Hey there, marketer. I’m gonna get real for a minute. Content marketing is hard work. Sure, the stats make it sound great, and I love the idea of proclaiming that the content I make isn’t marketing for marketing’s sake — it provides real value to our customers. (Not to toot my own horn, but one of my blog posts even won an award last year based on being valued by the audience!) But planning and creating that content is easier said than done. I’ve certainly spent my fair share of time working on content that I thought would be great, only to have it fall flat. And sometimes I’ve had to give up on a great content concept that I just couldn’t get over the finish line. But over the last year, I’ve honed one special tool in my approach that has really helped me break through: focused ideation sessions.
If you’re looking for a way to tighten up your planning, deliver content that is more relevant and engaging, or just up the ante on the volume of content you can turn out, read on!
How ideation sessions can revolutionize your planning, your workflow and your content
At The Mx Group, our content ideation sessions aren’t your same old, same old brainstorming sessions. Instead, they’re focused events that build a strong foundation for content marketing success for an entire year. In just 90 minutes, you’ll get a wealth of great (and realistic!) ideas for content that will engage your market, plus the seeds to start producing that content right away. Below, I’ll give you a brief rundown on how to structure your ideation session, as well as 10 tips to make it more effective. But before I do, I want to make sure we’re on the same page about who should be participating in your content ideation sessions.
“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
If you’re doing content marketing and only leveraging resources within the marketing department, you’re doing it wrong. Good content marketing must be highly relevant to deliver value to your customers and prospects at critical points throughout the buyer’s journey. And to do that well, you need the insights and expertise of subject-matter experts (SMEs) throughout your organization who know your market, your products and your customers better than you do — because it’s their job to know those things! Now, I’m not saying you, as a marketer, don’t know your stuff. Because I know you do. But trust me when I say your content will be better when you leverage insights from sales, product and even customer success teams.
But in order to leverage insights from these folks, you have to be able to gather the insights in a way that respects your SMEs’ time and gets you what you need. Enter the ideation session!
Here are 10 tips for running a great content ideation session:
- Get the right people in the room: As with any meeting, the attendees are critical for the outcome. Of course, you’ll want to make sure you have SMEs on hand — folks who know the topic and your customers well. And I also like to bring in some other team members who may not be as deeply steeped in the topic but can provide a different perspective. Most importantly, of course, you need people who will be positive participants and are bought in and aligned to the purpose of your content.
- Provide an ideation brief in advance for pre-reading: Get the most out of the session by providing a thoughtful document that outlines some content background and research to help lay the groundwork. The document should be thorough but take no more than 15–20 minutes to read and process.
- Maximize the time you get with SMEs: Subject-matter experts are crucial to your success, but they have other priorities. Ensure you get the most out of the limited time you have. Create a structured, time-bound meeting plan rather than an open-ended forum. And focus on the information you can get only from them. If the conversation starts to go off on a tangent, take a note and refocus the participants.
- Make it an active, engaging session: Make your ideation session something fun that participants look forward to. Plan a mix of individual brainstorming and group activities. Get up and move around the room with exercises that use whiteboards or sticky notes. This variety and activity will keep everyone engaged and limit distractions.
- Begin with business objectives and content goals: Remind everyone of the big goals you’re trying to achieve. This helps the team understand the value of their contributions and encourages alignment.
- Focus on the buyer: Remember, great content marketing is about delivering value to buyers. To develop content that serves the buyer’s needs first, you need to make sure the group is centered around what those needs are. If you already have buyer personas, review the critical points in your meeting. If not, lead an exercise focused on getting to the heart of buyer needs and pain points.
- Use constraints to get concrete ideas: “Limit” isn’t a dirty word. In fact, sometimes boundaries and constraints can inspire the best ideas. Use time limits in the meeting to inspire rapid brainstorming. And introduce limits for the content itself, such as brainstorming blog titles of seven words or less. Even though the constraints may be hypothetical, they can force participants to crystallize their thinking.
- No bad ideas; build up and build on: Create a positive environment where there are no bad ideas — an environment built on the great improv principle of “Yes, and….” When participants feel free to get creative, sometimes the most “out there” ideas can eventually translate into your top content inspiration.
- Vote on the best ideas: Utilize the expertise in the room to vet all the ideas and narrow down the list to the content that has the most value. Before the team votes, center their thinking around the key criteria for effective content: something that delivers value to customers, that you or your SMEs have expertise in, and that you can provide a unique take on.
- Use the last portion for a rapid outlining session (individual work): Selfishly, this might just be my favorite tip, because it’s the one that ensures I leave the session with lots of work already done. No one wants to leave a brainstorming session with a huge list of great ideas that seems totally overwhelming to actually complete. Instead, use the last 10–15 minutes at the end of the session to ask each participant to create an outline for one of the ideas. (You can structure the outline ahead of time by creating a worksheet that everyone can use.)
By the end of a great ideation session like this, you'll have the seeds for a year’s worth of content!
In my book, that’s already a huge win! As a bonus, including SMEs in these sessions helps build deeper alignment. When participants have shared their insights and had a say in what is being produced, it makes it easier to ask for their help with the content down the road. This type of consensus can also help if you face challenges from others within the organization who question your strategy or approach.
We’ll be doing an upcoming blog post that will break down how to run a session in more detail. Subscribe to our blog so you don’t miss it! And if your team needs additional assistance creating a content marketing strategy and action plan, get in touch. We’d be happy to discuss.