We’ve all been there. A new year brings a fresh marketing budget. Not to mention the pressure to come up with new marketing ideas.

But our minds go blank when pen meets paper. You know what’s already working (and what isn’t) but where do you go from there? How do we find the right marketing channels and techniques?

In this article, we’ll cover seven proven approaches to finding marketing ideas that are right for you and your businesses.

You’ll learn how to:

  • Listen to what the market wants
  • Give your customers marketing they’ll love
  • Find opportunities that your competitors are leaving on the table

1. Spy on your competition

Whenever there’s a mental block, it’s common practice to rush and see what your competitors are doing.

It’s good to keep an eye on what they’re doing. But if you start imitating their marketing, you may end up seeing poor results. Besides, how do you know what they’re doing is working in the first place?

Despite this, your competition is a still great source of marketing ideas if you do it right. Here’s how.

Steal their SEO data

This is a common first step. Start by identifying the keywords they rank for on Google.

Get an understanding of how they’re generating organic search traffic. Use this insight to identify opportunities to serve your market better than they are.

SEMrush provides a free solution for this approach. Head over to their homepage and enter your competitor’s domain name:

Marketing Ideas - SEMrush

Now you have access to their backlink and keyword data. Check out “Referring Domains” to discover untapped marketing channels you may not have tested:

Marketing Ideas - Linking Domains

You can also uncover organic keywords they’re targeting with a tool like Ahrefs. This insight can give you ideas for content marketing, social media, and paid ad campaigns:

Marketing Ideas - Competitor Keywords

Look at their content

If your competitors create content, it’s a good idea to see what topics and formats perform best.

Head over to BuzzSumo and register for a free trial. Enter your competitor’s URL to see what their most popular topics are:

Marketing Ideas - Social Shares

Take a look at their blog to get a feel for the topics they’re creating. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. What could we do to make these topics better?
  2. What gaps are they leaving behind that we could fill?
  3. Which content formats are they not creating (e.g., video, infographics)?

Make a note of the content anatomy. List down the most popular blog posts, videos, ebooks, etc. Go as deep and granular as possible – from themes and sub-topics covered to the average word count.

Do the same with social content. What formats and approaches are they using? Do they use Twitter as a soapbox for their content? Is their Facebook feed full of memes but no value? Make a note of the gaps they’re leaving on social media.

Now do the opposite

Copying your competitors can be a losing game. It’s important to keep up in some areas, but not all of them.

You’ve identified what they’re doing, and you understand their weakest areas. Now is your chance to fill those gaps.

Do they focus on creating short-form articles? Then you should consider creating long-form guides or video content.

Perhaps they’re using social media as a soapbox, announcing new feature updates and spamming their audience with useless content. This is an opportunity to engage with your audience, listen to what they say and join in on the conversation.

Sure, there are some instances where it’s important to keep up. But often, seeing what your main competitors are up to can provide fresh, inexpensive marketing ideas from what they’re not doing.

2. Data-driven marketing ideas

“All marketers must be data-driven to survive.”

In this section, I’ll share some actionable approaches to utilizing data to generate marketing ideas.

We’ll ignore topics like keyword research. There are hundreds of guides on this, and you likely know how to do it.

Instead, let’s explore data sources and approaches you may not have considered.

Double your results with proprietary data

New marketing ideas can come quickly by answering one simple question:

“What’s already working?”

Your proprietary data should already be informing your decisions. Google Analytics (GA) provides you with engagement and conversion data. This data can help you decide where to go next.

In GA, click Behavior > Site Content > All Pages. This report is an indicator of your landing pages and content that generates the most traffic and engagement:

Marketing Ideas - Google Analytics All PagesImage source

Here’s what to you can do with this information:

  1. Landing pages: Which of your landing pages convert most? Do they focus on specific features? Look for those with high conversions, as well as engagement metrics such as bounce rate. Double down on the messaging in other areas of your marketing by applying them to other channels as well as your content.
  2. Content: What are your highest performing blog posts? Which ebooks/lead magnets generate the most leads? Look for the topics that resonate well with your audience. Identify overarching themes and double down on those. Look at other pain-points you can solve with your content.

Look at behavioral data to get a better idea of how your audience communicates with you and educates themselves on their offering. Consider optimizing your funnel before looking for new ideas.

Listen to the social buzz

Social media is a treasure trove of data. Your audience is already talking about the challenges your offering solves.

There are tools which can help you be reactive and proactive in searching for marketing ideas. The first is Mention, a social listening tool:

Marketing Ideas - Social Listening

You can monitor brand and keyword mentions across social platforms, as well as other content and media formats. While the tool is commonly often used to join in on active conversations, you can use it to monitor trends and popular topics currently being discussed.

The second tool is Unmetric. This service has collected a huge amount of social media data across most platforms. Using their free Discover tool, you can analyze events and hashtags happening across social media and segment them conversations by network, sentiment, and keywords:

Marketing Ideas - Unmetric

By looking at popular current events, as well as those that are upcoming, you can generate ideas for relevant content. See the example above from the British soccer team, Manchester United, to see this in action.

Don’t jump on a popular bandwagon if it doesn’t fit in with your brand. There’s nothing less authentic than seeing a brand newsjack an event that has nothing to do with their core values.

Dig deep into consumer insights

Understanding who your customers are is the first step to a solid marketing foundation.

But how can you dig deeper and learn more about them? There’s a breadth of consumer insights available out there that you can access.

Look at the interests and brands your customer personas have an affinity with. For example, these are the top brands the persona “Millenial Moms w/ Young Children” engage with on Twitter & Instagram:

Marketing Ideas - Customer Personas

Looking at the data from the SpotRight platform, we can see which brands this persona engages with by category and platform.

For example, we know this persona engages with brands like Huggies, Lowe’s and The Land of Nod on Instagram. You can analyze and emulate the content these brands are creating on social media, providing you with proven marketing ideas to test.

Data is only as good as the insight it provides. If you’re collecting data but not acting upon it, now is the time.

3. Keep a swipe file

Have you ever seen an awesome piece of marketing and thought: “I wish I came up with that?”

And what do we do once those thoughts arise? We move on to the next article or Facebook post.

Instead of letting these nuggets of inspiration pass, add them to a “swipe file.”

A swipe file is a learning method traditionally used by copywriters. It’s simply a collection of other people’s marketing that has been proven to work.

You can use a swipe file to collect any form of marketing. Whenever you see:

  • An interesting article
  • A creative social media post
  • A compelling sales page
  • An engaging and moving video
  • A landing page where you completed a form

Add it to your swipe file.

This approach may feel like plagiarism. But even the best artists steal, and they’ve been doing it for centuries.

Picasso, for example, created 44 different paintings by studying a single piece created by Diego Velázquez. Even The Beatles started out as a cover band.

The idea is not to rip off other people’s work. Instead, you must study the architecture of the techniques they use.

Many people simply add marketing examples to a folder on their computer. But we find Evernote to be a much more effective tool. Organizing your examples is a breeze with tags and categories, and sharing across teams is made easy.

Copywriters use swipe files to become better at their craft. By studying the techniques and “building blocks” used by other writers, they learned how to apply elements of writing that already worked.

The same is true for all aspects of marketing.

Swiping for web copy & design

Every marketer knows how daunting a website redesign can be. Instead of starting from scratch, look towards other examples.

You can always look to your competitors for inspiration. But some of the best ideas can come from other industries. This also applies to your home page, “about” page, landing pages, and product pages.

When dissecting other web pages, look out for the following:

  • What action are they asking the user to take?
  • How are the benefits of products/services/features positioned and communicated?
  • How do they overcome objections to taking those actions?
  • How is trust established?
  • How is information structured across the page?
  • How does design lend itself to this journey? What makes it beautiful looking?

Make a note of the nuances and structure of each page. For example, a compelling landing page from another industry may not directly apply to yours, but you might find an effective new structure for your headlines.

Swiping for email marketing

Want to boost your open rates? Then start swiping the emails that you open and click.

What was it about the subject line that compelled you to open? Was it short and sweet, did it ask a question? What was the overall purpose of the email?

Same goes for engagement. What was it about the first sentence that captured your attention? What was so enticing about the call-to-action that you couldn’t ignore it?

This example from Huckberry provides several ideas. The simple subject line is short but compelling, and includes bonus content in the form of articles and Spotify playlists:

Marketing Ideas - Email

Swiping for content marketing

Take a look at the content in and around your industry. Start with the most popular blog posts, as they’re easiest to access.

When dissecting other people’s content, ask yourself:

  • What is the challenge this piece of content is trying to solve?
  • Is there a stage where it becomes boring?
  • Why did the headline grab your attention?
  • How did the opening paragraph hook you into the rest of the content?
  • How do they use stories and examples to back the content up?

Make a note of elements such as word count and structure. You may find new ideas to implement visuals, such as video and infographics. Look in and outside of your industry.

Books and how-to articles can be a great source of learning. But seeing what works “in the field” is even better. Start collecting marketing content and creative that resonates with you and share it with your team now.

4. Interview experts

Anything you ever wanted to learn is a quick Google search away.

But sometimes treading through pages and pages of content isn’t enough. It can answer questions, but might not help you get the results you want.

Interviewing experts can uncover unknown insights. It allows you to dig below the surface and find why things are a certain way. Which isn’t something that’s easy to do by reading content.

We recently conducted an interview with digital privacy expert Ken Dreifach when researching perspectives on people-based marketing. This provided us with fuel for a unique piece of content. Not to mention the invaluable insights to inform future marketing ideas.

There are three approaches to this technique:

  1. Uncovering growth ideas from seasoned marketers
  2. Talking to peers in similar organizations
  3. Interviewing subject matter experts in your industry

Each caters to different objectives and have different benefits. Let’s look at how to approach each category as individuals and what you can gain to learn.

Uncovering growth ideas from seasoned marketers

There are dozens of marketing thought leaders that are qualified to help you solve your problems. Many of them are easy to access and just require a little nurturing.

Here’s how to identify them:

  1. Google terms such as “your industry” + marketing experts or “your industry” + marketing influencers.
  2. Head to Twitter, type “your industry + marketing” and look at the top results under the “People” tab.

In this case, “industry” should be as broad as possible. For example, if you sell dog treats online, you should search for “ecommerce marketing experts.”

Make a note of those who have a large following (10,000+) and create content around marketing topics in your industry. Record their name, website, Twitter username and other stats you may find useful (e.g., follow count and the channels they hang out in online).

Start engaging with them on social media and communities. If they contribute to industry publications, comment on their posts. If they’re active on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook then engage with them there.

Reach out to them once you’ve become a familiar name. Ask them if you could interview them on a particular topic. For example, if they’re a retail marketing expert, ask if you could interview them to get their perspective on customer retention.

Talking to peers in similar organizations

You’re not the only person trying to solve specific marketing challenges. In fact, other people in similar roles and industries have likely succeeded.

Taking the dog treat example, you could identify marketers at other lifestyle ecommerce brands to contact. For example, an ecommerce store selling coffee or chocolate are similar (consumable goods) but not enough to be considered competitors.

Here’s how to identify them:

  1. Search for similar companies on Google, e.g., “buy coffee online.”
  2. Make a note of the companies that are at the top of the paid results
  3. Head to LinkedIn and search for the company
  4. Search for job titles related to “marketing,” “communications,” “demand” etc.
  5. Send a personalized invite to connect

Personalization is key. It’s important to set the intention early. An example message could be:

“Hi NAME, I noticed you’re doing a great job of growing COMPANY. As a peer in the industry, I’d love to connect and learn more about what you’re doing.”

Once they’ve accepted your connection request, reach out and secure an interview. By talking with your industry peers, you’ll find invaluable insights and marketing ideas you may not uncover otherwise.

Interviewing subject matter experts in your industry

Coming up with marketing messages can be challenging, let alone new channels and techniques to test.

Industry subject matter experts are a useful source of insight. They can help you uncover challenges, content topics, and even product ideas.

Here’s how to identify and reach out to subject matter experts:

  1. Contact experts you’ve already worked with: Identify partners you’ve worked with in the past. Ensure they have the expertise to provide accurate and actionable advice. Talk to your sales and customer service teams to identify and reach out to them.
  2. Look for up-and-coming experts: Your network can dry up quickly. With the amount of published content, it’s easier than ever to find new experts on the scene. Keep an eye on industry publications, as well as LinkedIn groups and other online communities. Reach out to them before the attention becomes too noisy.
  3. Industry conferences & events: Identify the biggest industry events and look at the list of speakers. You don’t even have to attend – just look at the “speakers” page on the website and contact them well before or after the event.

When reaching out to anyone – influencer or peer alike – show respect for their time and personalize your outreach. Compliment their work, or reference the content and conversations through which you engaged with them.

When interviewing them, have three to five broad questions. Dig deep on the answers they give to find out insights that would otherwise remain hidden. This is how you find innovative ideas.

Bonus: creating content from interviews

Once you’ve had your conversations, it would be selfish (and foolish) to keep all that gold to yourself.

Add extra value to those you’ve interviewed by creating an industry roundup. Reference those you’ve talked to, and spotlight their work or content. Mentioning this upfront will help get your foot in the door during initial outreach.

Here’s an example of an expert roundup in the eCommerce space (if you work in the ecommerce space, use this to identify your influencers):

Marketing Ideas - Expert Roundups

This approach can help expand your reach within the industry, securing new business development and partnership opportunities.

5. Research other industries

We often look to competitors or industry publications for the latest trends. It’s easy to forget there’s a world outside of it.

For example, the solution to growing your shaving business may be on the front page of a subscription business that sells dog toys.

Looking at other businesses, which are similar but have a different target market, can lead to ideas and innovations that you wouldn’t normally find. This can work in a number of ways:

  • Are you selling physical products through ecommerce? Look at digital product businesses.
  • Do you provide accounting services? Look at marketing agencies.
  • Are you a SaaS provider in the B2B space? Look at the app store.

Let’s look at each of these in more depth. Say you’re in the ecommerce space selling Italian leather boots. What could you possibly learn from digital product businesses, such as courses, WordPress themes and the like?

A quick look at Product Hunt’s books category shows me the top trending products:

Marketing Ideas - Product Hunt

“App Development for Non-Technical Founders,” for example, sends the eBook for free via Facebook Messenger. This channel could be a great way to deliver content to your ecommerce customers and nurture them through Messenger:

Marketing Ideas - Messenger

What if you provide a professional service, like accounting or legal services? Look to other services in a completely different field.

For example, an accounting firm can run a quick search on “best design agencies” on Google to find instant inspiration.

Telepathy, for example, use their front page as a way of showcasing how they’ve helped their clients:

Marketing Ideas - Case Study

They also create valuable how-to content that serves their buyer personas. This approach is rarely seen in the accounting industry, and would be a great way to undercut the competition:

Marketing Ideas - How-to Content

The best ideas often come from areas outside your industry. Look at the highest ranking pages for product keywords on Google. Dissect the websites and marketing of these companies to uncover new ideas not used by anyone else in your industry.

6. Generate priceless insights with customer interviews

Industry experts can give you top-level, best practice advice.

Your customers, however, can provide you a treasure trove of gold – straight from the trenches.

When looking for customer insight, many people start with surveys. But when have you ever poured your heart out on an online survey?

Precisely: never.

People open up to other people. By picking up the phone, you gain more emotional insights that can be used to inform current marketing campaigns, as well as the channels they hang out in.

Customer interviews can help you:

  • Uncover the barriers to doing business with you
  • Figure out why they really use your products and services
  • Understand their motivation behind buying from you
  • Buzzwords and phrases to use in your marketing

They can also provide you with client spotlight articles and case studies, perfect for sales enablement content and social proof.

Here’s how to execute successful customer interviews:

How to approach customer interviews

Interviewing those who have already done business with you provides more insights than prospects. They’ll have plenty to say about your offering, the way your brand presents itself and why the bought from you in the first place.

Start by categorizing different customer types. These include customer personas as well as product categories.

Take an online smartphone store for example. Those who purchase high-ticket items will have different motivations and objections than those buying accessories.

When emailing your customers, don’t automatically go for the incentive. Most customers are more than happy to provide their feedback, especially at different extremes of the spectrum (i.e., extremely happy vs. dissatisfied customers.)

And don’t be afraid to talk to those who weren’t happy with your service. By talking to unhappy customers, many unknown hurdles can be identified. Leave your ego at the door and listen to what they have to say.

Set expectations by asking them to set aside 30 minutes for the conversation. This will allow you plenty of time to dig deep into their responses.

The anatomy of a customer interview

When approaching the call itself, you should treat it less like an interview and more like a conversation.

Avoid coming across like a robot repeating the questions from a survey. Have a list of three to five questions and dig deep on to answers. Be willing to go off-script to probe on the answers they give.

While having a list of questions is handy, be fluid in your interview. Ask questions based on the responses they give.

For example, if they give you an answer about a challenge your product helped them solve, ask them why it’s important to them. What makes this such a burning pain, and what about your offering helped solve it the most?

This is where you’ll find most insights to fuel your marketing ideas. You’ll uncover new messaging ideas, as well as ways to position your products and services.

How to execute the perfect interview

Build rapport with your customers with the beginning. Make them feel comfortable by projecting a friendly persona.

Make them feel relaxed by stating that their responses are 100% anonymous. Start with fact-based questions to ease the customer into the interview. Set a casual tone by asking them questions about where they live and their career.

Express an interest in what they have to say, and mirror how they speak. Mimicking their mannerisms has been proven to increase the chance of someone liking you, so match their level of energy (i.e., the volume of their voice) as well as the pace of their speech.

Put your attention on listening, not questioning. Paraphrase what the customer is saying to show you’re listening and ensure you understand them.

It can also be tempting to jump in and correct a customer when they might be wrong. Avoid this knee-jerk reaction. Doing this can ruin the rapport you built at the beginning of the conversation. Remember: keep your ego at the door.

Finally, probe and dig deeper into their answers. Get the deeper meaning behind their responses. Ask them why they feel a certain way, or what they felt when an event took place. If they felt your product was easy to use, ask them what specifically made it that way.

Taking notes can distract you, so be sure to record the conversation. This will allow you to share with your team, and identify keywords you may have missed.

By taking this approach, you’ll identify insights and the emotions behind decisions and actions that your customers make. Something that a mass-emailed survey could never provide.

7. Talk to your internal teams

There are people within your organization who are already talking with your customers. However, it’s rare that we reach out and get their perspective.

Salespeople are regularly facing the objections of prospects. And customer service teams are always talking to customer first-hand – both happy and dissatisfied.

They’re a treasure trove of marketing ideas waiting to be discovered. Here’s how to approach them both.

Collaborating with sales teams

According to Demand Gen, the biggest obstacle to marketing and sales alignment is communication.

When sales and marketing work together, companies see a substantial improvement. There are many benefits to this, which include faster sales cycles and a decrease in customer acquisition costs (CAC.) Today, we’re going to focus on collaboration for generating marketing ideas and insight.

Start with an initial meeting. Staff on both teams need to understand what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.

Position the meeting as a collaboration. Communicate the benefits of the meeting to both teams. For example, by helping you to understand the biggest present objections, you’re more likely to deliver qualified leads.

The first thing to identify is the biggest points of friction in the sales funnel. Here’s what a basic sales funnel looks like (courtesy of TechTarget🙂

Marketing Ideas - Sales Funnel

Every company has a unique process, which should be visually mapped out. Together, you must find out at which stage the most friction occurs.

Start by describing each stage of the sales funnel, and how awareness, traffic, & conversions are generated. If anyone is unsure of certain language/terms, use then make sure everyone is made aware.

Then, ask sales teams where they feel the most friction occurs. Find out why they feel it’s happening, and the common objections they commonly face. Make a note of the language they use.

These questions will give you an idea of the content and collateral you should create to assist them. Identify content that will help both sales and marketing to reach their goals.

The idea is to close more sales and generate more revenue. It’s even better if these objections can be handled higher up the funnel (e.g., advertising, social media and blog posts.)

Uncover insights from customer service

These days, most customer service teams are using the same channels as marketing.

Therefore, they likely have a huge amount of insight on your customers. Here’s how you can work with them to generate awesome marketing ideas:

  1. Social media support: What are the common questions they’re answering on Twitter, Facebook and other social channels? Keep an eye on the conversation and turn common topics of discussion into content. FAQs and middle-of-funnel content can benefit from this.
  2. Top-of-funnel content: Customer support teams are constantly learning about problems, desires, and needs of your customers. Turn these into content you can use to generate more attention and gain more customer loyalty.
  3. Success stories: As well as their challenges, customer support regularly hears about the successes your products and services bring. Turn these real-life examples into testimonials, case studies and customer stories on Instagram, Facebook and other social platforms.

Empower customers to create and share content related to your brand. User-generated content (UGC) can help scale your content, expand your reach and make your customers feel like they’re a part of your brand.

Bumble & Bumble used Olapic, a UGC platform, to do just that. They took content created by their customers and featured them on checkout pages and cart-abandonment emails. The results? An 89% increase in email conversions and 16% increase in CTR:

Marketing Ideas - UGC

Work with customer service teams to uncover how customers use your products and services. Use this insight to inform content at all stages of the funnel.

Marketing ideas are hiding in every area of your business. Industry leaders, competitors, and peers are all sources of insight waiting to be uncovered.

Start by listening to what the market is saying. Identify the gaps you can fill, and provide your customers with the content they need. These will give you the marketing ideas you need to succeed.