By Kim Moutsos published December 29, 2017 Est Read Time: 10 min

6 Content Marketing Ideas to Steal From the Awards Finalists of 2017

stolen-content-marketing-ideasYou’ve almost certainly heard this quote: “Good artists copy. Great artists steal.” But do you know who said it?

Turns out, a lot of people. Steve Jobs attributed it to Pablo Picasso. A quick Google search shows variations attributed to many thinkers of varying levels of fame, including:

  • Igor Stravinsky – “A good composer does not imitate; he steals.”
  • William Faulkner – “Immature artists copy, great artists steal.”
  • T.S. Eliot – “The immature poet imitates and the mature poet plagiarizes.”

Clearly, you’ll be in good company if you “steal” the content marketing ideas in this column. In fact, it’s becoming a tradition (and some might say a stolen idea) for CMI to offer cool tips gathered from some of the hottest marketing talents in the business. This year we steal from the Content Marketer of the Year finalists.

Of course, keep in mind this explanation of what Jobs really meant as interpreted by Apple exec Phil Schiller:

Great people actually understand at a deeper level what makes something great and then … build something even more marvelous and take it further.

Great people understand what makes something great & then build something even more marvelous. @pschiller Click To Tweet

With a hat tip to Andrea Fryrear, who wrote the original articles profiling the CMY finalists, here are six stolen ideas to inspire you to build something marvelous – and uniquely your own.

Tear down the gates – except when they provide value to the visitor

Stolen from: Paul Horstmeier, Health Catalyst

Most of us who’ve worked in B2B marketing have been there. We design our content initiatives based on an audience-first approach. But organizational pressure to feed the lead-gen beast rises. Suddenly, the temptation (and push) to throw a lead-gen form on top of your best content becomes real.

Knowing his health-care audience is highly skeptical of anything that seems like marketing, though, Paul Horstmeier realized a traditional lead-gen approach wouldn’t work. Instead, he tore down every email gate except the ones that serve a helpful purpose for visitors.

[email protected] tore down #email gates & turned @HealthCatalyst into trusted brand. @KimMoutsos Click To Tweet

I love this way of thinking about gated content – it simplifies the decision and puts the audience first. Paul and the team only gate content when registration enables Health Catalyst to provide something (other than the content piece) the audience would want. For example, a person registering for a webinar needs to receive reminders and sign-in instructions – entering an email address makes that possible. Similarly, trading an email address for one of Health Catalyst’s regularly updated e-books allows the reader to receive email notifications of the latest version.

Ask yourself: Does this gated content benefit our audience? (Hint: Sales outreach following a content download likely isn’t an audience benefit unless the person asked to be contacted.)

Sales outreach following a #content download likely isn’t an audience benefit, says @KimMoutsos. Click To Tweet

Use pop-ups to offer reading suggestions

Stolen from: Paul Horstmeier, Health Catalyst

When you’re not pushing sign-ups, surprising things can happen. This second idea stolen from Paul comes with a great payoff: Use the oft-derided pop-up to offer content suggestions rather than to gather email addresses.

[email protected] uses pop-ups to offer content suggestions. Don’t ask for email addresses via @KimMoutsos. Click To Tweet


Health Catalyst content creators are required to list five existing content pieces related to the newly created content – it’s a step in the pre-publication workflow. That way, every new piece can point the audience to more content that may be useful.

Does it take longer to build an email list this way? Possibly. But when you get comments like this from your head of sales (as Paul did), you know you’re doing things right:

I don’t know what you’re doing, but something is different. People are coming to the first meeting ready and prepared. I’ve never seen anything like it.

Ask yourself: How can we help our visitors consuming their first piece of content find more information about what they’re interested in?

Make friends with your sales team to learn about your audience (including names and phone numbers)

Stolen from: Kira Mondrus, SecureWorks

This tip inspired by Kira Mondrus’ work is a two in one.

First, if you’re not collaborating with your sales team, you’re overlooking some great potential partners. Second, if you want to really understand your audience, you’ve got to talk with them, preferably one on one.

Collaborate w/ your sales team to really understand your audience, preferably one on one, says @KimMoutsos. Click To Tweet

In her quest to pivot SecureWorks marketing from brand-focused to audience-focused, Kira sat down with the best salespeople on the team and asked three questions:

  • Who do you communicate with?
  • Who are the champions?
  • Where are objections coming from?

Then, she and her team interviewed the people mentioned to learn their questions and needs. The information gathered fueled audience personas and journey maps to power “a perpetual demand-generation engine” based on a new website.

Commit to #contentmarketing with personas, journey maps, & useful attribution data @KiraMondrus. Click To Tweet

In 2018, the CMI editorial team will be stealing Kira’s idea to find out more about a segment of our audience by conducting phone interviews to supplement our research and analytics data.

Ask yourself: Do we have enough direct knowledge of our audience to create personas and journey maps? Could we be more effective if we knew more about the people we want to reach?

Look beyond the content team to improve content processes

Stolen from: Drew Bailey, FedEx

If you work in a large enterprise, you know one of the toughest challenges is simply keeping everyone on the same page about goals, responsibilities, and results.

What to do about it? Hire someone with expertise in setting up systems and processes to keep everyone aligned with goals, priorities, tasks, and results.

This tip isn’t so much about stealing an idea from Drew Bailey, it’s stealing the very idea of a Drew Bailey – a person who has project management expertise and not necessarily content experience.

Improve your process with a project management expert, not necessarily a #content expert, says @KimMoutsos. Click To Tweet

Using the skills honed in IT enablement and management, Drew created a go-to-market strategy that involves all levels of the marketing team:

  • Vice presidents meet monthly on strategy.
  • Directors meet every few weeks to measure progress toward goals.
  • Go-to-market team and channel leads (the people who create the content) meet regularly to share ideas and A-B test learnings.
One A-B test revealed a simple image change increased conversions by 20 to 30%, says @skinnydude06. @FedEx Click To Tweet

This new setup facilitated better communication and processes, which helped FedEx eliminate redundancy and waste in its content efforts. And it didn’t take a “content person” to do it.

After all, content marketers are far from the only ones who face these struggles. And, given the popularity of Agile marketing, it’s not much of a surprise to find helpful skills in the IT world.

Ask yourself: What skills do we need to solve our content process challenges? How much does it matter if a person with those skills is new to the content world?

Get buy-in (with a timeline) for audience building

Stolen from: Monica Norton, Zendesk

You might wonder why buy-in shows up on this list of stolen ideas. Well, as many of us know, there’s buy-in and then there’s buy-in. Sometimes what the marketing leader hears as buy-in for audience building turns out to be buy-in for something closer to lead-gen campaigns. (Not that there’s anything wrong with lead-gen campaigns – they’re just a different animal.)

If you’re worried about what kind of buy-in you have, take a page out of Monica Norton’s book and go straight to the top. Before she accepted the mission to take on Zendesk’s content marketing, Monica interviewed the CEO to make sure they saw eye-to-eye on things like a long-term commitment to audience building.

Get real buy-in. Make sure execs and #content creators are on the same page, says @KimMoutsos. Click To Tweet

Having that shared understanding led Monica to run with the one year she was given to create Relate, a lightly branded online publication, and an in-person event. Despite focusing on consumption metrics before conversion, Relate now attracts more than 40,000 monthly visitors and boasts an email database of 10,000 (more than two-thirds of which is new to Zendesk).

The only way to build an audience rapidly is to create a site totally about them, says @monicalnorton. Click To Tweet

But Monica isn’t resting on these audience-building results, Zendesk is creating a podcast and an annual print magazine.

Sound familiar? Monica’s approach echoes CMI founder Joe Pulizzi’s long-stated advice to publish one content type on one platform consistently over time before tackling more.

Publish one #content type on one platform consistently over time before tackling more, says @joepulizzi. Click To Tweet


Ask yourself: How can we make sure our brand’s leaders understand and agree with the mission and timeline for the content initiative we want to launch or expand?

Pick the format that best suits the story

Stolen from: Paolo Mottola, REI

If you believe the surveys and statistics, everybody loves video and marketers are all planning to up the video content in their arsenals.

But before we get too carried away, take this simple tip from Content Marketer of the Year finalist Paolo Mottola: “You have to be honest and see how visual the subject will be and if motion is the best way to get the story out there.”

If it is, that’s great, move forward with the video. If not, deliver the story in the format it fits best – an infographic, a photo series, or a long-form article. The Co-op Journal, REI’s online publication, delivers on those content formats as shown below.

You have to be honest. Deliver stories in their best format, not the most popular format, says @paolojr. Click To Tweet


At REI, Paolo’s team produces all these formats. It just so happens that the REI’s Expert Advice Library, which features three- to five-minute videos, is the company’s most popular content hub.


Ask yourself: What format best suits the story we’re planning to tell? Do we have enough visual ideas, material, and resources to support video?

Is everything old new again?

Some of these ideas may sound familiar – and they should (remember that opening adage about how great artists/composers/content marketers steal?). Think of it as confirmation these tried-and-true strategies and tactics really do work.

Which ideas will you steal? We’d love to hear how you end up making them your own.

Editor’s note: A special thanks to Ardath Albee who scoured the planet for the best-of-the-best content marketers. She was instrumental in helping us find our 2017 Content Marketer of the Year finalists.

Get a ton of ideas to steal from the presenters at the Intelligent Content Conference March 20-22 in Las Vegas. Register today.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Kim Moutsos

Kim Moutsos leads the talented content team at the Content Marketing Institute, where she is vice president of editorial. Having worked in content marketing for enterprises and startups for more than 20 years, Kim enjoys exchanging ideas and lessons learned with other content marketing practitioners. You can follow her on Twitter at @KMoutsos or connect on LinkedIn.

Other posts by Kim Moutsos