Content Ideation: How to Ideate Like a Pro

All great content starts with an idea, whether it’s a subject for a white paper or an emotional hook for an infographic. If you feel like you’re running out of ideas, then the whole creation process will come to a grinding halt. Every publisher feels the effects of writer’s block at some point, which is why we put together these tips to brainstorm awesome ideas regardless of the industry or content.

Do Your Research

Before pulling the team together for a brainstorming session, make sure everyone does their homework. Knowing what’s already out there can eliminate overdone topics while inspiring your creative team.

For all our clients, we keep ongoing inspiration boards on sites like Pinterest and Feedly. We save articles that their peers create, and make notes about why we liked a particular video, article, or image. Besides client boards, we also make note of non-industry content that we like so our clients can spin it into something unique.

By using image boards, everyone should be familiar with the topic, but the research doesn’t end there.

CopyPress Pro tip: Ask everyone who is ideating to bring three to five tidbits to the meeting. These can be anything from story ideas to a relevant news article. This way, your team already has a handful of concepts and discussion points before anyone enters the room.

Research is essentially a warm-up before the brainstorm, so your team won’t waste time learning about the topic before throwing out ideas.

Ask Follow-up Questions and Take Notes

The difference between ideation and brainstorming is the concrete structure. A brainstorming session throws out a lot of possibilities and then filters them, while ideation is built around realistic, achievable plans. For example:

How to Put Out a Fire:

  • Brainstorm: a hose, rain, people with buckets, a clown with a flower that shoots water
  • Ideation: If everyone in the town brought their own buckets, we could draw water from the river and pass it one-by-one to the fire source until it’s out.

CopyPress Pro tip: As your team starts to throw out ideas, ask follow-up questions. For the best ideas, open up the topic to the room and answer the 5Ws and H, and then provide examples or an outline of what the topic will look like. Furiously take notes on all this — your copywriter will love you for it.

Ideation is exciting, and your team might have some impressive ideas, but if they can’t explain them or come up with examples, then how will they execute them? This is especially important if the team member behind the ideation and the copywriter/designer are two different people. Humans have short memories, and they might not remember what they were thinking at the time. Worse, they might have a great idea without examples or resources to create a substantial article.

Change Up Your Ideation Structure

Ideation should be fun, and it’s easy for your team to get tired of the same old process. To avoid this, change up the ideation style every few sessions and see what’s right for your team. You might find that something works great for a few weeks and then falls flat, or just fails completely the first time you try it. Here are a few ideation formats we like to use:

  • Fill out our ideation chart with a content type and emotional hook.
  • Create topic bubbles with sub-topics that could be headlines.
  • Have everyone write ideas on a whiteboard and switch places to fill in supplemental material.
  • Draw ideas from a cup and have the whole group build concepts around them.

Different content types will require different ideation formats. Infographics require a visual ideation piece, where the designers come up with options to display the data in a unique way. Developers of videos and interactive media need time to figure out how to tell the story.

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Image via Flickr by jonny goldstein

For visual content, you have two choices. You can bring the designers into the ideation session with you or invite them in after. For the first option, the designers can immediately nix unrealistic ideas and keep the group focused on plausible designs. For the second option, the designers take the topics and have a separate ideation session on how they can bring them to life.

CopyPress Pro tip: If possible, invite new people to your ideation session every few weeks. They’ll bring a new perspective to the topic and keep the ideas flowing.

Document Unused Ideas for Later

It’s okay if not every idea you come up with has resources and examples. At the end of the ideation session, jot down the ideas you weren’t able to use and save them for later. If possible, hang these ideas somewhere in the office where your team can visit them throughout the day.

Once your team starts thinking about something, they’ll start to see it everywhere. A half-baked idea at the end of a session can become whole in the weeks after.

CopyPress Pro tip: Leave an ideation session open on a Thursday and revisit the topic on Monday or Tuesday to see if anyone has had additional thoughts.

For designers, revisiting ideas can save hours of time before creating an infographic or interactive. If your team comes up with three great ideas and one gets picked by the client, save the others for the next month. You might find a way to make them stronger or more plausible.

Documenting these unused ideas is meant to take the pressure of ideation off your team. If you meet weekly to ideate, turn the last week of the month into a “potluck ideation,” where you sort through old ideas and see if anything can be salvaged from the rejection pile.

Many teams put so much pressure on themselves to create great content ideas that their brains freeze and nothing is made at all. Smart managers will break apart the ideation sessions to reduce the pressure and the grind of constantly producing. Here’s one more tip for ideating like a pro: order a pizza! All great ideas happen over food.

About the author

Amanda Dodge