More than a decade after Bill Gates’ seminal essay, “Content is King“, content marketing is still coming into its own. There are many competing definitions for content marketing circulating through the business world right now, each fighting for mainstream adoption. Although definitions are a rather nuanced part of a business strategy, I believe they have the power to shape how that strategy is perceived and used.

That is why I cringe every time I hear content marketing defined in terms of media types, such as eBooks, videos, and infographics. Not only are these definitions too narrow, they also ignore the key motivation behind content marketing: going beyond traditional “push” strategies to entice people to engage with your company on their own terms. Content marketing that is aimed at this goal, by definition, must be media agnostic.

Some of the most successful content marketers use their audience needs and interests as the starting point and then work backwards to create the content. Not only has this approach seen tremendous engagement from audiences, it has also been the catalyst to an unprecedented level of campaign creativity.

Below, I list a few of the strategies you can use to lead a creative evolution in your content, as well as a few standout examples.

Showcase your talents

No matter your industry, your company’s success hinges on the talent of your employees. In no field is this more true than with advertising agencies. Not only is employee talent a key factor for success, it is the product that agencies are selling. With this is mind, illustration agency Handsome Frank came up with an ingenious way of showcasing its product.

For a recent exhibition, the agency turned to its twitter followers for creative direction. Handsome Frank asked its followers to tweet creative briefs they would like to see the agency’s staff respond to. Each artist on the agency’s roster chose a project from the responses and used it as the basis for creating a unique work of art.

The agency received hundreds of tweets, inspiring a fascinatingly diverse exhibition. The accurately named “Tweet-A-Brief” exhibition, received rave reviews before closing this past July. Handsome Frank co-founder Jon Cockly says of the project, “The Tweet-a-Brief concept not only helped us to spread the agency’s name and make new friends and contacts, it really pushed our artists creatively, and it’s resulted in some of the best work they’ve ever produced.”

Takeaways: You don’t need to have a skilled team of artists at your disposal to create a showcase of talent that will drive customer interest. Your staff is already extremely talented and full of expertise on your products and industry, so why not use them as the focus of some of your content. For example:

  • Give people an inside look at your work process by asking staffers to write an entry for your blog, or create a brief video.
  • Show-off a fun side-project a department is working on
  • Or, just showcase the wonderful people that work tirelessly behind the scenes by posting a brief, personalized profile of each staff member (like CMI did in the example below).

Get your audience involved

No, I’m not talking about crowdsourcing content from your audience to cut down on content costs. I’m talking about developing unique content ideas that allow people to interact with your company in unexpected and exciting ways.

Collaboration software company MindJet is an excellent example of companies that put this into practice. Mindjet is currently running its “Between Minds” content campaign, which they describe as, “an ongoing taxonomy of team dynamics.” The campaign focuses on a series of illustrations (created in collaboration with creative agency JESS3) that compare two types of people (such as East Coast vs. West Coast, or and Optimists vs. Pessimists). These illustrations are featured on the company blog, as well as being used as its cover photo on Facebook. The audience is encouraged to tag connections that they feel fit a particular group. Mindjet then publishes follow-up illustrations that include a few of those tagged on Facebook.

This campaign is ingenious for two reasons: The first is that Mindjet is creating a tremendous amount of social engagement from this campaign — increasing its visibility, making new connections, and strengthening its relationships. The second is that this campaign provides a fantastic introduction to the company’s products: Mindjet is a provider of collaboration software, and this campaign not only gets its audience talking about the dynamics of collaboration, it actually gets them involved in the collaborative process.

Takeaways: There are many ways to get more social with your content. For example:

  • Give your existing channels a new dimension by encouraging audience input on content.
  • Find topics that your audience is passionate about by tracking their comments on your social outposts, like Twitter and Facebook.
  • Speaking of your outposts, start thinking of your social media pages as more than just content distribution centers by capitalizing on features such as liking, tagging, and sharing to get your audience engaged.

Think beyond the product

Almost all truly breakthrough content has one thing in common: It thinks beyond the product to focus on the audience itself. That’s the philosophy that led startup eyewear company WarbyParker to create a blog that focuses on much more than eyewear.

When it comes to brand building, Warby Parker has been anything but traditional. Founded with an eye toward working with non-profit organizations, the eyewear company has gone from relative unknown to one of the most admired brands in fashion. Considering this reputation, it might surprise you that the company’s blog doesn’t restrict its focus to its own company products and activities, nor does it even bear its own company name on the page.

Zagg Pepper,” the Warby Parker blog, focuses on the lifestyle surrounding its product. Shirking the platform norm of WordPress, the blog is set up on Tumblr, with a heavy focus on images, which range from fashion items to illustrations. In an interview with Contently, social media manager Jen Rubio explained its approach: “I think it’s important for our blog to not be so promotional and to have a space where customers can see the things that inspire us.”

Takeaway: We have been conditioned for years to focus solely on product in our marketing campaigns, pushing our messages onto consumers. Content marketing is about a shift in this perspective. Focus on the interests, problems, and passions of your audience. When content is genuinely focused on helping its audience, purchase, loyalty, and advocacy will follow.

Great content is media agnostic, customer centric, and value focused. When content marketing is not bound to traditional media channels and focused purely on product, it frees up marketing departments to create truly creative campaigns. It is this unbridled creativity that not only drives breakthrough content, but real engagement from your audience.

Want more content marketing inspiration? Download our ultimate eBook with 100 content marketing examples.