What Makes Content Compelling? An Analysis of 3 Top-Performing Articles [Infographic]

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Andrea Lehr
Andrea Lehr




Inbound is no longer something entirely foreign to marketing teams: Globally, three out of four marketers prioritize an inbound approach.

This means that brands are producing content at an accelerated rate, and in order to remain competitive, you need to consistently produce something that is compelling enough to generate a ton of shares. However, is this kind of guaranteed success even possible?

Fractl recently turned to Chip and Dan Heath’s SUCCESS model from Made to Stick: Why Some Content Ideas Survive and Others Die to determine if there’s a concrete formula behind what elevates something from good to great.

We began our analysis by selecting three of our most successful content marketing efforts to date. In total, the following three campaigns earned 2,300 press mentions and more than 140,000 social shares:

  • "Hotel Hygiene Exposed": We collected samples from nine different hotels and tested them through a third-party laboratory to answer one simple question: Which hotel rooms are the dirtiest?
  • "Reverse Photoshopping Comic Covers": Comic books depict vastly different figures (think men with massive biceps and women with incredibly tiny waists), so we used Photoshop to see what familiar superheros would look like if they reflected the average American body type.
  • "Sexually Suggestive Emojis": We scraped Twitter to discover how users are expressing themselves with flirtatious and sexually suggestive emojis across Europe and the United States.

Below I’ll walk you through the Heath brothers’ six principles -- simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, and stories -- and explain how they were used throughout these campaigns to help you generate similar, highly shareable content.

6 Principles of Successful Ideas

1) Simple

To gain your audience’s attention quickly, connect everything to one point so that a key concept is easily understood. For instance, in the case of emojis post, we condensed a month of tweets from the United States and more than 50 European countries into 14 easy-to-read charts and graphs. With help from these visuals, readers can easily identify global trends in how these emojis are used in less than 10 minutes.

2) Unexpected

Another easy way to earn someone’s attention? Offer data that disproves an easily held assumption. In the case of hotel hygiene post, lab testing allowed us to surprise readers with a shocking finding: The nicest hotels actually had the most germs.

3) Concrete

The Heath brothers say something is “concrete” in its ability to be described through sensory language. For the photoshopping post, we didn’t need to rely on a ton of additional content to visualize the campaign’s core message other than presenting the before and after images -- the exaggerated body proportions next to each other served as powerful standalones.

4) Credible

Readers want to see data that is trustworthy, and teaming with outside agencies is a great way to boost authority. For the hotel hygiene post, we boosted credibility by using a third-party lab to test the four samples collected from the nine different hotels.

5) Emotional 

As much as you can boost credibility through numbers, remember that audiences have a desire to make a personal connection with content, as well. In the case of the photoshopping post, body image is already a highly emotional topic, so connecting the campaign to this much larger issue added an additional layer that helped boost shares.

6) Stories

During production, continually ask yourself one question: Would I share this campaign with my friends? Your content should tell a story -- and some of the best content reveals more than one story.

Identifying staggering data points is an easy way to uncover multiple stories. In the emojis post, the fact that the gender division becomes especially striking when looking at which users are tweeting the more suggestive emoji combinations could lead to a much larger discussion.

The biggest takeaway from our research? Although there is no one-size-fits all formula, aligning content to fit these six principles can help you produce campaigns that will earn high-quality links and shares.

Check out the infographic below for additional insights from the study. It takes a closer look at key emotional drivers for each campaign, the different ways your content can earn credibility, what makes something visually appealing, and more. 

Decoding Successful Content
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