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Five ideation tips

There’s a nagging question that every content marketer faces: what’s next?

You’ve won awards and acclaim for your last big idea. The business is flushed with the success of your campaign. Okay, so what comes next?

Maybe your last idea went with a whimper rather than a bang. You’ll get the same question but laced with impatience rather than eager anticipation of another sure-fire success. Where are we going next?

Campaigns start and stop, but content marketing goes on.

It’s an ever-running engine to generate engagement and leads. And ideas are the fuel that drive that engine.

The inevitable answer to the “what’s next?” question is your next idea. And the one after that, and that, and that …

So how do you come up with a tank-full of creative ideas?


Understand the conversation

Think of content marketing like a conversation with a variety of participants. There’s the audience – aka the customer or client – who you want to engage. But there are also your competitors who want audience attention too.
You need to understand what conversations are happening – what’s being said and what’s getting attention.
You need to understand where those conversations are taking place – what channels?
And you need to understand why – why does that particular topic get attention?
You need to figure out what the gaps are in the conversation so you don’t just repeat what’s already been said.
Tools like Buzzsumo will give you data about what kind of material is getting social engagement among your competitive set.
Keyword tools – whether Google’s planner or rivals like – are a great way to discover what people are looking for in the marketplace.
What kind of questions relevant to your market are picking up regular and/or high levels of organic search traffic?
If you understand customers’ common questions, you can win their attention with a compelling answer.


Think beyond text

For the last year, Moz founder Rand Fishkin has been trumpeting the power of 10x content: content that’s better than what’s already out there by a magnitude of 10. Sometimes you can’t get away from an obvious topic to discuss with the audience. You just need to do it better. Much better. How do you make someone think “wow” when they see it? Part of Rand’s equation is creating content that offers a great user experience. How many infographics have you seen that look great on desktop, poor on mobile, for example? So think about the style and the substance. Think about the right format for the message – particularly if there are formats that haven’t been tried in your marketplace. And if you’re struggling to think beyond text, there’s a world of formats to choose from – take a look.




Sometimes when the content conversation is saturated with similar content, the challenge is to change the conversation. You might think that’s as simple as just pick a new topic and put it out there. Sometimes that works. But more often than not, it’s the small side-steps from a conversation than grand leaps in a different direction that will work. If your audience is already engaged with one topic, nudging them towards related knowledge feeds their existing appetite with something new.

So try chunking. It’s the process of breaking down a big idea into smaller pieces. Through the process you’ll get to the basic principles of what a topic is about, what problem is being solved, and often a different way of looking at a subject than before. There’s a handy free chunking tool that starts with a single keyword theme and pushes you to break it down into its constituent parts. And in those parts, you may find the germ of your next idea.


Brain storm, hurricane or the odd gust?

No one has a monopoly on good ideas – even if many businesses are structured around the premise that creative will live in a certain person or office. Sometimes the ideas just don’t come easily. So get help. But some ways of drafting in colleagues work better than others. Traditional brain-storming – a group of colleagues sitting around a table – still depends on one-person chairing or even directing the discussion. Inevitably, some people will stare at their feet. Outgoing types will dominate the discussion. And a lot depends on whether or not people are briefed before the session. If you tell participants the limiting factors (like budget) before the session, you’ll get a different result to sessions with no prior briefing. There are pros and cons to both approaches. But if you need to generate ideas for a major campaign or lengthy programme, try brain-walking. It’s a group ideation technique that’s geared to delivering lots of ideas very quickly. You can then sift through what your colleagues have come up with and focus on developing the best ideas.


Become a discerning news junky

Seizing on a breaking news story to generate some clicks – newsjacking – can be a dangerous business. There are plenty of examples of brands that have been burned by poor tactical marketing around news events. But being up-to-date with news gives you a head-start when it comes to spotting emerging trends, issues or questions that your customers might need to know about. Being first with insight about an emerging issue that relevant to your customers can be strong tactical play. So read widely – look outwards from your business and its marketplace – and think about what the future may hold. Content that looks beyond the here and now to what comes next can be a compelling proposition.

The list of ideation tips and techniques out there is exhaustive and exhausting. But these five tips cover some basics. So try a new ideation technique? Experiment with a new format? Ask colleagues to help with ideas? What’s your next move?


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