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Finding Marketing Inspiration From Unlikely Sources

5 minute read
Dennis Shiao avatar
Branching out to gain a broader perspective and discover new ways of doing marketing.

Every other Friday, I send out a newsletter called “Content Corner,” which features curated content about marketing.

I love to scour the web for interesting content. The newsletter, which is a passion project, features my best finds from the previous two weeks. I assemble the newsletter on Wednesdays, then schedule it for a Friday morning delivery. On a recent Wednesday, something funny happened.

A Desire to Branch Out

As I put the newsletter together, I realized my articles were from the same sources. I worried that I was in a self-created filter bubble. If I didn’t branch out, I’d miss out on broader perspectives and new ways of doing marketing.

I used social media to ask for suggestions. Here’s how I phrased the “ask” on LinkedIn:

“I’m looking for unconventional content sources to inform or inspire my marketing. Sources that are (to use a cliché) outside the box. Would love to hear your suggestions!”

As I started to receive recommendations, I saw an interesting pattern develop — the types of sources people recommended differed according to the social media channel used. The pattern looked like this:

  • Twitter: Magazines (Entrepreneur, Time, the New Yorker, National Geographic).
  • LinkedIn: Miscellaneous (Quora, Google alerts, Amazon product reviews).
  • Facebook: Radio shows and podcasts (“Good Food” on WKCR and the podcasts “Mother’s Quest” and “99% Invisible.”)

I followed every recommendation I received. I also visited a bookstore and skimmed one magazine from every section of the rack. The topics of the magazines ranged from arts and crafts to military jets.

Related Article: Agile Marketers Step Outside Their Bubbles to Find Inspiration

Read Magazines That Aren’t Aimed at You

The visit to the bookstore triggered a memory about reading magazines you’re not the audience for. Searching my email archives, I found it: Ann Handley covered that topic in an issue of her newsletter Total Annarchy.

Handley recounted that she had attended a presentation by a friend of hers named Rohit Bhargava. The presentation touched on the need to hone our empathy. One trick that Bhargava mentioned is to read magazines you’re not the audience for.

“Rohit described his tactic as one way to cultivate curiosity about people not like us,” Handley wrote in her newsletter. “Cultivated curiosity ups our empathy, he said, because when we observe as well as talk to people outside our usual social circle, we tumble into lives and worldviews very different from our own.”

Inspired by Bhargava’s talk, Handley picked up a copy of Car and Driver magazine for her flight home. Reading the magazine helped her understand the mindset of a car enthusiast. “How articles were written and pitched helped me understand what is most compelling to this audience. Paying attention to the language is its own form of keyword research. Viewing the advertisements also helped round out what this consumer might be interested in and care about,” Handley wrote.

What are additional ways to hone empathy? Handley recommends subscribing to email newsletters, following hashtags on social media and having conversations where you listen more than you talk.

Handley adds, “The point of the exercise is to gain an understanding of and perspective for people not like you. It’ll help you as a marketer. And it’ll help you as a human, too.”

Related Article: 3 Daily Activities This B2B Marketer Can't Do Without

Getting to Know Scientists

After skimming a dozen magazines at the bookstore, I purchased one to bring home: the March 2019 issue of Scientific American.

scientific american

Learning Opportunities

Two things struck me immediately. On the third page was a “From the Editor” message, which spanned the top half of the page.

The lower half featured a list of the magazine’s board of advisers, which included 40 names and titles, one of which was none other than Vinton G. Cerf. Others included professors from Harvard, MIT and the University of Cambridge.

Second, an advertisement for subscriptions to the magazine notes that Scientific American has been publishing since 1845 and has included “articles by more than 150 Nobel Prize winners.”

I read an article titled “Zombie Spiders,” which had this wonderful lede: “Talk about a raw deal: Deadly parasitic wasps ruin the lives of adolescent spiders by taking over their minds, forcing them to become hermits and then eating them alive.”

And an article titled “Untangling the Genome” by Erez Lieberman Aiden included this gem: “I was stirring the ramen noodles in my dinner and wondering how the genome, unlike my noodles, avoided tangling into a mess that would prevent its crucial genetic messages from being sent.”

Mind control and ramen noodles in the same issue. I’m loving it!

The magazine also included reader-friendly features that gave me ideas to inspire my content marketing. For example, at the bottom of the first page of an article, a box labeled “In Brief” summarizes three of the article’s main points. And at the end of each article, under the heading “More to Explore,” there’s a list of related research articles from sources other than Scientific American. There’s also a list of related articles from previous issues under the heading “From Our Archives.”

Related Article: 5 Ways to Stand Out in a Sea of Content

A Work in Progress

In the next issue of my newsletter, I updated subscribers about my initiative. I started with a confession — that the curated articles were still from the same set of sources. However, this isn’t a one-time effort; it’s the start of an ongoing journey to open my eyes and ears.

As an interim measure, I included a new section in the newsletter that featured great writing in articles that had nothing to do with marketing.

The journey and the search continues. What are some unconventional sources of content that you’d recommend for me? Leave your suggestions in the comments section below. Thank you!

About the author

Dennis Shiao

Dennis is founder of B2B marketing agency Attention Retention, where he works with clients on content marketing, product marketing and social media marketing. Formerly, Dennis led the content marketing function at DNN Software.

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