content_brsinstormingIn our post, The 11 Key Components of a First-Class Content Brief, we share what your content brief should include so that it can guide the efficient and strategic planning and production of content assets. But before you even begin planning your content, how do you generate content ideas in the first place?

Content ideation is by nature a creative and unstructured process. Ideas or concepts of ideas can come at any time (driving, showering, and even dreaming tend to be popular moments of inspiration!) and from any person. But for marketing teams working on strategically planning content, having a process to brainstorming content can offer some structure and guidance for bringing all the pieces together.

The following tried and true process can help provide the structure you and your colleagues need to brainstorm a multitude of content ideas that are relevant to your industry and audience. This approach includes three one-hour sessions aimed at planning content for one quarter, with the first two sessions providing more structure to ensure you’re brainstorming essential, buyer-centric content assets. Of course, you can modify this process based on your organization’s preferences, but overall it’s an effective guide for you to leverage.

Know Your Themes

Before you begin brainstorming content, your organization (likely all of marketing and your organization’s subject matter experts) must identify themes that your content should align to in the upcoming quarter.  A theme defines a subject matter that your company should speak to, establish thought leadership and differentiation on, and raise awareness of in your industry.  And of course, the theme should be relevant to your audience(s).  Smaller companies with limited content resources should focus on just two themes per quarter. Larger companies may have a couple to a few themes for each line of business. 75% of the content you schedule in your editorial calendar should align with your identified themes.

 

Session 1: Brainstorm Content Ideas Within Themes

Homework Beforehand: Evaluate What Already Exists Internally and Externally 

Evaluate industry content/dialogue within your identified themes that already exists so you can see what’s been said and how you can differentiate yourself.  Read content written by top influencers (social, bloggers, and analysts), competitors, and industry publications.  This research can also help generate ideas of your own.

Since few things are worse than everyone silently staring at a blank whiteboard, share your research insights with the session participants a few days before the group brainstorm. Tell them to come to the session with 3-4 ideas of their own. You can also ask them to choose a couple of their favorite content assets from the research.

The Session

Invite colleagues across all marketing functions and subject matter experts to this session. Whiteboard and document everyone’s content ideas within each theme. Usually it takes just a few ideas written down to jumpstart the conversation. You can also discuss some of the favorite content assets from the research and review what you liked about them and what you think they’re missing.

 

Session 2: Brainstorm Using Journey Maps and Buyer Personas

Homework Beforehand: Audit Existing Content and Evaluate Journey Maps and Personas

In The 11 Key Components of a First-Class Content Brief, we state why buyer personas and journey maps are essential for content planning. Likewise, they’re essential for content brainstorming! Once you’ve built your personas and maps, tag your existing content assets by persona and journey stage.  Identify where you have gaps in content for personas and stages.  For example, you may find that you have a lot of content for one persona yet not another, or a lot of content for the top of the funnel journey stages but not enough in the middle stages. This will guide where you need to focus your content brainstorming.

Next, evaluate your journey maps and personas. Based on where you have content gaps, view persona needs, activities, and content preferences at the journey stages. Also view your persona attributes like business challenges and concerns. Generate content ideas based on these insights, and share all of this information, including the personas and maps, with the session participants a few days before the next session.

The Session

In this session, you may also want to include, in addition to Marketing and subject matter experts, some colleagues from Sales and Client Services.  With everyone armed with your journey maps, personas, audit analysis, and proposed ideas, whiteboard content ideas. Based on your buyer insights, you’ll see which ideas can be created into content assets for several personas, as opposed to where you need to create more targeted, specialized content based on critical persona differences.

See more for how to leverage personas and journey maps for content ideas:

 

Session 3: Brainstorm a Free Flow of Ideas

Homework Beforehand: Know Popular Searches and Hot Topics

If you want to bring ideas to this session, one way is to see what topics your buyers are searching for. Begin typing your keywords and other phrases relevant to your themes and buyer insights into Google to see what phrases are appearing in the search bar. You can also scroll down to the bottom of a search results page to see other related searches. Also talk to your PR team to for insights into hot trends they’re seeing covered in the press.

The Session

After you’ve taken a more structured approach to content brainstorming, promote a free flow of content ideas that don’t have any boundaries.  Be sure to whiteboard and document all of them.  This session should also include some folks from Sales and Client Services in addition to Marketing and subject matter experts.

If the group is struggling to get started, ask a few questions to jumpstart the ideation process.  Here are some insights and examples:

  • Connect With These 5 Colleagues for Compelling Content Ideas highlights the type of awesome information you can get from Sales, Client Services, PR, SMEs, and BizDev that can guide your questions to them during brainstorming.
  • Why and How Content Marketing and PR Should Be Working Together shares types of questions you can ask that will inform content ideas and also highlights the importance of leveraging hot trends in the news when brainstorming content

 

Planning Your Content

As you document all of your content ideas, try to quickly capture the theme, persona, journey stage, business objective, and content format for each idea.  If you can’t capture all, then you can flesh out these details after the session.  After ideas are documented and tagged with these components, then as a team vote on which ideas will become candidates to consider as content assets for the next quarter.  Once you’ve narrowed down your candidates, determine which ones will become briefs and scheduled into the editorial calendar for production.

Reminder Tips

  • While all marketing departments should be a part of the brainstorming process, the team responsible for directing content development should facilitate the sessions, although they should be jumpstarting conversations – everyone should be talking.
  • The content team should come to the brainstorm sessions prepared with some ideas to get the conversation going. Share ideas and relevant materials (like research, content audit results, and personas and journey maps) with all participants a few days prior to the brainstorm session and tell attendees how/why to review this information prior to the meeting.
  • Effectively communicate to all participants before each session the purpose and goals of the session.

 

Read our ebook:
The Essential Elements of a Buyer-Centric Marketing Strategy and How to Apply Them Across Marketing