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25 Great Content Marketing Pieces to Inspire You for 2016

What’s the toughest part of content marketing?

I don’t know about you, but for me, it’s not creating the content or reaching out to people to help promote it – it’s coming up with ideas.

One way to ease the pain is to look at what others have done and take inspiration from it. To get you started, here’s 25 pretty damn awesome content marketing pieces to inspire you in 2016.

1. Frank Underwood 2016

Hit political drama House Of Cards fused fantasy into reality in 2015 when it launched a website to help promote Frank Underwood’s 2016 “presidential campaign.”  Frank Underwood

In case you haven’t watched House of Cards, didn’t recognize Kevin Spacey (pictured above), and haven’t figured it out from my brief introduction, Frank is the lead (fictional) character in House of Cards, played by none other than… yep, Kevin Spacey.

What’s so good about it?

The website is flippin’ awesome, and is completely believable to be a genuine political campaign.

More importantly, it’s topical: in 2015, Google served more than 338 million election-based search results.

Election 2016

It’s an excellent plug for the show, too, if not for drawing in new viewers, then certainly for getting its existing audience a bit more involved. In a sense, it’s content that helps turn the show’s viewers (aka customers) into brand advocates.

2. What 2,000 Calories Looks Like

Ever wondered what 2,000 calories of food from Shake Shack or Potbelly looks like? How about 2,000 calories of Pizza Hut or McDonalds? Fear not – this clever piece of content courtesy of The New York Times will show you exactly what you always wanted (or maybe didn’t want) to know.  Olive Garden

What’s so good about it?

The imagery is simple, but very effective. Placing the photos in front of solid brightly-colored backgrounds serves to draw your eye towards the images without distracting you from what’s really important – the food.

It makes something that’s often tricky to visualize, easy to understand. Even if we know how many calories a food contains, it can still be difficult to picture how that will translate in real life and what it will look like on our plate. This content fills that knowledge gap in the simplest possible way: with a photo.

It’s also pretty shocking.

Chipotle’s generally regarded as a pretty healthy choice, at least as far as fast food’s concerned – but would you have guessed that the meal below (a carnitas burrito, chips and guacamole, and a Coke) would come in at 1991 calories?  Chiptole

What about a Ribeye steak and a martini at Ruth’s Chris Steak House (1920 calories)?  Steak

Or a single milkshake from Sonic (2,090 calories)?  Sonic

Last but not least, although the goal of the content is to shock people into thinking maybe they shouldn’t be eating this stuff, the imagery still makes everything look really quite appetizing – something we’re suckers for – hence, food porn.

3. If Humans Never Existed, The World Would Have More Mammals

The two maps below compare how the world’s population of mammals would differ if humans had never existed.

This map:

Blue map

shows the diversity of mammal species as it is today. Sadly, you will see that Africa is the only part of the world that’s still home to a diverse number of species.

This map:

Yellow map

shows how different the world would be if humans had never existed.

You can find out more about the spread of species over here.

What’s so good about it?

These aren’t exactly the most visually appealing maps I’ve ever seen, but the information they convey is fascinating. From time to time, we’ll hear about endangered animals. Most of us can probably name an extinct species or two. But have you ever stopped to think how much impact mankind has actually had on the animal kingdom? These maps enable us to visualize and understand that in only a few seconds, which is a pretty awesome feat.

4. Brew Guides

Intelligentsia’s “Brew Guides” take a concept that is all too often executed in a painfully boring fashion (the how-to) and make it beautiful.

French press

Stunning photography and stylish black and white illustrations are used in a PDF series of step-by-step guides that explain how to execute all sorts of coffee-related wizardry, from properly steaming milk to cleaning an espresso machine and brewing with a French press.

What’s so good about it?

The guides present genuinely useful information in an attractive and easy-to-digest format. They also tie directly back to Intelligentsia’s business – this says to me that there’s a strong possibility they’ll be making sales off the back of them.

The series is also presented beautifully, with colorful imagery used as header images for each piece of content.

brew guides

5. How to Come Up With 50 Topic Ideas in 30 Minutes

Generating topic ideas is a massive pain point for many marketers (hence this post). I know. I’ve been there. It goes without saying, then, that few of us would pass up the chance to come up with 50 new ideas in just 30 minutes. Well, in this beast of an article, Neil Patel explains how.

What’s so good about it?

The title and subject matter are something that will resonate with many – if not most – marketers. However, the title does more than that. It piques interest because it sells us an idealistic concept: it’s something we’d like, but we can’t quite believe is possible.

It works on the same principle that makes people look twice at those “Make $10,000 a week working 1 hour a day sitting on your ass” ads. We’re pretty sure the ad’s not genuine, but $10,000 a week for 7 hours of work sure does sound appealing… It can’t hurt to find out more.

Of course, in this case, the idealistic notion we’re being sold is in fact, realistic. Neil talks us through exactly how this strategy works in the post, and if you follow the instructions, you will come up with 50 topic ideas (give or take) in 30 minutes (thereabouts).

So what’s the lesson here? Cover topics and write titles that sound far-fetched, but then follow with an article that genuinely delivers on its promise.

6. Timeless VHS

Julien Knez, French artist and founder of Golem 13, took some of today’s most popular movies and TV shows and reimagined them as they might have appeared had they been released when VHS monopolized the home movie market.

walking dead

interstellar

For extra impact he gave each cover an aged look and even went so far as to make each box.  Gravity

Admittedly, Gravity looks suspiciously like the box of a pirated movie, but we’ll let that one slide.

What’s so good about it?

It takes two familiar concepts (VHS tapes and current TV and movies) and two different time periods (90s/early 2000s and today) and mashes them together to create content that resonates with most people and that, put simply, just looks damn cool.

7. ESPN Technique

Designed for ESPN and shot by photographer John Huet, this series of images which capture the subtle movements of Winter Olympic athletes are simple yet breathtaking.

Skating

 

Hockey

What’s so good about it?

The photos display something that many of us will have seen and admired (Olympic athletes in action) in unimaginable detail. We know that athletes work damn hard, but few of us probably realize the significance of each minute movement of their bodies. You can even click through the images and read annotations that describe precisely what’s happening at each moment.

This is the sort of content people will share because it offers a unique insight into a popular topic (the Winter Olympics) that’s new, surprising, and exciting.

8. Old Vs. New: Graphic Design

This charming infographic from The New Media Company pits long-defunct design tools against their modern-day counterparts.

Graphic design

What’s so good about it?

It’s fun, cute, and nostalgic, but I think presentation is the overall clincher here: imagine the same infographic made without the colorful illustrations. Doesn’t quite have the same appeal, does it?

Nostalgia is by no means a bad avenue to go down in your content creation (it worked great in the Super Bowl), but it needs to be designed in such a way that it triggers happy, positive emotions in people.

If you can nail both points, you may be onto something.

9. Weapons and Mass Shootings

In 2014, data from Mother Jones was utilized by The Washington Post to create a graph depicting the type of guns used in mass shootings in America between 1984 and 2014. It also shows how they were acquired, alongside details of the killers’ age and race, and whether they were reported as suffering from mental health issues. It makes for harrowing viewing.  Weapons

What’s so good about it?

It makes data that’s difficult to understand easily accessible, while enabling us to pick out trends and make our own conclusions. This is sensitive information that divides opinions, so while great content can be created around it, it’s important to remain neutral.

10. We Analyzed Nearly 1 Million Headlines. Here’s What We Learned

In this OkDork guest post by Garrett Moon of CoSchedule, we get to discover insider marketing info such as “List posts are huge” (and are the most likely type of post to be shared), “Consumers respond well to posts that help them envision a better life,” and “Emotional headlines get shared more.”  okdork

What’s so good about it?

They’ve carried out and used their own research to form the basis of the post. This makes the information contained within it entirely unique – a huge selling point.

Uniquely valuable information is far more enticing than recycled ideas.

What’s more, the post helps to address a pain point that afflicts many marketers today: how do I craft a headline that will get people to click on and subsequently share my post?

Carrying out your own research and crafting content that answers common questions can lead to big wins.

11. Apocalypse When?

Ever wondered what threats are most likely to wipe out the earth’s population, and when they are most likely to strike? Then have a gander at this happy-go-lucky infographic from BBC Future. Expect to be enlightened by such positive tidbits as the fact that honeybees could die out, crops cease to be pollinated, and food supplies exhausted – all in this decade. And if that doesn’t end life on earth as we know it, nuclear armageddon, bioterrorism, loss of topsoil, or nanoweapons just might.

Apocalypse

What’s so good about it?

It’s scary while still being interesting and most significantly, eye-opening. The presentation and language lends just enough lightheartedness to the piece to avoid it being all doom and gloom, meaning the casual consumer shouldn’t be deterred from sharing it for fear that they might reduce a sensitive 12-year-old to tears.

It’s also been produced by people who actually know their shit, which is great, because credibility in the subject matter your content covers can really help to push it out further.

12. How Speakers Make Sounds

This incredible animated infographic (or animagraff) uses text and a series of GIFs to demonstrate how speakers make sound.

speakers

What’s so good about it?

Animagraffs use simple, moving images to further enhance and illustrate the points being made. Think of them like infographics on steroids.

The execution on this one is particularly impressive – it’s well-researched and genuinely informative, with the GIFs fitting in seamlessly (there’s always a risk with this sort of content that GIFs will be used for the sake of using them – they should always make sense in the context of the content; they shouldn’t be used just for show).

Unfortunately, animated infographics are difficult and expensive to produce, but if you have the resources to take your infographics to the next level, the animagraff is an avenue that’s definitely worth exploring.

13. Our Food, Your Questions

“Our Food, Your Questions” allows McDonald’s customers to ask absolutely anything about the brand and get an answer directly from the horse’s mouth.

Mcdonalds

What’s so good about it?

Amidst rumors that McDonald’s beef patties contain cow eyeballs and worm meat, the reputation of the world’s second-largest fast food chain (beaten by Subway by just a small margin) has never been the best. Their “Our Food, Your Questions” campaign is designed to change this by addressing customer concerns head-on.

The key for McDonald’s is to be completely transparent – something that is more important today than it’s ever been.

Customers today expect it. This is quite apparent in the response McDonald’s customers have had to this campaign – within a year of its Canadian launch, around 2 million people had visited the campaign section of the site, and McDonald’s had answered approximately 20,000 questions.

14. Dogs Of the World

This series of infographic-style cards from artist Lili Chin breaks down dog breeds into groups according to their country of origin. You can see more of her work (and purchase Dogs Of the World merchandise) on her site, Doggie Drawings.  Russian dogs

What’s so good about it?

It looks good and conveys interesting information (to those that are interested in dogs, at least) in a manner that’s really easy to understand and absorb.

Chances are, it’s original too. Not the information, but most definitely the way it’s been presented (I’m willing to bet this sort of data has previously only been collated and presented as an ordinary list).

Parts of the content will even make you do a double take: an American Eskimo is a German dog? Do they even have Eskimos in Germany? That can’t be right…. can it?  German dogs

A quick Google search will reveal that the American Eskimo is, in fact, of German origin. Intentional or not, this serves to make readers engage with the content even more.

15. Kindle Cover Disasters

Kindle Cover Disasters is a Tumblr dedicated to tracking down and sharing the very worst covers from self-published Kindle books. I’ve included a few below, and you can check out the rest using the link above or here, but be careful: many of them are NSFW.

HippotractorsCharactersperfect match

What’s so good about it?

The covers they’ve found are so bad, they’re good, to the point that you wonder if they are actually real (they are).

If you want to do something similar, avoid creating a Tumblr and dedicate a subsection of your blog to the project instead (this ensures that when people link back to you or share the content, they’re linking to and sharing your site, not Tumblr).

16. How Will You Die?

This interactive chart from Flowing Data uses data from the Underlying Cause of Death database maintained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to show you how and when you are likely to die based on your sex, race, and age.

howwillyoudie

What’s so good about it?

It taps into an innate morbid curiosity. The only thing that is certain in life is that we will die, the details of which have fascinated humans for centuries – if not for all of humankind.

More importantly though, unlike the “just for (morbid) fun” Death Clock, the data that drives this content is extremely accurate.

Okay, so the infographic can’t tell you how you will actually die (I’d be pretty concerned if an infographic, or anything for that matter, could tell me that). What it does tell you is how likely you are to die at each stage of your life, and how the most likely cause of your death will change as you age.

In short, in your younger years you’re most likely to die of external causes (i.e. not illness or disease), but as you get older, that starts to shift and other causes of death become more likely. Grim? Definitely. But it’s so interesting you won’t care.

17. Work Counts

Another interactive graphic from the guys at Flowing Data, this one asks you to input your education level, income, how many hours you work, and how long you spend commuting to work. It then tells you how you compare to the rest of the American population.

work counts

What’s so good about it?

Everyone likes to compare themselves to others (especially if we think the results will lean in our favor), and it’s all the more fun if we can find out how we compare using an interactive tool.

18. Idioms of the World

We all use idioms (sayings that have meanings which are mostly unrelated to the actual words spoken, i.e. “raining cats and dogs,” “the ball is in your court,” and “let the cat out of the bag”). Often, we’ll use them without being consciously aware of what we’ve said. We grow up hearing these phrases so often that using and understanding them becomes second nature. They are as inherent a part of our language as the words they contain.

The idioms used in other countries, therefore, can reveal some interesting anecdotes about their culture – an idea HotelClub capitalized on when they created their “Idioms of the World” content.  cat idiomhare idiomowl idiom

What’s so good about it?

For starters, the idea is really quite unique – idioms are something we all use, yet think very little about – even less so for the “idioms of the world.” Despite that, once you start digging deep into idioms and their origins (something HotelClub covers in the content’s accompanying post), the subject is really very interesting.

Of course, few great ideas will perform well unless the execution is on point too – something HotelClub didn’t fall short on. The illustrations are wonderful, and I love the idea of presenting each one individually. It makes them much easier to reuse and share.

Last but not least, the content can easily be expanded upon. The initial piece features 10 idioms, just a small fraction of those that they could choose to include. HotelClub has already created one follow up, “Australian Idioms Illustrated,” but there is potential for them to design many, many more.

19. The Changing Colours of Lego

This graphic from Lego fan and Brickset Forum member Davee123 charts how the colours of Lego pieces have changed over the years.

Lego

What’s so good about it?

This isn’t the most visually appealing graphic on earth, and it doesn’t really have the widest appeal, but it targets a small subset of Lego fanatics that are likely to lap the data up. Okay, so Legos are very popular – the second highest-earning toy of all time, to be precise – but you probably have to be quite a Lego geek to really care about this.

This goes against what our instinct might tell us: that the greater the number of people our content relates to, the greater the chance of its success. Certainly many of the examples above reinforce this notion.

But creating content that’s aimed at a very small but very targeted group of people can do very well too. Why? Because the more focused the market you’re targeting, the more the people within that market will care about that subject matter.

Think of it like this…

Let’s say there are 50 million people that like Lego. They enjoyed playing with Legos as kids, they’ve probably seen the movie, and they might have even bought a Lego console game. But do they like Lego enough to share content about it? Maybe not.

On the other hand, you have 10,000 people who live and breathe Lego. Even as adults they collect the toys and they can’t wait for their niece/nephew/baby cousin to visit so they can play with them without judgement. Will they share content about Lego? Quite possibly.

20. Trouble In America’s Statehouses

This interactive graph and long-form article from the Center for Public Integrity opens eyes to the wrongdoings and corruptions of each American state. Each state was scored and given a grade of between A and F. Theoretically, anyway. Only three states achieved a grade above D+: Alaska (a C), California (C-), and Connecticut (C-). Eleven states received Fs.  statehouses

What’s so good about it?

It’s eye-opening, most of all, but in addition to that it presents the information in not one, but two formats – an engaging interactive infographic, and for those who want more detail, a long-form article. This works well because the article alone would be unlikely to engage many people. It’s a fantastic piece of writing, for sure, but few people have the will or attention span to read it through to the end.

It’s also great for Google, whose robots can’t understand the content of an interactive infographic, but can read and understand the themes, context, and quality of an article.

21. Web Developer’s Cheat Sheet

This four page cheat sheet from Moz is a quick reference guide to SEO best practices for web developers.

Moz

What’s so good about it?

It provides critically-important information in a format that’s really easy to understand and digest, and more significantly, refer to on the fly. In short: when done well, cheat sheets make pretty awesome content.

However, the real reason I chose to include it in this list is not the fact that it’s a great piece of content (although it is) – it’s what Moz does with it.

Every few years, they update it. The cheat sheet was first released in 2008, but to keep up with the changing face of SEO, they updated it in 2013, and again last year.

The lesson here is to not let great content die out. Plenty of time-sensitive content can be adapted to bring it up-to-date – if you’ve had successful content that’s become less relevant over time, see what (if anything) could be done to make it useful again.

22. Major Music Streaming Services – Compared

The ethics of online streaming services have been a hot topic for many years now, and when artists earn just a fraction of a penny per play on Spotify and similar sites, that’s no surprise.

The graphic below illustrates the get-paid-per-play phenomenon in a little more detail.  music streaming

It shows how much the biggest music streaming sites pay artists per play, and displays this information alongside user numbers (because it really doesn’t matter if a site pays well if it has no users). It also calculates the percentage of each site’s users that would have to play an artist’s track in order for that artist to earn the minimum wage.

What’s so good about it?

It’s topical information that is rarely offered in such a clear-cut format, while the design is sleek and slick.

23. Coffee vs. Gangs

Drinking coffee is often seen as an ethical issue, in part because of its environmental impact, but also because of the small wages paid to farmers, many of whom struggle to get by – especially when bad weather hits and harms their crops.

While there are companies committed to making changes in the industry, they are a drop in the ocean compared to the brands and chains that hold a monopoly on the world’s coffee supply.

That means that it’s always good to see big coffee brands taking steps to give back – something Kenco is doing with their “Coffee vs. Gangs” project.

Kenco is working with a group of 20 vulnerable young adults from Honduras to offer them an alternative to gangs by training them as coffee farmers. Over 11 months, Kenco will be teaching them everything from the basics of coffee farming to how to run their own businesses.

coffee gangs

What’s so good about it?

While the project itself is a step in the right direction, charitable work on its own isn’t content. I picked this because of the project’s microsite and the series of videos that tell the participants’ stories and offer further insights into why the project exists and what Kenco hopes it will achieve.

In short: it’s the videos that make great content here. They offer a glimpse into lives that are very different from our own, but best of all, they’re hopeful. These people might have come from difficult backgrounds, but the videos leave us feeling that they have a positive future in sight. This is ideal since research has shown that content which ignites positive emotions in its audience performs best.

24. Why Time Flies

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been acutely aware of how time seems to have been speeding up for a number of years now. In this full page interactive, designer Maximilian Klener explains why this is, alongside uplifting anecdotes such as “Your summer vacation in your first year in college will feel as long as your whole 76th year” and “If you factor in that you don’t remember much of the first three years, then half your perceived life is over by the time you turn 18.”  time flies

Does anyone else feel that this is even more depressing than the how-and-when-will-you-die interactive?!

What’s so good about it?

Despite the very somber underlying tone, it answers one of life’s biggest questions, and it does it in style.

25. What Language Does Your State Speak?

Most of us know that the most commonly-spoken language in the United States is of course English, followed by Spanish.  language map 1

The map above (courtesy of Slate) illustrates the United States’ most commonly-spoken languages, other than English. As we’d expect, Spanish comes out tops.

But if we remove Spanish from the mix, what happens then?  language map 2

The content continues with maps that illustrate the most commonly-spoken language in each state from an assortment of different origins, including Native American, Scandinavian, and African.

What’s so good about it?

This is a fun yet educational set of maps which opens our eyes to the cultural diversity of the States.

The presentation is spot-on too: the colors aren’t just used for aesthetics – they serve to quickly communicate the spread of languages spoken across the country.

Have any other awesome pieces of content marketing inspired you recently?

Don’t keep them all to yourself – add them to the comments below!

Comments

2 Comments

Odorous pauline

Content marketing is all about developing ideas. This is the toughest part of content marketing.

Matthew J Rupp

I read a lot of content (ok, I should say scan) and I honestly think your stuff might be the BEST. Seriously, this is crazy good stuff. Love it! Sending it to my Buffer and adding this to a guide I am working on. Awesome work!


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