12 brainstorming exercises for fresh content ideas, every time

Circul8 | January 31, 2020

  • Content Marketing
  • Marketing Strategy

Coming up with new content ain’t easy; the struggle is real. 


Sooner or later, the pipeline dries up and everyone hits the wall. Born from this very frustration, we’ve put together an exhaustive list of brainstorming exercises proven to help you land fresh ideas and combat content ideation fatigue in 2020.

#4 and #12 are our personal favourites.

01. Start with the Zero Draft

This one’s great for getting all those initial (often bad) ideas out of your head and onto paper.

The Zero Draft is an ideation technique often used by writers that is a form of focused free-writing. For marketers, creatives and social teams, it can help unpack your brain and focus on what you currently know and what you need to know.

How to:

  1. Write down everything you currently know about a subject.
  2. Write down what you need or want to know about the subject, but don’t currently know.
  3. Reflect on why the subject is important.
  4. Add anything else that’s floating around up there — this is a chance to get whatever’s in your head out in front of you.

Besides clearing the mind, the zero draft is also great material to spark inspiration for others. One person’s trash is another person’s treasure. 

02. Switch it up with Starbursting 

Instead of focusing on the answers, starbursting encourages you to focus on the questions.

The whole point of the exercise is to come up with as many questions as possible on the chosen topic. Using the 5W1H technique (who, what, where, when, why, how) is a great starting point. This method of brainstorming not only forces you to slow down and consider things you might ordinarily overlook, but ensures you consider all aspects of the subject before you spend time putting in real legwork.

How to:

Let’s say you want to create blog content that addresses obsolete technology. You might starting by asking:

What forms of technology are obsolete?
Why does obsolete technology give me nostalgia?
How much money do businesses waste replacing obsolete technology?
Who is responsible for designing obsolescence into tech products?
When will the iPhone 11 Pro become obsolete?
How do you design obsolescence-proof technology?

Getting the ball rolling by asking judgement-free questions is a great way to lead you down interesting paths.

 

photo of a word cloud

03. Build a word bank

‘Word banking’ is just a fancy term for ‘word association’, with one slight difference.

While word associations often focus on pairs of words, word banking asks you to form big groups of terms that all describe a theme or topic. Creating word banks can help you dismantle a subject or project into manageable, bite-size pieces — kind of like a mind map.

How to:

Simply write down any word that is directly linked to your subject matter. As you build out from your subject, naturally your words will become seemingly less connected, but that’s ok! When your word bank is complete, you can form connections between the terms you came up with and use those connections to craft ideas that are guaranteed to include all of your most important characteristics.

You could sit there and jot down every word directly or indirectly related to your subject. Or you could get Google to do it for you with this Word Bank Google Chrome extension

04. Try the Stepladder technique

Got some shy members in your team?

Stepladdering is a group brainstorming exercise that allows every team member to contribute their ideas uninfluenced. 

How to:

After agreeing on a topic with the team, have everyone except for two members outside of the room. Have these two members discuss their ideas. Next, bring another member into the room and let him or her share an idea before the original two members explain theirs. Keep adding members this way until the original group is back into the room. 

This one provides a great vehicle for everyone to confidently share their ideas without being swayed by popular thought or deterred by other opinions.

 

Google suggestions screenshot

05. Use Google’s suggestions

The biggest brain in the world, Google, is also one of the best brainstorming tools.

How to:

Type in a word or phrase related to your subject and wait for Google to populate some common queries. For example, you want to write about the future of AI.

Jackpot.

Want to take it a step further? Try Google Trends to dig into search results in an even more granular way. 

 

Google Trends AI screenshot

Super jackpot.

06. Know thy enemy

Check out what the competition is doing. As long as you’re not plagiarizing, there’s nothing wrong with taking inspiration from their titles and concepts for idea generation.

The big, obvious advantage of this method is that you get to cherry pick great content and make it even better. 

How to:

For example, you might come across a great list of tips for ‘Always-on’ marketing (you’re welcome). Simply updating the list for your readers would result in proven content with minimal effort. And while you’re there, don’t forget to look through their comment section too. There’s always good stuff down there, and user-centric content is good content.

07. Spot the Medici Effect

The Medici Effect refers to the way in which seemingly unrelated things often cross paths. When coming up with content ideas e.g. blog posts, trying thinking about commonalities across different topics.

How to:

For example, let’s say you work for a boutique coffee brand, and you’ve just read a fascinating article on the risks and rewards of data collection. Now, data collection and flat whites don’t have much in common at first, but applying the Medici Effect, you could write about:

5 ways brands figure out your coffee order without even asking
How data privacy is hurting the coffee game
The woman who is using data to brew the perfect cup of coffee
A new wave of coffee brands pinching more than sugar

08. Bring in new blood

A big reason why we get stuck on a topic is because we’re simply too close to it.
Forget the silos or departmental divides and bring in fresh ideas from outside the content team.

A perfect example is this very blog article. Our Strategic Account Director, Max, threw it out there and it was an instant winner.

Don’t you think your customer service team might have some insights into customer wants, needs and pain points? Who’s brain would be better to pick on the subject of app trends than your own developers?

09. Shuffle the deck

Why come up with new gold when you can reuse old gold?

How to:

Take a look at 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 card.

For example, “The Ultimate Guide to Influencer Marketing” would be broken up into “Ultimate Guide” and “Influencer Marketing”, and “10 Producitivity Habits of Successful Designers” would become “Productivity,” “Habits” and “Successful Designers.” 

Once you have a stack of index cards, shuffle the deck and lay the cards out again. We’d bet our entire Instagram followership that there’s a winner in there. 

10. Hit up Quora

Quora is a massive community of people asking and answering (mostly serious) questions.

How to:

Search and follow interests related to your industry and then, when you need content ideas, simply scroll through questions or answers that could help/entertain/engage your audience.

11. Get personal

***CORNY ALERT***

Maybe what you’re looking for isn’t out there. Maybe it’s been inside of you all along.

When in doubt, tell a story about something that’s happened to you. It could be a story of success, of failure or one that’s just simply relatable. Personal stories are great because they make for unique content. And people love, share and revisit unique content. 

12. Read the news

The news affects your readers. That makes it a perfect source for relevant inspiration.

How to:

Newsjack stories that affect your readers. For example, you want to talk about online shopping trends.

You could leverage the ongoing US/China trade wars to show your audience how their personal shopping cart experience will be impacted.

Similarly, you can find a popular news story not related to your industry and audience and spin it so that you show how they are connected or how one affects the other. (See #7)

 

Still can’t come up with amazing content ideas? We can :) Call us! 

 

 

 

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