There comes a time in every content creator’s career when you’ve finally run out of ideas. Maybe your industry is super niche. Or maybe it’s so oversaturated that your ideas have already been written to death. Thankfully, brainstorming is a tried and true technique we can use to overcome all kinds of creative ruts.
Brainstorming is based on the idea that that quantity breeds quality. As long as you can withhold judgment and let your thoughts flow, you’ll be more likely to come up with unique ideas that you wouldn't find otherwise.
Personally, content ideas are my favorite thing to brainstorm. And after a lot of practice, I’ve discovered a handful of techniques that work best for this particular purpose. Since most content marketers already have an idea of the topics they'd like to write about, I find that the best way to brainstorm is with triggers.
Triggers can be anything to focus your brainstorming sessions, whether it be a word, question, or image. Using these triggers as jump-off points for idea generation will help you increase the chance of finding usable ideas.
Finding Brainstorming Triggers
The best way to learn how to make great content is to consume a lot of it. Whenever you find high-quality content, save it in a folder on your computer for later.
Once you’re ready to brainstorm, flip through your swipe file. Take note of what makes it stand out to you. How is the information organized? Are there sharable pieces like videos and infographics? What kind of headline does it have? This will inform you of what types of content are successful in your industry.
You can't find more relevant inspiration than your own competitors. Visit their website and social media accounts. Take notes on their activities. What’s something they do well that your brand could improve upon? What’s something they do badly or aren’t doing at all? Use this information as a guiding point to differentiate yourself from the pack.
Forums and Newsfeeds
Keep track of what's trending by monitoring online forums and social media activity. If you look hard enough, there's a chance you’ll find a community of enthusiasts who like to discuss topics related to your industry on Reddit or Twitter. And once you’ve found them, you’ll be able to keep up with common questions and trending topics in that community.
Brainstorming Tricks & Techniques
Now that you've got your triggers, what do you do with them? Here are a couple exercises to get your creative juices flowing.
Take a look at your trigger and pick a word to focus on. If you’ve taken an article from your swipe file, let's say the word is from the article’s headline or general topic.
Write your word on a piece of paper and start making associations. Write down the first word that comes to mind, and then the next word after that. Don’t overthink it or hesitate, even if your thoughts go in an unusual direction. When you go back and take a look at your ideas, you might be able to see a trend or word combination that inspires you.
Compared to word associations, mind mapping is a more structured way to find relationships between ideas. I like mind maps for coming up with a collection of blog ideas related to an overarching topic.
When creating your mind map, start with a single idea at its center. Write your associations around the central idea and connect them with directional arrows. Continue making associations with your main and subtopics, and watch as your mind map branches off to the edges of the page.
If you work other content marketers, brainwriting is an excellent way to tap into your team’s creativity.
Brainwriting is a group activity that entails writing down ideas according to a prompt or question. In a brainwriting session, six people should have their own piece of paper and pen to write down three ideas.
After five minutes of writing, everyone will pass their paper to another person. Using the ideas already on the page as inspiration, they’ll write three more ideas. If the group rotates until everyone has written on each person’s piece of paper, you’ll have created 108 ideas in only 30 minutes. Now that's efficient!
A Few Tips
- If your brainstorm starts slowing down to more of drizzle, try asking what-if questions like, “What if this article was in a different format, like an infographic or a video?” or “What if we had a million dollars to devote to this project?"
- Don’t rush the process. Every idea has the opportunity to be amazing and having as many ideas as possible only increases your chances of finding greatness.
- Dare to think big. If an idea is too crazy, you can always adjust it to be more realistic.
Remember, brainstorming is a creative process so there is no right or wrong way to do it. Roll with what inspires you and don't be afraid to try new things. You never know where a good idea could come from.