The recent craze around “unicorn food” illustrates an important content marketing lesson.

The frenzy began almost by accident: a drop of beet juice here, a sprinkle of spirulina there, an innocent-enough Instagram post. When health food blogger Adeline Waugh, also known as @vibrantandpure, created “unicorn toast” with a combination of natural dyes and almond-milk cream cheese, she had no way of knowing that she’d kicked off a craze — but almost two years later, all of our social media feeds are still feeling the aftershocks.

Since Waugh inadvertently initiated a social media moment, we’ve seen the rise of unicorn-everything, from blue algae-infused unicorn lattes at a Williamsburg, Brooklyn café to unicorn bagels that, against all odds, are also produced in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Unicorns even went corporate: Starbucks released a limited-edition Unicorn Frappuccino for five days in April 2017.

But the food industry didn’t just happen to stumble across an utterly Instagrammable food trend when it came across the unicorn fad. Behind the scenes, restaurants and food bloggers had been cooking up content for the ’gram for years. As soon as Instagram became a viable marketing channel, savvy food marketers started to capitalize on it, beginning with latte art, the very first #foodstagram trend. Along the way, the food industry has served up some solid contenders, including the cronut, the sushi-rito, frosé and anything with activated charcoal.

None of those ideas were bad, per se (except for maybe the activated charcoal – turns out you definitely shouldn’t be eating that), but none of them made the jump from grassroots to the corporate mainstream the way that the unicorn trend did. And that’s not to mention the unicorn’s cross-industry appeal: everything from cosmetics and pool toys fell victim to the mania.

The evidence — and Instagram likes — make it hard to deny that the unicorn trend was also a “content unicorn.” A content unicorn is a key piece of content that has high sharing and engagement rates, is highly-ranked on Google, and meets key metrics like high click-through rate, ROI, and conversion. Appropriately, the unicorn trend represented a unicorn marketing moment for many companies. Let’s look at what marketers can learn from that unicorn in order to create and capitalize on some unicorns of their own.

Creating Unicorn Content Isn’t Magic

A content unicorn is a piece of content that has everyone buzzing. It’s probably among the top one to three percent of the highest-traffic content on your site, but it also consistently outperforms other content in terms of multiple other metrics, including engagement, click-through rate (CTR), and conversion rates. The term was initially coined by WordStream founder Larry Kim, who explains in his Medium webinar that a site’s best content is its top-performing content. By definition, Kim says, content marketing doesn’t have any overlooked geniuses. It’s not enough for content marketers to create something that they think is great — if the numbers don’t back it up, it still doesn’t have any value for the company.

That’s why it’s not enough to just try to predict what content will take off. Marketers have to play the content numbers game, producing the quantity to find the quality. Look to the unicorn food craze as a model: after producing and promoting plenty of eye-candy food with high trend potential, unicorns were what caught on. Smart industry insiders moved fast to take advantage of the opportunity — Starbucks’s rising stock prices and The Bagel Store’s out-the-door lines are proof of the power of a unicorn marketing moment.

How to Use Your Unicorns

While it may be impossible to know for sure what content has unicorn potential ahead of time, there’s no need for guessing after the fact. A content unicorn’s performance will be hard to miss. The only way to increase your odds of finding a unicorn is producing a lot of content and keeping an eye on the data along the way.

But when you do create a content unicorn, it’s necessary to act fast: promote it across all channels, write ancillary content related to it, turn it into infographics, run a webinar on it, create long-form pieces on the same topic, brush its mane, feed it carrots….okay, not those last two, but you get the idea. Use its popularity to amplify the reach of your additional content, and as an entry point to the marketing funnel.

Smart marketers have a game plan in place for making the most of high-performing content. While your content unicorn shines bright and runs free, keep writing and watching your metrics to produce your next unicorn before your current one fades. Forget the pastel and glitter; content plus data is the recipe for magic.

Author Madeline Killen

Before graduating from Dartmouth College, Madeline studied English and Italian literature, edited the arts section of the campus newspaper, worked as an Italian tutor, and completed a senior honors thesis on Emily Dickinson. At L&T, she’s translated her passion for language — no pun intended — into success in her role writing and managing social media for clients across multiple industries. When she’s not at work, you’ll find her reading, running, or enjoying the perks of moving back to civilization after four years in the New Hampshire wilderness (even though she does miss the trees).

More posts by Madeline Killen