Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to go somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that! --The Red Queen in Through the Looking Glass

If someone advised you to run as fast as you can just to stay in the same place, you'd think it was utter nonsense.

And yet that's what so-called experts are telling us to do with our marketing, especially marketing with content.

"Write longer posts--they get more views and engagement."

"Publish content every day to get more traffic."

"Use richer media, and they better be slick, or nobody will pay attention."

Make your marketing content longer, faster, better--that's the message we're all getting. And it's the worst marketing advice, because in reality, it's daunting to keep up. Companies that are already big and successful to begin with are the only ones who can afford to "run twice as fast" as they're already going, by hiring more and better creators of their epic content, and by using the latest and most expensive media production equipment.

For the ones who are just starting out, it's almost impossible to compete. They can only hope to run as fast as they can, so they don't get farther behind than they already are!

And so when your competitor comes up with a listicle of 50 top tips, you scramble to put together your own 101 tips. That's great until somebody else publishes their 999 tips.

Is there no hope for getting ahead in this content marketing arms race? I believe there is.

A marketing lesson from Malcolm Gladwell.

You can make your content stand out, and it's not through speed, length, or even quality. It's by being different in a useful and meaningful way.

I like to call this the Malcolm Gladwell strategy.

Malcolm Gladwell excels at presenting a different and interesting perspective. He doesn't write the longest books, nor is he the most prolific writer in the world. His books are compelling, because they present a different angle.

We can emulate Gladwell's originality in content marketing. Rather than looking at the most successful content in your market and saying, "What can I do better?" try asking:

  • "What's missing? What gap can I fill?"

Example: Everyone else is writing blog posts, but nobody has created the step-by-step video yet.

  • "What questions could somebody still have after consuming this content? What might they not know how to do?"

Example: Everyone's talking about the benefits of outsourcing, but nobody teaches how to onboard new contractors quickly and manage their work effectively.

  • "Having read all this, what might they try to do and screw up? What are the common pitfalls and mistakes?"

Example: There's plenty of material about defining your niche, but no guidance on troubleshooting your niche statement once you've drafted one.

With a lot of research into your competitors' content, you can easily pinpoint the neglected angles, viewpoints, and approaches that will be the kernels of your unique content.

Let the market tell you what's missing.

I'm a big fan of letting the audience tell you what they want to know about a topic you're pursuing. There are several ways to do this.

Passively, you can mine blog post comments, book reviews, product reviews, and similar places to get feedback on existing resources. Look for the complainers and devil's advocates; they usually point out any shortcomings you can address with your own content.

If you have your own audience or community, you can be proactive about it and ask them what questions they still have about specific topics.

Stand out or get lost.

So how do you choose to stand out in the crowded marketplace of people's interests and attention? By publishing longer content more often, and by hiring the best writers? Or will you do it by producing content that fills the gaps for your audience?

Published on: Nov 4, 2015
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.