There comes a time in every marketing professional’s career where you are just fresh out of ideas. Everything you think of has been done or doesn’t fit your brand. Your content well is empty and it’s time to replenish it.

The good news is that this is preventable if you set up and enforce a content ideation and development process. Ideation can be ongoing or scheduled. The goal is to never have a content pipeline that dries up.

Content ideation stage

Content ideation in the marketing industry is the process of producing or sourcing topics to be used in future marketing content. The topics are meant to be relevant to your company in the hopes of being part of your content marketing strategy.

Here are some ways to work on your content ideation. Remember that in all instances of ideation, you need to have a place where your ideas are collected.

Identify content gaps

Take a comprehensive, eagle-eye-point-of-view look at all of your content. Do you see anything that could be covered more or is missing? Are there any products or services that you offer that don’t have a lot of content? Finding the gaps in your existing content is an easy way to find new ideas.

Address customer pain points

Somewhere along the product development process, there was a point where the company checked if the product would solve their current or target customers’ issues. Most companies don’t create a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist. The first part of this is knowing what pain points you solve for new customers. Come up with ideas that describe how you address their pain points and why yours is the best solution out there.

And then for existing customers, determine what their current pain points are. This does not have to be related to your product but it does have to be relevant for your customers. In thinking about your current customer’s lifestyle and interests, what kind of content can you create that addresses a problem they’re dealing with?

Beautyblender was created out of a need for an affordable, easy and portable way to seamlessly blend foundation and makeup together. So one content idea for new customers could be demonstrating the sponge’s ease of use compared to other products on the market. A content idea based on pain points for a current customer could be this blog post on face mask makeup. It’s related to their products so customers can learn how to use them but it also gives actionable tips to a problem that they might be having.

Another way of sourcing pain points is to just ask. Through social media, your newsletter or focus groups, ask what problems are at the top of your customers’ minds right now. This is also a good time to make use of those Instagram story question stickers.

Connect with other departments

For fresh ideas, go no further than your own company. The customer service and sales departments who often talk to customers and are excellent sources for new content ideas.

Here are some ways to set this up:

  • Schedule one-on-one recurring meetings with department heads or select department representatives to generate new ideas.
  • Schedule a recurring meeting with all the department representatives at one time to collect ideas.
  • Design a form or email address that collects ideas. Let all the relevant people know that it’s there and periodically check for ideas.

Other departments connect with your customers in a different part of the buyer journey and can offer valuable insight on what people are facing. The information can flow both ways, too, as the marketing team shouldn’t be operating in a silo.

Use social listening

Another way of sourcing content ideas is to use social listening. In paying attention to your competitors, industry trends and brand sentiment, you’re able to find plenty of sparks that will generate new ideas.
Social listening can provide insight on what's trending; these trends can be used for content ideation on your website and social platforms.
Utilizing a listening tool like the feature that Sprout Social offers helps you sort through the noise. Maybe you want to see which product type your customers are talking about the most on Twitter. In the above example, social listening produces data for each product to show which is the most popular at that moment.

Have team brainstorming sessions

Sometimes more minds are better than one and that’s certainly the case when it comes to brainstorming content ideas. Schedule recurring brainstorming sessions or one-off meetings when you’re running low on ideas.

Brainstorming sessions should still have some loose guidelines. While it’s true that no idea is a bad idea, you also don’t want irrelevant ideas. At the beginning of the session, identify the scribe who will be jotting down the ideas, the length of the brainstorming session, any starting questions and how to contribute. Maybe you’re brainstorming around only a few topics. Announcing the questions at the beginning will hopefully weed out the irrelevant ideas. As for contributing, you don’t want people talking over each other. Use raised hands or a round-robin discussion.

Content development stage

Now that you have generated lots of ideas, it’s time to go through them and identify the ones that will work best for your marketing team. Content development is when you take your ideas and filter through which are relevant and flesh out those that are. It’s okay to discard or table ideas that aren’t currently relevant. Some ideas never make it past the development stage for a myriad of reasons. Just like the ideation stage, content development can be a recurring meeting or one-off meetings.

There are many ways to develop your content ideas. Here are just a few.

Identify a campaign or theme

Is there a topical trend that you’re seeing or can you create a marketing campaign around some ideas? Chances are that your ideas can be tied together in some way or other to produce a series. Some examples of these include employee features and scheduled Instagram takeovers.

Artifact Uprising is a company that specializes in photo-related products. They’ve created a brand hashtag #TellOn to feature the stories in photo form that their customers take. This is a recurring content topic that, as long as the company has customers, won’t dry up in source material.

Hyperfocus on a topic

It can be tough to rank high in search results on a common topic. Instead of a generalist approach, go for a specialist one. It might not have as many people searching for it but those who do are more likely to engage in the topic.

Sweetgreen serves healthy meals and is all about local sourcing and sustainability. For this video, the company could’ve chosen to talk about the general category of bread. But instead, they’ve chosen to hyperfocus on the rosemary focaccia that they serve in their LA stores.

Evaluate for relevancy and execution

One of the key parts of content development is sorting through the ideas. Some companies use a scoring system while others prefer to informally go through them. Unlike a brainstorming session, this part is done by those who would have a part in the content creation and promotion process.

For each idea, talk through what the content would look like, what it would take to achieve it, any additional budget or time constraints and its tie to your company.
Graphic depicting the five stages of a social media marketing funnel
Using your marketing funnel and personas, match up where the idea would rest. Perhaps one idea is great but you already have too much content within the awareness stage. In this instance, you would keep the idea but not continue with its execution yet.

Content scheduling & promotion

Some content types are locked in by holidays or dates. In these instances, ideas are sourced and developed with the date in mind. Using a social media calendar can help you keep track of important dates so they can guide you in your ideation and development stage.

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Dates might also limit what content you want to focus on. In the fourth quarter, retail marketing ramps up for the holiday season and a lot of content is focused around that area. This is obviously not the time to talk about the best summer outfits.

Content creation takes time and part of this content process should take that into account. You may have the best ideas surrounding a holiday but they won’t happen if you don’t plan for how much time it’ll take you to execute and promote them.

Conclusion

Don’t get discouraged by a blank whiteboard. With an established content ideation and development process in place, you won’t ever run out of ideas. From talking to other departments to a formal idea evaluation form, content ideation doesn’t have to be like pulling teeth. There are plenty of fresh content ideas out there for you to explore. To understand more about what consumers are looking for in a brand, visit our most recent Sprout Social Index report.

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