This Is the Real Secret to Unleash Your Content Marketing Creativity

If you have ever wanted to tap into the power of content marketing, but have felt held back because of a lack of creativity, then you are going to want to read this post today.

In it, I will reveal the way that even the most uncreative person can come up with some great content marketing ideas.

And the answer will be both a surprise and a relief.

The secret to creativity is found in the mystery you’re about to read.

The Unbelievable Way that Malaria Was Finally Defeated

For decades, there was a mystery surrounding the origin of Artemisinin, the best drug against Malaria. The mystery was that no one knew who came up with the drug that could finally stop Malaria.

This is strange since the discovery of Artemisinin, and its treatment of malaria, is considered the major breakthrough of tropical medicine in the 20th Century.

In case you’re unaware, Malaria has devastated humanity for 1000 years and it continues to cause havoc to many civilizations around the world. So you’d think that finding a cure for this horrible disease would bring such a person into the spotlight.

But when the mysterious origin of this amazing drug was finally uncovered, people finally realized exactly why the person’s name was never known before.

The Secret Military Project

What was uncovered? The Lasker Foundation describes it in this way…

“At the beginning of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, the Chinese government launched a secret military project that aimed to devise a remedy for the deadly scourge… 

“The covert operation, named Project 523 for the day it was announced—May 23, 1967—set out to battle chloroquine-resistant malaria. The clandestine nature of the enterprise and the political climate created a situation in which few scientific papers concerning the project were published for many years, the earliest ones were not accessible to the international community, and many details about the endeavor are still shrouded in mystery.

The woman who headed the project was a woman named Tu Youyou. She was a medical scientist and pharmaceutical chemist.

But it wasn’t her background as a scientist or chemist that enabled her to come up with this anti-Malaria super-drug.

The Answer That Came from a 1,600 Year Old Document

Scientists all around the world had tried 240,000 different compounds while searching for a way to effectively fight Malaria, but they still came up empty-handed.

That’s when Tu decided to try something different.

You see, she was also a member of the Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Beijing, so she began to research what Chinese herbs that might work. 

She meticulously screened over 2,000 traditional Chinese recipes and made 380 herbal extracts that were each tested on mice.

Out all of those recipes and extracts only ONE looked promising: Qinghao (Artemisia annua L., or sweet wormwood). It had been used for “intermittent fevers,” which is a key symptom of malaria.

But her team didn’t know how to use the sweet wormwood effectively. That is until she discovered the preparation described in a 1,600-year old text. It was in a recipe titled, “Emergency Prescriptions Kept Up One’s Sleeve.”

They had a problem though. At first, it didn’t work.

That’s when Tu discovered a passage in the Handbook of Prescriptions for Emergencies (from 340 CE) by Ge Hong. In that passage it referenced Qinghao’s malaria-healing capacity.

It said, “Take a handful of Qinghao, soak in two liters of water, strain the liquid, and drink.”

It was in that moment Tu realized the reason it hadn’t been working.

The standard procedure of boiling and high-temperature extraction must have been destroying the active ingredient.  That’s when she decided to try a different technique. She decided to use a lower-temperature ether extraction instead.

And to her delight, it was found to be effective on mice and monkeys!

They then had to test it on humans. But who?

The Guinea Pig Scientist

Tu then did something shocking.

She volunteered to be the first human subject. “As head of this research group, I had the responsibility,” she said. It was safe, so she conducted successful clinical trials with human patients. Her work was published anonymously in 1977.”

Because this all took place within a secret military project, Tu Youyou’s name remained unknown for years and years.

It wasn’t until 2005, when Louis Miller, a malaria researcher at the US National Institutes of Health in Rockville, Maryland and his NIH colleage Xinzhuan Su began digging into the drug’s history that they uncovered this amazing story about Tu Youyou.

The Real Secret of Creativity

“That man is most original who can adapt from the most sources.” – Thomas Carlyle

I told you that story, because I wanted you to realize this important truth: Creativity does not come from thin air.

To come up with a completely unique idea is very rare.

How did Tu Youyou come up with a cure for Malaria? Did she invent the cure? Nope.

She re-discovered it. She looked at what people in the past had done and used that as her guide.

Decades ago, copywriters learned the same secret to creativity. They created what became known as a “swipe file“. It was a file of copywriting that had already proven to be effective.

They would look over the samples that they gathered in this swipe file and use them to unlock ideas and inspiration for any and all new copywriting ideas.

Jay Abraham is one of the highest paid consultants in the world. Why is he paid so much? Because he comes up with ideas that are worth millions of dollars.

And what’s his “secret”? He borrows ideas for one industry (where it is common) and implements it into a new industry (where it is unknown).

And the results? Insanely high levels of success for every company he works with.

You see the secret of creativity is that it doesn’t come out of the ether.

It comes from the inspiration and combination of things that already exist.

4 Ways to Gain New Ideas and Insights for Your Content Marketing

Do you understand what that means?

If you want to come up with new ideas for your content marketing, or even find new ways to implement content marketing, you don’t have to try to come up with them out of the blue.

Instead you just have to look for inspiration and revelation from the examples you already have all around you and throughout history.

Let me show you four ways that you can do this.

1. Look into the past to see how people have used content marketing.

Content marketing has existed for a LONG time. It just was never called that. I have found examples from as far back as 1732 and possibly even 1681. That means that all you have to do is do a little research to find old examples and then choose ones that give you the best ideas and inspiration.

2. Look at the ways that people are using content marketing in other industries.

There are many great ways that content marketing is being used in all sorts of industries, arenas, and forms of media these days. That means that again all you have to do is do a little research and see how content marketing is being used outside of your context and choose the ones you like best.

3.  Look to all of your favorite content marketing sites and content marketers for inspiration.

Instead of just going to these sites and content marketers for information, go to them inspiration. Consume their content with an eye out for the topics, trends, perspectives, and forms of content marketing that spark ideas and inspire you to action. Don’t just listen to the things they talk about. Look at the things they do. Again, choose the ones you like best.

4. Put this all into your own “Content Marketing Swipe File.”

Now take all of the ideas, examples, and inspiration that you’ve found from these three areas and put them all together in your own “swipe file.” This can be an actual, physical file folder or a digital file folder on your laptop, tablet, or smart phone.

Now the next time you need inspiration, insight, or ideas all you have to do is go to your “Content Marketing Swipe File” and begin reading the examples that you’ve gathered.

And don’t just read it. Take some time to think about what you’ve read. And then, after you’ve given it sufficient thought, begin to write down any ideas you come up with. Now implement these ideas in your own content marketing.

Final Suggestions to Get You Started

Here are some final suggestions to spark your creativity:

  1. Try combining two different ideas into a new one.
  2. Try combining a new form of content marketing with an old application (or vice versa).
  3.  Try taking an idea that has succeeded in a completely different industry or arena and brainstorm ways you can apply it in your industry or arena.

NOTE: I have all sorts of content marketing ideas from history, television, popular products, & more in my book “51 Content Marketing Hacks.” These could be great to use for your swipe file.

Sources: Wikipedia and

Photo:  ~Brenda-Starr~

Scott Aughtmon

Scott Aughtmon is the author of the book 51 Content Marketing Hacks. He is a regular contributor to and he is the person behind the popular infographic 21 Types of Content We Crave. He is a business strategist, consultant, content creation specialist, and speaker. He’s been studying effective marketing and business methods (both online and offline) since 1999. He has a unique perspective and ability to communicate ideas and concepts in a way that can help you climb to new heights. Read more of Scott's insights on his blog. Follow Scott on Twitter @rampbusinesses.

4 thoughts on “This Is the Real Secret to Unleash Your Content Marketing Creativity

  1. Dear Scott:
    Thanks for sharing this fresh perspective which contains several practical, actionable ideas.

    Coincidentally, last night, I was reading Success Forces by copywriting and direct marketing legend Joseph Sugarman. I was surprised to find several references to ancient Chinese lessons.

    I liked your four wrap-up ideas so much that I took a screen capture of them to print and hang on the wall!

  2. Hi Roger,

    You’re welcome. I’m glad you liked it and liked it enough to print out the 4 wrap-up ideas! 🙂

    I have never heard of “Success Forces” by Joe Sugarman. I’ll have to try to grab a copy.

    It sounds like a book that I’d like!

    Take care,


  3. What an enjoyable post, Scott. I am in complete agreement with you (and I learned a lot about about malaria treatment, too).

    I believe that a lot of people think that you have to come up with ideas from the wells of your mind. However, it’s a lot easier to do it the way you suggest. I do it all the time, and I’ve never been accused of plagiarism.

    Thanks for an enjoyable post.

    All the best,

  4. Hi Leslie,

    Thanks so much for taking time to leave a comment. I am glad you liked the post and that you’ve found the ideas in it to be true!

    Take care,


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