A truly good idea is a great way to motivate your marketing team to do their best work and to get your audience clicking, sharing, and converting. But finding that good idea, let alone filling the editorial content calendar, can be a pretty daunting challenge for content marketing teams.
With deadlines looming and KPIs (key performance indicators) to hit, effective brainstorming is a must, and it doesn’t have to be a chore. It can actually be a fun way to build team relationships, boost creativity, and keep your content engine humming along.
The following 10 group brainstorming activities can help your content marketing team tap into their creativity and generate their very best ideas.
1. Run-on Story
In this activity, participants write a story idea, pass the pen, and write one sentence at a time.
You can modify this exercise by telling a story about a day in your typical prospective customer’s life. What kinds of frustrations do they have? What problems do they run into, and how are they currently solving those problems? How can you create content that solves those problems in new, more effective ways?
Whether you write a customer-focused story or just spin a fantastic creative tale, the run-on story is a great exercise to start any brainstorming session. It gives participants a stake in story development and is a great exercise in actively listening in order to build on others’ ideas, transforming ideas from good to great.
Run-on stories also get people thinking on their feet, since you may have an idea of what your contribution to the story will be, only to have the person before you change the direction entirely.
2. Brain writing
One of the major drawbacks to the traditional brainstorming approach is that too many people hold back out of fear that their ideas will be judged for being too extreme or far-fetched.
Brain writing circumvents this problem by giving everyone a chance to submit an idea that is given equal consideration without judgment.
In this exercise, everyone writes their ideas down on a piece of paper. Each paper is then passed on to the person next to them, who builds on the original idea with their own. After a few rounds, gather the papers and read anonymously for the team to discuss.
You can also extend the reach and potential of brain writing by setting up a whiteboard or large sheet of paper in the workplace and leaving it up for an extended period of time or setting up a Google Doc, Jamboard, or some other digital platform. This way, employees can add ideas over time as they arise.
3. Shuffle the Deck
In Shuffle the Deck, you’ll start by taking a look at your blog’s analytics to generate a list of your top-performing content. Break up each title into its main components and write each one on a separate index card.
For example, “The Ultimate Guide to SEO” would be broken up into “Ultimate Guide” and “SEO,” and “10 Prioritization Secrets of Successful CEOs” would become “Prioritization,” “Secrets,” and “Successful CEOs.“
Once you have a stack of index cards, shuffle the deck and lay the cards out again. How many new titles can you create? Remixing titles from high-performing articles allows for effective repurposing of content, generates new ideas, and uncovers unexpected topics.
You can also change this up by pulling top-performing keywords or keywords with the greatest search volume potential and doing the same exercise.
4. Timed sticky notes
Write down a central problem statement your audience is trying to solve. Then, hand a stack of sticky notes to each member of your team (give them way more than you think they’ll need).
Set a timer for two minutes and have everyone, including you, write as many solutions to that problem as they can think of. Don’t worry if the ideas are original, clever, realistic, or even effective—you just want as many ideas as possible.
When time is up, have one person start reading their ideas, placing each sticky note on the wall or a whiteboard. If someone else from the group has the same or similar idea, group these sticky notes together.
Once you’ve gone through all the sticky notes, evaluate the clusters and standalone sticky notes as a group. Someone may be inspired by something they see on the wall.
This rapid ideation technique is a great way to get participants to think on their feet, as some perform better under a time constraint.
5. Content brainstorming matrix
HubSpot has a great method for generating content for each stage of the funnel, using a simple spreadsheet:
- Start with a blank spreadsheet. Write the main topic of the brainstorm in Box 1, whether it’s “learning to knit“ or “understanding SEO.“
- In Box 2, write “beginner,” “intermediate,” or “advanced” to indicate how much of an expert your target audience is on the general topic.
- Then, select the type of content you’re looking to produce: list, how-to, Q&A, news, definition, opinion, etc.
- Next, pick your format: blog post, infographic, video, e-book, checklist, podcast, etc.
- Finish by writing as many headlines as you can for what you’ve selected.
This method is a great virtual brainstorming technique to generate topic ideas and approaches across remote teams, and it can even be done asynchronously.
6. Audience research
One way to find out what your prospective customers want to read about is to simply look at the questions they’re asking.
Come up with a list of keywords or topics to search on Quora, check out subreddits related to your topic, review customer posts on your Facebook page, and go over comments on your blog posts. This way, you can build topics around what your customers are already expressing interest in.
7. 100 questions
Start with a main topic or the title of a recent blog post. Then, play devil’s advocate and question everything about that topic.
Let’s take this example: “9 Key Marketing Metrics Your CMO Actually Cares About.“ What are marketing metrics? Why should I measure my marketing efforts? What analytics tools are most popular? What does a CMO care about? What other tools do marketing teams use to improve results?
It’s okay to wander off topic. The goal is to generate lots of ideas and refine them later.
8. Mine keywords and successful content
What content is already working? Google a topic or various keywords to see what the top results are and what they cover. You can also take a look at the “People also ask” section of the search engine results page (SERP) to get an idea of what the current top questions are for that topic or keyword.
This isn’t to suggest that you should steal competitors’ ideas, but they should serve as inspiration in a group brainstorming session. How could you improve their approach? Can you argue the opposite viewpoint? How would a similar idea work as a video, downloadable asset, or infographic?
Sometimes working with symbols and pictures rather than words can lead to catchy titles and phrases. Instead of creating a mind map—though that is an effective technique as well—give your team a topic or keyword and have them draw what they associate with that topic or what it means to them.
Thinking about metaphors through drawing not only provides comic relief—no one has to be an artist to do this exercise—but also sparks creative thinking using a visual rather than linguistic part of the brain.
Boost your content team’s creativity
Generating a steady stream of creative ideas for content production doesn’t have to be stressful. New ideas are everywhere. It’s often just a matter of getting the creative juices flowing by writing or drawing different ideas and then narrowing their focus.
Use these group brainstorming techniques to get your team thinking, and your content well will never run dry.