Whether you're a small business owner or the digital marketing lead at a major corporation, at some point you've likely struggled with the 'content conundrum'.
"What do we talk about?"
"What can be said, that hasn't already been said?"
"How do we cut through the noise and keep our audience engaged?".
Good content isn't as enigmatic as we might think, but it does take effort. And perhaps that's the biggest myth about content leaders - that somehow, they are just uniquely pre-disposed to great ideas.
As is the case with any creative endeavor, generating new ideas takes deliberate practice and experimentation. It's a balance between knowing your brand and routinely seeking out new methods, tools and inspiration sources for how to bring it to life.
Below are a few of my favorite tips to help you achieve both.
1. Re-connect with your values
When was the last time you read your brand’s mission or vision statements? If done well, they should be a reminder of the aims and values that define your organization, which can in turn, serve as a framework for content.
For example, if service is a part of your mission, you could create a content series profiling employees who donate their time to important causes. Your content should not exist in a vacuum, but rather be a natural extension of your brand and all that is associated with it.
This exercise can be particularly useful for those who are struggling with how to create content that's on brand but goes beyond product.
2. Search hashtags on Instagram
To find out what kind of content is resonating with your audience, find and follow hashtags that are popular within your target community.
I typically start by identifying the top influencers in a particular space, and then look at the hashtags they’re using. Clicking through those tags gives me a snapshot of the most popular content items among the people I most want to matter to.
Use this trending content as a source of inspiration for your own, or as a way to identify potential content partners. And with Instagram’s recent update enabling you to follow hashtags the same way you follow accounts, it’s easier than ever to track what kind of content is resonating in any given community.
3. Check out Answer the Public
Answer the Public is a tool which aggregates search data from Google and Bing to identify key questions being asked around any given subject. Simply enter your topic or brand, and it spits out a collection of related terms (questions, propositions and comparisons) to help inform how you should “answer the public” with content. I don’t often hear it mentioned, but it is truly a gem of a tool - and it’s FREE.
4. Use Pinterest to create a moodboard
If you’ve haven’t yet established a set of standards for visual content, Pinterest can be a great place to start experimenting.
Combine third-party images with existing brand assets to find inspiration that's also aligned with your identity. My mood boards include everything from fonts and textures and photos to book covers, film posters and quotes.
Defining the visual essence of your brand can help focus your ideation process and give your content design teams a set of references from which to execute from.
5. Expand your visual inputs
I’ve been known to check out a pile of coffee table books from my local library at the onset of a content planning exercise - last time I was there, I ended up with an armful of vintage nautical books for a client whose brand identity was inspired by maritime culture. The librarian asked, ‘have you thought about Google Images?’ Ha! Indeed I have – but there’s something about the visceral act of turning from one glossy page to the next that sparks a whole different kind of creativity in me.
We all tend to look in the same places for inspiration and then wonder why we can't generate any new ideas. Try seeking out new channels to get inspired - be it at a library, a museum or from a creative leader outside of your industry.
Challenge yourself to go where you normally wouldn't go, and see if doesn't spark something new.
6. Stalk your followers
Pick 5-10 public social media profiles of fans who are most representative of your customers, and study their pages, their likes, their interests and the kinds of stories they share. If they’ve mentioned your product, look closely for any unique insights or applications you might not have considered. And even if they don’t explicitly mention your brand, this can be a great way to discover other ways to connect with your audience around commonly shared values and interests.
7. Bring in fresh eyes
One of my clients is a family-owned chemical manufacturing business which produces consumer and automotive cleaning products. In one of our early meetings, I was given a tour of the entire facility, including the factory floor. Having never been inside of manufacturing facility before, it was all surprisingly fascinating to me - from the rhythmic precision of the conveyors to the rainbow stacks of color dyes, I saw endless opportunities for visual content. Of course to my clients, it was just another day at the office.
Sometimes we're so accustomed to our own surroundings (or products) that we lose the ability to see the magic in them. Introducing a fresh pair of creative eyes, can help you re-see content opportunities through a brand new lens.
8. Apply the 'Jobs To Be Done' theory
Pioneered by author and Harvard professor Clayton Christensen, JTBD is an innovation theory which examines the problems consumers are trying to solve when they make the decision to purchase or use a product. An early iteration of this concept is the idea that “people don’t want a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole.” Jobs theory takes this a step further and asserts that people actually want to hang pictures of their family on the wall.
If we were to apply the Jobs to Be Done theory to content for said drill maker, we might create a series which highlights creative ways to frame and display your family photos. Try it out by examining why it is that your customers hire your products or services and see if it doesn't uncover any new ideas for content. And for more on how to apply the Jobs to Be Done theory in your organization, I highly recommend Competing Against Luck by the aforementioned Clayton Christensen.
9. Experiment with mind mapping
Mind mapping is simply a way to visually organize information and ideas around a particular subject - it encourages you to collect as many associations as possible, without the restrictions that often come with linear thinking.
Start with your product or perhaps one of your brand values as the central subject - identify words or images that you immediately associate with your central subject as “branches”. Then repeat the process adding “twigs” from those initial branches until you’ve completely exhausted your ideas. Don’t think too much – the goal is to document the natural associations your brain is making to a particular subject, not to come up with specific, solutions based on old paradigms.
When you’re done, review your mindmap and see if you can uncover new content themes from the branches, twigs, or from reading between the two.
Mind mapping can easily be done with multi-color pens and paper, but if you’re more digitally inclined, check out this list of mind mapping software solutions or these cool, mind-mapping templates from Canva.
10. Know What's Possible
Technology directly informs today's creative process by setting the parameters for what can be achieved. Knowing what's possible through the myriad of available content creation tools and platforms, can help to both ground and inspire your approach to content ideation.
Stay current on social media channel updates and third-party tools so that you're not limiting your capacity to be creative by what you believe isn't feasible.
Hopefully these tips help get you thinking in new ways about the types of of content you can produce to better connect with your audience.