How to Brainstorm Content Marketing Ideas

This is part 4 and the final blog post series about developing concepts for content marketing.

In the last 3 blog posts, you gained insight into the audience you are targeting and your information should now be organised in a spreadsheet like this: http://bit.ly/1RXgemI

It makes sense to invest a lot of time in the information-gathering stage so that in the future, you can simply provide updates but you will still have a core understanding of the content needs for your specific audience.

So how do you develop ideas using this dossier of knowledge?

Firstly, you need to pull out some meaning from the data you have:

  1. Look for trends
  2. Look for phrases
  3. Look for specific issues that come up again and again
  4. Are there specific titles that work well with this audience?
  5. Is there a format type that works well? (Infographic/blog post/interactive/video..etc)

So, using the very basic example I pulled together, we can see the following trends:

  • Lists really work
  • How to protect yourself from danger
  • How to handle everyday problems
  • Individual changes that you can make easily
  • Business fundamentals (pricing/marketing/sales)
  • Content needs to have a perceived practical value

As you build out more in-depth audience dossiers, you get far more knowledge and insight into the “why” behind successful content and the issues that concern your audience.

As with all these processes, try to not let your own opinion and views cloud your judgment. There will certainly be a time for that, but for now just let the data tell you what the audience cares about.

But even with this very small set of data, we have pulled out some great insight that can map out a strategy for brainstorming potential ideas, which is our next section.

Why Brainstorming?

This is normally seen as the first step in the ideation process, which I believe is a confusion that is due to the reason most brainstorming is used. Most brainstorming relates to previous problems where the issue is that there is too much data and we need a way to find the right solution.

  • Should we get that the new office?
  • Should I get married?
  • Is this the right house for me?

…etc.

When creating content from scratch, we often have very little data to work with. We only have the data that is in our brains—our views/opinions of the world. It’s the reason why when you put four people from the same company in a room and get them to brainstorm, you will keep getting the same ideas.

And it’s the reason that every year I get the same “unique idea” from a client I have seen from different companies every year for the last five years.

One effective way to brainstorm would be to bring together individuals from all walks of life/nationalities/age/jobs/lifestyle choice, etc.

However, in the real world, we often are too similar to the others we work with at the same company/agency; we are pretty much alike. So, to circumvent this bias of opinion, we need to invest time into getting data from the internet and thousands or millions of people’s opinions/viewpoints.

We then can brainstorm with some certainty that we are basing our initial thoughts on the views and opinions of lots of people, not just the people in the room.

I can’t count the amount of times that I have come up with a great idea only to see it fail when we promoted and then looked back and saw why. Generally it’s due to a new fad that I was into that week, such as bitcoin/yoga/meditation/cycling, and whilst for me it was awesome, the rest of the world felt indifferent.

So, be sure to check any subjects that align with your current interests and ask if it is really something that a lot of people care about or if it is just something you like at that time.

Brainstorm Tips:

Before any session, you want to make sure that everyone has had time to digest the dossier. We often use Slack to share it with the wider team, and we can then easily drop links/images into the stream so everyone can see the content behind the idea.

Write up the audience clearly and include any information you have learnt. Feel free to give them a name/job title/age, etc. This persona is created to make sure everyone is looking through target audience’s eyes, not theirs. If possible, get pictures that align with this person as people are more likely to remember images.

It’s also important to have a space to do this that is not at your desk. If possible, have a separate room or area away from your normal work space. The art of brainstorming is a skill that we are learning slowly, and I fully recommend the book Gaming Storming if you’re interested in learning more.

Some basic tips to be aware of:

–       Get a good kit that includes whiteboard/pens and post-it notes

      Keep it fun and help create an open environment so people don’t care about saying wacky ideas

by Rachel Johnson

Our Process at NeoMam:

We first identify the top 5-10 performing and relevant content/problems by votes from the people present in the room.

We then use these concepts and brainstorm ways we can create new ideas from these ideas that have already performed well with our target audience:

Expand – How can we add to this concept to improve it?

Example:  Concept from Dossier: 10 People Who Will Destroy Your Business

  • 100 People Who Will Destroy Your Business
  • 10 People Who Will Destroy Your Business in Less Than a Year
  • 1 Person Who Will Destroy Your business

Switch – Can we swap out the subject and create something new?

  • 10 People Who Will Destroy Your Life/Marriage/Workplace/Culture/Office
  • 10 People/Gadgets/Processes/KPIs That Will Destroy Your Business
  • 10 People Who Will Destroy/Sell/Create/Lead to Success for Your Business

Improve – What can we do differently with the concept/format/execution that can improve it in some way?

  • Who will destroy your business? – Interactive Quiz
  • Who do people trust in their business? – Survey and infographic
  • 50 questions to ask employees before you let them work in your business

Note that the above responses are not all amazing but they can help you to get to concepts you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise—the key to any brainstorming.

These 3 basic areas can help to keep the essence of the idea alive but also allow us to be creative to generate our own high-performing ideas. If you go more advanced with this process, be sure to read A Technique for Producing Ideas by James Wood Young.

From this we will have two full whiteboards full of ideas and will then go through a process of picking those that align with the audience and work for everyone in the room. We can then develop each of these further until we have a number of ideas that we are confident in.

Conclusion

When most people think of brainstorming ideas, they think of the Eureka! moments that creatives have in shows like Mad Men.

For content marketing to work, you need to produce a significant amount of ideas regularlyClick To Tweet

The reality is that for content marketing to work in the digital space, you need to be able to produce a significant amount of ideas on a regular basis. Learning what really works for your audience is key if you want to be successful in the long term. And whilst tools like Buzzsumo take the pain away from the research, you still need to try out new and innovative content ideas to uncover what your competitors don’t know about the needs, wants and desires of your potential customers.

So don’t be scared about producing your next piece of content as each failed campaign is still full of unique learnings that you can use in your next campaign.

Image credit: Jacob Bøtter

Danny Ashton is founder and CEO of NeoMam Studios. He tweets here.

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3 comments

  • Jonathan November 25, 2015   Reply →

    What a stellar ending to a brilliant series! Thanks so much for these. Some great ideas contained in here. Surprised more people aren’t talking about this!

    I think one thing to remember throughout this is the importance of the content itself. I can’t tell you how many sites, businesses and blogs I’ve seen struggle despite having the very best content marketing plans in place. And all because the content itself just lacked that special something! Given this, I think recent articles like this one: http://www.found.co.nz/blog/viral-content/ work really well as a companion piece to this series. Quality content and content marketing ideas like these combined? You’re probably onto a winner!

  • Danny Ashton November 26, 2015   Reply →

    Hi Jonathan,

    Glad you liked it and I’m sure more people will talk about it eventually :)

    Thanks for sharing that post about viral-content – good to see work from Backlinko and Jonah Berger.

    Thanks again for the comment – come back soon.

  • Pingback: How to Make an Infographic November 27, 2017   Reply →

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