Brands that create compelling content are no longer the exception but rather the new rule. With so many companies trying to attract audiences with their content, it’s becoming difficult to stand out — making innovative content marketing even more important.
Packaging your data into unique content marketing formats can help you rise above the noise. Fractl is an industry-leading content marketing agency, and we’ve seen firsthand how the way you write, design, and develop your content can give you a competitive edge by engaging audiences bored by the same old content while also enticing publishers looking for novel ways of presenting information.
If you’re looking to differentiate your content, stand out among the competition, and attract more attention, here are some innovative content formats to consider adding to your content production process.
One of the best ways to create compelling, innovative content is to base it on new data. Data journalism takes an investigative approach by combing through data to find an interesting story or reposition an old story in a new way. Using data for content marketing attracts the attention of publishers who are often interested in sharing original research and new insights with their audiences.
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Example of data journalism: Comparing Fast Food Nutrition
For this campaign, we sifted through the nutrition numbers of 10 popular fast food chains and calculated how many fast food restaurants were located in each of the 50 states and U.S. cities with populations of at least 50,000. The image above shows how the information was distilled into a simple graph that was easy to understand and contained clear takeaways. Over 125 publishers, including USA Today and Yahoo, were eager to feature the exclusive data.
Using technology that averages dozens, hundreds, or thousands of facial images is a great way to show audiences what the “average X” looks like. This can be done for anything you want, including certain professions, various demographics, and celebrities. The result is new images that didn’t exist prior – which publishers could clamor to cover.
Example of a face-averaging image: The Average Face of a Mass Shooter
Distressing to say the least, the topic of mass shootings is not easy to swallow. To add context to the ongoing conversation about mass shooting events in this country, we used images of 39 male mass shooters to create an averaged composite. Nearly 170 publishers, including Mashable, featured the campaign’s images.
As you move around your computer screen with your mouse, you leave behind a trail that can be tracked. Recording these trails and creating videos and/or images can be an innovative content format that shows how people “voted” for something. This technology is also used to see how crowds behave with their cursors or work together to achieve a common goal.
Example of a cursor-tracking image: American vs. European Sexual Preferences
When polling 500 Americans and 500 Europeans to discover their sexual preferences and see how they compare, we decided to use the cursor-tracking method. Doing it this way instead of a simple survey added another element to the campaign – and another reason why readers would find it interesting. Maxim, The Independent, and dozens of other publishers wrote articles about our results.
For newsworthy content, you can create a live-updating webpage. A project like this can encourage readers to visit your site multiple times to find out how the stats or results of what you’re updating has changed each day (or throughout the day!). Publishers are always seeking timely stories to cover, so this innovative content format is ideal when aiming to get press attention. You’ll want to choose a topic your target audience is highly interested in; this type of project takes time and resources, so you want to be sure it’s something your market is eager for.
Example of a live-updating project: NBA Playoffs on Twitter
The screenshot above shows the final results of our project for Fanatics that continuously updated during the 2015-2016 NBA Playoffs. This live-updating project also included an interactive component that allowed users to see the current rankings for fan engagement on Twitter, team mentions, and team tweets for each playoff team. The sports section of USA Today and nearly 90 other sites covered it.
In addition, applications like this are ripe for complementary pieces of content. We extended the life of the project by creating several blog posts with the updating tweets for a specific team.
Just as audiences and publishers like seeing data compiled into interesting reports, they also like easy-to-digest formats. Infographics are so popular because they break down otherwise overwhelming data into digestible icons, graphics, and charts, making this format well-received by busy digital media audiences who want content that gets straight to the point.
Example of an infographic: Hotel Hygiene Exposed
The infographic above is effective because it’s simple. Providing readers with to-the-point information (we swabbed hotels for germs and these are the averaged results of four common surfaces) and clear visuals, the image was intriguing and informative. Over 700 publications featured the campaign, and it was shared nearly 24,000 times on social media. Perhaps audiences wanted to spread the news to steer clear of bathroom counters in hotels?
While you can’t predict the future, you can create projection charts. This innovative content format gets the job done by offering a fresh look at what’s likely to come, based on past trends. Instead of creating a graph with available data only, a projection chart kicks it up a notch and allows publishers to take another angle with the story.
Example of a projection chart: The Growth of the Freelance Economy
The days of 9-to-5 jobs are vanishing as more and more are forgoing their office digs in lieu of a freelancing career. Working at home – or in a coffee shop – and being your own boss is appealing. Plus, employers are finding the advantages of hiring freelance workers too good to pass up.
For this project, we analyzed over 400,000 freelancers’ resumes for a look at how many freelance jobs have existed over time. The chart above shows the rapid growth since 2005, and our projection indicates that despite a recent downturn, the freelance boom is likely to continue. Nearly 270 publishers, such as Forbes, Fox News, and Entrepreneur, included our findings in their reports.
Audiences like to see themselves represented in data and visual storytelling, so state maps that include data on every state in the country are often good ways to catch mass attention by evoking regional pride and interest.
Example of a state map: America’s Sickest States
We turned to Twitter to see which states had the most residents per capita talking about being “sick” the most. We color-coded the map with five distinct colors, with the states that tweeted about illness the least colored green and those tweeting about it the most being red. This made it easy for readers to understand the information immediately. Yahoo, Fortune, and over 170 other publishers – including many local ones that related to their area’s ranking – featured the study.
While diagrams aren’t new, they can be a whole lot more interesting than a page from an Ikea instruction booklet. The key is choosing a topic matter that’s interesting and lends well to creating a diagram for. Case in point: The health vertical is a great niche to pitch human body diagrams, but no publisher will want it if it doesn’t offer something previously unknown or a fresh take on an existing concept.
Example of a diagram: The Truth About Mile-High Romance
For this campaign, we didn’t want to go with a traditional bar chart to relay the results of where on a plane people have become members of the mile-high club. We thought, why not show the percentages for each section of the plane on an actual airplane? The diagram above was our final result and was much jazzier than reporting the stats in a basic format. Altogether, the study was mentioned on over 260 sites, including MSN, NY Post, and Daily Mail.
Using the technique of scrolling parallax web design, you can create a unique interactive experience that combines interesting data and engaging design to immerse the audience into the story.
Example of parallax: Drug Bless America
A Fractl parallax project called Drug Bless America takes viewers on a journey through the country’s complicated relationship with illicit drugs. Instead of overwhelming viewers with all of the information up front, viewers are presented with different sides of the story as they scroll.
Showing two things side-by-side allows readers to visually see the difference and better understand how they compare. The list of what can be compared is practically endless – think anything from brands offering the same type of product to dog breeds. When brainstorming ideas for a comparison graph, focus on your target audience and what they are interested in learning more about.
Example of a comparison graph: Comparing Airbnb and Hotel Rates Across the Globe
Many choose Airbnb as their lodging choice because it’s more cost effective than a traditional hotel. But how much cheaper is it, and is the lack of cushy hotel amenities worth the difference? We researched the two options for 22 cities around the world and created a comparison chart to show the results. Close to 200 publishers, including Yahoo, USA Today, and Business Insider, covered our findings.
GIFs, which are animated images that can be shared and embedded as easily as JPEGs, are also a popular digital content format. Audiences and publishers love them because they are both engaging and easy to share.
Example of a GIF: College Enrollment
College enrollment experiences cycles that coincides with the job market, with many going back to school when employment in their current fields is difficult to obtain. We created GIFs to support our story on college enrollment numbers, and you can see above how every state boasted an increase in enrollment in 2009 and 2010. The campaign was featured on more than 60 websites including Yahoo, Mashable, MTV, The Nerdist, and Mental Floss.
Morphing GIFs that feature a smooth transition between images are also favorites among both readers and publishers.
Example of a morphing GIF: The Evolution of Miss America
We created a morphing GIF (see the full morph here) that showed the evolution of Miss America since 1921 – it caught the attention of readers to the tune of more than 22,000 social shares. Publishers were also drawn to the graphic, and it was published on over 750 sites including The Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, Glamour, Seventeen, Women’s Health, Vanity Fair, Business Insider, and MSN.
This type of innovative content format works well because it allows readers to immediately understand the hierarchy of what’s more and what’s less. The greater the size of a bubble, the larger the number it represents, and vice versa. Bubble graphs are very intuitive, which is what you want when trying to capture the short-lived attention of online readers.
Example of a bubble graph: Man vs. Beast
The goal of this campaign was to show how common death-by-nonhumans is. Looking at the graph above, it’s easy to see mosquitoes cause more deaths annually than humans and all other animals and insects. This intriguing content was featured on almost 300 sites, including AOL, MSN, and Vox.
Graphs showing data points over time can display upward or downward trends, but they can leave readers wondering what occurrences caused shifts or spikes in these trends. Annotated timelines let you note the events that coincide with outliers.
Example of an annotated timeline: Running With Unicorn Companies
Snapchat is now a well-known social media brand, but how did it become that? The annotated timeline above shows its Global Alexa Rank from early 2015 to early 2016. The three events noted occurred just before steep rises in Snapchat’s rank, which helped inform our client Alexa’s marketing audience how rankings are influenced. Adweek’s coverage of the campaign – plus 185 other press mentions – told us this content format worked.
Images don’t need to move to be popular among audiences. Static illustrations are also effective at catching attention and getting shared across the internet – especially when they are tied to a trending issue and emotional topic.
Example of an illustration: Reverse Photoshopping
The illustrations in our “Reverse Photoshopping Comic Covers” campaign depicted comic book characters who were photoshopped to look more like an average body type. The series of images spread online quickly and was featured on The Huffington Post, Today, MSN, Playboy, Newsweek, and more than 1,200 other websites. The story was also shared more than 105,000 times on social media.
When you have many images and don’t want your webpage to be ridiculously long, an image slider is an ideal solution. They allow users to hover over a single image to see it fully, and then easily go down the row to view the rest. This innovative content format is also well-suited for images that are similar so that comparing and contrasting is simple.
Example of an image slider: Perceptions of Perfection Part II: Men
The image above shows the slider in its “set” position. As you hover over the slider on the campaign’s landing page, you can easily view each country’s representation of the “ideal man.” We used this type of slider for several sets of images for this campaign, and it worked perfectly. Covered by almost 850 publishers and shared over 671,000 times, the campaign was one of our highest performing.
Transitional Image Sliders
Online audiences are attracted to content that shows strong contrast, which is why image sliders make a compelling visual format. Image sliders feature two images side-by-side. The images are similar but show some kind of before-and-after, and the user can control which image they see by sliding the center line to see the full depiction of either image.
Example of an image slider: Urban Rehabilitation
A popular Fractl campaign featured an image slider that showed Google Street views of urban areas from 2007 to 2011 to put urban rehabilitation in context. The images received more than 2,500 social shares and appeared in over 80 featured stories from Daily Mail to Search Engine Land.
Image sliders are appealing to audiences because the user can engage with the content and control their experience. This is the same reason why interactive infographics are so popular. With these, the audience can control what information they see and personalize their experience.
Example of an interactive infographic: Twitter Reading Levels
We created this interactive infographic that enabled audiences to click on a location to see their state’s reading level based on tweeting activity. The popular interactive chart was picked up by Yahoo, People, Daily Mail, and 240-plus other sites and received more than 13,800 social shares.
Complicated data are much easier to digest and understand when delivered through visuals. They are simplified even more when the user can control the data to dig deeper into the areas that interest them. Interactive node diagrams enable audiences to do this by layering big data. They give users the ability to separate and break up the data, and then put them back together to see how they are all connected.
Example of a node diagram: Influencer Networks Among Twitter Users
Our team used an interactive node diagram to explain the complex relationships among Twitter influencers. By showing the data as a whole and also allowing the audience to break down the chart into smaller parts, we were able to clearly explain a complex set of data. The campaign was featured on leading marketing and business sites, including Harvard Business Review and Moz.
Audiences like to connect with their content and make it a personal experience. So creating custom apps that generate outcomes based on user interaction is an effective way to create content that will be shared and spread across the internet.
Example of a custom app: Your Face as an Alcoholic
We created a custom app that prompted users to upload their photo so they could see what their face looked like as an alcoholic. Users enjoyed the interactivity of the app and shared it over 14,000 times. It was also featured in over 750 articles from Daily Mail and The Huffington Post to Cosmopolitan, BBC, and Medical Daily.
Another way to give control over content to your audience while providing immense value is through a custom calculator. An online calculator is an app that uses a custom formula to take user input and convert it into useful data.
Example of a calculator: Sexual Exposure Calculator
We created a calculator with a formula that derived a person’s sexual exposure based on the number of partners they had, the number of partners their partner had, and where the encounters took place. The fun and educational tool received 11,000-plus social shares and was published on over 150 websites including Esquire, The Huffington Post, Elite Daily, Cosmopolitan, and Playboy.
Video is one of the fastest growing media formats online, so this content format needs to be in your arsenal of online content. Plus, videos are easy to share on sites like YouTube and Facebook, giving you a new way to promote your content and find new audiences.
Example of a video: eBay Makes Christmas Wishes Come True
We crafted an emotionally compelling video around the holidays to generate and encourage sharing. The eBay Makes Christmas Wishes Come True campaign resulted in more than 11,000 views on YouTube.
Emotionally driven videos do well online and so do informative, educational videos – especially when they are fun to watch. Scribe videos use markerboard drawings to share information in a way that audiences find engaging and interesting.
Example of a scribe video: Language and Spending
Audiences and publishers alike thought our scribe video dubbed “Language and Spending” was worth sharing. It received over 34,000 social shares and was featured on 40-plus websites including The Huffington Post, The Atlantic, PBS, and Upworthy.
Sometimes turning average on-site content into a full-page experience is as simple as formatting and presenting the information in a new way. You can recreate on-site content like guides and tutorials into useful and engaging pages that keep audiences on your site longer and are more likely to convert readers into buyers.
Example of a full-page experience: NFL Fanatics Jersey Buying Guide
Instead of promoting football attire through ordinary product descriptions and sales pages, we created an NFL Jersey Buying Guide where users could easily find information to help them with their purchasing decisions while making the shopping experience fun. The content of the buying guide addresses the fundamental questions fans have for picking the right jersey to buy. This way, Fanatics is able to tap the struggle fans have to pick the right jersey while exposing the full breadth of the products sold by the brand.
Use Innovative Content Marketing Formats to Achieve Results
With so much content floating around online, you can’t expect to make an impact with ordinary content. You need to use innovative content formats to tell unique and interesting stories to engage readers, receive coverage from publishers, and get the highest return on your content marketing efforts.