Iceberg Principle – definition and example

The Iceberg Principle or Iceberg Theory is a theory that suggests that we cannot see or detect most of a situation’s data. The theory, which we also call the ‘Theory of Omission‘ or ‘Iceberg Model,’ applies to systems and problems too. As with an iceberg, only its tip is visible, while the bulk of it is below the water’s surface, i.e., invisible.

The Titanic sank because of damage that came from below the waterline, i.e., damage the crew could not see. The Titanic was a British passenger liner that collided with an iceberg in 1912 and sank. Of the estimated 2,224 humans on board, more than 1,500 lost their lives.

Monash University in Australia has the following definition of the Iceberg Principle:

“A theory that suggests that aggregated data can hide information that is important for the proper evaluation of a situation.”


Iceberg Principle – content marketing

Content marketing focuses on creating, publishing, and distributing content for an online audience. The content marketer carefully selects the audience.

For content marketers, what is going on below the surface is just as important as what the content is saying outright.

In fact, what is going on underneath may be even more important. In content marketing, the Iceberg Principle is very relevant.


Iceberg Principle
According to ascd.org: “The Iceberg Model is a systems thinking tool designed to help an individual or group discover the patterns of behavior, supporting structures, and mental models that underlie a particular event.”

Therefore, while most marketers are creating more content each year, it is not enough to be simply creating content.

The marketer must create compelling content. Most of an iceberg’s bulk is below the water’s surface. Similarly, producing compelling content must demonstrate the organization’s content marketing strategy, targets, and goals.

Let’s apply the Iceberg Principle to content marketing and imagine a giant iceberg floating in the ocean.

What we see above the water is what the online audience sees. However, a lot is going on below the water’s surface.

Below the surface, the marketer is trying to understand customer needs and is gathering customer feedback data (if applicable).

The marketer is also providing answers to questions and showing the value of the product or service. Look at the image below.


Iceberg Principle in Content Marketing
In content marketing, what is below the surface is sometimes more important than what is above the surface.

Iceberg Principle – Ernest Hemingway

The Iceberg Theory is also a style of writing that American writer Ernest Hemingway coined. When Hemingway wrote, he focused on surface elements, i.e., he did not discuss underlying themes.

He believed that the deeper meaning in a story should never be evident on the surface. Hemingway said that the deeper meaning should be implicit.

Some authors believe that Hemingway used that style so that he could distance himself from his characters.

Hemingway was a journalist. Journalists do not usually have time to dig deeply into a theme. Their ‘iceberg’ style sometimes prevails when they become authors of novels.

Look at the writing styles of Mark Twain, Willa Cather, Sinclair, Lewis, and Stephen Crane. They were also journalist before they started writing books.


Video – Iceberg Principle

In this video, Jay Miller talks about the Iceberg Principle and how it relates to video production. Why is it that some videos get lots of views when they go online and others don’t?

According to Miller, if you ignore what goes on below the surface, your video is less likely to succeed.