going fast enough.

If you feel great about your current content marketing program, you are probably not taking enough risks in your strategy. Today’s content creators should always be pushing the barriers to truly develop epic content marketing.

Click to tweet: Stolen Content #6: “If you don’t make mistakes, you aren’t really trying” via Coleman Hawkins, jazz musician

7. Useless processes

Stolen from Peter Drucker, author and change agent:

The original quote from Mr. Drucker is, “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.

Michael Brenner, VP of Marketing and Content Strategy at SAP, often says the same thing in his speeches. The easy part, according to Michael, is seeing and believing in the idea of content marketing. The hard part, at most enterprises, is stopping the processes that don’t work anymore.

I see this again and again: Very large companies expend so much time, effort, resources, and management on things that simply won’t work anymore.

Click to tweet: Stolen Content #7: Stop useless processes that don’t work anymore via P. Drucker & @brennermichael 

8. The perfect content product

Stolen from Jason Calacanis, serial entrepreneur:

According to Jason, the perfect content product can be described by these five characteristics: real-time, fact-driven, visual, efficient, and curated. If you look at the most popular sites in the world right now, like, Huffington Post, or Upworthy, they abide by these five tenets. So should you.

Click to tweet: Stolen Content #8: Perfect content = real-time, fact-driven, visual, efficient, curated. Via @RealCalacanis 

Looking to take your content marketing to the next level? Download our e-book to get ideas from dozens of creative masters: Get Inspired: 75 (More) Content Marketing Examples.

Cover image via Bigstock

Author: Joe Pulizzi

Joe Pulizzi is the Founder of Content Marketing Institute, a UBM company, the leading education and training organization for content marketing, which includes the largest in-person content marketing event in the world, Content Marketing World. Joe is the winner of the 2014 John Caldwell Lifetime Achievement Award from the Content Council. Joe’s the author of five books, including his latest, Killing Marketing. His third book, Epic Content Marketing was named one of “Five Must Read Business Books of 2013” by Fortune Magazine. If you ever see Joe in person, he’ll be wearing orange. Follow him on Twitter @JoePulizzi.

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  • AmericanWriter

    Love it: the new term for “publishing” – stolen.

  • Christine P.

    LOVED this post. Thank you for speaking my religion.

  • Todd Wheatland

    I’m unclear with the etiquette for such a post. I thank you for stealing from me? Fortunately I’m sure I stole it from elsewhere first. I love point 8, missed that original post.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Hi Todd. You are welcome 😉

  • Ann Smarty

    Love how you added “(and Stolen)” … way to get attention, and yet still present ever-helpful strategies.

  • ShopTalk®

    Great post. And superb quotes.

  • Tanya

    Such great, valuable real content. Thanks. I love that you admit to stealing it and you then made it your own.

  • tpldrew


    These are so great. Thanks so much for including the Social Media 4-1-1 in your round-up. No need to consider it stolen…. consider it borrowed and elevated! I’m honored you’d consider it.

    Thanks again,

    – Andrew

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Well, I’ve talked about it so much, hopefully we sold some more copies of your amazing book.

  • Lewis LaLanne – NoteTakingNerd

    The book, “Steal Like An Artist – 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative” by Austin Kleon speaks brilliantly to this topic of stolen content.

    Here’s how he opens the book . . .

    “Art is theft.”

    Pablo Picasso

    “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good
    poet wields his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different from that from which it was torn.”

    T.S. Eliot

    How To Look At The World (Like An Artist)

    Every artist gets asked the question,

    “Where do you get your ideas?”

    The honest artist answers,

    “I steal them.”

    How does an artist look at the world?

    First, you figure out what’s worth stealing, then you move on to the next thing.

    That’s about all there is to it.

    When you look at the world this way, you stop worrying about what’s “good” and what’s “bad” – there’s only stuff worth stealing, and stuff that’s not worth stealing.

    Everything is up for grabs. If you don’t find something worth stealing today, you might find it worth stealing tomorrow or a month or a year from now.

    “The only art I’ll ever study is stuff that I can steal from.”

    David Bowie

    Nothing Is Original

    The writer Jonathan Lethem has said that when people call something “original,”
    nine out of ten times they just don’t know the references or the original sources involved.

    What a good artist understands is that nothing comes from nowhere. All creative work builds on what came before. Nothing is completely original.

    It’s right there in the Bible: “There is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1;9)

    Some people find this idea depressing, but it fills me with hope. As the French writer Andre Gide put it . . .

    “Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again.”

    If we’re free from the burden of trying to be completely original, we can stop trying to make something out of nothing, and we can embrace influence instead of running away from it.

    “What is originality? Undetected plagiarism.”

    – William Ralph Inge

    The Genealogy of Ideas

    Every new idea is just a mashup or a remix of one or more previous ideas.

    Here’s a trick they teach you in art school. Look at these two parallel lines below…



    How may lines are there?

    There’s the first line, the second line, but then there’s a line of negative space that runs between them.

    See it? 1 + 1 = 3.

    A good example is genetics. You have a mother and you have a father. You possess features from both of them, but the sum of you is bigger than their parts. You’re a remix of your mom and dad and all of your ancestors.

    Just as you have a familial genealogy, you also have a genealogy of ideas. You don’t get to pick your family, but you can pick your teachers and you can pick your
    friends and you can pick the music you listen to and you can pick the books you read and you can pick the movies you see.

    You are, in fact, a mashup of what you choose to let into your life. You are the sum of your influences.

    The German writer Goethe said, “We are shaped and fashioned by what we love.”

    “We were kids without fathers . . . so we found our fathers on wax and on the streets and in history. We got to pick and choose the ancestors who would inspire the world we were going to make for ourselves.”

    – Jay – Z

    Garbage In, Garbage Out

    The artist is a collector. Not a hoarder, mind you, there’s a difference: Hoarders collect indiscriminately, artists collect selectively. They only collect things
    that they really love.

    There’s an economic theory out there that if you take the incomes of your five closest friends and average them, the resulting number will be pretty close to your own income.

    I think the same thing is true of our idea incomes. You’re only going to be as good as the stuff you surround yourself with. My mom used to say to me, “Garbage in, garbage out.” It used to drive me nuts. But now I know what she meant.

    Your job is to collect good ideas. The more good ideas you collect, the more you can choose from to be influenced by.

    “Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic.”

    –Jim Jarmusch

    Climb Your Own Family Tree

    Marcel Duchamp said, “I don’t believe in art. I believe in artists.” This is actually a pretty good method for studying – if you try to devour the history of your discipline all at once, you’ll choke.

    Instead, chew on one thinker – writer, artist, activist, role model – you really love.

    Study everything there is to know about that thinker. Then find three people that
    thinker loved, and find out everything about them. Repeat this as many times as you can. Climb up the tree as far as you can go. Once you build your tree, it’s time to start your own branch.

    Seeing yourself as part of a creative lineage will help you feel less alone as you start making your own stuff. I hang pictures of my favorite artists in my studio. They’re like friendly ghosts. I can almost feel them pushing me forward as I’m
    hunched over my desk.

    The great thing about dead or remote masters is that they can’t refuse you as an apprentice. You can learn whatever you want from them. They left their lesson plans in their work.

    School Yourself

    School is one thing. Education is another. The two don’t always overlap. Whether you’re in school or not, it’s always your job to get yourself an education.

    You have to be curious about the world in which you live. Look things up. Chase down every reference. Go deeper than anyone else – that’s how you’ll get ahead.

    Google everything. I mean everything. Google your dreams, Google your problems. Don’t ask a question before you Google it. You’ll either find the answer or you’ll come up with a better question.

    Always be reading. Go to the library. There’s magic in being surrounded by books. Get lost in the stacks. Read bibliographies. It’s not the book you start with, it’s the book that book leads you to.

    Collect books, even if you don’t plan on reading them right away. Filmmaker John Waters has said, “Nothing is more important than an unread library.”

    Don’t worry about doing research. Just search.

    “Whether I went to school or not, I would always study.”


    Save Your Thefts For Later

    Carry a notebook and a pen with you wherever you go. Get used to pulling it out and jotting down your thoughts and observations. Copy your favorite passages out of books.

    Record overheard conversations. Doodle when you’re on the phone.

    Go to whatever lengths necessary to make sure you always have paper on you. Artist David Hockney had all the inside pockets of his suit jackets tailored to fit a sketchbook. The musician Arthur Russell liked to wear shirts with two front pockets so he could fill them with scraps of score sheets.

    Keep a swipe file. It’s just what it sounds like – a file to keep track of the stuff you’ve swiped from others. It can be digital or analog – it doesn’t matter what form it takes, as long as it works. You can keep a scrapbook and cut and paste things into it, or you can just take pictures of things with your camera phone.

    See something worth stealing? Put I in the swipe file. Need a little inspiration? Open up the swipe file.

    Newspaper reporters call this a “morgue file” – I like that name even better. Your morgue file is where you keep the dead things that you’ll later reanimate in your work.

    “It is better to take what does not belong to you than to let it lie around neglected.”

    Mark Twain


    As this book continues to unfold, it serves as incredible inspiration to anyone trying to beat the “Blank Page Blues” by giving even more actionable ideas on how to gather ideas and assemble content and I can’t recommend it highly enough to the person charged with the responsibility of showing up as a helpful leader in their market space.

    Thank you Joe for turning me onto all these new posts here! Feedly is going to be fed well today. 🙂

    • Joe Pulizzi


  • justin

    This post was a great read… I really like the analogy that “content is fire, social media is gasoline.” At Markerly we focus on connecting brands to bloggers with highly engaged communities so that they can reach their target in new ways. This post speaks to a lot of what we’re doing.

  • shopletpromos

    Great article. So many good ideas here, thanks for putting it all together + linking the original sources. I’m especially a fan of the 4-1-1 social media concept. It’s easy to get distracted by how loose Twitter/Facebook can be and end up “winging” your posts. The 4-1-1 gives you freedom but also forces you to provide content that your followers WANT. Not useless stuff.

  • Greg – Strat-Talking

    Great article, definitely bookmarked and also added to our ‘blog of the month’ post to be published towards the end of July – Thanks for the tips and tricks.


  • Pretraveller

    Thanks for a very informative post. The 4-1-1 section has made me rethink my twitter and facebook strategy so I need to go and tweak it again…

  • disqus_W4KjfaOksA

    Well done on a fantastic post, Joe. I really like the 4-1-1 idea. I might just steal it for myself.

  • James Perrin

    Nice one Joe. Thanks for sharing your ideas – and I love the nod to the originators. It works well because it totally grabbed my attention, and perfectly sums up that we all have similar ideas, it’s just the execution which is the difference, as Mark Fletcher rightly points out at the start. I’ll definitely be checking out Youtility by the way.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks James…yes, Jay did a great job on Youtility.

  • Kimberly Bird

    Great information. Leveraging what works for others and building upon is good common sense.

  • Lawrence Michael

    Useful. Thank you. One key to individual & societal development (they go together or one should work as a pirate or robber) is marketing & sales that address the strategic concern. It simply means that both your product & concept should (& they do) help your grand-child have easier access, better air & water and a longer life of health & opulence. Otherwise the legend of a bum called Kalidasa of India is quite apt.

  • John Goatbirth

    “Today’s content creators should always be pushing the barriers to truly develop epic content marketing.” Except, let’s face it, 99.9% of content marketing campaigns are utter dog shit. Why do you think people are switching off and not paying attention or downloading ad blockers? Corporate messages are full of lies, sanctimony, and are based on these sorts of vacuous articles. The ones who say “Content should tell a story” – whoever invented this maxim should become a shelf stacker.

    By far the best tactic for any content marketing strategy (barring a few exceptions) is a sense of humour. Self-deprecation, silliness, fun, absurdity – all golden material. Just make sure you get people who aren’t full of business/marketing spiel bollocks to write it, otherwise you end up with “hilarious” adverts which only men in suits will chuckle at.

    Finally, if you’re feeling great about your content campaign it may well mean you’re doing a fantastic job. Want to push the boundaries? Drop the bollocks, get a sense of fun, embrace your humanity, and stop treating customers as a means to generate more money and make one Fat Cat even more of a dickhead.

  • rogercparker

    Evergreen content at its best.