Content doesn’t start when you design a pretty graphic, or even when your cursor is blinking in a Google Document. It starts with an idea.
Perhaps one that involves tricking a genie?
If your idea isn’t solid, you’re setting yourself up for failure. It doesn’t matter how wonderful your article is or how stunning your graphic — or even how hard you try to pitch or promote it — if the idea wasn’t a good one, well, your content is probably screwed.
This week I run through key ideation process tips. You’ll learn:
- Every element a fully fleshed out “idea” needs
- Five ways to get inspiration right now
So put on your thinking hat — ahem, lampshade? — and get to it!
- Inside Fract’s Ideation Process [blog post]
- 98 Ways to Find Inspiration for Content Ideas [blog post]
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Welcome to Ask Amanda About Marketing, a podcast in which I, Amanda, or occasionally a special guest, answer your questions about inbound marketing. Straightforward, right? If you want to submit a question, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear from you. Let’s get right to it.
Thanks for tuning in this week. I’m sorry that there was a long hiatus, the Fractl offices were shut down around the holidays. So I was taking a break hanging out in Florida and in Austin, Texas actually, which is really cool to visit for the first time. But now I’m back in Washington DC which is just recovered from a kind of ridiculous freeze that a lot of people around the country have been going through and also started recording this during the Slack outage.
So it’s been kind of an eventful day and especially an eventful Twitter rampage that went on after Slack was down which is highly entertaining. So if you have a minute, go check that out. But to kick off 2018, I thought it made sense to go back and examine the content production process at the very beginning.
So technically strategy is going to be the first thing you do. But once you have your strategy set up, the first thing you need to do and truly invest a lot of time in is come up with your idea. Now when I say idea, what do I mean? And that might sound dumb to say but to some people, you might think I mean like the title of a blog post. That’s not necessarily good enough. You can’t just come up with kind of a vague concept and then try to run with it.
I mean, it’s a valuable thing, having that concept, but you need to do the refining up front. Otherwise, you’re going to spend a lot of time doing trial and error when you’re actually trying to produce it and you have your heart set on it and sometimes it’s not going to pan out. And that’s going to happen. No matter what, there’s always that risk. But you are greatly increasing your chances of being way more efficient and successful if you take that time to refine your ideas when you come up with them and as you’re coming up with them.
So to kick this off, when you’re coming up with your ideas, I suggest that you come up with the following:
A) The potential title for the piece of content. Definitely have this as like a TBD sort of deal. Come up with something but please don’t hesitate to change it as you work on it. Remember that that’s a fluid thing and it should evolve when you’re creating your project. Just as your project evolved, so should the title of it.
The second thing is an objective. What are you trying to accomplish with the idea you just came up with? For example, if you’re trying to come up with blog post ideas, not every blog post is going to try to accomplish the same thing. I’m sure your blog overall has a goal and that’s extremely important to know when coming up with ideas like this. But even within your blog, you’re going to have different objectives for different posts. An example of some of these objectives—and I can speak from coming from having managed the Fractl blog of the first half of last year—we try to accomplish a few things.
Some examples are maybe creating a really comprehensive resource that you think is going to be something a lot of people are going to find value out of and link to a lot. That’s what we kind of called internally as a linkable resource. That’s one type of thing you can do or you can answer questions you found that people have, your target audiences asking. Or you can be targeting a certain keyword. And a lot of the times these goals are going to overlap, but it’s important to know what your primary goal for that post is.
So we have one the name, two the objective, 3 would be a brief description of what you’re setting out to do. I don’t think you could go all out and do an outline. It really depends on your style. But in my case, I don’t like doing an entire outline. I like to say this is what we intend to do with this piece of content or this blog post or this campaign or interactive or whatever it is you’re creating. Explaining what you’re setting out to do and how you’re going to do it.
Number four is your data source or just how you’re going to cite this information. Where are you getting it from? How do you plan to actually execute this? And I think this is where a lot of people fumble at the beginning. They think this idea is amazing. People are going to love it. It’s perfect for our brand. It’s going to do so well. And then they don’t actually sit down and think about how are we really going to do this. Like, who’s going to do it? What amount of time is it going to take? How are they going to get the information we need, etc? This is the time to do it. When you when you’re at that point where you’re thinking, “this is an amazing idea,” make sure you’ve figured out at least options on how to how to execute.
Once you dig into it, you can get more into the details. Say, okay this idea’s, like, methodology doesn’t work too well, but this other idea we had to accomplish this does work. So it’s still important to set yourself up to have a framework to build on and some data source to explore when you’re proceeding with an idea.
And finally, you should have a time frame and all of your allotted resources lined up. This ties back to how you’re going to execute but it’s really important to keep everybody on the same page about what’s expected and who’s responsible for which parts of a content project.
So now that we’ve covered the intro of what you need to be doing when you’re coming up with ideas for content, let’s talk about how to how to be inspired, how to actually come up with these ideas where you’re like, yes, I love this. This is perfect. And then you can get through all the details.
It’s still important, even before you embark on this process, to understand your objective and the overall strategy that it’s building into. There are times when you can have, kind of like a really free-flowing ideation, but it’s not going to be as effective unless you have a lot of different things you’re trying to ideate for. Say you’re like, let’s all sit here and come up with ideas about auto insurance. That’s fine. But if you’re only looking for ideas from one specific thing, like one blog post on a certain auto insurance blog that has certain marketing goals, it’s not going to be as effective.
It’s only going to be effective if you’re like, we have a million different things we need to do with auto insurance, a million different clients or you know, you have an auto insurance site and you’re trying to look for website content, blog content, outreach content, everything. Then maybe that kind of open format is good, as long as people, when they come up with ideas, are tagging them as what they’re the most appropriate for in terms of medium.
Otherwise, look at your strategy. It should be there in front of you and everyone else participating so that you remember, this is why we’re trying to come up with ideas. This is what we’re trying to do.
So once you have that, I’m going to give you a variety of options of how to start brainstorming for ideas. Okay, number one: internal data. This is something a lot of people overlook. They don’t realize that they have information that people might care about.
A lot of the time, companies, brands, sites, they have some really interesting information and if they make it public and present it in a really engaging way, it could be super useful to their audiences. So this is especially cool for content that you’re making for your target audience because it positions you as an authority and its really great for more targeted brand awareness for that reason.
An example of using internal data is say a company, like a really big retailer—they can talk about maybe what the most popular items in a certain category were for that year or, you know, trending in certain times of the year. Like, maybe what the most or the best or most popular Christmas gift is and not how not to miss it or when to shop for it to get it. You know, things where it’s useful to people, it’s interesting to a wide audience, or it’s interesting to your target audience, those are the two things to consider, do you have data that is engaging?
Number two, what are your competitors doing? And there’s two ways to look at this, not only looking at what your competitors have done that worked well—which is important to know because it means that that resonated with the same audience you’re trying to target. And it’s important to think, why did it resonate well with them and how can you implement that in your own content.
But it’s also important to look at what they didn’t do well. What content kind of fell flat. What content that people complain about in the comments. What got no traction at all. Why did that happen? And then when you’re considering those two things, think about what did you not see at all. What did they miss or not talk about that you can talk about in your content that maybe answers questions or provides information that has not been provided already. So, what are they doing right and how can you learn from that, what are they doing wrong and what can you learn from that and where are the content gaps that you can take advantage of.
Number three: exploring industry topics and subtopics. So, think about what topics in your industry are interesting to your target audience. But then, don’t stop there. Look at those topics, consider what other subject matters relate to this. If somebody’s interested in this, what else might they be interested in? And there are different ways to go about that process.
You can throw something in Google and see what related searches pop up. You can look on sites like Quora, Reddit, Growthhackers, or whatever community in your niche involves questions and answers and see what questions people are asking in different categories There might be subtopics didn’t even think about. Any kind of exploration into communities like that and anywhere where you’re able to find related topics is extremely valuable and something to consider.
Number four: what datasets already exist? Look up what annual reports are done in your industry and mark down when the new ones are going to be released. Sometimes, they say literally, in 2018 this is when this report’s going to come out. Wait for that report to come out and jump on the opportunity to be the first ones to take a look at that data, really distill it for your audience, and design it and present it in a way that’s much more easy easily digestible.
This isn’t always applicable but I think in a lot of industries there are datasets that are released from you know, government sources, that people tend to overlook, even though they’re public. Sometimes they’re really dry or boring or really difficult to understand until somebody else does it for them.
So sometimes there’s already the datasets that exist but it’s also important to keep in mind that a lot of the time, these are updated. If they don’t say when they’re updated, take a look at when they were posted—last year—and that should give you a vague idea.
Number five: look at what topics are generally trending in your industry. And not only that. That seems kind of obvious. Do that using sites like Buzzsumo and such. Look and see what has done really well, especially in the past six months. I wouldn’t even go as far as a year. Look and see what’s been trending in the last six months.
But then also make sure to keep an eye on what content has been doing well overall. Because one thing I like to tell people is that it’s really good to have social proof that something is going to do well. That means that something similar in the past has done well, so you’re more confident that what you’re working on now will do well. That can come in two different forms. That can come in the form of a topic that’s done well in the past. That’s extremely helpful to know, like, people like to talk about this, they like to publish content on it, they like to read content on it. That’s great. That’s positioning your content in a solid way right out of the gate, but there’s also something to consider in terms of the methodology. Sometimes, really cool methodologies come out, ways of finding and analyzing information, presenting information. That [data] doesn’t necessarily spread across industries until somebody like you takes the time to be on the up and up with what kind of content is engaging and the types of methodologies that are innovative in gathering data and presenting data.
So definitely do your due diligence—understand your industry and what’s doing well in it but don’t be afraid to broaden your horizons a bit. Maybe incorporate a hobby of yours. Think about what else you just already innately want to know more about. And when you look up content about that topic, ask yourself, what is this industry doing that my industry at work or you know my company or my clients doesn’t really do? What tools don’t they utilize? What kind of content do they create?
This is one of those ways where you can kind of get out of your bubble. It’s easy to fall back on what’s worked well in the past—and there’s nothing wrong with that if it continues to work. Don’t get me wrong, but we’re talking about inspiration here. And in order to get that sort of new fresh perspective on what you’re able to do, you need to see what other content creators are doing.
So follow other marketers, follow other content creators in all different industries and you know, take a note from them.
So those are just five ideas for how you can jump-start your creative brainstorming process when you’re trying to come up with content concepts, but I am putting two pretty great links in the show notes to Fractl blog posts that have been written in the past—one about our ideation process here at Fractl; the other one that has almost a hundred different brainstorming tips and sources of inspiration for coming up with ideas.
So if you want more of this, I definitely suggest checking those links out. Thanks again for listening. If you enjoyed this episode, click subscribe, don’t leave me with the realization that I’m talking to no one and please rate and review on iTunes so I can keep making this podcast better and your lives easier. Take care.