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How To Find Ideas That Differentiate Your Content


How To Find Ideas That Differentiate Your Content

Let’s play a word association game. When you hear, “Start with why,” what comes to mind?

If it’s Simon Sinek, you’re not alone. Since 2009, his TED Talk has been viewed over 60 million times, and his book Start With Why made bestseller lists.

Mark Levy, founder of Levy Innovation, helped Simon conceive Start With Why.

A self-described differentiation expert, Mark helps corporations, brands, and thought leaders develop the idea they’ll be known for.

He shared the process he uses with clients in his Content Marketing World 2022 presentation, How To Come Up With Your Big Sexy Idea.

Differentiation requires more than an idea

Differentiation generates attention, awareness, and recall that can lead to business opportunities. It can apply to a business (i.e., broad) or a piece of content (i.e., narrow).

The “big sexy idea” becomes your signature.

“The idea calls up the person, and the person calls up the idea,” Mark explains. “Anyone who comes across the idea has to seek you out because you embody that idea. You represent that idea in people’s minds.”

Your big sexy idea becomes your signature. The idea calls up the person, and the person calls up the idea, says @LevyInnovation via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

How does differentiation lead to business opportunities? People make snap judgments. If your signature idea connects with a target audience, they’re more likely to start a conversation with you or contact your business even though they know little else about you.

But it’s not enough to be known for the differentiating idea. Mark says you need to be the definitive provider of it. You need to represent the full potency of the idea, not a pale diet version that could have come from multiple people.

Simon does that well. What I remember most from his Start With Why TED Talk wasn’t the three-word tagline. It was his repetition of this line: “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”


For me, that combination cemented the association between the concept and Simon.

Examples of personal and brand differentiation

Mark offered another example of a person closely associated with a differentiating idea. Mel Robbins is an expert in change and motivation who became known for The 5 Second Rule. Her big sexy idea is that we’re all just five seconds away from a different life.

Mel introduced this idea in a TED Talk, as Simon did, and later turned it into a best-selling book.

According to Mel’s website, “The 5 Second Rule is the secret to changing anything about your life. You can use the Rule and its countdown method to break any bad habit, interrupt self-doubt and negative self-talk, and push yourself to take the actions that will change your life.”

While Simon and Mel’s big sexy ideas apply to individuals, Mark says that the concept works for companies and brands, too.

An example of a big sexy idea from a B2B marketing company is FlipMyFunnel. Conceived by Terminus co-founder Sangram Vajre, FlipMyFunnel evangelized account-based marketing (ABM). (Terminus is a vendor of ABM software).

The FlipMyFunnel idea fueled annual conferences, a Slack community, and a podcast. Although the events and podcast have ended, the phrase “flip my funnel” still calls Sangram Vajre, Terminus, and account-based marketing to mind. More powerfully, I still use the phrase to explain ABM – pursuing focused, named accounts rather than targeting a broad audience.

How to create your big sexy idea

To create a big sexy idea, Mark encourages teams or individuals to try his two-part “envy” exercise. Here’s how it works.

Step 1: Get angry or envious

Think of a time when you came across an idea and thought, “Wait a second, that’s my idea.” You might have gotten angry and felt envy. Mark felt this when he came across Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, a book published in 2007 by brothers Chip and Dan Heath.

Mark had been speaking about some of the same principles the Heath brothers covered. The brothers didn’t steal his work – they didn’t even know about Mark. Still, Mark became angry that his ideas had been unintentionally coopted.

Mark says an emotional reaction (e.g., anger or envy) can be revealing. Stop and ask yourself:

  • What’s happening in this situation?
  • What am I thinking in this situation?

Your answers can generate ideas that will lead to your big sexy idea.

So think of an idea that you envy and write it down.

To find your big sexy idea: Think of an idea someone (or brand) is known for that made you feel like it should have been yours, says @LevyInnovation via @dshiao and @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Step 2: Make the idea your own

Next, build on your idea to make it unique and differentiating. In doing so, it might morph into a new concept. Mark helps illustrate this with a story.

A few years ago, Mark had an opportunity to submit a response to a Fast Company writer who was doing an article about how to be a good business conversationalist.

Mark knew that dozens of experts would send answers to the reporter. He also knew that if his answers sounded like everyone else’s, he had little chance of being quoted. He decided his response didn’t have to be better than the others – it just had to be different.

Mark compares the concept to a foot-high deli sandwich. It’s not necessarily a better-tasting sandwich, but its uniqueness draws lines of people waiting to buy and take photos of it.

Mark’s response to the Fast Company writer differentiated itself from the others, and it worked. Over 60% of what he submitted appeared in the article.

Here are the three questions essential to refining your big sexy idea:

  • What do I know about this subject that 80% of the market doesn’t?
  • What does my audience know but haven’t thought to say?
  • What does my audience need to know?

To differentiate your #Content, think about what you know that 80% of the market doesn’t, says @LevyInnovation via @dshiao and @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Your big sexy idea is not for everyone

By this point in the exercise, you’ve recalled seeing someone publish or promote an idea similar to one of yours. If it made you angry that someone got to it first, you’re probably on the right track.

You’ve also improved on that idea by adding elements that you know more about than other people, that people know but haven’t thought to say, and that people don’t know but need to know.

At this point, you might feel the urge to broaden your idea to appeal to everyone. But that would be a mistake. As Mark explains, “A large population would twist you into a pretzel – into something you’re not.”

Instead, Mark says, think about your idea the way The Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia thought about the band’s music: “Not everybody likes licorice, but the people who like licorice really like licorice.”

Now, go find your big sexy idea.

Want more content marketing tips, insights, and examples? Prenumerera to workday or weekly emails from CMI.

 Omslagsbild av Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute


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The Ultimate Guide to Product Marketing in 2023


The Ultimate Guide to Product Marketing in 2023

Product marketing is essential, even if you only sell one or two products at your organization.

(mer …)

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3 email marketing shifts to make in 2023


3 email marketing shifts to make in 2023

Whew! We made it to 2023! As we closed in on the end of the year in December, the finish line seemed awfully far away. Many marketers told me they were busier than ever. 

I myself was fielding calls for strategy help, working on business deals and managing the chaos all the way to the eve of Christmas Eve, something that rarely happens in my 20-plus-year career. 

Look back and celebrate, then move on

The first business for 2023 will be to step back, clear your head and take stock of all the great things you accomplished in 2022 despite the odds (i.e., coming out of COVID, going into a rebound and COVID round 2, moving into supply-chain shortages and other hiccups, facing down a potential recession) and how they affected the work you did to succeed.

And now it’s 2023. I hope you got your budget request approved and you’re ready to move ahead with a clean slate and new KPIs to hit. You’re probably wondering, “What can I do now to grow my program?

3 directional changes to grow your email program

Naturally, every marketer’s goals will be unique. We have different audiences, challenges, resources and goals. But I’m focusing on three major directional changes with my clients this year. Which of these could help you succeed this year?

1. Stop sending so many emails

Yeah, I know. That sounds strange coming from somebody who believes wholeheartedly in email and its power to build your business. But even I have my limits!

Email during this last holiday shopping season was insane. In my 20+ years in the email industry, I cannot remember a time, even during the lockdown days of COVID-19, when my inbox was so full. 

I’m not the only one who noticed. Your customers also perceived that their inboxes were getting blasted to the North Pole. And they complained about it, as the Washington Post reported (“Retailers fire off more emails than ever trying to get you to shop“).

I didn’t run any numbers to measure volume, isolate cadences or track frequency curves. But every time I turned around, I saw emails pouring into my inbox. 

My advice for everyone on frequency: If you throttled up during the holiday, now it’s time to throttle back.

This should be a regularly scheduled move. But it’s important to make sure your executives understand that higher email frequency, volume and cadence aren’t the new email norm. 

If you commit to this heavier schedule, you’ll drive yourself crazy and push your audience away, to other brands or social media.

If you did increase cadence, what did it do for you? You might have hit your numbers, but consider the long-term costs: 

  • More unsubscribes.
  • More spam complaints.
  • Deliverability problems.
  • Lower revenue per email. 

Take what you learned from your holiday cadence as an opportunity to discover whether it’s a workable strategy or only as a “break glass in case of emergency” move.

My advice? Slow down. Return to your regular volume, frequency and cadence. Think of your customers and their reactions to being inundated with emails over 60 days.

2. Stop spamming

In that Washington Post article I mentioned earlier, I was encouraged that it cited one of my email gripes — visiting websites and then getting emails without granting permission first. 

I could have given the Post a salty quote about my experiences with SafeOpt and predatory email experiences (“Business stress is no excuse to spam“) for visitors to its clients’ websites. 

Successful email marketers believe in the sanctity of permission. That permission-based practice is what you want to be involved in. Buying a list means you don’t hire a company to sell you one, whether it’s a data broker or a tech provider like SafeOpt. 

Spamming people doesn’t work in the long term. Sure, I’ve heard stories from people who say they use purchased lists or companies like SafeOpt and it makes them money. But that’s a singular view of the impact. 

Email is the only marketing channel where you can do it wrong but still make money. But does that make it right? 

The problem with the “it made us money” argument is that there’s nowhere to go after that. Are you measuring how many customers you lost because you spammed them or the hits your sender reputation took? 

You might hit a short-term goal but lose the long-term battle. When you become known as an unreliable sender, you risk losing access to your customers’ inboxes.

Aside from the permission violation, emailing visitors after they leave your site is a wasted effort for three reasons:

  • A visit is not the same as intent. You don’t know why they landed on your site. Maybe they typed your URL as a mistake or discovered immediately that your brand wasn’t what they wanted. Chasing them with emails won’t bring them back.
  • You aren’t measuring interest. Did they visit multiple pages or check out your “About” or FAQ pages? As with intent, just landing on a page doesn’t signal interest.
  • They didn’t give you their email address. If they had interest or intent, they would want to connect with your brand. No email address, no permission.

Good email practice holds that email performs best when it’s permission-based. Most ESPs and ISPs operate on that principle, as do many email laws and regulations.

But even in the U.S., where opt-out email is still legal, that doesn’t mean you should send an email without permission just because somebody landed on your website.

3. Do one new thing

Many email marketers will start the year with a list of 15 things they want to do over the next two months. I try to temper those exuberant visions by focusing on achievable goals with this question: 

“What one thing could you do this year that could make a great difference in your email program’s success?”

When I started a job as head of strategy for Acxiom, I wanted to come up with a long list of goals to impress my new boss. I showed it to my mentor, the great David Baker and he said, “Can you guarantee that you can do all of these things and not just do them but hit them out of the park?”


“That’s why you don’t put down that many goals,” he said. “Go in with just one. When that one is done, come up with the next one. Then do another. If you propose five projects, your boss will assume you will do five projects. If you don’t, it just means you didn’t get it done.”

That was some of the best advice I’ve ever received and I pass it on to you. 

Come up with one goal, project or change that will drive your program forward. Take it to your boss and say, “Here’s what I’m going to do this year.”

To find that one project, look at your martech and then review MarTech’s six most popular articles from 2022 for expert advice.

You’ll find plenty of ideas and tips to help you nail down your one big idea to drive growth and bring success. But be realistic. You don’t know what events could affect your operations. 

Drive your email program forward in 2023

The new year has barely begun, but I had a little trouble getting motivated to take on what’s shaping up to be a beast of a year. You, too?

I enjoyed my time off over the holidays. Got in some golf with my dad and his buddies, ate great food and took time to step back and appreciate the phenomenal people I work with and our amazing industry. 

What gets me going at last? Reaching out to my team, friends and you. Much of my motivation comes from fellow marketers — what you need, what you worry about and what I can do to help you succeed. 

If you’re on the struggle bus with me, borrow some motivation from your coworkers and teammates, so we can gather together 12 months from now and toast each other for making it through another year. 

It’s time to strap on your marketer helmet and hit the starter. Here’s to another great year together. Let’s get the job done!

Get MarTech! Daily. Free. In your inbox.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

Om författaren

Ryan Phelan

As the co-founder of RPEOrigin.com, Ryan Phelan’s two decades of global marketing leadership has resulted in innovative strategies for high-growth SaaS and Fortune 250 companies. His experience and history in digital marketing have shaped his perspective on creating innovative orchestrations of data, technology and customer activation for Adestra, Acxiom, Responsys, Sears & Kmart, BlueHornet and infoUSA. Working with peers to advance digital marketing and mentoring young marketers and entrepreneurs are two of Ryan’s passions. Ryan is the Chairman Emeritus of the Email Experience Council Advisory Board and a member of numerous business community groups. He is also an in-demand keynote speaker and thought leader on digital marketing.


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Promote | DigitalMarketer


Promote | DigitalMarketer

Up until now, any “promotion” your customers have done has been passive. But in the promotion stage, your customers actively spread the word about your brands, products, and services. They tell stories, make recommendations, and share your offers because they truly believe in them.

Active promotion may be an affiliate or commission relationship—or just a free offer for sending some new customers your way. The point is, it’s a win-win for both of you.

One thing worth mentioning before we dive in; Happy customers don’t promote, SUCCESSFUL customers do. 

Our biggest question in the Promote stage is: How are you going to turn your BEST customers into your marketing partners? 

If you don’t have a referral program, an affiliate program, or a valued reseller program … who is willing to drive your message to the organization you need to build out these programs? This is word of mouth marketing, and it is very important so start thinking about how you want to build this. 

Look to your most successful customers, they’re going to be the people who actively promote for you. But then, let’s think about our customers who already have our prospects but are offering a different product or service. 

At DigitalMarketer we are a training and certification company, we are not a services based company. What that means is we don’t compete with agencies or consultants. This also means that there is an opportunity for us to work with agencies and consultants. 

When we realized this we decided to launch our Certified Partner Program, which you can learn more about at DigitalMarketer.Com/Partner. This program lets us work with the largest segments of our customer base, who have customers that we want but they’re providing a solution that we’re not providing. 

When we train our customers, they are able to use our company frameworks to work with their clients. If their clients want to learn to do their marketing themselves? We’re the first education company they see.

So who is that for you? Remember, it’s not the happy clients that refer, it’s the successful clients. If you want to create more promoters, make sure that you’re doing everything that you can as a marketer to ensure that you’re marketing great products so you can see great results. 

How can our example companies accomplish this?

For Hazel & Hems, they can add an ambassador program to grow their instagram following and increase credibility with viral posts. 

Ambassadors can earn affiliate commissions, additional boutique reward points, and get the chance to build a greater following by leveraging the Hazel & Hems brand.

For Cyrus & Clark, they can offer discounted rates to their existing clients if those clients are willing to refer them to their strategic partners. 

For construction companies, this could be a home builder recommending Cyrus & Clark services to the landscapers, real estate developers, and interior designers that they work with to serve their customers.


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