Getting ideas (or ideation, to give it it’s full, posh name) can be a daunting task for many of us marketing types. A blank piece of paper – or Word/Google doc – can be an intimidating prospect – especially when we know that potentially hundreds or even thousands of people might read/watch what we come up with….the pressure!
So, how do we go about generating those ideas that really matter? Ideas that engage and that actually mean something to those in our audience?
That’s the aim of this article – to show you that generating ideas for valuable content really need not be a scary task – and that anyone can do it – whether you consider yourself creative or an “ideas person” (whatever the heck that means!).
You’ll notice that after each section below, I’ll pose a question to you. Questions are powerful tools – rather, the right questions are powerful tools and in the answering of these questions, I’m confident that you’ll generate ideas that your audience will love!
Way 1: Help towards a goal
The first approach we will consider is to create a piece of content that helps someone either hit or get closer to a goal of theirs.
Now, of course, this will be highly contextual and depend on who your audience is – and this is where your buyer persona comes in handy. You do have a buyer persona, right? (If not, check out how to make one here).
So the key to this approach is understanding what your audience is trying to achieve. If your core audience consists of sales managers, you may want to mindmap all of the ways that a business can increase sales, for example. Among all of the things you pop down on the piece of paper will be several ideas that you can develop into meaningful content.
You’ll see that in this sense, it’s not really coming up with the idea that’s the hard part. Once you understand your audience well enough and know what they want – ideas will come to you.
What’s really important to your audience? What is it that they are trying to do?
A good way to find out is by simply talking to your clients or people in your audience. In person is great but so is via social or email. In my experience, if someone knows that you’re really there to help, they’ll be open.
But be sure to make your request short and easy to answer – because even though you mean well and intend on creating content that is designed to help your audience – they are still busy and under pressure with their day to day tasks, so bear that in mind.
What is the main goal that your buyer persona is trying to hit?
What content can you create that will help your audience hit their goal?
Way 2: Assist in solving a problem
The crux of this approach is again embedded in your knowledge of your buyer persona. If you know what their main challenges are in relation to their work, then you can set about crafting content that is problem solving and thus valuable to them.
Again, it means speaking to your audience and your clients and drilling into what obstacles they face on a regular basis as they try to hit their goals.
In the past we’ve asked clients of ours what their biggest marketing challenge is and that gives us an insight into the kind of content we need to be making so that we are useful to those who matter.
We want to help make the lives of our audience better and easier – and our content is one way in which we can help to make that happen.
What are the main obstacles that your audience face?
For each obstacle, what can you create that helps them to overcome that challenge?
Way 3: Teach something valuable
Many content marketers would say that content marketing *is* education and that, in essence, a good content marketer is a good teacher.
So how do we go about teaching our audience something that they care about? Of course, the onus is on us as the creators to find out. So take some time to do your research (notice a theme here?) and get to know what knowledge and skills your audience are most interested in.
I will risk sounding like a broken record here and again say it’ll come down to the quality of your conversations with your audience and your depth of knowledge of your buyer persona.
At this point it is worth noting that you can and should consider a variety of content types to deliver to your audience.
Written posts have a lot of value – and so do well designed infographics, Slideshares and, of course, video content.
What are the top 3 areas that your audience is interested in?
For each area, what 3 topics can you define for educational content?
Way 4: Give An Interesting Insight
Data can tell a very interesting story about a given area, if it is unpacked and presented in the right way.
A popular trend and way of engaging an audience is via the data insight approach to content marketing.
Essentially, you choose an area that you know your audience is interested in or could find value in and either research, find or gather useful (accurate!) stats.
The key here is the topic. Again, derived from what your audience will find valuable. You could well find 15 interesting stats on the state of lettuce farming and have a wonderful infographic created – but if your audience don’t care for lettuce farming, it’s a waste of time for everyone!
Once you know your topic, you now have to gather data. As well as using the Internet for searching for stats, reading reports – you can also use your own business data. For example, Apricot have gathered a lot of video related stats over the years, so we can access our video platform and pull out interesting insights when needed. What can you draw upon?
Finally, if you’re taking stats from other websites or reports – remember to cite your sources!
What are the top 3 topics that interest your audience?
Once you have gathered your data, which type of content would be most fitting to present it in?
Way 5: Use Data To Find a Top, Trending Topic
Talking to your audience, asking questions and developing your knowledge of your buyer persona’s goals and obstacles are – as you have seen so far in this article – invaluable when it comes to content ideation and creation.
But you can also utilise many tools online to dig into data that can help you figure out what topics you should create your content about and what format to present them in.
Some of the most popular and effective tools to do data driven research on are:
Google Analytics – Look at your own historical data and see what blogs have performed the best over time. Can you repurpose, update or expand this content? Perhaps if it is a written blog that’s popular, you could create a video blog on the same topic, so you tackle the issue in a different format.
Social Media – Look at your social media analytics – if you use a tool like Buffer, then you can easily see what your most popular posts are. Then you can take these micro posts and extrapolate and expand them into fully blown pieces of content. Remember, social media can be a great test bed for content ideas.
Wordtracker – Use this tool to discover the highest performing keywords in a given area. There’s a free option and it’s ideal for discovering and polishing your keywords so they engage your audience and get traffic to the content.
Google Trends – This is a simple and powerful tool from Google that allows you to compare terms for search volume. You don’t get specific numbers for searches but you can see how one term or topic compares against another. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend you base all of your idea decisions on the results from this tool alone but it is a useful one to have in the mix.
Buzzsumo – This is a favourite of ours. Easy to use and very powerful for research. It helps you to find the most shared content on a given phrase or topic. You can derive powerful data from this tool that helps you discover what is being shared and read now – giving you an insight into topics that your audience are currently interested in.
What trends are you spotting in terms of what your audience is currently interested in?
How can you use this insight to create content that your audience will want to engage with?
There’s a technique called “brain-writing” that is very helpful in coming up with ideas.
When I was on Seth Godin’s altMBA, one of our tasks was to come up with 99 business ideas in 48 hours…complete with micro business models for each!
What that process taught me was that good ideas come from the same place as the bad ones, so for each ideas that doesn’t cut the mustard, remember you’re one closer to finding a brilliant one!
Now, go ideate and create!