A truly great idea is the holy grail for marketers. It’s what excites your team to do their best work. It’s what gets your audience clicking, sharing, and converting.
But finding that great idea can be a pretty daunting challenge — not to mention generating enough of them to fill an empty editorial calendar.
With deadlines looming and KPIs to hit, you can’t just wait for the muses to gift you with inspiration. Knowing how to brainstorm effectively is a must, and it doesn’t have to be a chore. It can actually be a fun way to build team relationships, boost creativity, and keep your content engine humming along.
Try these nine brainstorming activities to help your content marketing team tap their creativity and generate their very best ideas.
1. Change Two Things
Pick a blog post title: either an existing one, or a brand new idea. Give each member of your team a sheet of paper and ask them to write the selected title at the top of the page. Then have them change any two elements of the title.
For example: “5 Strategies for Improving Employee Engagement” can become “5 Activities for Improving Employee Collaboration.”
Once everyone’s ready, have them pass their sheets to the person next to them. Then have everyone change two elements again, creating a new set of titles.
The sheets are passed on until everyone either runs out of ideas, time, or space on the paper.
2. Run-On Story
You’re probably familiar with this activity: write a story idea, pass the pen, and write one sentence at a time.
You can modify this exercise by telling a story about a day in your typical prospective customer’s life. What kinds of frustrations do they have? What problems do they run into, and how are they currently solving those problems? How can you create content that solves those problems in new, more effective ways?
Whether you write a customer-focused story or just spin a fantastic creative tale, this is a great exercise to start your brainstorming session. It gets everyone used to actively listening to and building on each other’s ideas. It also gets people thinking on their feet, since you may have an idea of what your contribution to the story will be, only to have the person before you change the direction entirely.
3. Brain Writing
One of the major drawbacks to the traditional brainstorming approach is that too many people hold back out of fear of their ideas will be judged.
Brain writing circumvents this problem by having everyone write their ideas down on a piece of paper. Each paper is then passed on to the person next to them, who builds on the original idea with their own. After a few rounds, gather the papers and read anonymously for the team to discuss.
This accomplishes two things: everyone has a chance to submit an idea, and everyone’s ideas are given equal consideration.
4. Shuffle the Deck
Take a look at your blog’s analytics to generate a list of your top-performing content. Break up each title into its main components and write each one on a separate index card. “The Ultimate Guide to SEO” would be broken up into “Ultimate Guide” and “SEO,” for example, and “10 Prioritization Secrets of Successful CEOs” would become “Prioritization,” “Secrets,” and “Successful CEOs.”
Once you have a stack of index cards, shuffle the deck and lay the cards out again. What new titles can you create?
5. Use Sticky Notes and a Timer
Write down a central problem that your audience is trying to solve. Then hand a stack of sticky notes to each member of your team (give them way more than you think they’ll need).
Set a timer for two minutes and have everyone, including you, write as many solutions to that problem as they can think of. Don’t worry if the ideas are original, or clever, or even realistic — you just want as many ideas as possible.
When time is up, have one person start reading their ideas, placing each sticky note on the wall or a whiteboard. If someone else from the group has the same or similar idea, group these sticky notes together.
Once you’ve gone through all the sticky notes, ask for any other ideas. Someone may be inspired by something they see on the wall.
6. Use a Content Brainstorming Matrix
HubSpot has a great method for generating content for each stage of the funnel, using a simple spreadsheet.
Start with a blank spreadsheet. Write the main topic of the brainstorm in Box 1, whether it’s “Learning to knit” or “Understanding SEO.”
In Box 2, write Beginner, Intermediate, or Advanced to indicate how much of an expert your target audience is on the general topic. Then select the type of content you’re looking to produce: list, how-to, Q&A, news, definition, opinion, etc.
Next, pick your format: blog post, infographic, video, ebook, checklist, podcast, etc.
Finish by writing as many headlines as you can. If you get stuck, try Hubspot’s Blog Topic Generator and riff on whatever it spits out.
7. What Questions are Customers Already Asking?
One way to find out what your prospective customers want to read about is to simply look at the questions they’re asking.
Come up with a list of keywords or topics to search on Quora, check out subreddits related to your topic, review customer posts on your Facebook page, and go over comments on your blog posts. Build topics around what your customers are already expressing interest in.
8. 100 Questions
Start with a main topic, or the title of a recent blog post. Then play devil’s advocate and question everything about that topic.
Let’s take this example: “9 Key Marketing Metrics Your CMO Actually Cares About.” What are marketing metrics? Why should I measure my marketing efforts? What analytics tools are most popular? What does a CMO care about? What other tools do marketing teams use to improve results? It’s okay to wander off topic. The goal is to generate lots of ideas and refine them later.
9. Mine Keywords & Successful Content
What content is already working? Google your topic or keyword to see what the top results are.
This isn’t to suggest that you should steal competitors’ ideas, but you should find inspiration in them. How could you improve their approach? Can you argue the opposite viewpoint? How would a similar idea work as a video, or a comic strip, or an infographic?
* * *
Generating a steady stream of content ideas doesn’t have to be stressful. New ideas are everywhere. It’s often just a matter of getting them on paper and then narrowing their focus. Use these techniques to get your team thinking, and your content well will never run dry.
Emily Bonnie is a Content Marketing Manager at Wrike, work management software that helps creative teams get more done. Find more marketing tips, tools, and strategies at the Wrike Blog for Brilliant Teams.