Moondog Marketing is proud to have Kayleigh Töyrä guest blogging this week. She is the cofounder and creative director of her eponymous Bristol-based agency.
Content ideation is essential for creating a robust and effective content marketing strategy that keeps customers engaged with a brand. Great content captures your audience’s attention, offers them original and useful information, and makes them want to share it.
Good quality content is important: 99% of marketers say that they need a constant flow of fresh ideas for successful content marketing, but only 51% report having enough ideas to be successful.
Content ideation sessions are the place where this flow should begin, but traditional brainstorming methods can be awkward affairs that don’t create the right environment for creative thinking.
So, how can you make your next content ideation session one that easily produces results?
Why do traditional brainstorming sessions often fail?
Before you embark on your next ideation session, have a think about why they may have gone badly in the past. Generating ideas in a group is hard, and there are a few key reasons why:
- Talkative colleagues monopolize the conversation, leading quieter ones to not participate
- People hesitate to suggest ideas because they fear having them rejected or ridiculed
- Bold or imaginative ideas are instantly rejected on the grounds of being expensive or difficult to implement
- People are too stressed or distracted by the rest of their work to give their undivided attention
People will struggle to come up with fresh and interesting ideas in an environment that feels critical, defeatist or lacking in direction.
Implementing the following methods will give participants the confidence to speak up and help your sessions flow freely.
This is why it’s so important to invest time and effort into building a great team culture. You will see measurable results in how quickly you turn projects around. This is true for all businesses — whether it’s B2C, B2B, agency-side, freelance etc. A great culture is reflected in great content.
The three phases that make things ‘flow’
So, how do you go about creating this harmonious, creative atmosphere? (It’s easier said than done!)
Successful ideation sessions strike a balance between free-flowing creativity and structure. They start with a free-for-all of thoughts and suggestions, and end with a few promising ideas that can be expanded further. The three phases of this stage are:
- Divergent. This is the ‘anything goes’ phase when a large amount of ideas are generated without vetting or criticism.
- Emergent. This is where all of the ideas are sifted through and the less promising ones are discarded.
- Convergent. In this phase the best ideas are discussed fully and turned into hard plans.
Setting a goal
Before the session starts, all participants should already know what the goal of the session is. This gives everyone a chance to do a bit of homework and arrive with a few ideas in mind.
Make sure your goal is specific enough to focus people’s minds. The goal of ‘generating is content’ is too broad and too loose, whereas ‘identifying topics for the next quarter of our editorial calendar’ is easier to make sense of.
As well as the what behind your content, identify the why. Are you trying to generate new customers? Keep current ones engaged? Raise awareness of your brand? Figuring out the ‘why’ will inform the type of content you need to create.
For example, an ecommerce brand running on a primarily dropship or wholesale basis, will need to work extra hard to differentiate themselves with unique and innovative content that upsells the ‘brand’. Whereas a brand with patented, exclusive products, would need to highlight product value instead with in-depth guides and videos.
Choosing a leader and getting the ball rolling
Once you have committed to using the three-phase structure, appoint a leader to implement it. Just as a ship without a captain will go off course and potentially sink, so will your ideation session. Give someone the responsibility for keeping everyone on track, engaged and motivated. Ideally this will be a person who has led brainstorming sessions in the past, and feels comfortable with being in charge of a group.
The leader should be the one to get the ball rolling by making some initial suggestions. Throw in some leftfield thoughts, as this will cement the idea that no idea is a bad one. Fun and lighthearted ideas help to break the ice and allow people to relax.
Do not judge or criticize, no matter how wacky an idea is
Allowing people to criticize each other’s ideas will kill any creativity in the room instantly. The session will only flow properly if people feel confident enough to speak up about their ideas without fear of ridicule. Often the best ideas come through thinking differently — something that is difficult to do when you feel constrained by other people’s judgment.
The session leader must encourage all participants to be open to and supportive of each other. A great way to foster a positive atmosphere is to ban the word ‘no’ from the session. Making people say ‘yes’ to everything is a very effective tool for creating a collaborative and friendly ideation session.
Build on each others ideas
When you reach the ‘emergent’ phase of the process, encourage every participant to add their thoughts and stop anyone from ‘owning’ an idea. A collaborative approach at this stage will build good ideas into great ones by triggering thoughts in people’s minds and taking the idea in all sorts of directions that that could not have come from one brain, trapped as it will no doubt be in a rigid thought structure.
In this stage, the leader should ban the word ‘but’ and encourage the use of the word ‘and’. Using ‘but’ blocks the building of an idea by crushing it at the first sign of difficulty. Saying ‘and’ allows the idea to keep flowing and improving.
Know when to call time
Creative thinking is tiring! If you force your participants to keep going past a certain point, their thinking will stagnate and the session will quickly dry up. Tell everyone at the beginning of the session how long it’s going to last and keep a careful eye on how the session is progressing during that time. If people are becoming distracted or lethargic, take a break. Don’t be afraid to call time early if you feel the session has naturally ground to a halt.
A session can’t flow when people aren’t feeling fresh, so know when to stop and schedule a new session for another time.
Sticking to a plan will enable you to hold productive brainstorming sessions that generate truly creative ideas without wasting time or making the participants feel awkward or criticized. A strategy might feel like an oddly rigid way to encourage imagination, but it provides the foundations on which exciting, new and valuable content can be built.
Kayleigh Töyrä – Co-Founder & Creative Director
Kayleigh is a writer and digital marketer with a specialism in outreach. She is co-founder of a Bristol-based agency, and is integral to the business’s operations and big-picture thinking. You’ll find Kayleigh at her desk with an Earl Grey, working on her latest campaigns.