Secret Sauce: What is Spicy Content and How to Hit the Sweet Spot

September 25, 2018

man using computer in kitchen

We refer to our own set of practices and tactics for marketing on LinkedIn as the “Secret Sauce” — a specialized recipe for serving up tasty results on the platform, developed through extensive testing and experimentation.

You can access the full cookbook by downloading the Secret Sauce guide, but today we wanted to focus on one characteristic of campaigns that tend to break through on crowded social feeds: a little bit of spice.

What is Spicy Content?

Spicy food excites the taste buds. But add too much spice, and the dish becomes overly intense or even inedible. When we apply the term to marketing content, it’s helpful to keep this scale in mind: you want enough zing to catch and keep the audience’s attention, but not so much heat that it turns them away.

“Provocative” is too strong a word, but spicy content falls somewhere on the modest end of that spectrum. “Edgy” might be a better descriptor. You want headlines that catch your reader off-guard, with striking perspectives in your content that shake the status quo or challenge people to rethink conventional wisdom.

Achieving this without crossing boundaries requires marketers to walk a fine line, but it’s certainly possible and many brands do it well. To illustrate, here are a few examples of spicy content campaigns that hit the social media sweet spot.

How to Spice Up Your B2B Campaigns (with Examples)

Get Creative with Wording and Presentation

Instead of a relatively bland headline like “Avoid These Oilfield Service Mistakes,” VistaVu took a sharper approach with its ad copy, referring to the “7 Deadliest Sins Oilfield Service Companies Commit.”

It’s a great header, immediately conveying the gravity of these common missteps directly to the target audience. If I work in oilfield service and I’m scrolling along my feed or InMails, I want to know what those sins are, especially with the promise of learning how to remedy them.

Crucially, the content delivered from VistaVu fulfills that promise, following up a spicy headline with a tasty entree.

Spicy Snackable Quotes and Stats

A thought-provoking quotation from a recognizable name is a great way to cut through the clutter. In one campaign promoting our Sophisticated Marketer’s Guide to Content Marketing, we excerpted a few “spicy” quotes from contributors like Michael Brenner and Ann Handley, then turned them into visual assets.

In a different campaign, we ran A/B tests to see which version of an ad promoting a digital guide would perform better, and as you can see below, the one on the left drove much stronger results. In part, this was owed to the call-to-action referring to downloadable “research” instead of an ambiguous “ebook” (a trend we’ve noticed often through such comparative tests). But also, take note of the setup. That punchy statistic in the first version was much more likely to snag a prospective customer than the simple “how-to” convention.

Call for a Change

It’s normal for people, and companies, to fall into comfort zones based on their existing practices. Calling out potential flaws in the standard operating procedure, without being abrasive about it, can help get someone in your target audience to take notice. Jive Software exemplified this in a Sponsored Content campaign that featured the following ad, among others. Here we find a saucy statement challenging the status quo, backed by data visualization for a truly compelling post:

Spicy Content Can Be Aspirational, Too

One misconception about these kinds of spicy content posts is that they need to have a negative connotation. That isn’t the case. Sure, there will often be a “ruffling of feathers” angle, but it’s really just about being bold and audacious. We see these qualities on display in the following LinkedIn ad from Aspect Software, with a Valentine’s Day-themed message that is sure to pique the interest of any business leader.

The Power of an Eye-Catching Proclamation

Social media marketers often have a few seconds to attract the attention of a user. Knowing this, it can be helpful to lead with a particularly jarring hook that triggers a double-take. When promoting its sustainable energy initiatives, Total included theoretical glimpses into a future with no waste, or uber-efficient water usage. They followed by showing how they are working toward these improvements, slipping in the brand’s value proposition as a natural progression.

Heat Up Your Marketing on LinkedIn

Ultimately, the level of spice in your content will be dictated by a number of factors. Some businesses have more flexibility than others in this regard, and certain industries require far more caution. But we encourage all marketers to think about ways they can make their ad copy and headlines more bold, interesting, and unexpected.

For more data-backed tips to make your marketing content stand out and drive stellar results, download The Secret Sauce: How LinkedIn Turns Up the Heat on Their Marketing Campaigns.