One of the hardest parts of working in marketing is the constant pressure to come up with unique content ideas. You know you need to pick topics that genuinely interest your target audience and avoid regurgitating what your competitors have already done… yet sometimes you end up drawing a complete blank.
Luckily, there are a few brainstorming techniques you can employ to combat creative content fatigue, and none of them involve grabbing an industrial-sized roll of butcher’s paper and a used packet of textas.
Here are 7 non-daggy brainstorming techniques to help you come up with fresh content ideas when your creativity is running low and your brain feels like an expired battery.
1. Play word association games
A few years ago, a digital marketing manager called Frank McDade wrote about the power of word association for Content Marketing Institute.
To use this brainstorming technique, you simply gather your content creation team together in a group and write down some of the general themes of your marketing strategy. You can use your laptops for this task, but it’s better to do it on paper because next you’re going to put the ‘themes’ into a hat or mixing bowl and swirl them all around.
Next, ask one of your team members to pick one ‘theme’ out of the hat or bowl and read it aloud. The person sitting next to them has to respond with a single word that is either:
- Directly related to the theme at hand (a relationship of A to A)
- A bit removed from the original word (a relationship of A to B)
- Possibly relatable to the original word (a relationship of A to C)
The person to their left does the same thing, and you continue around the circle until all the ‘themes’ have been exhausted.
It’s surprising just how fruitful this exercise can be. The team can choose which words resonated the most or were the most popular, and use them to develop new content ideas. It’s a great way to ensure you explore every possible angle on a topic as well as bring everybody onto the same page thanks to an inclusive approach.
2. Keep it timely and topical
For most businesses, the primary pain points of your audience won’t change along with the seasons. But that doesn’t mean you can’t reinvent and reposition your content to reflect a trend that’s in the news every now and then.
‘Newsjacking‘ shouldn’t be your main brainstorming strategy, but it is a great way to shake things up when you’re low on fresh content ideas.
This is a great example of timely content from Market Watch – the author lists practical management lessons gleaned from the popular TV series ‘The Walking Dead’. It’s original, it’s fresh, and it’s memorable.
Make a point of regularly scanning the news to see if there are any opportunities to create topical content for your brand by tapping into the latest issues or debates. Get timely by creating seasonal content that corresponds with public holidays, the back-to-school season and sporting events. You might be surprised how much this helps with your content calendar.
3. Break and build divisions
Group brainstorming has clear benefits. You can discuss specific topics, bounce ideas off each other and find new perspectives on possibly tired content.
But group brainstorming also has its limits. Not all participants may feel equally as empowered to offer up their ideas to the group. You’ve probably seen this in action before, where one or two people come up with 80% of the content ideas for the group.
Group brainstorming can also suffer from a ‘follow-the-leader’ effect. One person starts down a certain path when generating ideas and everyone else toes the same line with their suggestions.
If you want to get the most out of each one of your team members and generate a wide range of content ideas, try splitting people up. You don’t have to put them in different rooms – rather, just give each team member a piece of paper and a pen and get them to write down their own content ideas before hearing everybody else’s. Set a time limit for this task if you need to.
4. Check out the competition
Your competitors are a great source of fresh content ideas and it’s nearly always a good move to take a look at what they’re up to. It’s not about stealing ideas, obviously, it’s just about seeing what performs well for them and taking inspiration from it for your own content calendar.
While it’s helpful to look at what topics and types of content are getting the most engagement and traffic for your competitors, there are additional ways to check out what’s ‘working’ for others in your niche. BuzzSumo has a free interface to help you find content directly related to niche keywords that is receiving a high volume of shares and engagement across the internet: just type your keyword into the search engine, and you’ll see the top-performing Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest content.
You can make a list of all the content topics and styles that are working well (either for your competitors or according to BuzzSumo) then tweak them to your advantage. Becoming aware of what’s doing well can help you build a great roadmap of new content opportunities as well as play to the needs or interests of your audience.
5. Give starbursting a shot
Starbursting is a tried-and-true brainstorming strategy. Unsurprisingly, it starts with a star, and expands from there. In the centre of the star sits the product, service or keyword you want to brainstorm. Each point of the star is labelled with these following basic questions:
To get started with starbursting, you can ask your team members (or challenge yourself) to come up with as many questions as possible about the product, service or product you’re promoting. A starbursting meeting is intended to generate not just one question for each point of the star, but many different questions. Once a decent volume of questions have been generated, you can get to work answering them.
The idea is that you achieve a holistic overview of whatever topic is at hand and learn to focus on asking conceptual questions rather than providing instant answers. Plus, if everyone participates in the activity of coming up with questions, it’s much more difficult to overlook anything. You can also refer back to the master list of questions when revisiting the topic in the future.
6. Use content idea generators
There’s no shame in taking advantage of these handy web tools to improve your content marketing efforts. In fact, it’s a very smart idea.
There are plenty of tools out there to help you come up with content ideas:
- Hubspot’s Blog Idea Generator
- Quandary Content Idea Generator
- Portent’s Content Idea Generator
- Content Row’s Link Bait Title Generator
Try experimenting with a couple as they’re bound to generate very different results and some may be more to your taste than others. For example, Content Row’s Link Bait Title Generator comes up with pretty hilarious headlines based on your keyword entry, whereas Portent’s Content Idea Generator is a little more pop-culture based.
7. Try topic mapping
This one’s easy. Grab a whiteboard and write down a general content theme. Ask your team members to shout out any related topics or ideas that spring to mind. Map them out as part of your content tree – this can look however you’d like!
Once everyone’s ideas are exhausted, take a look at the bigger picture. Are you focusing enough attention on the key topic areas? Did you explore the subtopics in enough depth? What other gaps stand out from the map?
You can then revisit the shallow sub-topics with a more targeted brainstorming session.
If you and your content team are ever stuck in a rut coming up with creative content ideas, try one or more of these trusty brainstorming techniques. Brainstorming is, in essence, the art of approaching things from a different angle or avenue. You can nearly always strike gold if you put your mind to it.
Have a go at these seven strategies, and be sure to let us know if they help you harness your creative power.