A Process for Creativity
With the continued emphasis on content marketing, new terms and buzzwords are emerging to make markers like us sound cleverer than we are. Content ideation is one phrase that’s getting more attention. In this post I’ll explain what it is, how it fits into content marketing activities and some best practices to organizing your ideas.
A Working Definition
According to the Search Engine Journal, they define content ideation as:
‘the process of finding relevant topics for content creation and deciding which ones would really resonate with your brand’s target audience.’
Ok. Simply put, it’s gathering a bunch of ideas to write about that will help and interest potential prospects and customers. Sounds easy, right? Not so fast.
It All Starts With Strategy
Before you start collecting brilliant ideas for blog posts and white papers, hopefully you have already defined your value proposition and a marketing strategy. You’re really clear on your target market’s pain points and how your product and service solves those problems. You may even have personas on different personalities or buying decision intel for your audience. Got all that? Excellent. That’s the center of your content and online marketing strategy. You want to build out from there, including these components:
- Keyword research. This will help you better understand how your audience is searching for what you do and the value of each search phrase (i.e., potential number of website visits, what advertisers pay in AdWords or AdCenter). Keyword research provides insight into human search behavior; it’s also a wonderful source for content ideation. More on that later.
- Competitive & industry analysis. Know what your competition is providing and leverage how you’re better. You’ll also want to comb through industry sources (e.g., association blogs) to uncover hot topics and trends.
- Target audience research. This is where lurking on social media can come in handy. Check out LinkedIn group discussions to ferret out what your target audience is talking about. HootSuite is also helpful in researching conversations on other channels like Twitter and Facebook.
The next phase is to ask questions about the overall needs of your target audience, not just as it relates to your business solution. Brainstorm (ideally with colleagues, trusted resources, clients) different categories of topics. For example, one of our clients provides a service that is required for regulatory compliance and information security. We assembled categories like: identity theft, information security, regulatory compliance. By doing so, we had a broad base to build our content ideation upon. Additionally, we sliced things up to different industries (e.g., medical, dental, financial). Looking at content ideation with this lens will ultimately make your brand more interesting and relevant to your audience.
Organizing Content Ideation
I’ve got two organization tips for content ideation. Without these two components, content ideation can quickly run amok.
1. Idea Gathering Tools
By this point, you have the following ingredients: (1) search phrases related to your business, (2) categories related to what your target audience(s) is interested in, and (3) competitive data including trends. Now the fun begins.
I use an RSS feeder called Feedly. It allows me to organize my feeds by topic and/or client (since I manage content for multiple accounts) into collections. This is where your categories will come in handy. Think of your collections as file folders within a filing cabinet. For example, I have a collection called Copywriting. In it I collect blogs and material from all sorts of sources that write about content marketing, daily writing tips, etc. By spending time upfront organizing your sources by topic, it will make scanning for ideas faster. Trust me.
Of course Feedly is not your only option. Since I’m a visual person, I really like the magazine tile format. If you don’t like Feedly you can easily find other tools that work well for you.
Don’t forget these other sources for content ideation:
- Google Analytics
- Webmaster Tools
- Google Suggest and/or Keyword Planner
- Customer Surveys
- Stats from email analytics
- Reddit or similar forums
- Social media discussions
2. Create an Editorial Calendar
Effective content ideation absolutely must have a structure to back it up. I use a robust editorial calendar created in Google Docs since I collaborate with many individuals. It allows easy sharing and color coding; this avoids the craziness of version control (am I modifying the latest document and who’s doing what?!). For more details on how to create an editorial calendar, this post explains my methodology.
3. Establish a Routine
Content ideation is a marathon, not a sprint. You’ll need to establish consistency. I have a recurring task to cull through my RSS feeder for potential ideas. I usually do this for 60-90 minutes a week, where I review my keyword list (remember the point I made above in the strategy section?) and then scan my Feedly account by topic. Then I add the following information into my editorial calendar: a working title, relevant keyword, links to references and images/graphics. The goal is to have a neatly packaged idea with supporting elements for a writer to flesh out.
As you can see content ideation may have a simple definition but it is complex in its execution. How do you brainstorm for ideas and organize them?
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